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Subject: Risen from the ashes - Protestants resurgent rss

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Sophie Zhang
United States
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The hook: In which the Protestants [played by myself], despite being completely wiped off the map on a disastrous Turn 1, failing all six Printing Press-boosted New Testament attempts on Turn 2, seeing Paul III played on the first [Ottoman] impulse of Turn 3, not getting Schmalkaldic League until the end of Turn 4 [and being at a card disadvantage versus the Papacy for much of the game], seeing Society of Jesus played on the first [Ottoman] impulse of Turn 5, and facing a French naval invasion targeted at Brandenburg [!!!], nevertheless managed to rise from the ashes for a victory on points at the end of Turn 5. It was perhaps an unusual/unlikely game in many aspects, and luck played a massive part for every player.



The setup: Spent the entire day [12 hrs] yesterday on a game of HiS, 6 players. The Hapsburg player was by far the most experienced [10 games under his belt]; I was the Protestants, and had 1/3 of a game under my belt [a game with an experienced player and 5 newbies that ended at the start of Turn 3 after running out of time with 5 hrs spent], and everyone else was new. The group was experienced at Twilight Struggle, and so at least the style of card-drawing strategy game was familiar to most.

Since I was the main organizer, I essentially took charge of clearing up any rules questions, sent people a lot of primers before hand, and basic strategic advice. I also handed out a lot of strategic advice during the game, trying to be extremely scrupulous about people understanding the possible options [for instance, it was my own unprompted advice to the Papacy, completely against my interests, that got me kicked out of Germany with Luther off the board at his second impulse of Turn 1.]

At the same time, in retrospect, the metagame dynamic between people jockeying for advantage and most people being interested in strategic advice from everyone since we were mostly all new made for a somewhat confused and distrustful environment. [Also in retrospect, I was probably trying too hard at the start to keep the game running along, offering advice unprompted, answering rules questions, etc. that I came across as micromanaging/manipulative/rules lawyer/etc.; I mostly curbed it as the game progressed.]

So the session report:


Turn 1

Protestants: I used the extra dice from 95 Theses extremely aggressively, not even bothering with Brandenburg [I figured I could always pick it up later, or if I failed to break out.] I picked up Leipzig, flipped Bucer for Nuremberg [another success], tried Worms with Bucer [third success], took Mainz and the soldier there [fourth success], and tried Augsburg [1 failure.]

As the cards were dealt, I had a quite strong hand - both Treachery and Diplomatic Overture, as well as two 1/2-ops cards. In what was frankly very unorthodox strategy, I did over-the-table diplomacy, offering Treachery to everyone. The newbie situation meant that there wasn't as much interest as there could be [it turned out later the French player wasn't even paying attention - he held a grudge against me for the rest of the game], and eventually I sold the card to England who was the only one who expressed interest [and was my natural ally anyways, I figured], giving him Treachery via Diplomatic Overture on my first impulse in exchange for six ops at future dates [we eventually agreed on a card draw at the start of Turn 2, and mercenaries as soon as Schmalkaldic League came out that added up to six operations.] Of course, I ended up utterly luckless on the card draws with Diplomatic Overture - another 2 1-ops cards.

Diet of Worms took a 2-ops card from me, and although I had a 6-5 advantage in dice, the Papacy won by one hit [of course, flipping back Mainz]. My first impulse was spent carrying out my end of the deal, and as soon as the second impulse rolled around, the Hapsburgs pounced with Defender of the Faith. Lucky rolls [I believe my highest roll was a 4 in everything I defended] meant that Worms, Nuremberg, and Leipzig were all flipped, with only Luther holding down the fort in Wittenberg.

At this point, I pointed out to the Papal player [who was of course new, asking a lot questions, and I thought needed the advice] that this would be a very good time to excommunicate Luther and hope to wipe me off the map in the ensuing debate. Targeting Bucer, he drew Eck randomly, and flipped Wittenberg. I was now off the map with no way to get back on until the next turn; I made the decision at this point to just grit my teeth and build up for a big Turn 2. The main benefit was that, of course, no one thought I was a threat at all. I spent the rest of the turn translating the New Testament in German up to 4 points with two of the low-ops cards I got [flipping Melanchthon for the translation], while the Pope made a futile attempt at another debate [since neither of us could flip anything or rolled high enough to flame/shame] and that's why I felt comfortable leaving Carlstadt undefended. I did manage to pick up Printing Press with Here I Stand [which was why I didn't interject Luther into the big debate], and held that plus a 1-ops card for a hopefully big Turn 2.

Turn 1, Ottomans: Standard play with taking Belgrade, army buildups, Barbary Pirates came out for them... and then the Hapsburgs decided to play War in Persia with the Ottomans mostly tapped. His held card was an excellent one for him [don't remember which], and he decided to hold it without fighting the war, with the result that Ibrahim and 5 troops were off in Persia up until mid-Turn 3 [when the war finally ended.]

Turn 1, Papacy: What with the two debates called, the Pope didn't have the ops to take Florence, though they built up their army and St. Peters a bit.

