A successful strategy of Nova Suecia - The Last Letter Home must take into account the three key decisions of the game. Which districts do you go for, how do you move the ships and which resources do you Place on your letter? Let's start by looking at the implications of each of them.
The different districts are fairly balanced and which one is better or worse depends on the supply and demand of its resource, which in turn depends on the other players' actions. Basically, there are three groups of districts:
The monopoly districts: Farms, Forestries and Mines are all better the fewer competitors you have. If you have the only farms in the game and all players need grain, the prices are likely to stay high. Of the resources produced by those districts, timber (forestry) is typically in demand in the early game (when most of the log cabins are built), iron (forge) later in the game (when the players can afford investments) and farms throughout the game (provided that the number of colonists steadily increase).
The value chain districts: Plantations and Spins are part of a value chain (plant are input to tobacco) and must both be in play to be profitable. If you have plantations and no spins are in play, your selling prices will fall to the bottom, and if you have spins and no plantations are in play, your buying prices will rise to the top.
The oligopoly districts: Trade posts are better the more competitors you have but they are a double edge sword. The more open trade posts there are, the more does each trade post produce (supply is increased), and the more players that have trade posts, the more players will have an incentive to place fur in the ship bag (demand is increased). However, if too much fur is produced, the demand cannot catch up with the supply and prices will fall. Also, there is also a risk (or an opportunity) that a players cashes in on the fur market and then pulls out (abandons the trade post and stops replenishing the fur in the ship bag), lowering both production and prices for the others.
It's crucial that you understand the supply and demand of each resource during the game. If a demand is rising and/or a supply is falling, enter the market and vice versa. Here are some key rules to follow. With "enter" is meant settling districts and placing many colonists on them, and with "exit" is meant placing few colonists/using them for building log cabins. It's important not to feel too attached to your districts - if they're not profitable, it's better to abandon them and focus on other ones.
Enter: Many colonists, few farms, few grain in the ship bag
Exit: Many log cabins, many farms, much grain in the ship bag
Enter: Early in the game, few forestries, much timber in the ship bag
Exit: Later in the game, many forestries, few timber in the ship bag
Enter: Early in the game, few mines, few iron in the ship bag
Exit: Later in the game, many mines, much iron in the ship bag
Enter: Few plantations, many spins
Exit: Many plantations, few spins
Enter: Few spins, many plantations, many tobacco in the ship bag
Exit: Many spins, few plantations, few tobacco in the ship bag
Enter: Many trade posts, many fur in the ship bag
Exit: Few trade posts, few fur in the ship bag (but do consider producing other resources where the price is high)
The ship movement has two main purposes: enabling districts that supports your strategy and disabling districts that do not support your strategy. The former is accomplished by moving the Swedish ship to districts you want to get into play and the latter is accomplished by moving the Dutch ship to districts you want to remove from play. Some typical examples include a farmer closing other farms or a trader opening other trade posts.
You should also take into account which districts are within reach for the following players in turn. This is particularly important the smaller the player count, since few players give more control of how the ships move.
In addition, you should use the ships to shorten or prolong the game. By moving the Swedish ship to spots where you cannot open more districts and by moving the Dutch ship to spots where you can close districts, you will shorten the game and vice versa. If you have chosen a short-term strategy, you will want to shorten the game, and if you have chosen a long-term strategy, you will want to prolong the game.
A short-term strategy focuses on early revenue. Parts of such a strategy include producing resources rather than log cabins and focusing on districts with early gains, such as forestries (timber is usually in high demand early in the game), farms (before log cabins remove the need for grain) and require trade posts (do not need iron to increase production).
A long-term strategy focuses on early cost-saving for revenue later in the game. Parts of such strategy include producing log cabins and focusing on districts where iron can be used to increase production without the prices falling too much, such as mines (iron is usually in high demand later in the game), plantations and forestries. An "engine", where you have high-producing plantations and spins, can be very powerful, since your plant sales ensure you reasonable resource costs for your spins.
