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Subject: Basic Papacy Strategy rss

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Paul Elliott
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I've played as the Pope once in a recently finished playtest game, and I thought I'd kick start this forum with some strategic lessons that I've learned. I came in second place, so I don't claim to be an expert. Some of this might seem obvious, but I'm trying to be thorough.

The Challenges

1) The Papacy is completely insignicant from a military standpoint. They begin the game with two keys and two regulars, and they will have a hard time building that into a serious threat. Moreover, they are hamstringed by their complete lack of leaders. So, the Pope has to learn to count to four, using little formations of four for maximum effect.

2) The Protestants are an enemy with which it is nearly impossible to negotiate. The Papacy is the only power that can directly oppose the Reformation, so do not expect any respite from the Protestants.

3) The Papacy's little empire can easily be attacked from the French and the Hapsburgs. If the Ottomans are dominating, they could invade Italy, too. Any of these powers can trounce the Papacy.

4) The Papacy begins with a substantial lead in VPs. This is more of a curse than a blessing--other powers will have no sympathy for your whining. Until another power manages to take the lead, it will be awfully hard to find allies willing to help.

5) Cards of 1 CP are utterly worthless for the religious struggle. They can only be used by the Papacy for the event, hiring mercs, moving armies, and building St. Peter's. Thus, it can be very frustrating when you are dealt a huge hand of 1 CP cards, and Luther is on the rampage. I figure that this represents the irrationality of the Pope, insisting on fighting the military battles when reason would dictate that the religious conflict is more urgent (cf. playing Sauron in War of the Ring).

The Advantages
1) Two home cards ensure that you always have a couple things you can do in the religious conflict. This also has an averaging effect--the Papacy is the least likely to have wild swings of luck when the cards are dealt out.

2) Once Turn 5 rolls around, the deck becomes heavily stacked with nasty counter-reformation cards.

3) The strongest power--the Hapsburgs--are naturally inclined to cooperate with you, and they are highly unlikely to invade because of the high cost of declaring war on the Papacy (4 CPs).

4) All of the Papal debaters can operate in any language zone.

5) There will probably be far more Catholic armies on the board than Protestant ones at any given moment. The Reformation will not survive long in Spain or Italy, and it struggles in France or Mary's England.

Strategies

--First, remember where your VPs come from. Don't waste your time on things that don't earn you VPs. For the Pope your VPs come from three basic areas: a) the religious struggle--flipping cities to catholicism and burning Protestant debators, b) the military/political struggle--grabbing keys, becoming Master of Italy, and winning wars, and c) building St. Peter's. You can also earn VPs with a couple miscellaneous actions, but these cannot be part of your grand strategy. The advantage of focusing on the religious struggle for VPs is that there are lots of points to be earned, and the Protestants will be taking them away from you unless you fight back vigorously. The advantage of focusing on the military/political struggle is that you are gaining resources (cards) as well as VPs, but the disadvantage is that you are also making very powerful enemies. Finally, the St. Peter's strategy is not viable on its own, but it is one way to grab those last few points to put you over the top. Also, it is the only source of VPs that no one can take away from you (once the Sack of Rome has been removed from the deck).
I'd personally recommend gaining most of your points through the religious struggle, since only one player can take these away from you. Grab just enough keys to get an extra card per turn, if you have the resources to do it and if you won't tick off your neighbors too much. I'd recommend conquering the neutral key of Florence and then grabbing either Genoa or Venice with cardplay, though you have to work with whatever opportunities you can get. Stealing Milan from France is risky but very powerful. If you can get Master of Italy, you are probably on the verge of victory.