Turn 1, France/England: In very unusual play, France decided to intervene in Scotland and spent the entire turn fighting England despite knowing that England held Treachery and there was no realistic way to stop him from taking Edinburgh. In retrospect, I think there was some rules confusion on the part of the French that frustrated both him and the rest of the table [in this case, he held a grudge against me for the rest of the game for my actions in selling Treachery to England, which I don't think he understood the ramifications of when it happened.]

In the end, France built up its navy and army and wiped the English navy off the map with good dice rolls/defeat in detail, but was not able to take Calais or hold Edinburgh despite spending his entire hand [home card played for Ops, no cards held] on fighting England. With his last 4 ops, he sent a conquistador expedition, which failed.

Turn 1, Hapsburgs: With no one actively fighting them, the Hapsburgs reinforced Tunis to 4 regulars with Spring deployment, took Metz, and generally strengthened their position. I was getting very worried about them at this point, especially after Cortez conquered the Aztecs at the end of the turn to bring their total hand up to




Turn 2

Protestants: I held Printing Press and another card from the last turn. With a card draw from England [it turned out to be 1 op, so he owed me 5 mercenaries], Fuggers, and Schmalkaldic League [as well as other high-ops cards] in my hand, as well as the German New Testament 1 op away from completion, I was hoping for a big turn that would put me back on the map, take all six electorates, and get me in position for a well-played Schmalkaldic League at a time of my choosing to get a 5-card draw next turn.

My main concern was the Hapsburgs at this point, since they were unthreatened last turn, were getting extremely powerful, and I had read many stories of the Hapsburgs running away with the victory thanks to no one fighting them. In fact, the Ottoman player was worried that the Hapsburgs would actually declare war on him at this point [and go after Algiers/etc.] due to the deployments and half the Ottoman army being in Persia. Still, France insisted on continuing his war with England and making peace with the Hapsburgs despite my attempts to convince him otherwise.

I first played Printing Press, breaking out of Zurich and taking Wittenberg and Brandenburg. The next turn, I translated the German New Testament, flipping Bucer... and rolled utterly terribly. Despite excellent odds and Printing Press, all six of my New Testament reformation attempts [Strasbourg, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Stettin, Lubeck, Innsbruck] failed miserably [on one, my best roll was a 2, out of 5 or 6 dice.] Highly dejected, I decided to play Schmalkladic League to make sure it couldn't come out that turn, hold on to Fuggers for a later opportunity, and focused on the German Bible [using Luther and Melanchthon] which I also finished - by turn's end, I had 4 of the 6 electorates though it had cost me greatly and my big turn hadn't exactly come off at all.

Turn 2, Ottomans: The Ottomans had a weak hand of mostly battle cards. They spent Venetian Informant on looking at the Hapsburg hand [the Hapsburgs had War in Egypt, which they were very concerned about], and had promised Swiss Mercenaries to the French. They in, what was retrospectively a poor decision, went for Buda, and took it, with a Hapsburg army twice their size sitting in Vienna. Worried about War in Egypt, he spent the second impulse building more cavalry to take away, before the Hapsburgs pounced.

Outnumbered more than 2-1, the Ottomans stood stalwart, playing Surprise Attack and hoping to combine that with Janissaries. They didn't get nearly enough to make up the difference and much of their remaining army got wiped out [they ended up holding Janissaries after the poor roll with Surprise Attack.] The biggest concern now was that the Ottomans were almost out of cards [holding only Janissaries, which he used to reinforce his home keys, and Swiss Mercenaries - which he had promised away to France and indeed kept the promise despite being in a situation where none of us would have faulted him otherwise], while the Hapsburgs had something like 7-8 cards left. Furthermore, the fact that the Hapsburgs had spent a 2-ops card to declare war on Venice to activate it for the Papacy [when it cost only 1-op] made us concerned that his hand was terrific - after the Hapsburgs took Buda with siege artillery [capturing Suleiman] and then Belgrade, I thought there was an excellent chance of them winning the game on Turn 2 [he needed only 2 more Ottoman keys] and most of us were getting concerned at that point.

Turn 2, Hapsburgs: In the end, the Hapsburgs didn't go for the jugular - his hand was actually fairly weak on operations [the reason he spent 2-ops on Venice was that his single 1-ops was Siege Artillery which he wanted to keep], and he told me later that although he probably had a small chance of auto-victory, he wouldn't want to try in what was really a new player game anyways. He took Buda and Belgrade, and then reinforced his positions some more while sending out explorers/etc.

Turn 2, Papacy: Despite initial aggressive counter-play on the Reformation [pouncing on Tyndale with Eck to little effect], and the Hapsburgs being quite nice to them earlier in the game [and giving them Venice via fake war], the situation got so dire with the Hapsburgs in our eyes that Pope Leo X actually spent his home card excommunicating the *Hapsburgs* [he could because of the they were at war over Venice!] Argument ensued over whether he could place the ensuing unrest in the Spanish keys [which were devoid of troops but had fleets in them] - the answer turned out to be no.]

He and I also made an informal over-the-counter deal that I could publish pamphlets with Carlstadt with the intent of creating unrest for the Hapsburgs, while he wouldn't pounce on Carlstadt for a debate [I cost them a key briefly, converted a space that I didn't want to, and got another random space in eastern Germany in unrest. Overall, not very hurtful, but at that point I'd just wanted to delay him since he had so many potential back-to-back actions against the Ottomans.]