Finally, you should be observant on opportunities to end the game by settling the last open district. Doing so is usually beneficial, since you get to settle and produce in one more district than most other players, as well as getting one more sell action than most other players. It's true that the other players' actions will lower the prices before your last sell action but by using your buy action to avoid those markets, you can still earn a lot. More importantly, if you don't end the game, someone else might!
The letter is used to add supply and demand outside the players themselves. For most cases, you will want to place resources that demand resources and increase prices according to your strategy (fur if you have trade posts, tobacco if you have spins etc.).
However, you shouldn't neglect resources that supply resources and decrease prices. You may want more colonists for additional production (or, if you're a farmer, more mouth to feed with your grain) or more gold to fund your investments. If you have a lot of colonists or if the prices are high enough to increase production, you may want low prices on grain or iron.
It's true that supply resources typically benefit more players than demand resources (all players need grain but not all bother about tobacco prices) but demande resources also have a diminishing price curve. When the grain price is high, a price fall of 2 steps will decrease the price by 2 while a high tobacco price will remain unchanged by a rise of 2 steps. What is even more important, you certainly don't want to pay overprices to other players running farms or mines.
You should also keep an eye on what other players place and draw. Do they place a lot of fur? Do they draw little fur? Then you should settle a trade post! Do they place little fur? Then they may be about to abandon their trade posts after their next sell actions, in which case you should abandon your first!
The strategy of Nova Suecia - The Last Letter Home can be summarized in three key points:
Predict how the markets will change until your next turn
Enter the markets where the return on investment is the highest and exit non-profitable markets
Promote the supply and demand where the net effect will benefit you the most
Get bang for the bucks (1st edition)
The objective of Nova Suecia is to accumulate gold and you have a limited number of turns at your disposal. Unfortunately, there are no "statistical victory levels" that you may aim at, since the players' revenue depends on the colony revenue. Instead, you must ensure that whenever you spend gold, you make a positive return.
Let us break down the cost and revenue in the game, starting with the provinces.
Your provinces are your revenue sources. The revenue depends on the production (how many colonists and log cabins you have on them) and the price (how much you get paid for the products). There are four types of provinces with different production and price conditions:
Trade posts: Generate a fixed income of 2 gold per colonist. If the colony is producing plenty of fur (i.e. more than 1 fur per district in play) the income may be increased by over-production but bear in mind that this extra income is tagged to tax payments.
Farms: Generate a fixed income of 2 gold per colonist. If the colony produces little food (i.e. less than 1 food per colonist in play), the income may be increased by under-production.
Metal and Tobacco districts: Generate a variable income of 2 gold on average per colonist. The income is dependent both on negotiation with other players and production levels. If the colony is producing little, there is a greater chance for price increases and vice versa.
The conclusion is that you should balance between fixed income districts (trade posts or farms) and variable income (metal or tobacco districts). In that way, you can move production resources to the district type where the expected return is highest. A monoculture of only one district type is more risky and also more vulnerable to targeted "take that" actions from the other players.
To acquire a province, you need to outbid the other players, but how much is a province worth? The simple answer is that the value is irrelevant, the important thing is not to pay the "right" price but rather not paying too much in relation to the other players. For the first province, you should not bid any gold at all but take whatever you can get for 0 gold. For later provinces, you may add 1 gold if it fits your strategy or if a particular district type is expected to yield a higher return that turn, but it is seldom a good idea to go higher than that.
Colonists cost you 1 gold and produce an average value of 2 gold (2 fur, 2 grain, 1 metal or 1 tobacco). Even if you are short on cash or unable to use them, you should hire them to deny other players their return. If things come to worse, you can always lay off them.
Log cabins cost you 1 gold + the gold you forego when you let a colonist build the log cabin rather than earn a profit of 1 gold. Once built, they will give you an extra profit of 1 gold per turn but only if you can place a colonist there. That means that you have pay-off time of 2 turns so unless you really need more production in the 5th and last turn (for example, the metal price is high and you have a lot of iron to refine), you should abstain from building more log cabins in the 4th turn.
The optimal number of log cabins per district depends, as many other things, on the colony revenue and particularly the food level. Little food means few colonists which means empty log cabins. Generally, 1 log cabin per district is a good level, with a second if you expect that district type to do well. A third log cabin is seldom a good idea.
