In the sixteenth century, the wealthy Martinengo family, a noble house of Brescia in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, patronized a painter named Bartolomo Veneto. Veneto produced several portraits of note between 1506 and 1520 that survive in museums and galleries to this day. One of his final portraits is of a young man of the Martinengo family itself, named Ludovico. As we are on BGG, it only seems proper that we refer to him henceforth as "Ludo."
The painting's inscription tells us that Ludo is 26 years of age in the painting, which claims to be dated from the year 1530. Ludo's clothing tells us a great deal about him; he is clearly the son in a wealthy and powerful noble family, as evidenced by his rich red mantle and red cap, complete with ostrich feather. The clothing's color and embroidery suggest the theatrical dress of the Compagnia della Calza or "Guild of the Stocking," which places Ludo as a member of an exclusive club of young Italian noblemen charged with organizing spectacles and performances to honor visitors from foreign courts, and during times of festival, including Ascension Sunday and the annual Venetian Carnival.
That Ludo, a man of Brescia, is in Venetian theatrical garb is notable; it speaks much of his family's allegiances in a location and time period where much was in flux. If Ludo was indeed 26 years of age in 1530, then he would have been just eight years of age when the French Gaston of Foix, the Thunderbolt of Italy, came roaring over the walls of Brescia in February 1512, on his way to smashing the Veneto-Papal alliance arrayed against France. Ludo would have lived under foreign French occupation until his 16th or 17th birthday, when the Treaty of Brussels finally returned Brescia to the Venetian sphere of influence while confirming the young Francis I as the Duke of Milan.
In 1530, Barbarossa strikes and vanishes as if by magic across the Western Mediterranean, terrorizing the locals in Sicily, Marseilles, Sardinia, and seizing the Balearic Islands for Ottoman pirates. Meanwhile, the Hapsburg Charles V produces his subservient puppet Pope Clement VII to crown him as Holy Roman Emperor in Bologna, thus formalizing the choice of the German electors nine years prior. The Emperor is almost immediately presented with the Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran faith edited by Philipp Melanchthon; its subsequent rejection by the Emperor prompts Luther and his princes to band together in the Schmalkeldic League for military protection. Meanwhile, the puppet Pope Clement VII dutifully issues a brief forbidding England's Henry VIII from marrying again and ordering a full and complete return of rights to his estranged Queen, the Hapsburg Catherine of Aragon; Cardinal Wolsey is thrown into a dungeon by an enraged Henry for his failings in the King's "Great Matter" and replaced by Sir Thomas More as Lord Chancellor. Chaos reigns in the independent Republic of Florence as a wave of fundamentalist belief amongst the people appoints none other than Jesus Christ as the King of Florence. With Imperial and Papal troops surrounding the city, and realizing the assistance of a more temporal authority may be necessary, the Florentine Council of Ten appeals to Charles' old adversary Francis I for military aid; he sends sums of money to the Republic, but reneges on his promise to send a relief army. Florence falls to the Empire later in the year. Lutherans in Germany trumpet that the Pope is the Antichrist, subverting the faith from within; Catholics move swiftly from burning Protestant heretic books to Protestants themselves. All of Christendom is suffused with the belief that the apocalypse is near, in the form of Suleiman the Magnificent and his hordes of janissaries and cavalry, drawing ever westward.
This is Ludo's world, and it is the world encapsulated in Here I Stand, Ed Beach's campaign of the Age of the Reformation, an asymmetrical grand strategy game published by GMT Games for six players, blending wargame tactics, card-driven mechanics on a point-to-point map, and significant negotiation elements into a game that decides the political and religious fate of Europe in the early 16th Century. Here I Stand currently sits as the #5 ranked Wargame and #36 overall at Boardgamegeek, with almost 1,800 individual ratings, which is something of a feat for a game covering little-trod European history and whose full campaign scenario can charitably take experienced and speedy players 8 or more hours to complete. Indeed, in the words of Mr. Beach in the scenario book for the newly-released Virgin Queen, "Here I Stand's popularity with the strategic boardgaming community world-wide was honestly not something I anticipated... however, a few years after publication it was clear that the mix of negotiation, strategic planning, and historical embodied in HIS had struck a chord with these audiences."
