[Cross-posted from our blog, Margin of Victory: an in-depth look at board games]
I am new to Here I Stand. I had been interested in trying it for over a year, but with every game my friend John hosted, I had schedule conflicts. Had I known what fun I was missing, I may have pushed harder to get them to schedule a time that I could make. Last July, I finally made it to a game. Playing as the French in the tournament scenario, my lack of experience and knowledge of the rules caused me to flail about, get pushed around diplomatically, and squander CP like crazy. My lack of skill probably ended up working in my favor, as the rest of Europe beat itself up, ignoring the French, leading to a sneaky French victory on the back of some nice cards and optimal New World rolls.
After having a blast in my first game, but regretting not understanding the rules better, I wanted to be better prepared for the next game I played. I learned in advance that I would play as the English. I turned to John, our most experienced player, who had played the English in our last game for clarification on the only confusing rules issue for the English, the divorce and pregnancy chart. My plan was to make a deal for the divorce with the Papacy, unless I had a very high CP hand that I did not want to risk with granting card draws. While I think the divorce is valuable, my powerful home card also guarantees that Edward is born if Henry is persistent. Depending on the hand I was dealt, my offer would vary between one or two card draws or card plays. I figure that unless a disaster happened, I would be able to eventually get Edward and the 5 VP, using my home card as many times as needed. I planned on taking Scotland, and then targeting a French or Hapsburg key, picking up some New World VP's and making England Anglican. I figured a balanced approach would allow me to draft behind the front-runner until I could use my home card's special ability to surprise a mainland power later in the game. The best part about seeming harmless as the English is that the Protestant player can generate a lot of VP for you by converting England. They won't do that if you are in the lead, so it was critical to my success that I strike late.
We had a couple new players at the table, and after a brief tutorial for them, we got the game going. My initial draw was outstanding. I had Erasmus, Paul III, Copernicus, Michael Servetus, and Foreign Recruits. I had the ability to work out a deal for the divorce, and score 3 additional VP. So much for keeping a low profile. The Pope agreed to grant the divorce, in return for the play of Paul III on my first impulse, and Erasmus on my second impulse. I also got a mercenary and a card through the use of Diplomatic Overture from the Protestants, in return for an alliance and a promise not to play Servetus until he had no cards to discard. I rolled a six--healthy Edward! The roll freed me to use my home card for a war of my choosing during the action phase.
Turn 4 was exciting. The Hapsburgs were running amok after playing Diplomatic Marriage to activate Venice on his first impulse and taking Metz early in the turn. The Ottomans were getting absolutely crushed with terrible rolls. The French took Milan immediately and built a chateau soon after. The Papacy, in large part due to plays by myself and the Hapsburgs on his behalf, made some significant gains early against the Reformation. Late in the turn, with the Hapsburgs threatening a domination victory, I declared war on them instead of Scotland, and, through a naval move, put Henry VIII and a sizable force in Calais and then marched on Antwerp. The Hapsburgs were not pleased, and eliminated my mercenaries with a card and then attacked my siege force with Charles V and a slightly smaller army. The dice crashed into the box and I destroyed the Hapsburg force, capturing Charles V and leaving only one unit in Antwerp, which fell on my impulse moments later. I had to use Servetus (which the Protestant snapped up and played using his home card) for the assault, but it was well worth it. That ended turn 4, with Hapsburgs at 19, The English at 18 (9 VP this turn), The Papacy and France tied at 18, Ottomans at 17 and the Protestants at 16.
The next turn was certain to be interesting. I got Dissolution of the Monasteries, Diplomatic Overture, Auld Alliance, Siege Mining, and some other average cards that I can't remember. I also was able to get the Hapsburgs to agree to an alliance even though I had taken a key and would get a card for Charles V. He certainly did not want to sue for peace, which would have granted me some combination of VP's or card draws. The French were looking to take Genoa, and asked for an alliance, which would have prevented me from taking any keys this turn, but would not pay my fee of one card for that peace of mind. I drew a lot of cards from the deck with poor results. I got three cards worth 1 CP and one worth 4 with Dissolution and Diplomatic Overture, turning 12 CP into 7 CP. I drew Threat to Power from the Hapsburgs. I still ended up with a lot of cards to play with, meaning my opponents would be unable to react to my plays at the end of the turn. I was looking for a knockout blow, but I wasn't sure where to deliver it, or if the other powers would perceive the English threat before it was too late.