Finally, he took Florence this turn. Naples wasn't really contested despite being empty.

Turn 2, England/France: Again spent the entire turn fighting, even as the rest of the table started pleading for France to make unofficial peace with England to let him use his home card to go after the Hapsburgs.

With the English fleet wiped completely out, all England could do is make Calais a tough nut to crack. With 4 troops there and Charles Brandon, France spent most of his ops/turn assaulting Calais and trying to figure out ways to invade the English by sea [apparently wanting revenge for his loss of Edinburgh], eventually taking Calais after significant casualties [Swiss Mercenaries played by the Ottomans were a big help there.] In the meantime, England asked for a divorce, built up his army in London [fearing a French invasion], and bided his time with little other options.





Turn 3 Diplomacy: All of us were very worried about the Hapsburgs now, and France finally went to war with him. England even gave France a card for peace, and left Calais in France's hands [!]

- The reason England didn't sue for peace and get Calais back is that we thought at the time [influenced perhaps by the French players' repeated blustering that Scotland was a French home space] it would require giving up Edinburgh - in fact that was not true at all, and England could have absolutely done so. The lack of the third card seriously hurt England and left them out of contention for most of the game.

- I was told by England that they gave up a card draw [out of their tiny 3-cards/turn] mainly because they were really tired of fighting the French, and wanted his attentions firmly on the Hapsburgs, if I recall correctly.

- For the divorce, I'm told that the Papacy asked for 2 cards from England plus some mercenaries - this would have left England with only his home card for the turn. Obviously, he refused.

- The Papacy also tried to get a card out of myself the Protestants [!!!] in exchange for letting me mess with the Hapsburgs [who we were still both concerned about] via unrest some more. Obviously, I refused.

- France also tried very pushily to get a card out of me, without offering anything. Honestly frustrated with him at this point, I told him that I'd play Venetian Informant for the event on the Hapsburgs and give him rough pointers simply to get him off my back [which I already planned to do thanks to a deal I thought I had with the Ottomans.

- In retrospect, I think the French play was decent in terms of gaining an edge, getting a card with England purely out of English frustration, keeping Calais thanks to generating rules confusion, getting intelligence on the Hapsburgs from me again out of frustration, and making other people spend resources on stopping the Hapsburgs while he built up - he was doing an excellent job of coming off as erratic and irrational to the point where players were giving him considerable resources just so he'd go bother someone else instead [perhaps a Nixonian madman strategy updated for the boardgame table.]

At the same time, I think there was also a lot of rules confusion on his point which created a lot of concern on the rest of the table's part that this wasn't competitive play so much as him not understanding the rules or situation and heavily messing up the metagame as a result [even the Hapsburgs were convinced that this was the case, and spent his entire Turn 1 and 2 shaking his head at how well things turned out for him.] In addition, playing so aggressively on the diplomatic front [if that was indeed his intent] from the start in a newbie game where Martin Luther gave the Papacy advice on how to wipe the Protestants off the map in Turn 1 probably set some feelings in the rest of the table against him as well. Still, since he ended the game in second place with a long-shot at victory, I can't really fault him too much for that/

- For my end on diplomacy, the Ottomans had Paul III, and I offered to play Venetian Informant and give them an idea of the Hapsburg hand in exchange for him playing Paul III as late as possible. Poor communication/confusion ensued, meaning that I thought we had a deal whereas he thought we never agreed to anything. In the end, I played Venetian Informant for what I thought was my end of the deal, and announced to the table generalities about the Hapsburg hand [it was pretty good ops values, had some mercenary-targeting cards that the French player was glad to know about, but he didn't have any Ottoman-specific cards.]

- Because I had a decent Turn II [what with all the saved cards and preparation], the Papacy spent the diplomacy phase warning everyone that I could win very easily as soon as Schmalkaldic League [which it turned out no one had] came out. I thought that this was genuine, and I spent a while trying to get across to him [with the Hapsburg players' agreement] that this was frankly ridiculous - it turned out later that he didn't actually think that, and was just trying to frighten other players with me.

Turn 3, Papacy/Protestants: Explaining why I had played Venetian Informant [as part of general strategy explanation/clarification] to the Papacy revealed to him that the Ottomans had Paul III, and that the Ottomans didn't actually think that we had a deal [they thought I was playing Venetian Informant anyways due to concern over the Hapsburgs.] In a quick flurry of over-the-table diplomacy, the Pope offered the Ottoman's choice of either Akindji Raiders [to steal a card from the Hapsburgs] or Ransom [to get Suleiman back] played on his behalf at the first papal impulse, in exchange for Paul III played on the first Ottoman impulse. The Ottomans went for the deal, and Paul III came out.

From then on, I tried my best until the end of the turn to make sure that the Papacy had tempting opportunities outside of counter-reforming [my largest fear was that he would steal some electorates away from me, before Schmalkaldic League was sprung.] I tapped debaters willy-nilly for their bonuses, including Tyndale [who was pounced on, once by Eck and once by someone else IIRC, but nevertheless survived], and in the end rather ironically, the Papacy didn't make a single counter-reformation attempt for the entire turn [thanks to debate opportunities, the card loss from getting Paul, and other distractions that I wasn't paying too much attention to. From my perspective, debates were highly luck-dependant, I didn't mind the loss of debaters much as I'd get a huge number more on Turn 4 and it'd plant a larger target on the Papacy's back in terms of metagame, and I felt it was better for me to get him spending ops on debates rather than forcing me to respond to moves in the electorates.]