Why has Here I Stand received this critical and popular attention and acclaim, including from corners of the boardgaming community that would normally ignore a game like this? Here I Stand (and Beach himself) have drawn kudos from a wider gaming community, and even captured the attention of the strategy videogame podcast Three Moves Ahead on multiple occasions. There have been asymmetrical grand strategy games released similar to Here I Stand that have not received such wide attention, such as Friedrich or Sword of Rome or Napoleonic Wars, to which HIS owes much credit. This review of Here I Stand will attempt to both introduce the game to new/unfamiliar readers, while exploring why the game stands as a hallmark of grand strategic play, via walking the reader through part of a turn in progress.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
We've already established that Ludo is a 26 year old Italian who apparently likes nice clothes, staring off into the distance for hours on end while someone paints him, and throwing extravagant parties. I mean, look at his Machiavellian smile. What more do you need?
Oh, right, the Voices of Experience contest. Well in that case, rest assured, the author has played Here I Stand the required ten times, though I hope that would be clear by the detail and voice presented in this review anyway!
THE CARD DRAW PHASE
"It is Turn 6 of a tournament game of Here I Stand; this will be the final turn of the contest. Four players are tied at 19VP, a fifth right behind at 18, and the Protestants trail the pack.
The Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires, natural enemies, have warily circled each other thus far, and with the game drawing to a close, the pressure for war between them is growing great. The religious struggle has been bloody, with the fiery death of Olivetan reversing Protestant fortunes in France. Scotland remains defiantly independent; with young Prince Edward born and Henry's Great Matter resolved, England and France seem destined to clash over the fate of the minor power.
As this is Turn 6, the Grim Reaper begins to circle for Henry VIII, Francis I, and Martin Luther -- replacement leaders for the three are shuffled into the deck. The Pope receives powerful debaters in Loyola, Faber and Canisius, as Paul III's Counter-Reformation begins to pick up steam. Not to be outdone, the Protestant receives his only leader of military note, the turncoat Maurice of Saxony. Disaster strikes in the New World; the Hapsburg colony of Puerto Rico and the English Potosi silver mines are both destroyed by natives and produce no riches for their powers. Cards are tallied and dealt; negotiations may begin."
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The object of Here I Stand is to amass victory points (VPs) through military conquest, religious contests, exploration/exploitation of the New World, and through a host of activities unique to each power in the game. In general, one's goal is 25VPs, though the game may end if other special requirements are met. The asymmetrical, interlocking systems of the game gives each power unique paths to victory -- but at the same time, game's cards and map ensure that each power will interact highly in their quest to win.
The six powers of Here I Stand struggle for supremacy over a map of Europe, comprised of location spaces connected by point-to-point paths. These spaces can have several characteristics. Spaces can be unfortified (circles) or fortified (square, star, hexagon), and the rules for entering and controlling them differ accordingly. Space color indicates the "political home affiliation" of the people living there, and some spaces include port access to neighboring sea zones. Sea zones are "spaces" in their own right, connecting to each other and port spaces, providing lots of room for naval units to play in.
In the map above, Marseilles is a French (blue) home space, the port symbol indicates (surprise!) it's a port, and it's a fortified square "key" space, and is generally worth Victory Points to the power that controls it. Next to it is Nice, an unfortified grey (independent/unaffiliated) port space. Both of these spaces connect each other and to the Gulf of Lyon.
Here I Stand is not just a game about political struggle, however. Of equal importance is the religious war between Catholics and Protestants over the hearts of the people. Spaces therefore also track the religious affiliation of the people who live there, and the game uses control markers that provide the ability to track this. Spaces with a solid fill color indicate that the people living there are Catholic; therefore, Marseilles and Nice above follow Catholicism. To the north, however, lies Zurich, a grey Independent space, but a marker has been placed with a white center to indicate that the people there follow the upstart Protestant faith. Basel, next door, has a solid independent marker, showing that the people there are Catholic. Here I Stand's control counters are double-sided, one for Catholic affiliation and the reverse for Protestant; therefore players can simply scan the board for those spaces with white centers to see how far Luther's insurrection has spread.