--Oftentimes, the Pope will feel that he has nothing to offer to the other powers during negotiations. Unless you're willing to give up your cards, which are your very life-blood, it is difficult to bargain with the other nations. Here are some unusual things that you can offer: card plays (especially if they allow you to maintain the balance of power), fleet loans (you won't be using them very often), a divorce for Henry VIII (be sure to get enough for it, or the English reformation will come back to bite you), a religious truce in England (Henry VIII may be willing to give you what you want in return for taking the counter-reformation somewhere else), and not excommunicating them. However, the biggest thing that the Pope has to offer (if you can get the other powers to buy it) is his services in preventing the Protestants from winning. Try to remind the French, Hapsburgs, and English that the Protestants will win if every gangs up on the Pope. In this sense, playing the Papacy feels like you are playing as Israel--disproportionately important compared to its small size and military, surrounded by dangers, and constantly threatening to do something crazy if no one comes to its aid.

--Long games favor the Papacy. The Reformation will start to putter out late in the game--they will have used up most of their good cards and Bible translations, while the Papacy will be growing stronger. The later Popes, the late-game counter-reformation cards, debaters like Loyola, and Jesuit Universities will turn the tide quickly. Therefore, the Pope needs to act as a spoiler, helping to maintain the balance of power between France, England, and the Hapsburgs.

--The Leipzig Debate home card is the key to gaining an advantage in the religious conflict. I always use it as an event and choose Eck (or later Loyola) as my debater. Even in the worse case scenario when Luther is randomly selected (or brought in by the Here I Stand home card) as Eck's oppenent, you will still have a slight edge. Focus all of your debates in a given turn on one language zone, wearing done their smaller pool. Seek out the weaklings and try to burn them at the stake. This is a highly efficient way to earn points. Especially make the Protestant pay for committing weak debaters early in the turn. Remember, though: each time you burn a "1" debater, you make that language zone more effective, on average, against you. So, after Carlstadt is burned, then turn to the English or French zones for your heavy debate turns, etc.

--Papal Bull has two uses. First, it is a wonderful threat in the political arena. If you can time it right, the loss of a card and the two regions in unrest can cripple an enemy. However, the threat of it can be just as powerful. Moreover, it can be a strong catalyst for peace--its cheaper for an excommunicated monarch to make peace than to make a peace offering. Your opponent will often come to you begging for peace, which gives you a strong bargaining position. The use of excommunication is more subtle in the religious conflict. It only truly shines if you can excommunicate a reformer early in a turn and then proceed to completely snuff out the Reformation in that language zone. That effectively stalls the game for a turn. Otherwise, it really isn't that effective of a play, and the CPs may be better spent elsewhere.

--As a general strategy for every power, drafting is vital. A perceived leader will be beaten down by every power within striking range. Remain a strong contender, but do not take a large enough lead to be the object of ganging up. When you are near the lead, use your CPs to build up defenses and infrastructure rather than just gain CPs. This will help you when you do decide to go for broke and take a stab at victory. Once Leo X dies, you can hold one card back each turn. I would suggest always holding one card, unless you think that you can win this turn.

--Modena is the key to defense against France. It is both the chokepoint that shields Ravenna and Florence and the staging point for invading Milan. If you are lucky enough to get the Trace Italienne card, Modena is the place to drop a new fortress.

--I'm still debating as to what is the best way to address the Sack of Rome. On the one hand, you can dedicate yourself to actively defending against a Sack by stationing a large contingent of regulars in Rome. Unfortunately, the Sack will keep being reshuffled into the deck until it's successful. Thankfully, this won't be too often--it will be in someone's hand about 50% of the time, and it will be played as an event about 50% of the those opportunities (rough guesstimate only). Thus, in an average 6-turn game it will get played 1 or 2 times. However, it could also come up every single turn, if others keep playing it and you keep defeating it. On the other hand, it is possible to just let Rome be sacked and get on with life. I tried this in the playtest game. I needed the armies elsewhere, so I simply allowed Rome to be sacked. What I gained was the ability to leave Rome un-garrisoned and also some peace of mind once the Sack was over. What I lost was 2 cards and all my work on St. Peter's (which was basically nothing--I had never spent a card on it). So, it seems like a wash. How you respond to the sack largely depends on how many enemies you have who would like to play it on you. Also, it is worth noting that there is a third way to deal with the Sack. If you draw the card after Leo X is dead, you can just hold it indefinately in your hand. I'm not sure if the peace of mind is worth clogging up your hand, though.