By the end of the turn, repeated treatise publications had finally taken me the six electorates [though inefficient in ops terms], the English New Testament was close to done, and I managed to pick up Sack of Rome from the discard pile, mainly for holding a 5-ops card, but also to ideally make the Papacy paranoid for the rest of the game [he spent a lot of cps building regulars in both this and later turns and so I thought this was successful, but it turned out later that this was because he worried about an Ottoman naval invasion - !?]

Turn 3: Hapsburgs: Spring deployed half their army to Metz/Antwerp, staring at the French across the border, and built up in the Spanish keys. Also spent the turn building up their fleet, which got utterly stomped in battle against the Ottomans.

In retrospect, the Hapsburg play was generally pretty cautious/conservative, and he called us out a few times on us being terrified of him trying for auto-victories/etc. when he had never really been aggressive for most of the game. At the same time, he was indeed very close to auto-winning at several points, but his window of opportunity really passed by the end Turn 3 was over.

Turn 3: Ottoman: Starting back up from zero, they finally got their troops back from Persia [despite losing the first Foreign War attempt with 3 hits on 3 dice against them] and built up their army. A Hapsburg attempt to build up their fleet in preparation for an attack failed, when the Hapsburg fleet didn't have the ops to engage and ended up spread out over three sea zones bordering the Barbary Coast. In a series of battles and lucky dice rolls [and failed Hapsburg naval interception/avoid battle attempts], the Ottomans proceeded to utterly smash the Hapsburg fleet in detail, costing them 4-5 ships in exchange for light losses, and leaving the Hapsburgs with only one ship left in Gibraltar.

Turn 3: England: Luck with Anne Boleyn proceed an unhealthy Edward VI and 5 VPs for England. The rest of the turn was spent rebuilding his fleet, and some New World attempts.

Turn 3: France: After some back-and-forth with the Hapsburgs [who were distracted by their naval catastrophe], managed to snatch Antwerp, although it cost him all his cards [and the third turn in a row, his home card was again played for CPs.]







Turn 4, Diplomacy: Although the French wanted to beat on the Hapsburgs some more, the latter instead sued for peace, giving the French 2 VPs in exchange for Antwerp back.

Many of us were now concerned about Schmalkaldic League, and all of us expected it to come out during this turn - I had shored up my position in Germany specifically for that reason [good targeting on my behalf had made essentially a wall of reinforcing Protestant spaces that kept the Pope from barging into Germany], and the Hapsburgs prepared troops surrounding the Protestant territories waiting to pounce. More importantly, it turned out that I had drawn Dissolution of the Monasteries while England had drawn Augsburg Confession. A quick and obvious deal was hashed out, with each of us agreeing to play our respective event on the first impulse - which of course made it hugely discouraging for the Papacy to try to break into the electorates. Much complaints about the English players ensued, led by those who thought I was winning [I was heavily behind on VPs at this point, and would be in the middle of the pack and tied with the Papacy even if Schmalkaldic League was played, so I had no idea why they thought this was the case - as it turned out, I managed a win next turn anyways despite my own pessimism.]

Turn 4, Papacy/Protestant: The turn was spent in a back/forth with the Papacy trying to find areas of mine that they could target [not many] while I flipped French/English debaters to build up the ability and give the Pope additional incentive to stay out of Germany. Olivetan ended up burnt at the stake [the only debater of the entire game!], while I got the French New Testament a few ops away from completion, translated the English New Testament, and got the English Bible up to 5 CPs thanks to Tyndale and Coverdale. Although the spots I had in western France ended up flipped back, I cared little about it, shoring up my position in Germany instead, preparing for future opportunities, and holding all six electorates to little threat. Michael Servetus came out early for the Pope which took Frederick the Wise from myself.

I ended up playing Sack of Rome for CPs, and then picking it back up again to hold for CPs via HiS after no decent events for me were played, and it was the only available 5-ops card to hold - none else had been played by the time I was down to HiS and one card [also, I thought the threat over the Papacy's head was having some effect on his play.]

As it transpired, no one had Schmalkaldic League [France told me he had it during diplomacy, but it turned out that he just wanted to mess with me.]

Turn 4, Ottomans: Gave a card draw to the Hapsburgs [John Zapolya!] for Suleiman back at the start.

The divided Hapsburg force and strong dice rolls let the Ottomans pounce on Belgrade, where they crushed Charles V and Ferdinand [Surprise Attack came out for the Ottomans once again for greater effect this time], capturing it [and both Charles and Ferdinand] by turns end. In retrospect, this was excellent for me, as it left the Hapsburgs leaderless in Germany by the time I came out on the map. Also, some failed piracy attempts.

Turn 4, France: Without anyone to go to war with, finally built a chateau and tried some New World attempts. Successfully circumnavigated, placing him at 20 VPs by turn's end and the lead.

