TURN 2: Chariots Saves the Day
Another absorbing report. Churchill surges into the Ent province of Sherwood and met a single strength-6 Ent army: no match for four legions and two chariots! 'We mowed them down like weeds', says the report exultantly. This conquest would normally exhaust the movement of the slow legions, but Migfox pursues and finds Churchill ('He waved a white flag and shouted out to Churchill with friendly words of greeting: "Good morning, Sir!"'), trains in tactics, and takes the legions off him. Migfox has March-2 skill, enabling him to speed up his force to march an extra province. Churchill is left with the faster Chariots, and thrusts into Transylvania, where he finds non-player leader Everard with a human phalanx and fleet.
As planned, Churchill risks his life in challenging Everard to a duel: once again, the non-player commander proves to have unexpected talents, and kills our beloved leader in a hard-fought duel: this means that our disheartened troops lose 25% of strength in this battle, but we can pick a successor with skills slightly adjusted to the situation. Despite Everard's triumph, our chariots narrowly defeat the enemy: add Transylvania to the empire.
Meanwhile, Migfox leads the legions to Khurum, sweeping aside a single Phalanx: 'We smashed their skulls as if they were eggshells', reports Migfox. Marlboro tries to defeat another Dryad, but is Charmed out of his endeavours: he then explores busily.
At turn end, we're second in the race for Emperor, with 70% of the leader's tax revenue, and still doing fairly well for Defender (monster-killer) and High Chancellor (discoverer). And we've met another player: King Stile (John Noe). We see sea on both sides, and the poor provinces of Milo's Crossroads (plains, with werefolk) and Erg Iguidi (desert, with camel corps) are the only new land provinces apart from the jungle of Unita, owned by Stile.
Contact Stile (John Moe): he says he's Good too (hooray!), and makes friendly noises, but then goes out of town for a few days. I decide not to go for either of the new provinces as he may go for one, and it'd be silly to irritate him as he's a natural ally, probably the only other Good player in the game. Yerbouti sends a hasty note: he's busy writing an article for FLAGSHIP, no time to discuss the game! What a feeble excuse.
Non-player Robin shows a forgiving spirit for being ejected from Khurum last turn, and offers his services cheaply. We also see an Elemental Magic hero, Rolando, and the displaced Everard: neither offer their services, which means they are probably different alignments - but they can still be Charmed to join us. Charm is a Psychic spell, so we give our new leader first-level psychic skill: call him Attlee (Churchill's post-war successor). We'll risk him in duel too: if he dies, his successor can get another point of psychic (each successor can vary by one level).
Attlee tries to charm Everard (30% chance with Psychic-1), then takes his chariots via the central Sherwood province to Cretacia, where we expect to find some wimpish human bowmen in the mountains. En route he meets Migfox and trains him in Tactics up to level 2: Migfox then marches south to assault the rich elven Oakhaven. This is partly for the income, partly because Oakhaven has west coast fleets which we can use to move off the continent in that direction, and partly because the Good non-player Lallipugh moved there last turn: with luck he should be recruitable. Marlboro goes to hire Robin, then they both move north-east, exploring. Attlee will also try a Bless spell to boost home province income (30% chance with White Magic level 1).
TURN 3: Losing Ground
I eagerly await the turn report, which pops onto the electronic mail board on schedule as usual: full marks to Ark Royal for reliable GMing. Attlee has one of those days: first his Charm fails, then his Bless fails, then non-player Dracona turns out to be a level-2 Necromancer and squeezes him with the Hand of Death: curtains! Moving along in British history, the successor to Churchill and Attlee was Eden: he'll be my next leader. At this rate of attrition I'm going to end up with Maggie after all, gulp.
Yet again, the gallant armies shrug off their leader's death and scatter the opposition: Dracona flees to Sherwood. Migfox pauses to raid the Dryad, but she charms him too: must be a Miss Dryad contest-winner. Now Migfox's massive legions move south, and prove more than enough to shatter the elven armies; he rises to March-3 skill, which means he can lead cavalry and chariots to conquer three provinces in sequence or skim through five friendly provinces: impressive! Robin and Marlboro fan out, and find another player over the sea to the east: Allias (as our empires are not physically in touch we don't get the name yet).
Despite the progress we slip to 64% of the game leader and third place in tax income: someone must really be churning up the turf in all directions. Stile takes Milo's Crossroads and sends an apologetic note for being out of town: think nothing of it, dear ally, I write back: now can I have Erg Iguidi?