--Unrest is your friend. Territory in unrest effectively counts as Catholic. It can also be used to plug bottlenecks (e.g., Innsbruck, Munster), limiting the number of directions that the Protestants can spread. Try to place it where the Protestants will have to spend multiple CPs to remove each space of unrest. Events like the Peasant's War are absolutely sweet for the Pope.

--Wait for military opportunities. Do not conduct sieges without combat cards, unless you're desperate. Otherwise, you will have AT BEST a 50/50 shot of winning an assault in the first round against a lone defender with your largest possible formation. Most of the time, the odds will be stacked against you. Siege Mining, Siege Artillery, Treachery, and even Charles Bourbon or City State Rebels can greatly improve your chances of taking a new key.

So, fellow Popes, what do you think? I acknowledge that I could be wrong about these things, having just one game under my belt. So, let's get some discussion started!
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Christian Letourneau
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Paul, this is a great article. It is going to be really helpful for our first game. If you plan on other such articles, I would be very interested in your views on playing the English. It is not obvious to me what is the best strategy for them with regards to the whole wives-offsring issue.

Keep them coming!

Christian
 
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Philip Thomas
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Yeah, this is a great article, makes me wish the game would arrive soon...
 
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Alejandro Sanz Dolado
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Hi Paul, yesterday I began a game as a Pope and by the moment I think that all you explain is right. Great work.

Reggards. Alejandro.
 
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robin goblin
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Exellent advice Paul. As a highly unsuccessful pope (in two games), I can add a couple of things:

-one is that I can't emphasize how right you are about your advice on the Leipzig Debate card. In addition, note that if you have flipped all the spaces in one language zone that left over flips from a debate can be used *anywhere*, meaning that if you can target the weak French debaters, do so, as you can often use spaces to flip needed catholic spaces in England or Germany;

-the other is regarding excommunicating reformers: the most effective one to do this to is Cranmer. Save it for a turn when the English are closing on victory and you ahve the protestant and the english planning to hammer you in England: it weakens the protestant debaters and undermines the treatises the English publish.

-I'm starting to wonder if it doesn't make sense to excommunicate Luther on the first turn in order to slow down the reformation right off the bat. I'll have to try that the next time I'm the pope!

Robin
 
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Philip Thomas
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Now have the game, may be a long time before I play it thoughcry

Anyway, it seems to me that the Protestants should grow exponentially from turn 1 onwards. Of course, they have to, since they start on 0 VPs!
One of their best assets is their Home Card, which can be exchanged for anything in the discard pile. As Papacy, if you draw, say, Printing Press, or A Mighty Fortress, it is probably worth waiting for Protestants to play their Homce Card before playing the event for CPs. If Leo X has snuffed it, you can try holding such events until Luther dies and the Protestants can't play their home card.

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Eric Landes
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One thing that seems to be a valid strategy is trying to push for an early play of Schmalkaldic League. It's highly likely that Luther will have 12 or more Protestant spaces before he's got 5 or 6 Electorates. Doing your due diligence in the Diplomacy phase of round two might flush out someone holding SL - convincing them to play it as soon as possible might be worth a card in exchange, depending on your hand.

In the PBEM game we formed here on the Geek (where I'm the Papacy), I managed to get SL on turn two, and if it hadn't been for the Ottomans playing Printing Press as the first impulse of the turn, SL would have been played with only three Electorates in Luther's hands. That would have seriously slowed Protestant growth in Germany.
 
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Philip Thomas
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Sample game with myself in 1532 standard, Papacy won in the first turn...I expect I missed something important. Went like this.

1) Excommunicate Calvin, burn Cop
2) Burn Tyndale
3) Protestants start a debate and end up burning Bullinger
4) Burn Olivetan
5) Build St Peters for 1 VP.
8 VPs, so you need 2 Vps from the religous struggle, which is not hard given the number of flips you got in 1-4...then you have won.

