Homeworlds strategy

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Homeworlds strategy is quite deep and less than obvious at first. Many new players are overwhelmed by the range of decisions available to them. This page will be a place for people to provide strategic tips for beginning players who are lost at the range of options available to them, as well as discussing deeper strategic issues. Feel free to fill in incomplete information, or visit the discussion page to ask questions or debate strategic issues.

Basic Concepts

This strategy article assumes that you've read the rules to Homeworlds. If you haven't, please do so before reading further.

In the beginning of the game, your highest priority is to build up a fleet. Your opponents will be at arm's length, so you have the liberty of building as you see fit. Avoid having four pieces of any color in one system, because your opponents can still trigger catastrophes without having to be there themselves. Once you have a few ships, start to spread your fleet out, discovering new systems if you need to. When your fleet contacts enemy ships, start thinking about defense, especially if an opponent has ships in a system connected to your homeworld. Meanwhile, start positioning your ships in systems connected to an opponent's homeworld, in case an attack opportunity comes up.

I think that's enough to get you started, so go try a few games now. Have fun, and watch what happens!

Beginning to End

Strategic ideas organized by the order they come up in play.

Building a Homeworld

When putting together your homeworld and selecting your first ship, the most important feature is flexibility; having more colors gives you more options. Avoid choosing the same color twice during setup; duplicate colors restrict your future options, which will hobble you for the entire game.

Blue, yellow, and green are the most important colors to have! Avoid using red, since red is not as useful early in the game as the other colors, and your opponent could use a red star against you later in the game.

Think about how your homeworld will connect with other homeworlds. Choose stars for your homeworld that are different sizes. Do not choose exactly the same star sizes as your opponent does! You want to create the greatest distance between you and them. Distance protects you by making it harder for opposing ships to reach you, and buys you time to build up your defenses. Seasoned players may want a homeworld deliberately close to their opponents, hoping for a fast blitz to victory, but this is a risky strategy for new players.

Your first ship, the one you build with your homeworld, should be a 3-pointer. Large ships are hardest to build during the game, so now is the best time to obtain one. Large ships are also least vulnerable to attack, providing your homeworld with a strong defensive ship. Large ships can also be sacrificed for multiple actions, which is very powerful later in the game. If you do so, make sure you have another ship left at your homeworld!

An advanced consideration for your homeworld concerns the global stash. The systems closest to your homeworld you will be able to deplete quickly. For example: if you have a 2-3 homeworld, you'll be moving to all size-1 systems from there. This means that the stash will have fewer size-1 pyramids than it would if you had made a different choice. That means that you (and your opponent) will be that much closer to larger pyramids and the game will tend to have more larger ships and more extreme sacrifice-type moves. Example two: if you have a 1-2 homeworld you'll be moving to size-3 systems. When you finally get to be able to build large ships there will be less of them. There will be, overall, fewer larger ships in the game and the game will progress, overall, somewhat slower. Of course, this is in the context of whatever your opponent(s) decide for their homeworlds and has a lot to do with your preferred play style.

The Early Game - Building Up

As the game opens and your enemy is far away (barring some extreme strategies) you have time to breathe and grow your fleet. He probably won't swoop in and steal your ships or come flying across the galaxy to destroy you with catastrophes, so you can do things now that would be very dangerous later.

One way to evaluate early moves is with a point-based rubric. Examine each ship in your fleet (or in the theoretical fleet you will have after your next move) and ask yourself: How valuable is that ship? Early on this can be evaluated by just two things:

  1. Size, bigger is better
  2. Distance, the farther from home (or, more accurately, the less far from your opponent) the better

You want to get ships as big as you can as close to the enemy as possible. Just add the numbers. A small in your homeworld is just one. A large in a system outside your opponent's homeworld would be five (three for its size and two for the two moves to get where it is). Don't worry too much about color distributions, just get the colors you need to increase this simple rubric. That means that you'll be ignoring red, but since it's the early game that's probably OK.

This same rubric can be used to evaluate early catastrophe attacks as well. Calculate the value of your fleet and your opponent's fleet before and after the catastrophe that you're planning. Are you better off? It's not a matter of your point total, but the point differential. If you lose four and he loses five, it might be worth it. Remember, however, this is only a good rubric early on. In the mid-game, when things are much more complex, you'll need a more complicated strategy.

A common mistake early on is over-building the homeworld. Your enemy is far away, relax. A large ship next to him is much more aggressive (i.e. better) than one sitting at home. So build up ships far from home and leave as little as possible to defend (note: as little as possible might still be a lot).