The Ottomans continued to crash into the Hapsburgs, but finally succeeded in taking Vienna, losing Algiers to the Hapsburgs. The French went after Genoa and New World VP's, and spent their home card for another chateau. The Protestants, aided by the Anglican movement, gained some ground, but sort of fizzled after the Jesuits showed up and negated the reformers in France and England. I decided to invade Scotland. Using my home card, I made the declaration, and the French intervened. This move puzzled me, because only two regulars and the French king stood between Henry VIII and his sizable, war-hardened force marching from Calais to Paris. I should have declared war on the French directly, but I figured I could win by taking Scotland and going after the new world. I shifted gears, took Paris (siege mining made it easy), captured the French king, and used Auld Alliance to deactivate Scotland. The French sunk my explorer. With victory out of reach, I held a couple combat cards for the next round. England 20, Hapsburg 19, Protestant and Papacy 18, French and Ottoman 16.
Holding the lead heading into the turn made it very difficult to make friends in diplomacy. I was dealt a very high CP hand again, which included some nasty cards that could have been painful in the hand of another player. The French had no interest in ransoming their imprisoned king. While I was unable to make a single deal, I was able to break up a massive Hapsburg lead coalition, which was essentially designed to destroy me. I did this by convincing the Protestant that there was no way the Hapsburgs would play Catholic cards against him (easy point to make since obviously the CP would be critical for the crusade he was planning against me). A few of us also helped out our new Ottoman player by preventing a peace settlement that served absolutely no purpose for him, allowing him to eventually better his score by 3 instead of 1 (when you can't win, play for the highest score possible). The pope decided that he could just wait to play City State Rebels. I convinced him to see how the war went, and then play it on whoever remained ahead of him. I assured him that I had no interest in converting England, so when the dust settled, he could possibly win if the Hapsburgs and French were successful in knocking me down if he conserved his CP. Seeing that their deals with the other three players were not on stable ground, the Hapsburgs and French had to change plans on the fly.
I used Foreign Recruits in Antwerp on my first impulse, which meant not even a perfect roll on the City State Rebels could succeed, which would have been a likely waste of 4 CP. (I did expose myself later in the turn, and with me still in the lead the pope pounced!) No faction challenged my military directly. Had they seen my hand, they would have realized that it was a very wise choice; I could have summoned an impressive force to respond to any threat, and it would have likely resulted in them gaining no VP's. I took Rouen early in the turn. The Hapsburgs lost Prague, and fought with the Protestant over Trier and Mainz. They also invaded Tunis, but had that force eliminated late in the turn by Mercenaries Demand Pay. I decided to go for 24 VP and the win. I marshaled my forces and went for Bordeaux, forgetting that the Pope still held City State Rebels! He played the card, forcing me to use the Swiss Mercenaries I had planned on using to initiate the assault. I barely survived the rebellion in Rouen (1 regular remaining!) The Protestant really got burned at the end of the last turn, losing religious influence in a couple of electorates. All of England remained Catholic, except for the armies, after Henry VIII died late in the turn. The French finally took Genoa, and ended up scoring in the New World and with another chateau.
Final: English 22, Hapsburgs, Papacy, and Ottoman 19, France 17, and the Protestants at 13.
I learned several things about Here I Stand from this session. The cards can really change your plan drastically. I had planned to dabble in everything and draft behind the leader, but instead ended up spending most of the game as the front-runner and almost completely focused on my military. Once you are in the lead the pack has numerous ways to drag you down. I was very fortunate to survive several close calls with amazing die rolls, and the Hapsburg player only dropped in VPs after his initial surge, simply because the backlash had crippled him severely, decimating his western force and costing him a key right away.
I also noticed that it the Protestants were very hampered by my success. You can read about his trials in an earlier post in this blog. England is one of the easiest targets for reformation, but he could not risk giving me any additional VP's starting early in turn 5.
This was a fun game, thanks to all the other players, and thanks to John, our gracious host! I look forward to our next showdown is tomorrow, November 15th, When I will be playing as the Hapsburgs.
This session report highlights one of my few complaints with the game: mutually exclusive victory. It just makes no sense thematically that the Protestants would avoid converting England for fear of "English Victory". Doesn't really hurt the play too badly, but does kind of take you out of the spirit.