[OTC] Concentrated value is stronger than distributed value

Pressing an object with a blade’s edge does more than the same force used to press with the flat. In much the same way, and in many games, concentrated value has greater impact than distributed value. We’ve seen this rule of thumb crop up before and we will no doubt see it again. Today’s post on distributed vs concentrated value is the third and final in a series that looks at cross-game strategic ideas raised in coverage of an Offworld Trading Company match.

(14:57-15:21) Player Portia earns a moment of critique by commentator philothanic as he spots her buying a little bit of stock in each of the other players, rather than buying a lot into one player or using the money on buying production efficiency upgrades at her Optimization Center. Focusing on threatening one player can create actual windows for a buyout on the target which in turn results in income from a subsidiary. Investing in optimization upgrades increases the rate of resource production and therefore would also result in greater income.

(18:41-19:05) Philothanic later revisits the pitfalls of Portia’s earlier distributed stock purchasing as opposed to focusing on a single person. The distributed stocks still paint something of a target on Portia’s head, as anybody who acquires them as a subsidiary will also pick up their stock holdings. Fortunately for Portia they went largely unnoticed, underestimated, and unpunished this game. Strong player Rhahi noted in the video’s comments, “Portia’s play was suboptimal, but the suboptimal play seems to have dissuaded others from attacking them. The market also was in favor of the things Portia was in: water, power, electronics. If those market died, Portia would have stalled out (which didn’t happen).” Well put. Portia ended up taking this game, but made plays that in some ways deserved a punish that never came.

[OTC] Same move, different value. Context matters!

Today’s post returns to the Offworld Trading Company FFA we drew on earlier this week. This time, we’ll be looking at how three players’ superficially similar plays (of constructing an Offworld Market) vary in value due to differences in the players’ situations.

(12:23-12:40) Commentator philothanic tracks down DeathTacticus’ (DT’s) Offworld Market as it is under construction. DT selected the Nomadic HQ type at the start of the game, which means he uses silicon instead of steel for construction. He also has the Transparent Aluminum patent, allowing him to use aluminum in place of glass for buildings. All told, his Offworld here takes 100 aluminium, 600 silicon, and 100 electronics rather than the standard HQ cost of 400 steel, 100 glass, and 100 electronics. Looking at the market prices at this spot in the game we see that aluminum (~$20) and silicon (~$50) are much, much cheaper than steel (~$190) and glass (~$125). As Philothanic points out, the low cost of DT’s Offworld Market construction compare favorably to the currently high profit margins on the offworld shipments it enables. DT’s Offworld will pay itself off quickly. This is a rarity, as most Ceres games have high onworld prices that both pump up Offworld Market construction costs and eat into offworld shipment profit margins:

(13:31-13:55) Adorfield is researching the Thinking Machines patent, which gives partial protection to buildings adjacent to one’s HQ, especially useful with super high value buildings such as Offworld Markets. His choice of patent signals his intention to build one. But Adorfield has a Robotic HQ and so must pay the standard steel/glass/electronics construction price which will run him a whopping $153k, much pricier than DT’s $87k:

(15:57-16:44) Third to join the Offworld party is Hexapus. As the game’s second Nomadic HQ player, he too uses silicon instead of steel, but without Transparent Aluminium he is forced to build with glass rather than the much cheaper aluminium. It costs him ~$81k, making it a reasonable choice. DT meanwhile starts construction on his second Offworld for just $53k, which philothanic notes will pay for itself in just 1.25 uses:

As you no doubt realize, the superficially-identical choice by each of these players to investing in an Offworld Market (or two) is not in fact the same at all. With the Nomadic construction resource of silicon costing much less than steel, the nomad players DeathTacticus and Hexapus have a major leg up over Adorfield. And DeathTacticus’ Transparent Aluminum patent gives him an additional advantage in the relative value of his Offworlds as compared with the other players, even over the other nomad. No matter the game, you’ll see the same theme: every play must be considered with its context to be evaluated and understood.

[OTC] First Builder Advantage

I’ve featured Offworld Trading Company analysis on the site before, as its relatively simple rules and deep emergent depth make the game into an effective lens for highlighting cross-game strategy fundamentals. This post is the first of three covering topics I’ve pulled from philothanic’s coverage of a recent 4p FFA on Ceres. First and today, we’ll see an example of an early head start in development and tempo chaining (temporarily) into a maintained lead. Later in the week, we’ll look at how three players make the seemingly-identical choices to construct an Offworld Market yields unequal value due to differences in their positions. The third post in the series will let us look at distributed value being less impactful than concentrated value, as one player buys up a little bit of each other player’s stock instead of focusing on a target.

So, on to our first topic, the chaining of tempo/development advantages to maintain an early lead (at least for a while). We’ve seen this theme before in prior posts on Overwatch and Stellaris respectively.

Unfortunately this post may seem like we’re picking a bit on poor Adorfield, as he was for various reasons at different times a bit too slow to upgrade when he could have and was punished. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that he’s up against some of the best players of the OTC community, players quick to close their windows of vulnerability and faster to even inadvertently take advantage of others’ missteps.