Turn 4, England: Built up his fleet some more to full size, sped the English Reformation, and New World attempts.

Turn 4, Hapsburgs: I think the Hapsburgs ended up shot by trying to do too many things at once this turn - reinforce Antwerp [which started off empty thanks to suing for peace] against a potential surprise English attack [which almost occurred - the English still needed another key for that extra card, being handicapped the entire game due to not having it], prepare troops in Germany for potential war with myself, and hold off the Ottomans in Belgrade. In the end, although they lost Charles/Ferdinand and Belgrade, he did build back his navy for a future confrontation and reinforce his army in Buda with John Zapolya.






Turn 5: With Schmalkaldic League played automatically, I was finally on the map, and finally got a 5th card [after the Pope got Venice, and then Paul III, they were getting 5+2 cards each turn versus my 4+1, which I was terrified about although the Pope never used that action advantage very well.] Furthermore, the agreement on Turn 1 with England finally came through for me - I got 4 mercenaries from him which helped deter any Hapsburg invasions [which created considerably more table talk about how England was doing me a lot of unnecessary favors - though in actuality, I gave him 5 ops on Turn 1 to eventually get 5 ops of stuff on later turns; the last op he owed me never occurred.] Much of this advantage was negated by my simple exhaustion from playing so long - I simply spread them out, rather than focusing on the electorates adjacent to actual Hapsburg armies.

With Fuggers [which I had been holding since Turn 2!] and Sack of Rome [holding since Turn 3] held and many New Testaments/Bibles near completion, I was in a stronger position than I looked, though at turn-start I still didn't think I had any chance at the victory I ended up pulling off. During Diplomacy, I attempted to sell some combat cards [Unsanitary Camp in particular] to various players - I eventually made a deal with France to play Unsanitary Camp at a time of his choosing, in exchange for him declaring war on the Hapsburgs [who I was worried would go after me], shaking hands on it twice.

Meanwhile, the Papacy, apparently having bad ops in their hand, gave 2 card draws for events played. One for the Ottomans, in exchange for Society of Jesus played on the first impulse [worth it, I think], and one with England, in exchange for Phillip of Hesse's Bigamy played on the first impulse [completely not worth it - I thought it was ridiculous, and told England during diplomacy that I was very glad he was doing it. It turned out that a combination of exhaustion - by now we'd been playing for 10-11 hrs - and misreading the card led the Papacy to that deal.]

In diplomacy, the Hapsburgs offered Buda to the Ottomans in exchange for peace and their two leaders back. The Ottomans, not convinced on the benefit for themselves [Buda was lightly defended], refused. Other players thought that I was a threat [at this point, I was at 19 VPs, tied with the Papacy and 1 point behind France] to the point where France actually declared war on the Protestants [stabbing me in the back despite our deal] and spent the 5 ops of Diplomatic Marriage [which he could have used to take Genoa and get to 23 VPs] transplanting an army across the North and Baltic Sea to land in Lubeck [which he didn't have the leftover ops to control yet] and move into Brandenburg.

France couldn't invade me directly because as it turned out, he had no land access to me - I was completely surrounded by Hapsburg territory [Charles V held Antwerp/Brussels/Metz/Besancon of course, and highly ironically the single successful Papal counter-reformation attempt in Germany last turn - which I didn't counterattack since I didn't care - was Strasbourg, leaving even a march through Switzerland out of the cards for France.] This wouldn't have been an issue if France had allied with the Hapsburgs, but no such deal had taken place, the war apparently being a last-minute decision on the French player's part - the downside of his deliberately erratic/unplanned diplomatic strategy.

The Papacy, meanwhile, tried several times to chip away at me via counter-reformation, but the ensuing Maginot Line of troops in the Koln-Trier/Mainz-Worms line kept him from achieving much headway, while I held a back door into France with Calvin in Geneva [he eventually converted Trier when the Hapsburgs took that, but it was hugely inefficient in ops terms.] Meanwhile, my first impulse was spent reforming with Carlstadt [both to distract the Pope - I was most worried about him going after that French backdoor, and figured anything he took in Germany could be taken back very easily - and to place the two Jesuit universities in unrest - I ended up converting two spots and getting one Jesuit spot in unrest. The one left was placed in Kassel to defend the remaining German Catholic spaces, which I frankly didn't care too much about at this point.] The obvious Leipzig Debate played with Eck targeting committed Carlstadt backfired as, incredibly, Carlstadt held Eck to a 2-2 tie! The second round ensued with Melanchthon trouncing a 2-strength Papal debater and 2 squares flipped for me. [From my perspective, I didn't care too much if Carlstadt was burnt at this point, and figured any conversions in Germany would be easily reversed - I just wanted his attention as far away from the French backdoor in Geneva as possible. My greatest fear at this time was a wall of Jesuit universities keeping me stuck in Germany, but in the end, the Papacy never spent the CPs on more Jesuits, and I could probably have broken through with difficulty regardless.]

As the tiny French army [3 units+Montmercy besieging my two] in Brandenburg was 2/3 mercenaries and I held Mercenaries Grow Restless, I wasn't concerned, showing him the card publicly over the table and pointing out that he couldn't win. Sensibly, he didn't push for an assault anyways. The Hapsburgs meanwhile went after and took Trier [which I had 2 units in and should have shored up much more, but it was late and poor play was abundant by this point] with a leaderless 4-unit army, costing me two VPs.