Mid Game - Managing Resources and the Global Stash

Few new players realize that resource management is really the heart of this game. Once a game has begun, it is crucial to build up your fleet, getting larger ships for yourself while simultaneously hindering your opponent's ability to do the same.

Larger pieces are more valuable than smaller ones, because they can be used for sacrifices that perform multiple actions in one turn, and are stronger during attacking and defending. If one player has several large ships, and the other doesn't, the player with the large ships will be at a huge advantage. Take your time when expanding your fleet. If you just try and get ships of one color, you can build through the smalls and mediums to get to the larges. However, be careful when grabbing new ships. If you over-populate a system with smaller ships while trying to get access to the bigger sizes, you might leave yourself open to catastrophes!

Keep your opponent from getting bigger ships. Size is power, and you do not want to give that advantage to your opponents. An effective strategy is denial of color. It can devastate a player not to have access to a color at all. Since the global reserve stash is shared, you can use up all the pieces of one color, so that your opponent can't use that color when they need it. Just make sure to spread out all those same-color pieces before a catastrophe strikes! You can also deny access to a specific size and color of piece. A constructed ship must be of the smallest available size. This should be kept in mind, especially when taking the last small or last medium piece of a color; you'll be making it easier for your opponents to get larger pieces. By keeping the last piece of a smaller size in the global reserve, you deny access to the bigger pieces.

Focusing on a single color can also prevent you from creating a ship of another color when you need one. You want to be able to produce any color your opponent can, and be able to produce colors that they can't. An effective way of limiting their colors is to take all of the pieces of a color they don't have (or at least not in a system with green) of sizes they do have (at least in systems with blue). That way, they can't trade for that color, and can't construct ships of that color.

Diversify your color options; it will make your opponent think twice about taking the last small or last medium of a particular color, as doing so would get you a head start on the next larger size. Carefully choosing the systems that you jump to can really limit what other players can build, and can allow you to control your access to that color. It is also effective to jump to star systems of pieces that you don't want your opponent to get. For example: Send a small green ship to a large non-green star, thus preventing your opponent from getting that system's piece as a ship. By keeping only the one green ship in that system, you ensure that both pieces are accessible to you. When the rest of the pieces of the star's color are used up, you can choose to sacrifice the green ship to construct a large ship using the star's piece. (This is the "banker's strategy".)

In summary: Get large ships yourself, and keep your opponent from getting them. Towards the beginning of the game, when everyone is creating ships and there are plenty left in the global stash, try to have access to each color, and try not to have more than one (two at the most) of a single color in a single system. Later in the game, when some colors have run out in the global stash and options for construction are limited, have large and medium stars with a single ship at them, which you can jump away or sacrifice to make that piece available to you.

Positioning

Keep your ships in places where it is easy to access them. Most of your ships should be one jump away from your homeworld, so that they can come to your defense if necessary. You also want some ships one jump from your opponent's homeworld, should a good attack opportunity arise. You don't want to have ships that are multiple jumps from any homeworlds, as they'll be too far away to be tactically useful.

Catastrophes are the biggest danger in this game. You can cause catastrophes by jumping ships into a system, creating ships in a system, or trading ships for other colors. Sacrifices can help this, because then you can do things from further away than your opponent might have been expecting.

Try to spread your ships out so you have one ship of each color in each system, rather than building up one color in a system. Avoid having three pieces of a single color in a system; if you do, you are vulnerable to catastrophes. All an opponent needs to do is slip one more ship into the system, and your hard-earned fleet will be gone.

Galactic Topography: The shape of the game

This is pretty easy to figure out once you've played a bit, but if you're feeling "lost in space" it might help. Space is pretty much a triangle.

Imagine a huge spinning galaxy full of stars (which we'll call "systems"). Now cut it into three enormous pie slices. Each of these thirds has systems that are all the same size as each other, but different from the systems in the other thirds. One pip, two pip, and three pip. All the systems in any particular third can move to any star system in the galaxy except for the ones in their own third with them. It's an odd setup, that the hardest places to get to are the ones closest to you. Hyperspace travel can be strange that way. The easiest way, of course, to get to those far away "neighbors" is to go to a different system, it doesn't really matter where (so long as it's in a different third) and then come back to your neighborhood but, instead of going to where you started, you go to somewhere next door.