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Mark Greenwood
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Burning 4 debaters in one turn! That's incredible. Your Protestant opponent must have been checking the dice!
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Ed Beach
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Philip: Were you playing that you need the difference in the two players' debate hit totals to be greater than the losing debater's debate value for a burn/disgrace?

Thus if Eck gets 3 hits and Tyndale 1, Tyndale is not burnt. The difference in hits (2) is only equal to Tyndale's debate value, it isn't greater.

This is the first question I ask when I see results with a large number of burnt debaters. It is a bit tricky to get this right the first time you play.
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Philip Thomas
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Ah! Yes I believe that could have been it. Thanks.
 
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Andy Daglish
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dead gerbil wrote:
I've played as the Pope once


me twice, though the second time allied with the Hapsburgs

Quote:
in a recently finished playtest game, and I thought I'd kick start this forum with some strategic lessons that I've learned. I came in second place, so I don't claim to be an expert. Some of this might seem obvious, but I'm trying to be thorough.


i think i would have got a Papal military win had we continued a turn, but I let Germany and St. Peter's go by the board...

Quote:
1) The Papacy is completely insignicant from a military standpoint. They begin the game with two keys and two regulars, and they will have a hard time building that into a serious threat.


I got Fuggers and Diplomatic thingy on turn one which took Florence, then a marriage gave us Genoa, and Milan in the same turn on an "11" 2d6 roll, after the French mercenary garrison ran away. No one was bothering His Holiness, which helped, or rather they were worn out fighting each other. With two keys required for an Auto win, southern France looked inviting, as Francis was excommunicate and in a Hapsburg jail, along with Anne.

Quote:
Moreover, they are hamstringed by their complete lack of leaders. So, the Pope has to learn to count to four, using little formations of four for maximum effect.


presumably Papal armies must be all regular or all mercenary? I'll read the rules.

Quote:
2) The Protestants are an enemy with which it is nearly impossible to negotiate. The Papacy is the only power that can directly oppose the Reformation, so do not expect any respite from the Protestants.


indeed you might accept theological defeat early and use your resources for something more certain. but if you do this, push it all the way [whilst no one is looking].

Quote:
3) The Papacy's little empire can easily be attacked from the French and the Hapsburgs. If the Ottomans are dominating, they could invade Italy, too. Any of these powers can trounce the Papacy.


no point worrying about that then. But generally they'll be fighting each other, and the English king wants to be friends.

Quote:
4) The Papacy begins with a substantial lead in VPs. This is more of a curse than a blessing--other powers will have no sympathy for your whining. Until another power manages to take the lead, it will be awfully hard to find allies willing to help.


OTOH getting Alva over the sea might help greatly. Costly though. The Auto win ignores VP, so no need to bother with them unduly, which of course may distract opponents.

Quote:
5) Cards of 1 CP are utterly worthless for the religious struggle. They can only be used by the Papacy for the event, hiring mercs, moving armies, and building St. Peter's. Thus, it can be very frustrating when you are dealt a huge hand of 1 CP cards, and Luther is on the rampage. I figure that this represents the irrationality of the Pope, insisting on fighting the military battles when reason would dictate that the religious conflict is more urgent (cf. playing Sauron in War of the Ring).


conversely a similar Ottoman or French draw means they won't be attacking you.

Quote:
So, fellow Popes, what do you think?


this -- had i drawn Venetian Alliance, I'd have been laughing. The Pope may not have a lot of innate military advantages, but he doesn't have that much to do. If he gets the right cards, playing the rest for mercs may well obviate all the advice about VP. Lets recall how smart Rex Harrison looked in his armour!
 