(zoomed-in image of the map and counters in Germany)
A space's political and religious status are completely independent of each other: for example, the Protestants could politically control a space while the people there stubbornly espouse Catholicism, and vice-versa! These situations are not only amusing, but historically accurate, and were especially prevalent in sixteenth century Germany, where the Hapsburg Emperor Charles V, a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic, found himself Holy Roman Emperor over a realm full of city-states that followed Luther's teachings with fervor. Later in the sixteenth Century, Protestant German princes banded together in their political Schmaldeldic League for protection against the Emperor, dragging along with them realms full of people that wanted nothing to do with Luther, clamoring for religious realignment with Rome. This confusing historical jumble of faiths and liege alliances is very elegantly distilled onto the Here I Stand board with simple double-sided control markers, and distinguishes istelf in its ability to effectively and easily track two very different struggles at the same time.
If the game board is the arena on which the struggle of Here I Stand is played, the game's cards are the means and lifeblood of every power. Cards are also dual-use. Each card has a Command Point (CP) value, ranging from 1 to 6, allowing powers who play it to perform a wide range of actions, including moving armies and fleets around, controlling spaces, assauting fortified spaces, performing religious conversion attempts and the like. Conversely, a card can instead be played by its owner to invoke its event text; these events cover a wide range of religious, political and military actions, and many events bend the game's rules in some way or provide other benefits. Players must often balance the benefit of a card's event against its CP value, as most can only be played for either the event or for CP (not both).
Cards are dealt out at the beginning of each turn, and the amount of cards you receive is tied to the number of Key (square) spaces you control on the board -- control more key spaces, draw more cards. Some powers can also receive cards from colonies and conquests in the New World and for control of electorates in Germany. Powers that are doing well on the game board tend to be richer in cards, allowing them to snowball their greater resources into a better board position, allowing them to draw more cards, and so on. Thus a power in the lead will often need to be stopped by a coordinating coalition of other powers before their advantage turns into a game win.
New leaders and debaters are also added to the board at the beginning of each turn. Leaders give two advantages in the game, adding extra dice in combat and allowing larger formations of units to move than usual. Normally a maximum of only 4 units may move together as a group; however, leaders like Charles V can activate up to 10 units together. The presence of capable leaders allows for very large and dangerous armies to traverse the board. Debaters, conversely, wage their wars for the hearts and minds of the people; a successful debate will automatically flip spaces to the winning side's cause. Some debaters also lend their talents toward writing theses, translating texts or founding universities, all of which can amplify a player's reforming or counter-reforming efforts.
THE DIPLOMACY PHASE
"With five powers within 1 VP of the lead and the final turn approaching, the Diplomacy Phase is suitably tense. The Ottoman decides that tiny, unaligned Genoa is a target immediately, with a major power in his sights later in the turn. Suleiman opens negotiations with France and the Hapsburgs for safe conduct through Northern Italy. Unbeknownst to the Turks, The Hapsburgs receive the elusive Andrea Doria, allowing them to claim Genoa as an ally during the turn! Thus the Hapsburgs are happy to ally with the Ottomans, making a friend out of an enemy AND denying him VPs down the road. The Ottomans and Hapsburgs double down on their alliance by swapping Belgrade and Antwerp -- the latter being garrisoned by a loaned fleet, shattering an easy deployment of English troops from the island to the continent.
Meanwhile, with the Ottomans on the move, the Hapsburgs and Papacy hatch a deal to keep the Pope's weakly-defended keys out of danger. They plan to swap Florence for Seville. Not to be outdone, the English and French hatch their own plan, swapping Metz for Rouen. England apparently abandons all plans to engage the Continent this turn, focusing its attentions to Edinburgh and the conversion of its people to Protestantism. The Pope hurriedly allies with all of his neighbors except the Ottomans, and the Protestant gratefully receives mercenaries from others to help in the defense of his electorates. The Ottomans declare jihad on The Pope and Genoa, while everyone else remains happy with the wars they have."
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I once witnessed a game of Here I Stand where one player, unhappy with another player backing out on a deal, wag his finger and state matter-of-factly that "this is not Diplomacy... there are consequences for backstabbing in this game."
