With stores hosting organized play for Cursed Court and the summer convention season’s official tournaments upon us, it’s time to up your Cursed Court game. Here are a half-dozen tips for better play.
Tip 1: Triangulate
Many players don’t realize how much of the year’s information has been locked in before they place their first wager. Depending on the number of players, it’s between 62.5% and 70% of the year’s cards. That means that it’s much better to try to deduce what the other players already know than to make uninformed guesses about what cards might come later in the year.
The best way to make deductions is to look at what each adjacent pair of players has wagered, and then triangulate to figure out what those two both seem to know, that you don’t. If the King and Queen are face-up, and two adjacent players have bet on the Jester and Feast, it’s a solid assumption that the Jester’s the card between them. So, if the face-down cards you can see are the Courtesan and Priestess, then the Procession is a solid play.
Tip 2: Avoid Predicting
The human mind really wants disparate facts to fit into neat stories. You shouldn’t bet on an inside straight, but people do it all the time because they can see it coming so firmly in their mind’s eye.
Avoid this temptation! Especially late in a year, it can be hard to find a betting space where you have a high degree of certainty as well as a high possible scoring outcome. It’s almost always better to bet on a low-scoring sure thing (like a visible noble that no one’s bothered with because it looks like it’s only going to be worth one point) than to take a one-in-nine chance that the Autumn or Winter will flip the third or fourth noble you need to make some three- or four-point set.
Tip 3: Look Left, Not Right
The face-down information to your left and to your right is equal. Both cards both have a 100% chance of contributing to the game’s scoring. However, when it comes to play, they’re not equal at all, because you’re in a race with the other players to place overpowering wagers on the best spots.
Unless you’re the season’s first player, the player on your right has already done what they’re going to do with the information they have. The player on your left, however, hasn’t gone yet. If your two hole cards combine with what’s on the board in two different ways that suggest two different plays, act first on the one indicated by the card to your left, because that’s the one the player to your left could still steal from you.
Tip 4: Puzzling Boards Often Have Lots of Duplicates
Some years unfold oddly. You can’t get a read on what anyone else knows, everyone looks puzzled, and maybe the things you know for sure are doubles. These situations often arise when the noble cards in play for the year have multiple duplicates — even multiple triples.
In these situations, it’s usually wise to go deep, early, on the things you know for sure. If you’re certain that some noble is paired, be prepared to move in with strength to own it. Although two points may not seem like a lot of return on an 11-coin wager, you might be surprised at how often someone else is hiding a third (or even a fourth!) copy of that character. It sure beats making multiple weak predictions that fail to come true and getting completely shut out when the scoring phase comes.
Tip 5a: Bluff Early…
At the beginning of a year — especially in situations where you don’t have a strong read on what the other players know — bluffs can be very effective moves.
Bluffs are most effective when they create a compelling story. That is, instead of making a bluff that’s totally random, place a bet that triangulates with what the player on your right has done. The players across from you will be more inclined to believe it. And because wagers tend to cascade — that is, players get more and more sure of things over time — you can sometimes create snowballing havoc with a relatively small early bluff.
Tip 5b: …But Don’t Semi-Bluff
In poker, it can be wise to make a “semi-bluff:” A bet on a hand that you’re partway to making, but that you haven’t made yet.
In Cursed Court, it’s often tempting to make a low-value “semi-bluff” on a three- or four-noble location where you know two or three of those nobles (respectively) are already in play.
These bets are disastrous in Cursed Court (in a way that they aren’t in Hold ‘Em) because you’re not building a pot here — those sets will be worth three or four points regardless. Instead, what’s likely to happen is that if the multi-noble set comes true, you’ll be easy for the other players to bump, because your semi-bluff wasn’t a strong enough wager to actually hold the position. In poker, you’ve built a pot and making your hand means you stand to win more. In Cursed Court, you’ve just set yourself up for failure.
Tip 6: Attack Leaders
In the second and third years of a standard game, you’re often faced with a choice about which player to bump, among different players whose respective positions are equally beneficial to you to take over. In those cases, take stock of which competitor is in a better position on the score track. It’s always better for you to attack the players who’re in the best position overall when all else is equal, but players often overlook this truism in the heat of the moment.
Jeff Tidball is the producer and developer of Cursed Court, as well as the Chief Operating Officer at Atlas Games. He’s worked on games as diverse as Pieces of Eight and the Fantasy Flight Games edition of Horus Hersey. Tune in on Twitter at @jefftidball or visit him on the web at jefftidball.co