Our first session of play proved to be a great success, and I'm not just saying that because I won. The increase to replayability from the random map was evidenced by just how many strategic options for the game were centered on how the map lay out came out.
I was playing Black (south) with Green to my left (west) and Blue across from me (north). Yellow was to my right (east). The map had a deep "river" of water that penetrated from the west side of Blue's capital to the center and another inlet from the east side of his capital to the center. This basically carved a near perfect wedge for Blue's initial territory with a land connection to the rest of the map of only a single hex. Fortuneately Blue was blessed (cursed?) with a large number of forests. A pair of smaller "lakes" extended from the center of the board to the south east. Yellow's capital connected the second lake to the sea and a town of mine connected the two lakes. With one well placed town in the center of the board the "lakes" could have been connected to the "river" making it possible to sail directly through the middle of the map. Yellow and I both conspired to place towns blocking that link up and ultimately I think that move cost Blue the game as Blue wound up with a fleet of 4 frigates that would have been devastating if he could have sailed them through to my rear area.
I struck first blood in the game by claiming an undefended yellow town on my eastern border, but that left me in a difficult situation. Both that town and the town I had linking the lakes were vulnerable to attacks from the yellow capital and were too far from my capital to support. We hadn't yet entered the phase in the game where city upgrades had become universal and I was engaged in a battle of position with green to my west and needed to place towns rather than upgrade. Fortuneately for me yellow was more interested in expanding against her spouse (blue) and gave me some breathing room. She would later regret that when 3 infantry and a frigate managed to defeat 2 infantry defending her capital city.
This attack on her capital was particularly interesting to me because quite literally the game forced me to do it. I would have vastly preferred to let yellow continue to push against blue while I dealt with green (who was also embroiled with blue) but at any moment yellow could have turned and pushed against me and I would have collapsed. I was already feeling the pinch of having 3 infantry stationed to defend my two towns where they were uselessly sitting there on the defensive AND not really providing any real defense anyway if yellow had decided to come for me (since any number of troops could have been placed in her capital she could have spawned an overwhelming force at any time). Combine that with a capital city defended by only 2 infantry and most of yellow's forces too far away to take the capital back and no matter how friendly and cooperative we had been the game was literally screaming "take that capital or you're doomed".
So I did. Fortuneately for me green and blue spent a couple more turns trading the same towns back and forth which let me consolididate my gains and score a couple more of yellow's underdefended rear towns. Without a capital, yellow couldn't suicide her large forward invasion army in order to teleport it back to the defend her rear and had to try to move that army back to meet me over land. By the time it got to me 3 turns later it had dwindled to impotance because I had continued to take yellow towns costing her armies. Again the game literally demanded this of me. Even though yellow was the last player I wanted to knock out early (because she's generally reluctant to play war games and I wanted her to like this one enough to play again) it would have been poor play to not push my advantage. Not only poor, but ultimately suicidal because the only way I could deal with the army she had moving against me was to attrit it by taking her towns because the bulk of my army was in the west moving against green without any way of getting across the central water way.
Green and blue wound up with frigate cities within striking distance of each other and since yellow and I had placed towns to prevent the link up of the water way blue had only 3 ways of getting out of his initial position. Over land through a single hex where he did have a town but which was faced by two well defended towns (mine and yellows). By water against yellow which was A LONG way due to the way the map fell out, or by water against green where green had 3 towns within a single frigate move of blue's frigate cities. Blue clearly chose to push against green. Unfortuneately the curse of frigates is that they can't take cities themselves and each city that supports one is a city that isn't supporting a cavalry or artillery. Eventually it was the lack of advanced land units that prevented blue from hanging on to any of the beachheads he captured in green's territory. That and abysmal bombardment rolls from his fleet.
Meanwhile I managed to capture a key city in the center west of the board that was finally enough to get green to leave off blue and turn against me. I had the bulk of my army in that city, but was destined to lose the war of attrition. Meanwhile after finishing off yellow I took the city that was the gateway into blue's territory thanks to using my frigate to shuttle pieces into the center. I was also destined to lose that battle of attrition. In both cases my city was in single turn striking distance of 3 enemy cities. They could send 6 units per turn against me (that would automatically respawn), and I could only replace 2 plus whatever trickle I could march overland. I repulsed 2 waves at each city, but was doomed against a third.
Thankfully, by focusing all of his troops to attack that city of mine, green had left his other cities under defended. This is ultimately the truth of Viktory that drives play. Every concentration of force comes at the cost of weak defenses elsewhere. All play hinges on that relationship and its what every turn a real nail biter because no matter how much you are winning, you are never invulnerable. In this case the troops I couldn't move fast enough to defend my central city were fast enough to green's frontier cities. Green never managed to launch a real third wave because I had taken too many of his border cities and cost him too many troops. I was able to then reinforce that central city and eventually use it to strike and take green's capital a few turns later.
Terrain played a big factor again in the fact that I found myself in possession of a plethora of Artillery cities. Blue did manage to retake his gateway city (which was inevitable) but was never able to advance past that because I was able to get 4 artillery and a frigate within bombardment range and keep the bulk of his army off the board and in his reserve while I finished off green.
The thing I enjoyed most about the game was the concentrated amounts of stress. Even though this write up seems like an never ending stream of black successes the reality of the game felt much different. At every stage there was the very real possibility of abject failure, and empires in Viktory due to the parcity of troops, are extremely brittle. One careless deployment, ome threat unrecognized, one "bridge too far" and my entire empire would have collapsed like a house of cards. This had the effect of continually driving me forward...I figured only if I could keep attacking, keep pushing out that I had any chance of winning. If I took a breather, the enemy would manage to get their units out reserve and launch a counter attack that I knew could pop me like an overinflated balloon. If I could just take one more town I'd have enough guys to defend myself, just one more, just one more. But no. Each town and city I took DID give me more guys...but also more to defend and more avenues for my enemy to attack me. I was left in the exact same position as before of needing to keep the juggernaught rolling. Thankfully for me, my offensive never really fully stalled, because if it had it really would have been game over for me (or at least a MAJOR reversal), I was far too spread out geographically to have any chance of defending myself if ever I failed to keep my two remaining opponents knocked back on their heels.
I don't know whether any them ever realised just how vulnerable I was but every single turn felt like I was on the verge of losing big time...and even when the end result clearly indicates I was winning, it still feels like "how did I ever manage to pull that off". To me, any game where everybody is equally convinced they're losing is a pretty well balanced game.
I look forward to our next game, where if the tradition of my group is any guide they will probably unite to crush me like a bug by turn 4.