Imagine that galaxy again. It has three spiral arms, one coming out of each of those slices we had before. The systems in the spiral arms are special. They have two stars in them. They are where players' Homeworlds come from. The stars that the systems in the arms are made up from are different sizes from the stars in the systems in the slice of the galaxy that the arm is attached to. For example, if you're looking at the arm attached to the slice with all the size one, single star systems in it, the arm will have all the two-three binary systems. Direct travel between arms is impossible. The only place you can go from an arm (and the only way to get back to it) is through the slice to which it is attached. To get from one arm to another, you have to first go into the slice near the arm you're leaving, then into the slice near the arm you're going to, and finally into the arm. That's three moves to get between most Homeworlds.

There is one final kind of system, but it's very rare. It's a binary system with both stars the same size. These systems reside in the slice with all the other stars that are the same size. They're not in the arms. This is why you shouldn't have a Homeworld with same-sized stars: it puts it in the middle of the galaxy where it's too easy for your opponents to get to it; only one or two jumps away.

When a Homeworld (i.e. binary system) suffers a catastrophe that destroys a star, it warps space-time so much that the system moves through space to the slice of the galaxy that it would now obviously belong in. After all, it only has one star now, and single star systems can't be in the galaxy's arms. This can be dangerous for the victim of the catastrophe as he is now much closer to all the people trying to destroy him. But, if he's good and lucky, he might be able to turn the tables because his enemies, which he is trying to destroy, are that much closer to him.


Attacking

Red ships are actually more useful for defense than offense, although they can be used for both. Remember that the person who's already in a system will have the first chance to attack if you jump in.

Watch for times when you can cause catastrophes that hurt your enemy more than yourself. It is worth it if you can destroy more enemy ships than you lose in the process.

Endgame

To win, you will need to go on the offensive. The two main ways to do this are to destroy all the ships at an enemy's homeworld, or destroy the homeworld itself. Catastrophes are the most direct mechanic for either of these. Large yellows, when sacrificed, can move many ships into a homeworld at once, which is great for setting up a catastrophe. Capturing all of the enemy's ships at their homeworld can work, too, but it is a slower process and gives your opponent more chances to fight back; they also get to shoot first.

In the endgame, be aware that destroying one star of an opponent's homeworld will connect it differently to other stars. In some cases the enemy homeworld that just lost a star will now be directly connected to your homeworld system. If you expended a lot of your own resources from your homeworld system in the attack, you may find your homeworld subject to an immediate counter-attack. This can lead to an easy conquest of your homeworld by your just-"crippled" enemy.

Good and Evil

The struggle of good against evil was imported from Werewolf, and adds an element of diplomacy to the game. Tension builds as each player discerns the secret alignment of each other player.

On being Evil

Being Evil is great. Your victory condition is so easy! All you have to do is kill one guy. It can be anybody. Good, Evil, it doesn't matter. Of course, you can't appear too eager because then everyone (Good and Evil alike) will come gunning for you. You have to be subtle. You have to make them trust you. And then you can kill them.

On being Good

Being Good is great. You have teammates! Everyone wants to help out the good guys because with cooperation you're able to multiply your effectiveness. If only you could know for sure who really was with you and who's just faking it so they can stab you in the back.

Binary Homeworlds

In a two-player game, there is no Good and no Evil. Only you and your opponent. (Yes, you can totally ignore that part of the rules.)

Sinister Homeworlds

In the "sinister" variant, there is no Good and no Evil; you win by killing the player on your left. So most of your attention should be directed against that player, as well as remaining on guard against the player on your right (who wants to win by killing you).

Tips and Further Discussion

The Best Homeworld

As to the Optimal Configuration of your Initial Homeworld; The answer to this question is highly dependent on a number of factors including (but of course not limited to):

  1. your own playing style
  2. your opponent's playing style and
  3. your opponent's opening homeworld itself.

Example: Your opponent opens with a large Yellow and a small Green for his homeworld, and selects a Large Red Ship as his initial fleet. As far as color goes, you have a plethora of choices, but the only sane option (system connection wise) is to choose two different-sized pyramids to be your homeworld. They should be as different as possible from your opponent's homeworld (unless you think you can jump right in and smash him/her quickly). In this example, I would choose a medium and a small to be my homeworld pieces.