At this point, I considered myself to be in a decent position, with Fuggers and the 5-ops Sack of Rome in my hand, Printing Press played by the Ottomans early for ops [which was one of the things that made me think I had a shot at victory, and myself at a sufficiently low VP total [compared to the closely grouped pack] that I no longer appeared an immediate threat.] I thought I had a small chance at victory via VPs, and moreover, just wanted to give it a shot so the game could end - it was approaching 11 PM by this point, and we'd been playing for close to 12 hrs to get through 5 turns.

For the next few impulses, I bided my time, using up my 1-ops cards to translate in English/French closer to completion [with debater bonuses], effectively passing with Here I Stand to pick up Printing Press and holding it [playing it on the next impulse instead - which the Papacy asked me about and I explained to him once I started my run.] Meanwhile, other players fought each other, no longer concerned by myself - the Ottomans and Hapsburgs fought a series of spectacularly bloody naval battles which left the Ottomans down to 2-3 corsairs and the Hapsburg fleet again wiped out. The French naval invasion of Germany [!!!, again] backfired when England declared war, using Professional Rowers, their numbers advantage, and the divided French fleet to wipe out 4 French ships [with no English naval losses], restoring English naval supremacy. Having put off controlling Lubeck, and now losing LoC the French were forced to move their troops back to Lubeck to avoid turn-end attrition.

By the time I played Fuggers for the event, almost everyone was tapped down to passing, and most importantly, the Papacy was down to their single held card [a 1-ops card as it turned out that was utterly useless against me] while I held 6-7 cards, the Printing Press bonus, almost all of my debaters ready for action, the French New Testament 1 CP away from translated and the English Bible 3 CPs away. In the ensuing phases, I then translated the French New Testament and Bible, as well as the English Bible - good rolls and the massive bonuses I was getting [+1 printing press dice, +1 debater dice, +1 dice roll on the Bible rolls] meant that 17 out of the 18 ensuing conversion attempts succeeded, which brought me to 25 VPs and something like 42 Protestant spaces [half of France and all of England/Scotland] with two cards left, while consternation reigned throughout the rest of the table.

At this point, the Hapsburgs decided to roll the dice and try to stop me, creating a tiny siege [2 troops vs 1!] in Mainz with his remaining nearby units, himself knowing that he held Treachery [which was the reason he had been fighting so hard in the Mediterranean - he wanted Algiers!] As it turned out, I still held Unsanitary Camp as one of my two cards [which I had been holding for exactly this reason - I knew the Hapsburgs were one of the only players with resources left who could act against me in my electorates. In fact, the Hapsburg player knew I had the card, since I showed it to him at the start of the turn!], which forced him to retreat without the numbers edge. Down to only Treachery, he had no way to act against me.

The other contender was the crafty French player, who revealed his last held card of Andrea Doria [which was why he played Diplomatic Marriage for the CPs], bringing him to 23 VPs. He had already sent an explorer [as had the Hapsburgs and the English], giving him a shot at the Amazon River - luck on this would have brought him to 25 as well, and given him the victory by tiebreaker [being in the lead at Turn 24-end.]

I considered using my last 2-cps card for a reformation attempt to get to 26 VPs to remove that threat.... until I remembered that said card was Search for Cibola [which I had been holding for exactly said reason - the table had been rather worried that some combination of Copernicus/Genoa+explorers could have given the French a dark horse chance at victory - I'd only temporarily forgotten since, again, it was 11 PM and we'd been playing for 12 hrs.] A prompt play of it for the event ensued that the French explorer went off looking for the City of Gold, and that there was no chance for him beating me to my hard-fought victory.



General thoughts:

As I spent the entire game telling people [and genuinely believing myself] that I had absolutely no threat of winning anytime soon [from Turns 1-3], and that I wasn't threatening a victory more than anyone else [Turn 4], there's of course some retrospective consideration of whether I was simply far too pessimistic on my chances. Even when I started my run for victory, I figured it'd leave me short but I might have a say 25% chance of pulling it off - which was enough to try when it was getting so late and I just wanted the game over [part of it was also that it turned out we had slightly undercounted my spaces earlier which meant I started 1 VP closer than I thought - the Papacy kept close track through the attempts I was making.] For the entire game up until I pushed all-out for victory on Turn 5, the Pope was either tied with me or ahead in points [even including the 12 electorate points before they happened], and when Paul III came out literally the first second he could he could [and same with Society of Jesus], I figured I was doomed but made a run of it anyways.

Perhaps even the Papacy believed I had little chance despite his continuous and effective fearmongering that I would win the game on that turn, through Turns 3 [!], 4, and 5 - I found myself surprised by how little he was pushing back on me on the last two turns, even when the Ottomans were cheering the Hapsburgs on and the French invaded Brandenburg by sea [it was however really good diplomacy work for him to get other players to do his dirty work for him.] A possible contribution was that I had also strongly defended a wall of my spaces effectively such that pushing back against me was very difficult and cost-ineffective.

