Start off with the location. Indeed, there are better places to be at the beginning than other.
To my mind, the best possible character to pick up is “The secret agent”. Indeed, that way you start off at the center of the map, and you can go pretty much anywhere you’d like, depending on the cards you get. It is, I think, the most flexible possible start, and therefore makes it the greater one.
Then, you have multiple choices : The Collector, The Prosecutor, The Gambler, The Pauper, The Manager and The Engineer. I think those ones have almost the same amount of pros and cons. They’re close enough to locations that are likely to grant them easy money thanks to some cards, or any early advantage you could get.
Now comes the Merchant. Not the best place, yet not the worst. You’re pretty far from anything useful though, making it harder of a start.
Last but not least : The damned, The thief, and the Politician. Those are the worst possible starting location, as you have to go through a misfortune. If still, those are the only possible choices you are given, I’d advice you to not take the Damned, as its Misfortune is placed in a way that’s hard to counter, and you have no income square ahead of you.
That’s it for the locations, the very start of the game.
Then, you get to choose your cards. Pay attention to the ones you discard, as they won’t be in the game until the deck is shuffled again. That’s an information you have on your opponents that they don’t.
Now comes everything else. What’s the best way to play ? Should you try and go governor? Should you focus on getting money, should you avoid getting too much malice?
There is no correct answer, as there are multiples viable ways to play the game.
Yet, being Governor might be underestimated by a lot of players. I’ve seen, again and again, players that did not dare take the bribes left by fellow opponents.
I may be wrong, but most of the times, taking those bribes will lead you to victory. Do not fear malice, as its worst effect is of no consequence to the governor. You will not have to pay more, as you’re exempted from paying bribes !
There are a few cards that will prejudice you because of your malice. Yet, chances are, getting those bribes has been more valuable on a long game.
Now, let’s talk about money. Is it safe to keep money ?
Most of the times, it’s better not to. If you have enough money to buy something, do not be greedy, and buy it. Yet, if you have a choice : either you win more money or build something, I would choose to gain more money.
Indeed, your opponents will have a hard time trying to make you lose it. There aren’t that many cards that allow them to do so, and they aren’t free. If the misfortune that halves anyone money by two has already occured, do not worry, and go for it.
Now that’s said, let’s talk about cards in general. Sometimes, you might have bad hands, bad cards. Some players go and change them into inferno. I have no idea if that’s good or bad, as I don’t do that myself. To my mind, there’s a huge risk, as you have to go through two misfortunes for new cards and only 100 gold. The way I see it, if you already have some money, don’t do it. If you have nothing – no money, no cards -, then it becomes viable, as you have nothing to lose.
Either way, if your hand is bad, you should consider using them as much as you can. Try to use more than one in a turn, that way, new options, better options, will come out.
Lastly, keep track of the cards that are used. Indeed, there is a limited amount of each card, and knowing what card isn’t in play anymore can be of huge help. For instance, if you know that there is no more “A set-up” card, as two of them have already been used / discarded, you know that you won’t get arrested, as long as you do not have any criminal cards with you. And same goes for a lot of situations. If you see an opponent with 900g go into inferno, but saw “The armageddon Clock” be discarded earlier, you know there’s nothing that bad coming up. Etc.
Oh, and another thing I’ve noticed. When you use a card on a misfortune and get to choose which one will apply to your opponent, the one you don’t choose is discarded. Therefore, pay attention : knowing which misfortunes are still there can be pretty useful. For instance, if there are only 4 misfortunes left, and “A terrible Accident” didn’t strike yet, you might want to reconsider going to the Treasure.
Early in the game, you shouldn’t try to gain score. During the first 10-15 rounds your highest priority should be increasing income and keeping malice low. Income pays off throughout the game, and malice is also important down the road. This works especially well in 4 player games since people usually won’t target you if you have the least score. Also, I know you said that malice doesn’t matter but I disagree. Even if you are the governor, you’ll still be hit by karma cards, as well as multiple other cards that target the player with the most malice. Plus, if you gain a lot of malice and then lose an election or get it stolen by someone with the usurper then you’re screwed. I’ve seen players get way ahead early on but then get crippled because their malice is too high and so they have to spend all their money on bribes as they move around the board. And, there’s the misfortune that makes all players lose money equal 10x malice so each point of malice is at least 10 money lost at some point.
The other important thing for early on is getting permanent cards. The accelerator, automated helper, sound investment, and other powerful permanent cards really pay off in the long run. As the game is nearing the end you should change your priorities, and start caring more about score and money.
As far as the locations mechanics: I would say to pretty much always sell vote/score in the office/market. I usually don’t skip a turn in the plant. Using the dump is typically useful especially if you’re the poorest, and especially if you have no votes to lose. The jail is not a path to victory in short or ranked games, so try to escape quickly. Good behavior is usually best since you can get appeal, amnesty, probation, or other cards that reduce sentence length. Personally I don’t recommend using the inferno early on because it means getting more malice and misfortunes. The casino is alright but I usually just visit it if I have a strong card. If you visit the court you should usually confiscate a vote unless you have not much money. The treasure can be a good place to visit even if you don’t have a card for it since you always get free money. The bank is great especially early on and you should always increase income unless there are only a few rounds left. The astral plane is hard to get to, but one strategy is to land on the first bribe spot and then play a 6 movement card to get there. This way people are less likely to inspect or arrest you. As far as skipping a turn in the astral plane, it’s not a bad idea unless there are only a few turns left.
Competing for the governorship can be useful, but I usually don’t try for it during the first election. Your bribes will still be low enough that it won’t matter. Later in the game though it becomes much more useful to be governor since you save more money and your opponents are probably paying higher bribes by that point thanks to their accumulated malice.
Chaos cards are also important, and new players often forget to use them. Sacrifice is the most commonly used one, but don’t rush to use it if you only have a good permanent card to get rid of. Army of Chaos is one of my favorite cards because even if you have no way to spend money, you can always use it. You can fall behind in points and other players will ignore you, and then in the last few rounds you spend 1000 at the inferno or astral plane and suddenly you’re in the lead. The chaos cards that cost votes can be good too, but don’t use them if it’s still a while until the end game and it would cost you the election.