Near the start of the game it is critical to upgrade to HQ2 quickly to gain extra tile claims to turn into resource production and profits. Adorfield got too tricky for his own good, at HQ1 buying up an early food stockpile in the knowledge that its price would inevitably rise. We’ve actually had a previous post where the same player used a similar tactic that did not pan out. Not a bad idea in and of itself, but here he could have sold some of the food in exchange for a faster upgrade and more tiles to leverage for profits:

Later on, Adorfield and Portia at HQ2 are BOTH punished for failing to upgrade to HQ3 when they had a window to do so. DeathTacticus, already a full HQ level ahead of them, beats both to it and ticks up to HQ4. Since he buys some of his upgrade resources off the market, their prices rise, increasing the costs of Adorfield’s and Portia’s upgrades. By being first to (yet again) click up, DT is able to maintain his early advantage and put the onus on the others to overcome inflated prices on the resources the other players need to follow suit. Sometimes, the inflation of market prices can punish the early upgrader, if another player is producing excess of those resources and can then sell off the surplus for extra cash, but in the early stages this is uncommon, as all players are fighting to upgrade quickly rather than overproducing construction resources for profit:

Adorfield has a lot of money on hand, and uses it to buy up the first half of his stock and then upgrade. This is safe but not necessarily optimal. He could upgrade himself and invest in buildings, patents, and production optimizations which he could cancel out of in case he needed that cash to defend his stock from a majority buy. Or he could sit at HQ4 and try to find a window to use his cash stockpile to tactically strike another player with a buyout. Also of note, Adorfield had a chance to take the upgrade earlier but avoided taking it, presumably to not be a target as the only HQ5 player, given that he was going unnoticed so far. But the guaranteed concrete advantages of upgrading could have been well worth the non-guaranteed risk of being dogpiled as a threat:

[OTC] Tourney match featuring aggressive pressure against lategame potential

Here we have the best of 3 Offworld Trading Company (OTC) match between players blackmagic and DeathTacticus with excellent commentary from philothanic and Zultar. In this match, we see cross-game ideas such as the strength of controlling the center as well as a race between early and lategame strategies.

Game 1. It's best to search for ways to get in your opponent's way while advancing your own gameplan. Here Blackmagic cancels an iron claim to the east and instead takes 2 iron tiles adjacent to DeathTacticus's base. This play does not lose as much tempo as it would seem, as he could not claim those 2 tiles earlier as they were protected by the timeout from DeathTacticus' own found there. These two tiles stifle the expansive opponent's options, walling DeathTacticus off from the open space northwest of his base and reducing his options for later building placement. Expansive colonies have a large tile footprint that can make it especially difficult for them to design their bases in tight areas. They face the competing incentives, wanting to connect production to the base to avoid shipping but also wanting to avoid over-clustering of buildings that increase the value of the opponent's EMPs and Power Surges (both of which randomly spawned for this game's black market):

Both players are in the top center of the map away from many of the map's resources. Zultar discusses one attractive alternative found location nearer to the center that went unused. Controlling the center of a game map (LoL mid tower, chess center squares, etc) is very strong because occupiers have the shortest average travel distances to other points on the map. In this case, reducing shipping distance to every other point on the map would help because shorter shipping lanes are cheaper to operate. Playing to shorten distances is as important here as in other map-based games, as we saw with Planetary Annililation. By founding in a particular spot, players make a (mostly) static choice about shipping costs for the map's resource patches:
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[OTC] Opening tactic of temporary chems investment: a good idea poorly executed

In this clip from an Offworld Trading Company tournament, player adorfield recognizes that the neutral colony’s modules are consuming chemicals, gradually increasing the market price. Adorfield bought 60 chemicals early, knowing that he could sit on them for a period and then sell them at a profit.

This is, on its own, a sound plan. However, the plan should have been aimed at selling the chems as soon as the profits were enough to let him buy the HQ level 2 upgrade for additional tile claims. Instead, adorfield did not sell his stockpile, locking up thousands of dollars that needed to be used to jump start in the critical moments of the opening. The plan actually delayed his development rather than accelerating it.

Meanwhile, an opponent with unstifled development was able to use their faster HQ level 2 claims to snatch away the high aluminum tile adjacent to adorfield’s base. In this moment we can see how the error snowballed against adorfiel and seriously hampered his opening. Yes, the price of those chems will continue to rise, which does provide some benefit, but waiting for the price to rise further came with an enormous opportunity cost of upgrading later than his opponents.

[OTC] Splitting tiles for defensibility

In Offworld Trading Company, resource-producing buildings gain significant bonuses to production for each neighboring building of the same type. A great contiguous field of the same type of building has the greatest possible production power. However, high level players usually avoid this sort of base layout. Commentator Zultar explains that top players recognize the diminishing returns on adjacency bonuses, and also know that a single field of tiles is a juicy target for black market sabotage (as happens to one player in the clip). By defensively splitting tiles, you sacrifice some of one type of value (production from extra adjacency bonuses) in order to reduce the value for opponents in attacking you.

[OTC] Relative value: Getting more out of a silicon stockpile

Here we have an example of relative value in tournament Offworld Trading Company FFA game. Player RainbowIdeology has had an elemental quarry mining silicon, and now has a modest stockpile built up. He could sell the silicon to the market for cash, but doing so would lower its market price. Opponent Rhahi’s two glass kilns, each of which consumes oxygen and silicon to produce glass. Since her kilns are using more silicon than she collects, she is forced to buy silicon off the market to run them. If RainbowIdeology were to depress the market price of silicon, Rhahi’s profit margins on glass production would grow. Instead of selling to the market, RainbowIdeology constructs three solar panels, each of which costs 100 silicon and 20 aluminum. The panels will (at least for now) be very profitable with the current high power price of $198. Rainbow got more value out of his silicon stockpile by building solar panels than he would have by selling it.