The aggrieved player was correct, but ended up losing to the player that backstabbed him anyway. While no one should confuse HIS for Diplomacy, Here I Stand is not just a game of cards and chits and dice, but also of people. The resulting negotiation and diplomatic tension of six people wheeling and dealing their way to advantage is simply not present in other two-player card-driven games like Twilight Struggle, Paths of Glory, or Triumph of Chaos. Your goals and strategies can and will change -- often dramatically -- as your plans come into contact with five other plans. Here I Stand's negotiation-spiced gameplay can sometimes resemble a game of whack-a-mole, wherein anyone sticking out from the pack at the beginning of a turn gets “popped” by the rest of the group, allowing someone else to open up a lead, etc. A set of experienced and savvy players can repeat this process over and over through the game's nine turns as everyone rolls ever closer to the 25VP goal. Here I Stand’s inclusion of structured negotiation elements have indeed captured the attention of Diplomacy aficionados, and the game has become something of a phenomenon at dedicated Diplomacy tournaments.
There is a dedicated phase for players to engage in private negotiations with each other; this occurs at the beginning of each turn after cards have been dealt out. At this point, players have a set time to break away from the game board and huddle in pairs and groups to discuss the contents of their hands and their goals for the turn. This is the only time that private negotiations are allowed in Here I Stand; the game’s rules are quite clear that any other gameplay discussion and negotiation should be done in public at the gameboard (and can happen at any time during play). While in the private discussion phase, players may show each other cards that they’ve received (but not trade them), discuss battle plans, and agree to deals with each other (i.e. I will play Card A for you if you play Card B for me or if you give N mercenary troops to me, etc.)
After the private discussion time period is completed, players gather back at the table, and in play order, publicly announce any agreements that physically change the state of the game board or pieces. These announcements can include items like freely changing ownership of spaces, gifting mercenary armies from one player to another player, announcing an alliance / the end of a war / declare a new war, or trading one or more RANDOM (not specific!) cards between players. Other agreements that do NOT immediately change the state of the game board or pieces (such as the play of a certain card as an event to benefit another player later in the turn) are not announced now... but neither are those agreements binding. This is where ‘caveat emptor’ rears its head, and those players who agree to trade something public and binding in return for something not public and not binding will likely proceed with their heart in their throat until the deal is consummated (or not!) later.
OK, the enemy of my enemy is the friend of my other enemy and... wait, let's start over...
The list of allowable and restricted items that can be traded between players is tightly controlled and spelled out in the rulebook (and too detailed to go into here), but is among the most key sections in the game. New players will find this phase of the game among the most difficult to grasp until it is seen in action, and yet it is here where the game’s players can and must re-balance a contest that is tipping too far in the favor of one player -- and it’s here where HIS stops being a mere mathy exercise in wargaming and sparkles as a true multiplayer match of wits.
Before I am accused of simply waving pom-poms and cheerleading the game in all aspects, I’ll stop to note a wrinkle in the game that wrinkles some noses. Here I Stand’s diplomacy phase allows the free trading of spaces between players. In some ways, this is historically accurate for the period; royals would march out every campaign season, fight other armies in, say, Ludo’s region of Northern Italy, then give everything back at the end of the year or trade some far-off, uninvolved realm or city-state away as part of a treaty. In our example, however, the game’s rules allow the Pope to control Seville and the Ottoman to gain control of Antwerp, and it’s hard to picture any historical sequence of events that would prompt the Emperor to allow the Sultan to set up shop in the low countries! While the game’s rules and mechanics clearly allow the trading of spaces between players in order to shore up one’s borders and shelter a juicy target from attack, the rules can also be used to create “false” wars between players to bring valuable minor power allies into the game and even prompt fake VP-generating peace treaties. For some, this cracks the historicity of the game, and furthermore can smack of collusion if two players are dead-set on fluffing their own VP totals with fake wars. The game’s rules fall squarely on the side of richness and diplomatic flexibility, and will not completely police players that choose to abuse them; it’s up to the players to police themselves and mete out righteous justice to colluders, of which there are myriad ways to do so in the game.
Even here the game does help to balance itself and ward off such shenanigans. In Here I Stand, there is always and only one winner, unlike in a game of Diplomacy, where one or more individuals can collude, bluster and threaten to throw the game to a winner unless they are included in some sort of game-saving draw position. There are no draw positions in Here I Stand; there is no runner-up sash for second place. Two players who use the game’s diplomatic rules to enrich themselves will likely result in one “winner”, one with egg on their face, and four friends who don’t like either of them very much. If this sort of thing is a recurring issue in your gaming group, I’d not point fingers at the game so much as I would the players you game with.
