The Economy of Actions in Feast for Odin
Like most Uwe Rosenberg games, in Feast for Odin, the economy of actions underlies the economy of resources.
Once a player is comfortable with Feast for Odin, and knows its swarming action spaces by heart, it isn’t uncommon for them to conjecture, correctly, that the trick to scoring big is island exploration. In a four player game, with only four islands to go around (even the Feast for Odin mini-expansion may leave one or more players wanting another island), this player will snatch two by the end of round two. This “new expert” at Feast for Odin will view the blank squares on their home board as wasted time, despite its unlockable resources, given the wealth of income and bonus tiles that can be more easily attained by development of exploration boards. After maxing out the bonus tiles on their exploration boards and long houses, this player will swoop back to their home board at the end of the game to tile negative points like mad, easily score over 100 points, and think themselves quite the pro.
That this works fairly well is due to the fact that focusing on exploration boards unlocks not only income and resources, but bonus tiles, so that in one strategic activity you save yourself a veritable knarr-load of actions. Instead of hitting the farmer’s market for your beans, peas, ribs, and fish, you make them through strategically placed tiles during the bonus phase, which saves you half a dozen vikings or more during the game. Once the right tiles are laid, all of these things are produced not only without the expenditure of resources, but without the expenditure of actions. By comparison, focusing on your home board only provides you with building resources, the mead cup, rising income (admittedly a lot of it) and the two square blue runestone. The home board is bonus-poor compared to every exploration board. Shetland is probably the best example of this, as in addition to food items, a clever player–particularly one good at whaling (play with the whaling-sized tiles on Shetland for a solid minute)–can quickly unlock lots of free food tiles plus the extremely useful three square blue cutlery and two square oil tiles, both of which fill in hard to fill spots of your boards. While it’s only a measly four points, Shetland produces scads of bonus tiles, and unlocking its bonuses early, combined with a solid upgrade or longhouse game, will net tons of points by the end of the game. And Shetland is one of the three cheapest islands to get in the game. Looking at the vast potential for scoring that you can tap just in acquiring Shetland is one of the realizations that leads the new expert away from home board strategies, because the home board compares, at least in this aspect, unfavorably compared to the exploration boards.
Once you’ve wrestled with different strategies in solo play, or played a lot of multiplayer, however, you realize that while you’re not improving your score by tiling the lower left quadrant of your home board, and while it’s often quicker to improve your income on the exploration boards, by not focusing on tiling the whole home board, you’re missing out on free resources that will save you valuable actions later, so that you can direct your actions toward other point-scoring activities. That is, if you’ve unlocked the free lumber, free ore, and free stone by round three, then you’re going to get four lumber, four ore, and four stone by the end of the long game. That would fuel two hits of the two-stone, two-wood longhouse / knarr action space, or 44 points, plus possible associated bonus tiles, and the ore, which can tile hard to get spots on your boards, or arm your whaling boats or longships.
Which is not to say that exploration boards are not the key to victory that new experts think they are. Simply that you need to keep your eye on tiling both boards. While I often do focus on my exploration boards first, it is a mistake to think that there’s little point in tiling the lower left quadrant by the midgame, because as I demonstrated, even four free wood and four free stone can score you a lot of points. So if i can swing back to my home board in midgame, I often do this, as it will generate lots of bonus points via the ships / houses action space.
(While they provide no income, because the bonus tiles in long houses can be used to cover the squares in more long houses, acquring long houses can be a quick point generator. Additionally, unlike exploration boards, long houses start with two points, and you can increase them to 12 to 15 points fairly quickly if you have unlocked the right bonus tiles on your exploration boards (things like cabbages, peas, and beans).)
Income is not as important as bonus tiles. You begin to realize this as you use your income primarily to unlock new bonuses prior to bonus phase. You can overdo this, especially in the final rounds, when you shouldn’t be using your 12-20 income you should have by then to unlock bonuses, but to emigrate.