Just to be silly one day, I chose two mediums to be my homeworld while playing against my 14 year old son. I suspected that he would crush me quickly in that game and I was not disappointed. It gave him the ability to attack me from anywhere that was not a medium (and that included his homeworld). Ouch. I think that game only lasted for about 12-15 moves. As to the colors, again much of it depends on how you and your opponent will play. From the above example, since he used a Yellow piece for his homeworld, I would assume that my opponent may wish to explore quickly with whatever color ship he wishes. So, perhaps I should keep in mind that he may expand the playing field quickly in order to keep me off-balance. I think it's safe to say that there is really no "optimal" color configuration, but I will say this. Avoid Using Reds as your homeworld pieces. You should force your opponent to bring a red ship with him if he's going to attack you... Hope this was helpful...

Recovering From Disaster

Can you come back from losing a star from your homeworld? Unlikely. Your opponent has to be in pretty rough shape but if you have strong positions elsewhere, you might be able to. If you have significant forces nearby to your newly relocated galactic home, get them there. But you have to balance that with keeping up your offense. Keep the enemy running as much as you can. You'll be walking a razor thin line, but it has been done. It's not over until it's over.

Why would I...?

By the middle of a game of Homeworlds, there are so many options for what to do in your turn that it can get pretty overwhelming. As you're planning your move you, of course, are trying to not waste time thinking about obviously silly moves. But maybe some of them can be a good idea after all. Why would you want to make these moves? Keep reading. This also covers some general strategy tips.

...Sacrifice a small piece?

You could just take one action without losing a ship, but remember that a sacrifice allows you to take that action at any system you occupy.

Sacrificing a small green, for example, lets you build a ship anywhere. This is the exact theory behind the "banker" strategy. Early on, you grab large systems with small green ships. This makes certain that your opponent(s) can't build large ships with those pieces. At a convenient time, you sacrifice the small green, returning the large piece to the stash, and build your "investment" anywhere that you have a matching colored ship. (If you're trying this trick with green, you'll of course need a medium ship, since you'll have to build that same ship back before having access to the large one to build it.)

...Have a red star in my homeworld?

A lot of people argue against this strategy, but it really comes down to how you like to play. A red home star is perfectly valid and can be quite powerful when you know how to use it. So long as your opponent doesn't have larger ships in your homeworld and only brings in one at a time, you'll be able to capture them. That may sound weak, I mean, why would your opponent do that? (We'll cover that later.) It's real power is as a deterrent. Of course he won't come in like that, your red star keeps him away. He'll have to get some pretty hefty ships and bring them in at least two at a time. That means sacrifice actions and lot of set up before he can make his move, which can give you plenty of time to thwart his plans.

...Move my ships to where my opponent can easily capture them?

You mean like to a red star? Well, for one, captures aren't automatic. If your opponent is capturing your ships, that means he's not doing something else. If "something else" is important enough, throwing one of your ships to the wolves might be a good idea. This is most commonly done when you are sneakily building up to a catastrophe. Not only will your opponent waste his move capturing you, but you'll blow him (and your old ship, but you were planning on losing it anyway) up next turn with the other ship of the same color that you have set aside for just this reason.

...Let my opponent get the first medium or large piece of a particular color?

Be careful about doing this. You might want to do it when you're going to blow it up in a catastrophe, or build the first medium or large piece of a different color next turn, or there is only one medium available and your opponent taking it would give you the first large, or your opponent taking a medium would put the first large within Factory reach. One of the hearts of the game is in controlling the economy to deny bigger ships to your opponent.

Glossary of Strategic Terms

(Info from http://twoshort.net/homeworlds/glossary/ )

Banker: A homeworld consisting of a 1 point and a 2 point star. So named because it makes it easy to set up “investments”

BlueBird mistake: unnecessarily leaving your homeworld with ships of only a single color such that the opponent can move in and cause a catastrophe, winning the game

Cashing an Investment: Sacrificing a green that is the only ship at its (generally 3 point) star in order to immediately build the star marker as a ship.

Factory: Sacrificing a large green to get three growth actions, one of which is used to re-grow the same large green you sacrificed

Fortress: A homeworld consisting of a 2 point and a 3 point star.

Goldilocks: A homeworld consisting of a 1 point and a 3 point star

The Gun Rule: “When your enemy draws a gun, draw your gun.” The Gun Rule advises that if your opponent acquires a sacrifice-able red ship, you should immediately do likewise.

Large Universe: A game where it takes 3 moves to get from one homeworld to the other. The most typical layout.

Microverse: A game where it takes 1 move to get from one homeworld to the other.

Small Universe: A game where it takes 2 moves to get from one homeworld to the other.

External links