THE SPRING DEPLOYMENT PHASE
"Ah, Spring! That magical time of year when a young Prince's attentions turn to war. The Ottomans, having secured the proper alliances, deploy mighty Suleiman and a huge host through allied territory to Nice. The Hapsburgs deploy right behind them, into their new base of Florence; England surprises no one by sending a bunch of Englishmen to the Scots border. But what's this? France sends a force of his own to Nice -- looks like there'll be a race to see who conquers Genoa first! The Pope, fearing an Ottoman attack, shores up his defenses in Ravenna, and the Protestant stands idly by watching armies traverse the board. It looks as if it'll be a bloody summer..."
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Here I Stand's turns follow the historical cycle of military campaigning of the day -- after the diplomatic machinations of winter and chivalrous declarations of war, armies marched out from their homelands in the springtime, battled their way through summer, then largely disbanded as autumn wore on toward winter. Here I Stand mirrors this in a "Spring Deployment" by allowing each power to freely move one formation of land units from its capital to any space it controls, provided there is a clear path available. (Wargamers will find Here I Stand's concept of Line of Communication familiar -- in other games they're called lines of control, or supply lines.) At the end of the turn, in the "Winter Phase", everyone sends fleets back to port, some armies to the closest fortified space and the balance of their forces back to their capital, to be redeployed at the beginning of the next turn.
Military forces are not allowed to traverse the board willy-nilly, however -- the game enforces strict rules on movement. If powers are allies, they may freely wander into and out of each other's territory and use each other's spaces to trace their Lines of Communication. (A great example of this above is the Ottoman Deployment in the above map, using its alliances with Hapsburgs and France to spring deploy through their territories in a circuitous route to Nice.) A power may also enter the spaces of a power they are at war with, because they're invading! But if powers are neutral to each other (i.e. neither allied with nor at war), their spaces are strictly off-limits.
Enough stage-dressing -- let's start playing cards.
THE ACTION PHASE
The Action Phase always begins with the Ottoman playing a card for either CP or its event, and the rest follow in play order, doing the same. Play continues in this fashion until players begin to run out of cards (generally 2 or less cards left in hand) at which point they can begin to pass. If a passing player wishes, they may jump back into the action at their point in the turn order, if they have the cards to do so. The Action Phase ends when all players pass in order, heralding the onset of winter and the close of the turn.
The first six cards in our example game are played like so:
Ottoman: Home Card "Janissaries" (for 5 CP) -- Naval Move; Piracy against the Hapsburgs (2 hits -- Hapsburgs award 2VP); Suleiman et al Nice --> Genoa.
Hapsburgs: Andrea Doria (as event) -- activates Genoa as ally, +1VP)
England: Dissolution of the Monasteries (as event) -- England +2 cards; Protestant 3 Reformation Attempts (Norwich, Lincoln)
France: Home Card "Patron of the Arts" (as event) -- France +1VP Chateaux
Papacy: Home Card "Papal Bull" (as event) -- Excommunicate Cranmer; Calls Debate in England; Campeggio vs. Knox, Protestants win 3 hits to 1, Protestants flip York, Bristol.
Protestants: Book of Common Prayer (for 2CP) -- English New Testament Completed (flip Portsmouth, Plymouth, Shrewsbury, Wales); remove unrest from Augsburg.
Current VPs: Ottoman 21, Hapsburgs 20, England 23, France 19, Papacy 17, Protestant 14
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One of the reasons Here I Stand works so well as a multiplayer wargame is that each power has multiple avenues toward generating Victory Points, almost all of which are interrelated in one way or another. The above play sequence is an illustrative example. Aside from gaining VPs for military control of key spaces and electorates, which all players are involved in to some extent, the Ottomans can gain VPs for successfully engaging in piracy (even against allies!). The Hapsburgs, England and France can compete for VPs by exploring the New World and brutally subjugating its native peoples. England gets VPs for having its spaces espouse Protestantism and even more VPs for successfully siring children to Henry VIII; France gains VPs for building luxurious Chateaux. The Pope can gain special VP by devoting resources to the construction of St. Peter's basilica, and the Protestant does the same by spending resources to translate the Bible into various languages.
