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I admit that Caravan rules are not so "user-friendly", but finally, after some attempts and after reading this good explanation, I managed to win a couple of games.

Now, how should I build the initial caravan deck? In particular I am trying to understand the total number of cards to play with (better low or high?) and which percentage of face value cards (2-10) and special cards (J,Q,K,A,Joker) to put in the deck.

Do you know which strategy should I follow to build an efficient-not-only-luck-based deck?

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The game has been patched so that the strategies listed here don't really work anymore. The AI is now far more aggressive in its use of face cards. It's still super buggy though. I finally got so frustrated that I wrote a mod to make playing the 30 required hands for the related achievement easier. –  agent86 Aug 24 '12 at 23:56
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Caravan is very very easy if you follow this strategy:

Fill your deck with as many 7-9-10 cards as possible, (4 each from the starter, and buy as many 7-9-10s as you can get your hands on) Fill the rest of your deck with useful fillers, like face cards (especially Kings). Try to keep your deck size to a minimum of 30 until you have a lot of 7-9-10s.

When you start your hand, before you put down any cards, discard everything until you have 3 10s, 3 9s, and 2 7s. Start by putting down your 3 10s, and then put down a 9, and 7 on one of the piles your opponent doesn't play on. Finally, put down the 9 and 7 on one of the other piles.

With this strategy, you can win almost every single game of caravan you play.

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I use this strategy myself, but it is very easy to beat it: a single joker on a 10 would reduce the value of all your caravans. Fortunately, the AI doesn't do that very often, as far as I could see. –  Wilerson Jan 10 '11 at 18:57
    
I have never seen the AI pull that one on me, and I've won thousands on caravan. –  z - Jan 10 '11 at 23:12
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I like a variation on yx_'s answer. The Caravan AI is not particularly smart, so I've not seen much use in building a particularly sophisticated deck, but I've done this partly out of habit and partly just in case.

The idea is the same as in most other build-a-deck games: a smaller deck with more cards per rank is better. The more cards and ranks you have in your deck, the less likely it is an individual card will appear when you need it. However, if you only have a few ranks, then you're vulnerable to moves by the AI. (For example, with just 10s, 9s, and 7s, you'd be in trouble if the AI knew to play a Queen on your 9, reversing the pile and effectively locking it, or to play a Joker on a 10 in a pile not at 26 yet, pulling out your 10s from the other piles and preventing you from hitting 26.)

First, remove all cards in one suit. Doesn't matter which one. (In fact, you can do that with yx_'s deck to defend against the AI plays above.) Remember, to play on a pile, you must either continue the order or follow suit. The fewer suits you have in your deck, the more likely it is you'll be able to follow suit. AI plays a Queen on your 10♠/9♠? No problem, play a 7♠ anyway. If you don't keep Aces in your deck, you can probably remove two suits. (A Joker on an Ace removes the other non-face cards in that suit - I haven't yet seen the AI play a Joker on its own Ace, but if it did, that could be kind of a problem for a two-suit deck.)

Second, stock up at both ends, high and low cards. High cards get you in range quickly, low cards fill in the gaps in case you're not quite to 26. 4s through 6s just take up space in your deck ... kick them out.

Finally, drop the Queens. Sure, they're nice if the AI has a 10/9, or if it realizes it can play on your pile, but that isn't nearly as common as starting a pile with a 10 when you have a 6 in your hand, or with a 9 when you have an 8. Stock up on Kings instead, to double your piles (or even your opponent's), and on Jacks, to knock out that 10/King combo the AI just played.

Yes, it's overkill - most of the time the AI will fiddle about as you build your 26s - but it still works, and who knows? Maybe you'll be inclined to play against your friends some day with real-life cards, and you know they'll be preparing for your 10-9-7 deck.

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Breaking this down by card type:

Ace to 10: I like a good mix of cards here, mostly because you never know when you're going to need a 3 to get to 26. Granted, if you have nothing but 10's and 6's in your deck, you never really need to worry about that...

Jack: Eliminating an opponent's 10 with attached King is something quite exquisite. You can never have too many Jacks.

Queen: This is my least frequently used card. I keep a couple in my deck, but mostly use them just to mess with an opponent. If they put down a 10 followed by a 9, drop the Queen on it and they have to throw out the entire pile.

King: Very valuable. You'd be hard pressed to find a place where these are useless. Throw in a bunch!

Joker: This is card that really makes the game fun. Play it on your own deck and watch as your opponent's cards go flying off the table. If you like a challenge, get as many of these as possible.

So the final verdict is: good mix of number cards, plenty of Jacks and Kings, very few if any Queens, and as many Jokers as you feel you can handle.

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This game is dirt simple if you get multiple cards of the same suit. My strategy is as follows.

1-10: Play with only one suit. Just pick the suit with the most cards and stick with that suit only. This eliminates the whole having to worry about putting the cards down in any particular order.

Jacks: The more the merrier. Use them to foil the other player any time they get even close to 21. They're also useful if the other player "king's" your caravan to go over.

Queens: Never used them before. They seem to only slow down your deck.

Kings: Just like the Jacks, use them all. Kings can make get you to the 21 - 26 range really fast and are also good at ruining the opponents caravans by pushing them over. Place them carefully though, because they can leave your opponent off even better than before if they have a jack on them.

Jokers: They're too much trouble to be bothered with. They can do good things for you, but more often than not they'll just not be playable without messing up your own caravan. Unless the opponent is running one suit only and have a lot of aces, then they can work.

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The thing about this strategy is that you're going to find it more difficult to win quickly due to the restriction on duplicate cards; an approach like yx_'s isn't as easy because you won't be able to build up enough of each card. Using a single suit would make you highly vulnerable to an ace/joker combination, but because the AI never bothers with jokers, that's not really an issue. –  Dave DuPlantis Jul 12 '11 at 23:08
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I don't have a strategy at all. I usually don't even look at the cards before playing, I shuffled them a few times, but then decided it's not necessary and I didn't even know what I was doing. I usually start my caravans with lowest possible cards (2-4) and then build them up. Occasionally I will drop a Queen to reverse the order when I don't have good high cards on hand. Remember that a King gives you double score on a card, use it for high cards like 10s or 9s. When you have Jacks - don't play them on your own cards, use them to lower your opponent's score - yes, you can place a Jack on your opponent's caravan. And that's it. I win every time.

Oh, I buy new cards whenever I find them at a shop - but I don't even know where they go...

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New cards are automatically added to your available stock, but not added to the deck itself unless you do so prior to a hand. –  Dave DuPlantis May 15 '11 at 3:21
    
Interesting, I had no idea. :) Not that I cared, because the game was easy enough. –  HazeSpire May 15 '11 at 6:02
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