Price and sales negotiations
As a metal or tobacco trader, you must be prepared to negotiate with other players unless, in the rare occasion, you manage to control all three district types in the value chain. You should demand at least your share of the total profit (i.e. a higher ship price for metal workshops should encourage mine and forge owners to demand more). Be firm, if you can't agree on price levels, none of you will make any profit. If you are falling behind, you should demand even more since you have nothing to lose while your counterpart will fall behind as well.
Sales negotiation is another important aspect. If you can agree on limiting sales to push up the price, you may both benefit. However, that requires trust so that not one player take advantage of the situation and sell to pull down the price for all the others. If you have a good will in the price negotiations, it may be easier to build trust for the sales negotiations, but don't expect this to last the throughout the game. The closer you get to the fifth turn, the greater the probability that someone will break the deal.
So far we have discussed how to raise money but how about spending them? The taxation will cost you money but can also help you in four ways:
Give you the benefit of contributing to the fort early (and raise the cost for later players)
Give you the benefit of starting the next turn.
Promote your own interests by paying tax to areas that benefit your strategy.
Harm other players' interests by paying tax that decreases the tax in areas that benefit them.
This is easier said than done, since the taxation affect all players. Let us first look at the benefit of starting first. If the number of colonists is not evenly divided by the number of players, 1 or more players will end up with 1 less colonist than the others and thus 1 gold less on average. 17 colonists on 4 players will give only the highest tax payer 5 colonists and so on. Placing colonists last may save the player from colonists that cannot be used, worth another gold. Depending on the fur and food production, the highest tax payer may earn 1-2 gold and, if the ship price is high, another 1-2 gold may be earned from the metal or tobacco trade. Last but certainly not least, your fort contributions get 0-2 gold cheaper than the other players'. A player may not be able to take advantage of all those benefits but 2 gold is a reasonable valuation of the highest tax payer benefit.
How to allocate the tax then? Don't be too quick to allocate it to "your" area since this may benefit other players. If you want to promote agriculture (farms) without promoting metal trade, you should allocate tax to missionary (trade posts) instead. If several other players have interest in the trade posts, you may even gamble and not pay any tax at all, hoping that they will cover your interests. If you have played for a monoculture, you may benefit from pushing "your" area up to prosperity and increase the return per colonist up to 1 gold, but in most cases, it's best not to pay too much.
As for the fort, it's usually wise to make at least one payment to the fort each turn, particularly if you're the first or second and benefit from the lower cost. However, you must also keep enough gold for the next turn. An early fort payment saves you 1-2 gold (as it may cost 1-2 gold more next turn if other players pay) but if it means that you can afford less colonists and log cabins next turn, each gold paid for the fort will also cost you 1-2 gold (as you will lose an opportunity to make revenue). So how to balance this then?
Start by counting the number of log cabins you have and the number of colonists that will be available next turn. This count tells you how much gold you need at most and consequently how much you pay for the fort as a minimum. Don't save money "just in case" and allow other player to make cheap fort payments. Then assess the marginal revenue each one generate. If colonists can be expected to generate a marginal revenue of 1 gold or less, you may consider hiring one colonist less and make another fort payment instead. However, keep in mind that this gives you 1 less gold next turn and another player 1 gold more (as he or she hires "your" colonist instead). This may still work, for example if you intend to pay little tax next turn and so that your next fort payment will be 2-3 gold more expensive, but be sure that you know what you're doing. Naturally, if the game can be expected to end this turn, you don't have to worry about colonists and log cabin but simply pay as much as you can to the fort.
In conclusion, the best tax to report is where you pay 1 gold more than all other players and where you push "your" area to prosperity together with other players. A risky option is to pay 2 or more gold less than all other players and have them cover "your" areas.
The winning strategy in Nova Suecia is to in each transaction get that 1 or 2 extra gold in relation to the other players. Do not bid more than necessary, place your colonists where the return is highest, build log cabins if they pay off before the game ends, claim your share in negotiations and pay just about more tax than the other players to get the tax benefit. If things really come to worse, turn to free-riding and have the other players pay for you until you catch up since they are more interested in you to save the colony from falling.