If all of that weren't enough, there's a second, religious, war overlaying the political-military one. The Pope and Protestants engage in a game-long tug-of-war over a pool of 15VP, tied to the number of Protestant spaces on the board; as more spaces are flipped to Protestantism, more VPs are taken away from the Pope and given to the Protestant (and vice versa if the opposite happens). A normal 1517 campaign game sees the Pope in control of all 15VPs with the Protestants awarded nothing; however, as the game progresses and the winds of the Protestant Reformation begin to blow, this VP pool can change hands rather dramatically. Broadly, the religious struggle involves spending CPs on religious actions like publishing treatises, burning heretical books, or calling theological debates; the Pope and Protestant then cast dice against each other for hits, with the winner getting to flip spaces to their religion in the affected area. (Plus, Cleromancy is not only a fun game mechanic, but biblically appropriate! "Ye shall therefore describe the land into seven parts, and bring the description hither to me, that I may cast lots for you here before the LORD our God." -- Joshua 18:6)
The end result of all of these interlocking systems is a game of six asymmetrical powers, all with special abilities and interests, that balances itself strikingly well. The Pope and Protestants are the principal players in the religious struggle, but England is constantly clamoring for Luther's help in firing up the English Reformation, and all of the other powers are watching closely to make sure neither side gets too much of an advantage (and playing event cards to ensure it.) The royal Kings of Europe often send their explorers and conquistadors to the New World, but even the lowly Pope or Luther can divert them to searching blindly for the Fountain of Youth instead with just a card play. Huge Ottoman hordes nearing the walls of Vienna? Far-off Francis I or Henry VIII can affect events by inciting the Persians or Egyptians to revolt, forcing Suleiman to divert precious resources to the hinterlands of his empire instead of adding Viennese women to his harem. The dashing Andrea Doria, whirling dervish of the seas and champion of the Genovese, can change his alliance with the drop of a card, pinwheeling from power to power and turning suddenly on allies.
If Here I Stand was merely a military struggle superimposed onto a hex-based map with classic lines of supply and other grognard wargaming elements, the game would not work nearly so well; His Holiness might barely control any territory, with mammoth enemies surrounding him on all sides -- not an envious position, and not one that accurately reflects the pontiff's outsize importance in relation to his worldly realm. Ed Beach's decision to use a combination of asymmetrical player powers, card-driven mechanics and point-to-point map movement was not the first game to combine these elements; indeed, Beach credits The Napoleonic Wars in his design notes (note: PDF link), stating that the game showed him "a card-driven design could accommodate an asymmetric multiplayer configuration." And what a difference it makes.
Beach steps past his predecessors, however, by overlaying the religious struggle with the political, allowing the two arenas of the game to develop independently of each other during the course of play. This allows, for example, the Pope to be a worldly minnow in relation to the mighty and far-flung Hapsburgs, but still exert great influence and power religiously (and pursue a game victory through that arena rather than through military means.) Even powers with little to no official interest in religious affairs (Hi, Francis!) can absolutely feel its lash if The Pontiff feels a royal excommunication is in order. The Protestant player even begins the game as a religious power only -- no armies, no territory, just Luther and the spread of his ideas which will eventually take a political turn later in the game. The key to all of these mechanics, again, lies in diplomacy and negotiation, and especially in the cards, many of which can be used by players to affect aspects of the game they might not otherwise be directly involved in.
We can see these interlocking systems at work in the cards played above in our example. The "unholy" Hapsburg alliance with the Ottoman may give Charles V security on land, but does not shield him from the unpredictable pirates of the Mediterranean. But even while Suleiman's pirates strike booty, he finds the choice morsel of Genoa snatched away by a timely play of Andrea Doria, bringing the city safely into the Hapsburg fold as the Ottomans approach. This is an odd alliance, indeed.
England helps the Protestants by helping himself; he gets to draw two cards while allowing the Protestant to flip some spaces to the new faith in England (which grants both of them VPs.) France, also denied a crack at Genoa, plays it safe by playing his Home Card for an instant Chateaux VP that can never be taken away. The Pope ignites a furor in England by excommunicating the reformer Cranmer from London, removing him from play this turn. A resulting theological debate backfires badly for the Pontiff, however, and the Protestant piles on by triggering the completion of the New Testament in English -- the release of which starts a wildfire of conversions in Henry's England. The results improve the Protestant position while thrusting England into the lead. But with almost a full turn's cards to play, is the lead the right place to be in?
