Here I Stand: The Minor Powers

August 23, 2010

In Here I Stand the players command one of the six Major Powers in the game. However, there are also four Minor Powers that play a big part in how the game unfolds. They can be allied to some powers, conquered through war or used as pawns during diplomacy. Below are some of my recommendations of how each Minor Power, and the cards that affect them, can best be used.

Sorry Luther, but you’ll have to sit out this strategy discussion. Also, first up is Hungary/Bohemia which is only relevant to the full 1517 scenario. The discussion of the others powers is pretty relevant regardless the scenario.

• Keys (units): Belgrade (1 Regular), Buda (5 Regular) and Prague (1 Regular)
• Spaces: Breslau, Brunn, Pressburg, Agram, Mohacs and Szegedin
• Major Powers: Ottoman and Hapsburgs
• Activation: Diplomatic Marriage and Defeat of Hungary-Bohemia
• Deactivation: None

The Hungarians act as a buffer for the Hapsburgs against the Ottomans. The typical start for the Ottomans sees them sieging Belgrade and then moving to wipe them out in Buda with a fairly easy field battle due to the 5 regulars present. This gives the Ottomans 6VP (2 Keys and War Winner) and starts the war with the Hapsburgs. It also gives the Hapsburgs a key, Prague, due to the new alliance with the Hungarians.

Taking a look at the power cards and board, I think it is in the Ottomans best interest to hold off on the Buda field battle. The Ottomans need 1 key to give them an extra card which they will get with Belgrade. The Hapsburgs need 2 keys. If the Haps take Metz, the Ottomans defeating Hungary gives the Haps their 2nd key and that extra card. The Ottomans are better off holding their cards, building forces and potentially taking out the Knights of St. Johns before giving the Haps a gift.

Unless the Hapsburgs draw Diplomatic Marriage in the 1st (or possibly 2nd) turn, there isn’t much the Hapsburgs can do about the Hungarians. If they are able to activate Hungary right away, it will slow down the Ottoman advance. The Haps can control the 5 regulars in Buda to force an Ottoman siege versus the field battle. The Ottomans will have to spend more time and/or CP than they would like to march West, but it certainly won’t stop the Turkish advance. I would recommend saving that marriage for another minor power…

• Keys (units): Venice (2 Regulars, 3 Squadrons)
• Spaces: Corfu (Fortress, 1 Regular), Candia (Fortress, 1 Regular)
• Major Powers: French, Papacy, Ottoman and Hapsburgs
• Activation: Venetian Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage and Papal intervention
• Deactivation: Venetian Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage

In my opinion, Diplomatic Marriage, should almost always be used by the Papacy, French and Hapsburgs to activate Venice. The Venetians can be a powerful ally against Ottoman piracy with their 3 squadrons and two fortresses. The Venetian fleet can also help gain naval superiority for assaults on ports. And in winter, moving the regulars in Corfu and Candia in Venice give you a fully defended key.

Since one of the ways to activate Venice is by a Papal intervention, this is often used by the Pope during negotiations. The French or Hapsburgs would be my first choice for a Venetian declaration of war (DOW). These powers may be declaring war on other powers and they may have an extra CP to discard. This way they can get something from out of it. The Pope benefits because he can hang excommunication over their head if they don’t follow through on all the terms of the deal. The Ottomans could be used for a Venetian intervention as well, but the Pope is likely no match for a strong Ottoman force if the deal goes bad. Plus, the Pope can not excommunicate Suleiman.

If the Pope draws Venetian Alliance after Venice is already an ally, they can use this 4 CP card for the event to build up to 6 CP worth of units. I would guess that the card would be used for CP rather than the event in most cases.

Once allied, deactivation is always a possibility but would require the right powers – Ottoman or Pope – to get the right cards. And even then, it may not be worth the CP to do this. This is yet another reason that Venice should be the favored ally for these powers.

• Keys (units): Genoa (2 Regulars, 1 Squadron, Andrea Doria)
• Spaces: Bastia
• Major Powers: French, Papacy, Hapsburgs, Ottoman (kind of)
• Activation: Andrea Doria, Diplomatic Marriage
• Deactivation: Andrea Doria, Diplomatic Marriage

The Genoans are a strong ally as well. With Andrea Doria, as the only non-Ottoman naval leader in the game, the other powers in the Mediterranean certainly want to have him on their side. However, Doria can cause problems: If one of the other two powers (able to) plays Andrea Doria for the event, Genoa is deactivated AND reactivated to that power. This swing in units, keys and VP can be dangerous.

