[Re-posted with Pitt's permission]
FWIW, while I'm not yet convinced that the military strategy is the *only* way to win, I am pretty sure that it is an almost guaranteed victory unless the majority of the other players (3 in a 5 player game, 2 in a 4) also pursue it. Otherwise, it's fairly easy to get an army that's so good on both offense and defense, as well as cheap to run (pluses on Condottiere bids) that you're almost certain to gain 2 or more laurels per decade. The additional cash brought in by being Condottiere also makes it that much easier to pursue a "minor strategy" in Artists, Merchants, or Most Cash/Most Influence, thus padding your VP margin and eating into that of the Merchant strategy player.
The problem with defending against the military strategy is that it needs to be a shared defense. That is, multiple players need to work together to outbid, outbuild, and outmaneuver (by giving up their turn to call for less rewarding wars, by using the Pope's "gang on" ability, or by exercising vetos) the primary militant, otherwise the defense will either be unsuccessful or the lone primary defender will really just be an alternate contender for primary militant. In the latter case, there are plenty of laurels and cash bonuses to share between only 2 militant players and one of them will likely win. As a result, those players engaged in a successful shared defense each stand to gain less individually than those who don't engage in the defense but benefit from it, e.g. those who are aggressively pursuing a Merchant strategy. Players who allow any other player to pursue a Merchant strategy while they are part of a team defending against the military strategy are just as doomed to lose as those who let a primary militant take control of the game. Falling on your sword is romantic but not very fruitful in either case.
FYI, I really like the game and I believe that it is balanced when played with 5 *experienced* players who all understand the mechanics and interactions and, thus, all engage in a roughly equal arms build-up as part of an overarching strategy. Short of that, however, its almost always likely to go to the guy who gets the biggest, baddest army the fastest.
>I haven't played PotR enough to be sure about this, Pitt, but
>consider this mind experiment. Suppose one player (we'll call him
>Pitt) concentrates on buying up military forces during the first
>round while the other players ignore them and buy city tiles
>instead. In the second and third rounds, the pacifist players simply
>put up the Event tiles for auctions, ending the rounds quickly so
>that poor Pitt only gets to fight one battle per round. Wouldn't
>they then be in a much better position to win?
Yep. That is certainly theoretically possible. However, human nature being what it is, I think it's unlikely. That strategy was actually discussed as an option during our discussion of the game but, as was quickly pointed out (and not by me) the temptation for one of those pacifists to drop out of the alliance and start racking up cash as the defensive Condottiere is well nigh overwhelming. All it takes is one defector and the militant player gets to reap the benefit of his aggressive strategy.
>Sigh. Now that I finally have the game and might have a chance to
>play soon, are you folks saying it's unbalanced?
Not at all. Or, rather, I believe there *is* a strategy (aggressive military to the exclusion of almost everything else) that could be unbalancing if all players are not aware of it and don't work equally to limit it. That said, if all players are experienced enough to understand the competing strategies and the subtle intricacies of the interacting game mechanics, then no one strategy is inherently dominant (at least, not in the 5 player game - I do have a concern that, experienced players notwithstanding, the military strategy will be dominant in the 3 and 4 player games).
So, to enjoy the game to its fullest (at least while you're new to it), I suggest:
- play with 5 players
- describe the military strategy (as outlined in this thread) to all players
- ensure that they understand it and know how to defend against it
And, just to be clear, I don't find the (potential) existence of a dominant strategy in a complex game not yet fully understood by all players to be a flaw. Quite often, very good complex games (such as PotR), require extra effort in time and analysis for the best modes of play and for counters to the easy and obvious strategies to become clear. In fact, I'm inclined to say that almost all complex games with staying power fall into this category. Otherwise, the time investment in playing them after they've been "mastered" isn't worthwhile.
Re:Pitt Crandlemire's strategic analysis
Nice analisis, but not covering several elementary options. Of course I agree that if you are the only one buying an army, you will win. If everybody else goes after those 9 merchants you just need one cavalry to get 12-15 laurels in any game. This is not a very likely scenario though.... It could be that our groups abolishment of the troop tile limit influences my reasoning but here goes....
First of all you do not discuss the possibility of playing the "fall guy". In this strategy you buy a single unit and plan to fight only those wars you want to LOSE. On the surface it seems that if one player adopts this strategy it is even more likely that the dominant military player will rake in the laurels, but as soon as one other player has any kind of army the laurels will be spread out among the players.
(If Lorenzo de Medici is present from round 1 on it is possible to keep the number of wars down to a max of 9 wich means that in a 3 player game the average player will only fight 6 wars, 6 laurels will probably not be enough to win if your cities are low)
Also I am not sure your analisis does full justice even to the "military strategy". For example a strategy with a high defence and lowish offence can frustrate any big attacker. Building defence is much cheaper than building offence and in a 3-4 player game it is very likely one of the military players will opt for the heavy defence, counter attack option (jack of all trades).
The main problem with a strong offence (Terminator) strategy is that you are soleley depending on your laurels. You cannot build your cities because you have to win wars, AS THE ATTACKER. A fallguy or Jack of all trades can fight for(or against in case of the fallguy)his own cities.
In a 4 player game you will need about 50 points to be sure of a win. Even with 7 battles (!) going your way you still need 22 points from your cities wich will not work if you dont have all of them in the top 3.
Another problem for military players (especially if more then one player builds a big army is the number of turns you spend on buying troop tiles. Players with a small army will advance the ages very quickly and limit the number of wars dramatically.
In short, I am not convinced (Neither by experience nor by your arguments) that a 3-4 player game automatically goes to the strongest military player. A combined merchant/ fall guy strategy is as strong, a jack of all trades is stronger than any terminator...
Re:Pitt Crandlemire's strategic analysis
This is a simple game with complex strategies. You need at least 2 strategies to win, relying on one just doesn't work. If someone has an ATTACK strategy then start wars attacking his city. Use the reverse on a defensive player. You have to diversify and play carefully. One bad auction or 2 point loss of status can doom a single strategy player. I agree that the "Jack of all Trades" is the best as long as you have competant players realizing what someone is trying to do. Tremendous game that has infinite replay.