CONCLUSIONS AND BEGINNINGS
Ottoman: Venetian Alliance (for 4CP) -- Ibrahim Pasha and 6 regs Genoa --> Siena, Naval Move to Ionian Sea, Piracy against the French in the Ionian Sea (0 hits)
Hapsburg: Master of Italy (event) -- +1 Hapsburg VP
England: Home Card "Six Wives of Henry VIII" (for event) -- Declare war on Scotland; France intervenes as Scottish Ally; England and France now at War; England besieges Edinburgh.
France: Maurice of Saxony (for 4CP) -- builds fleet in Brest; French fleets into the English Channel (England misses interception attempt); troops to Rouen.
Papacy: Janissaries Rebel (for 2CP) -- burns heretical books in England, committing debater Cajetan for an extra attempt. Flips York, Shrewsbury, Lincoln.
Protestant: Henry II (King Francis dies! -- 2CP) -- Protestant publishes treatise in Germany, flipping Augsburg (+2VP for conversion of electorate), Basel.
Current VPs: Ottoman 21, Hapsburg 21, England 22, France 21, Papacy 17, Protestant 16.
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Here I Stand is a whale of a game to review; there are a multiplicity of moving parts, elements to highlight, historical anecdotes to wink at, and rabbit-holes to fall into. There is a two-player scenario that we haven't even touched! So while this review is drawing to a close, the fun is just beginning.
This is a game that deserves the full critical exploration of the type that the Voices of Experience contest is attempting to foster, and I have endeavored to show why I believe this game is special and deserving of attention. But it is a challenge for even this one review, as lengthy as it is, to give a boardgame enthusiast and prospective buyer a bird's-eye view of all of the exciting and fun mechanics Here I Stand has to offer, while also offering serious students of boardgames the close critical exploration the game deserves. New tools are needed to satisfy both camps! Thus, I'm happy to announce that this review is the jumping off point for hereistrategize, a new community site dedicated to both the serious study AND boisterous celebration of the awesomeness of Here I Stand, and its new sibling, Virgin Queen. It's my hope that hereistrategize will interface with forums like BGG and Consimworld and allow individuals to study this sparkling game from every vantage point, from the granular card and map level, through the game's negotiation aspects, offer strategy summaries to help to improve play, and best of all, dive into the game's rich, dramatic history.
While hereistrategize is still a work in progress, I'm excited for its prospects and invite everyone to take part. Share your gameplay thoughts and tell your stories of how the sixteenth century played out in your home!
Here I Stand is not a game for everyone; it can be played with less than a full complement of six players, but it's generally agreed that the game's balance and negotiations take a hit because of it. It's a very long game, requiring A) a healthy sized table and B) comfortable seating! Because of its length, it's a game that might not be best suited for play with that friend who has to stop and re-analyze strategy every 3 minutes or who needs to calculate everything out in his head before acting. If you don't like overt negotiation in your games, this probably isn't your cup of tea. It's definitely not for people who don't have a gaming group that is capable of this type of play experience (due to time or personality constraints, heh.)
So who IS Here I Stand for? If you enjoy long (often very long) and immersive gaming sessions, Here I Stand is for you. If you have a gaming group that enjoys diving into multiple plays of the same game with each other to truly explore the experience, Here I Stand is for you. If you like thick, well-written rulebooks, Here I Stand is for you! If you enjoy multiplayer games with significant negotiation and diplomatic aspects, Here I Stand is definitely for you. If you enjoy strategic hand management and massaging the odds of the dice in your favor, Here I Stand is for you. If you enjoy PBEM games through ACTS/Cyberboard or VASSAL and have the attention span to play a multi-week/month game, Here I Stand is for you. If you're a student of history and/or fan of theme and enjoy looking at a game component and think to yourself "I want to know more about what this event was or who this person was," Here I Stand is absolutely for you. If your game group has tired of games full of burning the undead, surprise your friends by suggesting that you try burning Protestants instead!
If you see yourself in the above paragraph and haven't tried Here I Stand before, do give yourself the opportunity to try and enjoy; Ludovico will be happy to have you in his world.
(minor edits for grammar and clarity)