For this reason Genoa should be activated near the end of the game. It would be wise to hold the card Andrea Doria as long as possible to activate Genoa. In the tournament scenario this may easier to do than the longer scenarios. If the French or Pope draw Andrea Doria they should highly consider spending the 5 CPs on a war and assault on Genoa than activation. Once Genoa is conquered you won’t have to worry about it switching control with the play of a single event card.

The second part of the Andrea Doria event card will likely never be used. A power would have to activate Genoa earlier in the game, and go to war with the Ottomans, and move Doria into a sea zone with two Ottoman controlled ports. Then when Andrea Doria is played you have the chance to take away up to three piracy VP and draw a card. The power playing the event also draws a card. I can see this event occurring for the Hapsburgs as they would likely already be at war with the Otts and try to position Doria near them to prevent piracy. However, 5 CP can probably be spent else where.

• Keys (units): Edinburgh (3 Regulars, 1 Squadron)
• Spaces: Stirling, Glasgow
• Major Powers: French, English
• Activation: Auld Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage, French intervention
• Deactivation: Auld Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage

Scotland will play a part of every game of Here I Stand. Obviously, the English should use Diplomatic Marriage to activate Scotland as an ally if they draw it early. They’ll get a squadron, 3 regulars and save the time and trouble of a war. However, chances are the typical English strategy early in the game will be to kick those pesky Scots off their island.

The French should carefully consider intervening if the English declare war on the Scots. The French could negotiate a deal with the English: France will intervene in an English home card DOW and move the Scottish troops to Glasgow. The French get 3 Scottish regulars come winter and the English should have an easy time taking an empty Edinburgh. The French should look for an alliance on the following turn.

But be wary of the English asking the French to intervene, they may just be looking for a free DOW on France. If a satisfactory deal can’t be struck, the French may just want to let Scotland defend itself. The English may spend more CP than they would like trying to take out 3 units in an assault.

If the French do intervene, England should be sure to take political control of both Glasgow and Stirling. If France and Scotland are allies, the French can use Auld Alliance to bring 3 French regulars onto any Scottish controlled home space not under siege. Used later in the game with an English alliance, these 3 Catholic troops can wreak havoc to the Reformation in England.

• Don’t be in a rush to knock out the Hungarians.
• Venice should be your number one choice for an ally.
• Activate Genoa towards the end of the game.
• France and England need to discuss Scotland.

Board Gaming over the Internet

May 12, 2010

Getting 6 people together to sit down and play through a full game of Here I Stand is difficult. With most people working during the week, the weekends are the only option that would allow enough time to fit in a game. But these often fill up fast with family, religious and other obligations.

However, technology allows some new options. There is real-time online play of games through websites, on gaming consoles or other devices. There is also the option is to play a game long distance by sending each move by email. Previous generations may have played a game of chess with their pen-pal by sending each move in a letter through snail mail. Now moves can be sent through email to speed up that process. Having played a few games with a couple of these systems, each has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.

The most obvious advantage is that the games can be played from your own living room. No need to get everyone together in the same place. This will save on travel time and gets you right into gaming. For better or worse, the session is more focused on playing the game. I feel more comfortable playing with strangers over the internet than inviting random people to my house. But when I want to play my with my normal gaming group, the social enjoyment I get out of gaming suffers.

I’m sure we’ve all done this with our board games: set-up up the board on the table and play through the game in multi-night sessions. I recently played a game of Twilight Struggle with my wife. We just left the board on the dining room table for a couple of nights. However, with small children in the house we ran the risk of the board getting changed between plays. Usually these online systems allow a way to save the game progress so that you can start where you left off at a later time. A full play through of a long war game can be broken into a few shorter sessions over a longer time period. That huge time commitment is now broken into bite sized chunks that are easier to manage. It may allow you to brush up on rules or rethink strategies before your next play. However, the game can also drag out to weeks or even months before it is finished.

