Stephen Rochelle(lomn)United States
The boys and I polished off some pizzas and then immediately sat down for the second game, eager to see the new "Player Eliminated" content. I talked some first about the consequences in the first game of declaring alliances early and openly, and about how that presents the other players with an early common opponent. This time around, the boys declared that they were going to crush me first. Of course, a four-party alliance in Risk is easier said than done.
Thanks to the new Mercenary scars unlocked at the end of Game 1, each player was dealt a scar card for this game; I drew a Mercenary. Rather than affecting battle rolls, the Mercenary rewards the controlling player with an additional troop in the scarred territory at the end of his turn.
J rolled highest, re-selected the Enclave of the Bear, and deployed to Argentina. I was second and elected Die Mechaniker, eager to play with their new Stealth comeback power (which allows reinforcements to be placed in an unoccupied, unmarked territory), and set up in my major city in Eastern Australia.
At this point, a firm and trusting alliance could consider deploying one party over the exit from Australia with the intent of sapping my strength. I don't think it's an individually winning play; I tried it in my solo rules-learning session and those two factions so weakened each other as to be the joint easy conquest of the eventual victor. With backup, though, it's not unreasonable. However, our map already has scars in China, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia, so most of the key chokepoint deployments are no longer an option. Having the major city in EAus tempts me to look at ways to mark up the rest of that continent, further restricting deployment options. If this were the game with my usual group, I'd pursue that strategy aggressively. As it is, I don't want to be that aggressive.
Continuing around the table, C re-selected Khan Industries (with new Mobile comeback power, allowing the HQ to move) and deployed to Madagascar. A took Imperial Balkania and opted for a Siberian deployment, and N got left with the Saharan Republic, setting up in Alaska.
The first round saw fairly straightforward expansions: J filled South America and I filled Australia (stopping at Bunkered Indonesia instead of Ammo Shortaged SE Asia), C took most of Africa (sans Egypt), A grabbed 4 territories in Asia to claim a resource card, and N occupied most of Canada.
C's decision was a slightly different path than the one I took in Game 1, but the core question remains: is Africa too big to hold on Turn 1? In both of our games thus far, Africa has had only one nearby opponent (Europe in Game 1, S America here), and so expansion seems pretty reasonable. But even then, the border is 3 territories wide, and there's minimal defensive depth to channel an opponent on the way into your HQ. That extra troop above S America / Australia is nice, but I'm divided as to whether it's worth the risk unless Africa is beefed up with further advantages (it seems a good place for the +1 continent bonus to spice things up; Europe is similarly an appealing option for that victor reward). Anyway, C opted to push more troops into the N Africa border at the expense of fully grabbing the continent. In this case, I think it's the wrong decision, as there's still only the one border territory with S America. If looking at a Europe-deployed opponent, though, the extra ground to cover makes a slower expansion more attractive.
Another first-round decision this game was the disposition of Mercenary scars (which, playing at the start of a turn rather than the start of a battle, are eligible right away). Should I drop my Mercs in my East Australia capital for the defensive boost? Or in Western Australia or New Guinea for further restricting starting locations in the continent? There's even the potential one-two of Mercing one of WA or NG and then playing to Hold On and sticking a minor city in the other as an attempt to permanently lock up the continent. Those all boost my chances in the current game, but make a target for future games. Additionally, I'm not sold on the value of Australia given the lack of further expansion options, and I'm not playing this particular campaign to be that cutthroat (though it doesn't mean I might not try it with my regular group).
At the start of round 2, J was content to trust the current everybody-vs-me alliance and simply stockpile troops. I, on the other hand, decided to present a forceful reminder that new powers (and of necessity, new strategies) were in play. Stealth Mechaniker, therefore, dropped all of its reinforcements in unoccupied Egypt and marched (barely) to C's HQ in Madagascar. C regained all of the African territories (I only had one troops remaining in each), but was denied the bonus troop for Khan's HQ reinforcement power, and had no forces to spare afterwards. A once more grabbed 4 territories and N continued working through N America, though he still didn't occupy the whole thing. Regardless of the "occupy in 1 turn?" discussion for Africa above, I think N dropped the ball not grabbing the N America continent bonus by turn 2.
Opening round 3, I pointed out that the problem with a putative 4-vs-1 alliance in Risk is that the geography doesn't actually allow a practical 4-vs-1 alliance to go anywhere: J had the most armies on the board but nowhere to go without bumping into an ally. A, meanwhile, began to talk to me about switching alliances; I maintained my stated "no buddies" policy. J was persuaded and struck into North Africa, destroying C's last concentration of troops but moving no further.
I figured that the Stealth lesson was still unlearned, as C still had left me a 2-territory path (via the Middle East) to a scarcely-defended HQ, and so I decided to take advantage of the decoupling diplomatic situation and made my move: first, I scarred Madagascar (site of C's HQ) with Mercenaries. I then stealth-deployed reinforcements to the Middle East and marched token Australia forces westward to link up my armies. The Mideast force took Madagascar again, and several Indonesian troops (plus the new Mercenaries) left it credibly defended this time.
C struck back as best he could, retaking North Africa, but the writing was on the wall. A and N, meanwhile, launched the Alaska-Kamchatka War, with A following my lead by placing Mercenaries in N's Alaskan HQ, though N successfully reclaimed it.
At this point, discussions around the table became confused. C was still allied with N (though not with J); J with N and A (but not C), N and A each maybe with J (but not with each other), and I'd finally claimed enough territory to improve past the starting 3 troops per turn for population and territory, raking in the most reinforcements per round -- not that I was broadcasting the fact.
J followed previous example and placed his own Mercenary scar in his Argentinian HQ and marched for El Norte, sensing weakness and sweeping N's token border forces before him. I meanwhile completed the KO of C and consolidated Africa, leaving the reinforcement chain through Asia with the fewest troops permissible. Thanks to claiming C's resource cards, I ended the turn with 5 in hand.
C's Khan Industries already have a comeback power, and so no new one was selected, but he re-entered in as-yet-unoccupied Europe. A and N continued to see-saw over N's shrinking North American stronghold.
Round 5 brought the knockout. J reinforced Brazil, but I cashed in cards for a third Star and then deployed in force to North Africa, sweeping down into Argentina for my third HQ controlled and victory! I named North America for my spoils (figuring that it's defensible, but requires so much stretching to take initially that the extra troop would be key to holding it) and new cities and coins sprang up amongst the remnants.
Then, the Signed Twice packet was opened! First came rules for Homelands. Each faction can potentially have a continental homeland based on where it has most frequently started a game, and factions can claim resource cards based on that homeland in addition to territories they control. We've not yet come anywhere near exhausting the Coin stack (and triggering that Red Star award); this addition makes it seem even less likely that we'll do so. On the other hand, at least during the first 15 games, homelands are somewhat self-limiting: if you intend to maintain a given homeland, you'll need to keep starting in that continent, and thus you'll have less diversity between "controlled territories" and "homeland territories" on the sideboard.
Also opened were the first Event and Mission cards, but they'll wait for their own post. As a teaser, though, my reluctance to create an Australian Bastion may have paid off!