At the same time, there were a massive number of luck components that I needed for said victory. The Papacy giving away 2 card draws that left them tapped while I still had an almost-full hand. Printing Press played early for the event, my preparation throughout the game with 4 mercenaries [from a Turn-1 deal] sparing me the need to waste ops on an army, Fuggers [from Turn 2] and Sack of Rome [from turn 3] held for the last three turns, and the French/English scripture near completion. England spending some few ops to publish treatises since he thought I was no threat was also a retrospective mistake on his part [though I don't think it'd have made a difference - I ran out of rolls in England with only 4/6 of the English Bible attempts used and wasted the rest on Prague/Breslau.] Poor rolls [such as the ones I saw on Turn 1 or 2] could easily have doomed me. And of course, the last two cards I had [which I was holding deliberately in case of an assault on a key or against an explorer] managed to stymie the two attempts to knock me down.

It's also true that my general strategy throughout the game was aimed at building me up for the future in ways that did not make me seem an immediate threat - I held 2 cards throughout the entire game; I made the Treachery deal on Turn 1 that turned out to leave me out 8 ops immediately while I eventually got 5 back in later turns, and actually wanted the Papal VPs higher towards the later game [mainly to get the entire table off my back], which was part of why I kept tossing tempting debaters his way [only Olivetan was actually burnt at the end] - my general approach with debaters was the same as my strategic use of Carlstadt for unrest - to make sure that I'm in a position where I'd be happy in some way [either good for me, or missed opportunities for him] no matter what happened.

I focused far more on strategic layout of Protestant spaces than pure number throughout the game [up until I made my run] which left me with few weaknesses for the Papacy to exploit and a space count that seemed weaker than it actually was. Had Charles and Ferdinand not both been sitting in an Istanbul dungeon, my position in Germany would have been hurt far more [though at the same time, I put little effort into defending the electorates since I spent most of the game expecting to lose them as soon as they came out - in that case, I would try to win anyways with 50 spaces - which I would have had a decent chance at on Turn 5 by foregoing the French Bible and defensive play, had I spent the ops on treatises in France/Germany instead.]


In terms of general strategy, I'm now very convinced that the key to victory in Here I Stand is the ability to build up your position while ensuring you still do not appear as a threat. Half the reason I was throwing debaters to the flames willy nilly was that I had enough debaters not to care, and I wanted the Papal VP count consistently higher than mine up until I made an all-out push for victory. [At the start, this was easier for me since most people did not care about the religious minigame; by the end, everyone had pretty much picked up the reformation/counter-reformation dice rules.] Managing to save high ops from turn to turn was also something I did consistently [I never saved less than 6 ops of cards each turn up until the last, though I kept worrying that the Papacy would do late-turn plays and force me to respond with my held cards - they never did, which I thought was a bad move on their part.] At the same time, the new player dynamic made the metagame more complicated, due to the difficulty in judging player situation by more than VP count..

In terms of the rule mechanics, I really enjoyed the game [as did much of the table]; I would say the main criticisms centered around the massive profusion of dice rolling and the large component of luck in results. Though I do like strategic games with significant amounts of uncertainty, where part of the strategy is managing that uncertainty and making sure you have a response to every eventuality, things like getting wiped out of Germany on Turn 1 and failing 6 out of 6 New Testament attempts with Printing Press on Turn 2 really drove home the level of uncertainty in the game.

I do wish to also say, however, it is also true that much of my success in this game came from having a clear plan in mind at all times. Even when the dice seemed to hate me on Turns 1/2, I still had a plan in mind to victory - the advantage of doing badly is that no one is afraid of you winning, and no one feels the need to knock you down a peg just for the sake of doing so, and I took advantage of that as best as I could for the rest of the game. Without that, I don't think the Ottomans would have played Printing Press for ops so early on Turn 5, and nor do I think the Papacy would have felt comfortable losing 2 cards and spending much of his remaining ones on St. Peters, while I bided my time.
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Brad Keusch
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Ah man, I really hope I can get my copy tabled at some point. Nice session report, the play length is daunting but it looks compelling as hell. Did all of the new players enjoy the game? Did anyone feel that the length was too much of a turnoff?
 
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Jeffrey Drozek-Fitzwater
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It gets shorter when players know the rules well.

Sometimes, the game is more interesting with newer players. They aren't aware of any "script" to follow in the opening impulses.
 
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Daniel Blumentritt
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You certainly talk about the game on a level far beyond what I'd expect from only having now a 1.33 game history. I gotta say, I don't think I could stand playing at that speed, even for newbies averaging nearly 2.5 hours a turn seems slow.

Also surprised an experienced Hapsburg didn't win against five newer players, especially in a game where nobody ganged up on him. For some reason a lot of people think that one "ought" give them to the most experienced player in a newbie game, but I think that's not the best rule of thumb. Papacy is probably the best spot for such a player, IMO. Hapsburg should go in a newbie game, IMO, to the best multitasker. But sounds like it worked out ok for y'all.
 
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Sophie Zhang
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anatana wrote:
Ah man, I really hope I can get my copy tabled at some point. Nice session report, the play length is daunting but it looks compelling as hell. Did all of the new players enjoy the game? Did anyone feel that the length was too much of a turnoff?
Everyone who I heard from afterwards loved it, in fact sufficiently much that we're trying to get another game together on the next weekend.

bobcatpoet wrote:
It gets shorter when players know the rules well.

