I purchased Here I Stand roughly 14 months ago and have played it ten times since: eight times in person and twice online (6 and 4 personal record). It is a six-player card-driven wargame about the Wars of the Reformation. If you’re interested in purchasing it, you might be swayed by the fact that it has received excellent support from the designer and has a rather large and enthusiastic fan base. This past Sunday I sat down at the table with five other guys ranging from 25-30, one brand new to the game, and we saw who could have “the biggest hat in Europe.” We started the tournament scenario around 10:45 AM, broke for lunch at 1:30, and finished by 5:00 PM. The agreement was that we’d go two turns, with the auto-victory being 23, not 25 VP.
This session report is from my point of view as the English. My first hand was pretty mediocre: no exciting events, no combat cards, and nothing to help my friend Martin Luther out. I met with the Protestants and got a card draw out of him; I was hoping to use it as leverage to get the Pope (Russ) to grant a divorce, but that didn’t work out. I even offered him two cards in exchange for a divorce (probably a mistake), but he wouldn’t take it. Darn! I met with the French last, played by Joe, our new guy. I gave him a card pull and we agreed to a sort of convoluted deal I first saw in round 2 of the 2009 play by email tourney.
One new war was declared in the first turn–I went after Scotland. France chose to intercede for free, pulling the Scottish into an alliance (as per our agreement!). The action phase saw a rush of movements on all fronts. The Ottomans immediately clashed with the Hapsburgs (Mike) in Hungary, but not a lot of territory exchanged hands. Then the Ottomans went for a very successful piracy strategy, hitting the Hapsburgs several times and receiving VPs and cards. The Protestants played a very common combination of military moves to snatch up electorates and convert French spaces to their faith. In response, the Pope called debates and flipped most of the French spaces back. He also burned a debator late in the turn. The French took Milan late in the turn, while the Hapsburgs snatched up Metz.
After declaring war, I marshaled my forces and went after Scotland, but not before the French had moved those infantry units out of Edinburgh for me. I took Edinburgh easily and left the three Scottish units in Glasgow. They eventually winter-moved to Paris and effectively became the Scots in exile. The sum effect of the deal was this: I got a key (2 VP) at very little cost, the French got a card pull and three Scottish infantry units on the Continent. I ended up burning the Scottish ship in port, but in the future, I think I’d offer that up too (we sort of forgot about it!). This has become my standard opening move for the English; any feedback on it would be most appreciated.
(Update: I cut this deal a third time in another PBEM game. After going through with it, this was met by howls of protest from my opponents. Someone emailed the designer asking about the legality of the deal, considering it is very “gamey”. No official word yet on whether this will be outlawed in future. From my point of view, this is one of the only moves that gives the English a prayer of winning in competitive play. One player dubbed this “The Caledonian Gambit.”)
That done, I was content to use my home card to marry Anne Boleyn; a lucky six on the pregnancy chart yielded a healthy Edward and five VPs! Things were looking good at this point. To end my turn, I built up infantry units in London and a fleet in Calais. By the turn’s end, the Ottomans were threatening an early victory, with the Papacy and the Hapsburgs close behind.
After a lunch break, we returned to the table and drew cards. The Hapsburgs got extremely unlucky with their colony rolls and didn’t get any extra cards. The French picked up one through Potosi Silver Mines. I was fortunate to be dealt a strong hand with many CPs: three “five” cards! Combined with “Dissolution of the Monasteries,” it looked to be a fun turn.
Diplomacy was even more involved this time; Martin Luther and I couldn’t really come to a deal, although I did have “Calvin’s Institutes.” He was feeling pretty confident after snatching “Printing Press” from the discard pile the previous turn. I allied with the French with the understanding that we would declare war on the Hapsburgs and make a mad dash for the finish line before the Ottomans got there. The French had “Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince,'” so this turn was going to be a surprise for Charles V!
However, things didn’t go exactly as planned. I spring deployed to Calais and used my home card on the Hapsburgs right away, and then made a hard drive for Antwerp. This was foiled by a nice intercept roll and two combat cards, “Field Artillery” and “Tercios.” In a massive field battle, I lost four of eight units while he only lost two of seven. While I retreated to lick my wounds, the French delayed jumping in on the war and sent out an explorer. Not good! And the Ottomans and Hapsburgs clashed at Pressburg…again. The fields were awash in casualties, and both sides spent some combat cards, but it only served to exhaust both of them. The Ottomans later went on to do piracy, and the Hapsburgs found themselves out of cards very early on. However, there was a large stack at Antwerp now (six units and a leader), and I felt that a field battle and siege might not get me what I wanted.
The French never declared war on the Hapsburgs, opting to go for Genoa instead with “Machieavelli.” This was a bummer for me, but what can you do? Martin Luther opted to grab a few electorates and make Germany almost entirely Protestant. While this was frustrating for me, I was able to play “Dissolution of the Monasteries” and got two cards and three free Reformation attempts. (And the Protestant not helping the English too much is understandable…that can be like dealing with the Devil.)
As the turn wore on, I used my high CP cards to good effect. I built some more units in Calais and deployed my fleet, eventually invading Spain. Since the Hapsburgs were out of cards, I was able to snatch one key. I then sent out an explorer and tried to publish my own treatises, but they failed! At the end of the action phase, the Papacy was at 20 VP due to a great play of “Michelangelo.” The Hapsburgs were at 19 with the Ottomans, the French, and me, and the Protestants trailed at 18–definitely the closest game I’ve played in. During the New World phase, the French pulled their best explorer and found the Amazon (21 VP). They then conquered a tribe (22 VP). I found the St. Lawrence (20 VP), but it was not enough. Joe, a first time player, won the “biggest hat in Europe” award as the French.
Final scores: Ottomans 19, Hapsburgs 19, English 20, French 22, Papacy 20, Protestants 18. And it all came down to a few die rolls. Very satisfying.
So what was the margin of victory for me? What could I have done better to win the game? I had a huge CP hand that second turn. It was truly ridiculous. Had I not been so torn between the military or Reformation paths, I could have chosen one and gone for broke. I had the CP to possibly take Antwerp and invade Spain (which was nearly empty) for 23 VP. Or, I could have played some cards in a different order, taken the Spanish key, sent an explorer, and gotten two treatises published, which may have put me over the limit. (As it was, I only published one treatise and flubbed both rolls.) Last, I could have ignored the military after the Calais defeat and published treatises like crazy, which might have put me over.
One last thing: I have played and won as the English before, but only in games where I was playing both them and the Protestants at the same time. The English are really hemmed in by the Scottish, the French, the Hapsburgs, and the need to get the Reformation going. It feels like one doesn’t have many options when playing them, which is a pain.
However, this was, hands down, the most fun and smooth game of Here I Stand we’ve played. A hearty well done to all players, and congratulations to Joe/Francois!
Cross posted to Board Game Geek.