Yspahan strategy revisited.
During todays game session I got to try out the heavy caravan strategy in a face to face setting. It is clearly not as powerful as against the computer (pushing 130 average there now), but it still worked somewhat. I do have some ideas about counterstrategies that aren't of the "can't beat 'em join em" variety.
1. Pretty much you want to buy the caravanserai even if you don't want to go heavy caravans. At least some of the time you will be shipping your dudes to interfere with the caravan player and the reward is much sweeter if its coming with a free card (that you can also use to interfere with them: see below).
2. Regardless of what else is going on, if someone is trying to go heavy caravans, prioritizing the corner barrel district is very important in the second and third week.
3. Almost as good is blocking the corners of the vase and sack district if he somehow grabs the barrel district location. (When blocking the sack district corner if you only have one guy to place in the corner soukh the one off the corner is better so he can't repeatedly try to kick you out of there while still getting one of his guys on the caravan each turn)
4. Flushing the caravan before the end of the second week is possibly a good idea, but sending many guys to the caravan in the third week is probably playing into his hands.
5. Defensively moving the provost far away from the corner barrel spot is a good idea if he is abusing it since many times the caravan player will be running tight on gold.
6. Until the end of the second week, the place a guy in any shop card is a key card to keep out of the clutches of the caravan player. It also works out nicely that it is generally a more lucrative card to play in the third week in general since you are more likely to have the +2 for a complete district building done to boost the gains you get from it.
7. Try to toss bad cards in before a reshuffle and wait to use good cards until after. The 3 camels card in particular and 3 gold card secondarily are fuel for the fire and their presence in the deck should be minimized if possible. In contrast, the vp cards, the put a guy on the caravan cards, and the swap camels and gold cards are mostly negative draws for them and are therefore great cards to keep in the deck. The building discount cards are for the most part neutral. During the third week the put a guy on any shop card can be used with impunity since much of the time it will be worth no more than one camel to the caravan player after the first few turns of week three.
8. I've pretty much convinced myself that drawing cards almost exclusively in week one is the way to go for the caravan player. The cards really are that good on average and the vps you achieve in week one from caravan shipments and soukh bonuses are miniscule compared with what you will be getting in later weeks if you get a solid foundation. I still think this holds true for the most part for any strategy choice in this game.
I'm still actually concerned about the whole caravan thing being possibly broken as is, but I will reserve judgement for now. I hope that it won't turn out that the best "counter" strategy is just to do the same thing yourself. All the counterstrategies above are also ignoring the fact that there are going to be two other players in the game and they exist as competition too. You will be making suboptimal plays for you while the other two guys might be getting rich.