Sometimes, the game is more interesting with newer players. They aren't aware of any "script" to follow in the opening impulses.
Absolutely. I doubt that my play with selling Treachery on Turn 1 or deliberately trying to get the Papacy to target my debaters is anywhere near standard Protestant play. Similarly, I find it unlikely that anyone else has seen a French naval invasion of northern Germany [which I still find myself a bit amazed by.] On the other hand, there are actual reasons why getting too creative could be an issue - the naval invasion turned out to be really costly in terms of operations, and got the French utterly nowhere [in fact, spreading out their fleet for the transplant placed a sufficiently large target on their back that England wiped out their fleet.]

Statalyzer wrote:
You certainly talk about the game on a level far beyond what I'd expect from only having now a 1.33 game history. I gotta say, I don't think I could stand playing at that speed, even for newbies averaging nearly 2.5 hours a turn seems slow.

Also surprised an experienced Hapsburg didn't win against five newer players, especially in a game where nobody ganged up on him. For some reason a lot of people think that one "ought" give them to the most experienced player in a newbie game, but I think that's not the best rule of thumb. Papacy is probably the best spot for such a player, IMO. Hapsburg should go in a newbie game, IMO, to the best multitasker. But sounds like it worked out ok for y'all.
The thing to realize about this group is that even though almost everyone was new to this specific game, we're very well-versed in the genre of strategy games and very capable of looking up advice on boardgamegeek.

In fact, the player who I'd say had the most trouble with the rules was the French [at least publicly - he was asking questions such as "Do I get VPs from winning a battle" even halfway through the game. Who knows if that was also a stratagem to get us to underestimate him], and he came in second place, and was the only other player who had a real shot at winning that turn. I'd chalk his success up to a combination of luck, and being very good at use of diplomacy.

The long duration of the game was probably due to both being a newbie game [with rule questions/explanations/etc.] and having experienced strategy players who put a lot of time into diplomacy/etc. [which I believe is rare for the typical newbie game. In later turns, we put time limits on diplomacy for specifically this reason.]

The possibility for experienced Hapsburg victory was definitely something I worried about for the entire game [especially turns 1-3], and my warnings were probably somewhat successful in that regard - I even persuaded the Pope to excommunicate him with his home card on Turn 2. I think part of it also was that the Hapsburg player generally played a fairly conservative game [a lot of his cps were spent building regulars rather than mercenaries, for instance] and was on the defensive for much of it [with the result that his gains were slowly chipped away by coalitions over turns 3-5.] I still think he had a good chance for auto-victory on turn 3 had he played aggressively [e.g. by making peace with the Ottomans and beating up the Papacy for the 2 keys he needed for automatic victory], but the Hapsburg player disagrees with me on this, and I don't think he'd want to be so aggressive in a newbie game anyways.
 
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Kevin Robinson

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Hi all, I played as England. Here's a couple thoughts:

- Not having the rules correct on Suing for Peace really changed the game. France played really well based on our belief in the peace rules, and I think would have had a different approach if he knew that I could just get Calais back for a concession.

- HIS simulates well England's rule in continental affairs really nicely. I was able to have a small but tangible effect on everyone except the Ottomans. The threat of attack at one point sewed up the Hapsburgs for a turn.

- Despite my pretty terrible position from the first two turns, I ended in 3rd place at 20 VPs, and felt I was in a position to challenge for 25 within the next two turns.

- I helped the Protestants quite a bit, but did so for what felt like a good reason. Hapsburgs were threatening for auto-win, but people kept talking of upcoming Schmalkaldic League effect. I figured that a strong Protestant turn 3 and 4 would force Hapsburg to divert major resources to Burgundy and Germany, and would allow France to take a bit of the Hapsburg pie in the process. And to top it off, I received 7 VPs by the end from Protestantism. Catholicism was offering no benefits, so it seemed like the right call to go hard for Protestantism. Luther's victory came swift and had some nice card play, and frankly I was glad as well that we were able to end the game with a winner.
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Daniel Blumentritt
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Yeah, England receives 1 VP for every 2 reformed spaces in England, and the Protestant receives 1 VP for on average every 3.33 spaces, I believe, so as long as the Protestants are behind you or even in VP, and don't have something else that primes them for a big surge (unconverted spaces in Germany with the German Bible nearly finished, Printing Press out, etc), allying with them to reform England together makes sense. It's hard to win as England without a few VPs that way.

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Similarly, I find it unlikely that anyone else has seen a French naval invasion of northern Germany
The World Boardgaming Championship finals earlier this year saw 4 different powers fighting wars in France and Northern Italy on turns 2 & 3.

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In fact, the player who I'd say had the most trouble with the rules was the French [at least publicly - he was asking questions such as "Do I get VPs from winning a battle" even halfway through the game. Who knows if that was also a stratagem to get us to underestimate him]
Sounds like my dad in many games. I know his gaming style pretty well but even I can rarely tell when he's asking genuine questions and when he's just trying to appear nonthreatening.
 
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