Here are my Top Tips for snatching that no. 1 spot:
- Board clears. Do them, as much as possible, preferably early on while still things are relatively calm. Each time you completely clear the board of pellets, you gain a permanent speed boost, which you're very much going to need when it gets down to the final 5 or so. I generally stop going for board clears and transition into survival mode when there's around 30-40 players left, but if I can grab an extra one during a calmer moment even after that, great.
- Honestly, don't worry too much about the power ups on the left. I leave it as Standard and seem to be doing just fine. I'm sure in top-level play it'll come into its own, but for now, the trade offs for each one seem to be kind of a pain for what you get in return. If you can build up your speed enough via board clears, then the power-up that makes you go even faster isn't as worth it, and the fact that the power-up pellet time gets reduced down to 1/3 when using Stronger feels bad.
- As for the right, I stick it on KOs right from the start and don't touch it. Probably a better strategy long-term, but again, it's working for now, and I don't want to have to think about it.
- Speaking of power-up pellets: you pretty much want to have them active all the time, even when you're not actively hunting trains of ghosts. They keep the 4 main ghosts away from you, clear the board of blockers entirely, and pause the red pac-men too. Most of the times I've died have been when I've left it too long between picking one up - the game is very much about chaining them together.
- Don't instinctively rush for the fruit as soon as you've eaten enough pellets to make it appear, at least while there's still 20-30 players left. It can be a good thing to hold off for a while, either to destroy a train that's been built up, or even to wait until someone has sent over a few more red pac-men to your board. There's nothing worse than picking up a fruit, only to have a couple of reds be dumped on you immediately after, as it makes that next clear all the trickier.
- When you get down the last ten, and then five, it's just about getting from one pellet to the next, and getting that fruit on the board to clear reds. Try to get a feel for how many pellets you still need to pick up to make the fruit appear, it's something you'll start to get a read on the more you play. If you can make a beeline toward the spawn point on your way back down the board, anticipating that you'll pick up enough pellets to make it appear by the time you get there, that's a solid approach. Destroy any trains that form as you go - don't go for the ultra-long ones, just keep the board manageable.
- There is a little luck involved, mostly in terms of where the blockers and red guys get placed on your board. It is what it is. I've had a red pac-man spawn right in front of me numerous times, killing me instantly. Nothing you can do about it, deep breath, Rematch.
I think I might actually prefer this to Tetris. It doesn't have as long as a build-up, and even though one mistake usually means you're out, the games are quick enough for you to just jump back in and go again. Which I've been doing... all day.