Thoughs on Early Emigration in Feast for Odin
Emigration is generally too expensive in the early game, not only in terms of resources but in terms of actions. In round one, you spent one viking getting two wood and two vikings getting a knarr; how expensive it would seem to discard those resources and actions in the second round, even though the cost at that point is only two coins and two vikings. Most players tend to emigrate toward the mid or late game, after they’ve built up a small fleet of two or three ships, so that they won’t miss the ship taken by the emigration action. Unfortunately, by this point the value of emigration–cheaper feasts–is much lower.
If you’re really good at unlocking your bonus tiles early, and have income left over in the midgame, you may want to think about buying a knarr with coin to emigrate early. 5 coins is five victory points, but you’re turning it into eighteen victory points with the emigrate action, plus cutting down on the feast phase consumption of your valuable bonus tiles. The earliest you do this, the cheapest it is. If you can buy a ship in round two, you pay a total of 7 coins/VP (5 for the knarr and two for the emigration) for 18 VP, and save a total of twelve squares worth of tiles on top of that (one emigration saves, at minimum, a peas or mead, or two squares a round; doing this in round two will save you twelve squares, or more if you’re ever forced into using ribs or cabbages for the feast), so that not only will feeding your vikings be cheaper for the whole game, but you have more resources for upgrades to tile home boards / exploration boards,or if you’re hitting the houses whole hog, your food can go straight inside.
Another way to do this–somewhat cheaper too–is to buy a whaling ship for three coins which you’ve taken from mountain tiles or generated as income, then hit the 4 viking spot, which will upgrade that whaling ship to a knarr, then to an 18 point emigration. Plus, it lets you play an occupation card. It is often a struggle to play an occupation card early, and this is a great way to do this.
Some Interesting Multiplayer Openings with the Four Coin Mountain Strip
A great opening, if the four coin mountain strip is available in round one: 1 viking–four coins from mountain strip, buy whaling ship as anytime action; 1 viking–grab Shetland; 4 vikings–emigrate for 1 coin and play starting occupation card. If you’re lucky enough to have Refugee Helper, you save the coin. If you’re lucky enough to have Sober Man, you get your coin back. (Sober Man is an undervalued occupation card, which not only has good VP but also gives its player a free coin in feast phase, essentially equivalent to a “half-Emigration” for purposes of the feast for the remainder of the game.) There are other valuable starting Occupation cards that are great to have in play early in the game. While you’re heading into round two without any income or bonus tiles, feeding your vikings will be super cheap and you have a head start in victory points (you just got 18 points for 4 coins). You also have shetland, which has the easiest bonuses to unlock. This will also upset the strategy of the whaling-focused player in your group, who tends to get Shetland as their third action (Shetland fills up fast with upgraded whale meat)–you just got it in two.
(If the four coin mountain strip isn’t available in round one, you could still grab Shetland in your second action by grabbing coins from two strips in your first, but you won’t be able to then hit the emigration. You could, however, explore in the first round, and emigrate in the second, after taking the whaling action space too.)
Another great opening contingent on the four coin mountain strip: 3 vikings–grab six coins, one wood and one lumber; anytime action–buy a knarr; 1 viking–grab shetland; 2 vikings–grab Iceland. You could either save the one wood and one lumber for buying a whaling ship in round two, or place the ore on the home board, giving you a 2 income. Otherwise, you have a 1 income just from having Iceland. Unless you plan on doing a lot of the overseas trade actions, you can retire the knarr in round two by emigrating it. If you only have one income, you still have the coin left over after buying the knarr, so there are your two coins for the round two emigrate. If you pick this for your opening round, then in round two you probably want to focus on whaling to unlock the bonuses on shetland, unless you’re lucky enough to draw swords, in which case, go for plundering (in which case, go for two lumber in your first action rather than a lumber and a wood).
The four coin mountain strip has the potential to generate such a significant advantage for player one that skilled groups may consider removing it from play. I would never recommend this, but I read the forums on Board Game Geek, and know what sets off balance-minded tabletop gamers. The lopsided games that might result when these openings become common knowledge will also have the side effect of shaking up players whose games become too staid and stiff, and you could see players start heavy animal strategies, go for the generally less strategic Orkney, Tierra del Fuego, or Faroe, or hog up all the longhouses.
These are, of course, multiplayer openings. In the solo game, there isn’t any urgency in grabbing islands, save the advantage of producing bonus tiles early.