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Philip Thomas
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Well, a military victory as Papacy is extremely impressive. The other players would have to fall asleep at the wheel though...
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Andy Daglish
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In this game the papacy was the least of anyone's worries. I think however the 4-strength limit on moving armies without leaders is matched to the maximum garrison size for a reason, not least that the pope has great difficultly even investing a key defended by four men. The other main brake on this strategy is self-doubt, but similar doubt in the minds of others is a benefit. Otherwise, by ignoring all VP issues, and gaining some minor power keys by event whilst your opponents fight themselves to a standstill, a Papal military win is not only relatively easy, it is perhaps also the quickest in the game. Putting it the other way round, non-bellicose players really shouldn't let France or the Turks pick up Papal keys too cheaply.
 
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Philip Thomas
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It is certainly true that the Papacy needs less keys to win than anyone else.

They only need 7 Keys: Rome, Ravenna, Florence are easy. Genoa and Venice come with cards. Milan is the 6th. A 7th Key could come from many places. Once you can hold cards, you can keep back Genoa or Venice.

A lot depends on group-think, of course. If they have never seen a Papald Military threat, you could easily clinch it, but I think a group of players which has seen the Pope on the rampage before will probably recognise the signs and take action.
 
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Chris Martin
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Philip Thomas wrote:
the Protestants should grow exponentially from turn 1 onwards. Of course, they have to, since they start on 0 VPs!

A pedant notes: If they "grew" exponentially from 0 VPs, they would always remain on 0 VPs. To grow from 0 one must progress incrementally, not exponentially.

Good comments, y'all: looking forward to having a play tomorrow.
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Jere Linnanen
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Even if this is an old guide, it's something that comes up with google search so I might as well add my own experience playing the Papacy. Especially when it's an experience others can learn of.

I have played HIS only three times and this was my first time with Papacy, and the game I enjoyed the most. I started the game with agressive debating and diplomacy, which both yielded good returns. I felt very much in control in every way. The game was going my way; I was cruising.

At turn five, to my own surprise as well, I had 24 points. Turned out I was 1 CP away from building a St. Peter's VP with my remaining cards. I had a choice between trying a debate or to build Jesuit University. I chose a defensive route and built an University. This was a mistake.

With the following diplomacy round, I found my situation changed. Everyone saw me as a threat, even though they knew Protestant player had Printing Press in his hand and french full bible 2 CPs from finished. I had peaked too early and it was time to pay.

On round six I had three new opponents. On religious field, English joined hands with the Protestant force. On political field, I got both Ottomans and French closing in on me. Even the Hapsburgs were waging a losing war with the Ottomans, so the Protestant power could focus just on the religious side of the game without any political threats. I just didn't have enough cards to fight all fronts and lost most of France to reformation that round. I was still able to burn some debaters, but the more I burned the more threat I was. It was a vicious cycle; even tough the game was tipping towards Protestant religious auto victory (on round seven Protestant power peaked with 42 spaces converted) I remained high on the scoring board with 10 VP from burnt debaters.

The game ended in Ottoman auto victory on round seven after the turkish had taken over Ravenna and Florence without much resistance from other players. I ended up last. I feel I didn't make the most mistakes amongst the players, but I certainly made the worst mistake: I peaked too early and didn't push for victory.

I found that if you are perceived as a threat, it is very hard to convince people otherwise. The same probably goes for all the powers, but I would say that with Papacy it's very important not to peak too early. You simply don't have the cards or the political power to defend yourself if people gang up on you.

And even more important lesson; if you have a chance of winning, go for it. You probably won't get another chance. I just hope I would have initiated that debate on round five, even if the chances were against me. It was still the best chance of winning I ever got.

With regret and anticipation for the next game,
mouseman
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Petri P
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If you find out that you are the threat (peaked too early, did not win), you could attempt to negotiate an alliance with somebody -- giving him one of your keys as a part of the deal.

Then you are no longer the worst threat, and one of your potential enemies cannot attack you... and maybe *he* is the threat and the common enemy now.

Of course, with Papacy, this is complicated by lack of leaders and weak military. Might be difficult to capture that key back on the next turn.

On the other hand, if it avoids a worse fate... why not?



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