Real Time
Russ has a good post on his experience with Settler of Catan on the XBox. I have played a dozen games using the website Wargameroom. One advantage of playing on a computer is that the rules are all programmed into the system. Only your available options are shown or are allowed to be carried out. This means no cheating, but more importantly it is a great way to help you learn the rules. Usually though you learn them the hard way. You think you are about to assault that fortress when the option to assault isn’t available because you haven’t met all of the requirements. A turn is wasted, but the next time you play you’ll remember that rule.

The real time aspect allows for a quick fix of a game. The board is set-up for you. Calculating dice requirements, card shuffling and rule checking is done instantly. There is very little down time that allows a longer game to be played much more quickly. It is a good option to get some gaming in on a tight time budget. Opponents can be found quickly through a chat room or even instantly with the use of AI opponents. The social aspect of gaming is mostly gone and a game that involves negotiations is greatly hindered. How do you convince or bluff a pre-programmed response?

Play By EMail has also been a mostly good experience. Each player has a copy of the board on their own computer and a move file is sent as each person plays. Probably the most common program used is Cyberboard to track the board and generate move files and the website ACTS to track the play of cards and handles the random stuff: card shuffling and dice rolls. Each player checks their email at least daily and takes their turn. In a game that involves a diplomacy aspect, this is also handled by exchanging emails.

The huge advantage of this system is the long time between turns. For someone learning a game, they can check the rules or even ask for help on forums between moves to better understand the strategies and intricacies of a game. I’ve found that my understanding of the 40+ page Here I Stand rulebook has vastly improved. Diplomacy can be fun because is can be done simultaneously and in secret. No one has to know you sent an email to one power where in a Face-to-Face (FtF) play everyone saw you leave the room together.

Of course, the major disadvantage of this system is the long time between turns. Once the diplomacy phase is over, carrying out those plans for just one turn could take months. Waiting for a person to take their move isn’t fun. In a FtF game a minute can seem like an eternity. Try waiting 10 days for your opponent to take his turn because he was on vacation and then got stuck in Europe because of a volcano (actually happened).

Overall Impressions
I think using technology to play your favorite board game is a great idea. There are certainly some great advantages for new players and people who can’t make big time commitments. However, nothing beats staring down your opponent in a good ol’ face-to-face play of any game.

Battle of the Brothers – French Perspective

November 19, 2009

Last Sunday three sets of brother sat down for a friendly game of Here I Stand (read the twitter feed for some play-by-play commentary). I was really looking forward to the game for many reasons. One, the sibling rivalry aspect – I would play the French and my brother (Russ) the Protestants. We shouldn’t tangle too much, but we’re brothers, anything can happen. Two, this would be my fourth game of Here I Stand so I was feeling really good about the play and rules aspect of the game. And three, I analyzed all the possible plays, cards, etc. to get the VP necessary to win as the French. I was ready!

Turn 4
The deal was bad: I got 5 cards for a total of 10 CP, well below the 2.7 CP/card average. I would need some help. I allied with the Hapsburg in exchange for Besancon. Not too important, but I was really just looking to keep the Haps off my back. I knew I was going to war with the English. The English would DoW Scotland with their home card and I would vacate it. In exchange, I would get a card draw the next turn. Sounded like a good deal and if anything changed, I could just hold Scotland.

The action phase progressed as expected. I took Milan and the English DoWed Scotland. However, after the English rolled a 6 on the pregnancy chart and got a healthy Edward and 5 VP, I wasn’t going to give him another easy 2 VP. So I held Scotland and sent an explorer who went off to discover the Amazon! 7 VP in one turn! Things were looking up.

Turn 5
Going into this turn, I knew the English would try to press me. I got decent cards and decided on a pure defensive strategy. I was near the lead and didn’t want to draw any attention. My hand was decent: Potosi Silver Mines and Plantations should net me cards for Turn 6 and I could use Auld Alliance to defend Scotland. I was also able to get a Franco-Ottoman alliance this turn. He would play Swiss Mercenaries on my behalf and I would loan him a fleet. I would build my forces and gain the cards necessary for a turn 6 win.

The English player went for Metz and Bordeaux (with the crafty play of Charles Bourbon and moving out some fleets). He forced the use of my home card for CP, but my defensive plays and his bad dice roll on the assault in Metz forced him into an odd position on his final play of the turn. With his 1 CP card should he assualt Bordeaux or Metz? I still held one card in my hand and no one knew what it could be – Mercenaries Bribed had already been played. I put on my best poker face. He finally chose to assualt Metz and I played my combat card: Mercenaries Grow Restless! The renegade leader and his ragtag bunch of mercenaries were wiped out! After that huge success I was riding high and hoping for great things in the new world. Then Lady Luck left me. I had invested big in the New World and got nothing. No extra cards.