Now what? Priority A must be to pick up all these displaced heroes. As expected, the noble Lallipugh offers his services, and he turns out to be Psychic-2, just what we need to charm the others. Eden will therefore not take a second psychic point, going instead for another White magic level.
My men rush into furious activity in all directions, with mixed fortunes. Eden charms the elementalist Rolando, recruits some more forces, rolls into Erg Iguidi (carefully refraining from challenging the non-player leader to a duel: we've had enough deaths in the family), and tries unsuccessfully to bless the dear homeland (a white magic spell that raises income). Migfox hires Lallipugh, hands him the bulk of the army, recruits a fleet and a new elven bow army, and sails west, finding a large sea area. Lallipugh moves to Sherwood, tries but fails to charm necromancer Dracona, I then order him to storm the poverty-stricken (hence lightly-defended) Maplehaven, but he points out frostily that his legions had already marched two areas and could march no further (oops). Robin recruits a fleets and probes east, but has it sunk by a weak human bowmen garrison in Kilbuck on the far side of the water: heroes have personal skiffs so Robin can slink back home anyway despite this fiasco. And Marlboro penetrates the Allias frontier and probes inland, searching, exploring, spying: to the east, he sees a sea province owned by King Samuel, a player we've not yet met. Rolando tries to overcome the Dryad and joins the list of her conquests, charmed out of pursuing his mission.
I feel fairly cheerful although we're now only at 61% of the leading player's tax base: at this stage I'm not convinced that it matters much, and the army is really looking very tough: elven bowmen, orcish Phalanxes, veteran human legions and chariots, and fleets on both coasts. With a Good neighbour (if he's telling the truth) to the north, I'm ready for action on either flank. But I'd really prefer to have a turn or two for cross-training, so that the various heroes can pass on their skills to each other and to Eden before we go to war. On the other hand, will the game leaders then overrun yet more territory and extend their lead? Stile is next to Allias and should know who he is: I'll see what I can find out.
TURN 4: The Shadow of Past Sins
Aargh! Stile says Allias is Gus Smedstad, whom I foully betrayed in a previous game and has since shown an unaccountable reluctance to ally with me. However, he also says Allias has broken relations with him, implying imminent attack, so my alliance with Stile would push me into war with Allias anyway. Politely exchange non-confidential info with Allias before the storm breaks: I tell him about Samuel (Martin Horn) to his southeast, and he tells me he's allied to Tantalus (Eric Kelsey) to Stile northeast. I've met Eric before too: in another game, he lent his email account to a friend, who launched a maniacal turn 2 attack on me, then dropped out when I fought back: Eric seemed pretty reasonable, though.
Well, looks like war soon. Time for some heavy mutual training. Eden meets various heroes in Vinland and they work together on raising their skills: if two characters are ordered to train together and one has a higher level in that skill, he will have a 10% chance of improving but his partner will have a 100% chance if he has enough aptitude. Meanwhile, Marlboro continues to explore Allias's territory, Lallipugh charms Dracona, who raises a phalanx and fleet and sails to conquer Kilbuck (where Robin had failed). Robin, meanwhile, recruits the illusionist magician Rainulf. Rolando takes over the legions from Lallipugh and efficiently conquers Maplehaven, first whisking away the defender army with an elemental tornado spell.
Overall, a good solid turn, though the large standing army is proving costly and the treasury is empty at turn end. Let's take stock: Our skills roster in the most important areas looks like this:
Eden leads 3 veteran chariots (strength 9 each, movement 3+2=5 as he's got march-3) and an orc phalanx (strength 8 but movement only 2+1=3: march-3 boost speed-3 by 2 but speed-2 by 1). Migfox has a human legion (strength 8) and elven bow (6) on a fleet. Rolando has 3 vet human legions (12 each, speed 2) and Dracona has a fleet and human phalanx (strength 6, movement 2). Rolando should pass his army to a tactics-2 leader, as this adds 40% to strength, making them a very tough nut indeed. Note also that between us we have skills in all magic areas. One of the offices which players aim to win is Arch-Mage Palatine, for having most magic skill levels by game end; Eden is currently at 50% of the leader there with 3 points (2 White, 1 Psychic), but can pick up 5 more by learning from his heroes when he has the time.
Courtesy Flagship, The Independent Magazine for Gamers