Turn 6
We dealt out the cards and and I got a decent CP hand, but no good events. The negotiations were intense. The Hapsburg player (Joe) was in the lead and had 11 cards in his hand. Having won the previous two games, he already had a huge target on his back – this just made it bigger. The Ottoman, Papacy and Protestant powers wanted either the English or the French to go to war with him to block his win. With the promise of a card play and a couple of mercs I could easily stop the Hapsburg player. However, I would also need an alliance with the English to also give myself a chance at the win. The English player knew this and refused. My next best bet was to go to the Hapsburg. I would give up a card draw for an alliance as well as the transfer of Navarre to the French. He was interested in the deal but also spoke to the English. During the announcements, my hopes of winning were crushed. The Hapsburgs took the English deal instead and I was on my own. My only chance at victory now was to go to war with the Hapsburgs and the English.

The action phase began. I took Navarre right away and then turned to defending against the English onslaught. The English player took Metz and then stormed on to Lyon. I did the best I could with my few remaining CP, but it was of no use. The English took Lyon. I could only build Chateau for 1 more VP and finished at 20. Good enough for fourth place. The English player made all the right moves and with luck in the new world, rolled himself to a great victory.

Game Over
The Turn 6 diplomacy was the win or lose moment of the game. All 6 powers had legitimate shots at winning the game going into the final turn. The Ottoman player could win with Vienna and Piracy. The Hapsburg player was in the lead and held 11 cards – I still can’t believe the luck in the new world! The Pope was doing well against Luther, but the religious game can swing so dramatically it is hard to tell. The English and French had made big moves and only needed another key or two.

And this is why that diplomacy phase lasted way too long and was way too intense. Everyone had a huge stake and wanted someone else to stop the Hapsburgs. But no one wanted to give up much to allow that and throw away their own chances of winning. Having Russ at the table and knowing how to push his temper didn’t help matters either. I couldn’t blame him for throwing his hands up and leaving the table for a few minutes at one point. This was supposed to be fun?! It gave me a headache and I wanted to stop.

A few days later I composed my thoughts for this blog. I thought this was the best I’ve played a game of Here I Stand. I knew all the right things to do and made good moves during the negotiations. I think 2 extra cards from my colonies would have won it for me. The atmosphere was intense; every power had a shot at victory; good diplomacy can give you the power to win. This left me thinking: when’s the next game?

Here I Stand: Henry VIII, Warlord

November 14, 2009

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.

Initial Strategy

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.

Turn 4

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.


Anne Boleyn was spared by providing a healthy male heir

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.

Turn 5

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.

Turn 6

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.


Henry VIII did not live to enjoy his victory over France

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 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.

Gaming with Colorblindness

November 3, 2009

“What color is this?”
I hold up a crayon to my two-year old as we start to draw a picture with her crayons.
“Umm… Green!” she replies.
I wasn’t quizzing her on her knowledge of colors. I wanted to draw a tree and wasn’t sure if the crayon I was holding should be used for the leaves or the trunk. I’m colorblind.

“What do you see?”


You probably see a 74. I see a 21.

I get that question a lot after someone finds out about my colorblindness. And it’s a very difficult one to answer – how do you describe a color? I’m red/green colorblind (deuteranopic). I can see the colors red and green (or blue and purple), but it is difficult to distinguish between the two at times. Taking a colorblindness test can diagnose the condition and help to explain what I see, but most people still don’t get it. Now I can tell someone to Google “colorblind” and get sites that show images side by side of what people like me see. This site does a good job. Those color vision tests all look the same to me!

“What about stop lights?”

I’ve learned various ways to handle colors in my environment. For stop lights, the red and green are actually designed to be different looking so the green looks almost white to my eyes. There are also other clues that can be used: the red light is always on top or on the left when mounted sideways. In other situations, if I really can’t see the color I’ll ask someone. Usually my wife or daughter can help me out, but I’ve also asked complete strangers. Sometimes once I’ve been told something is red or green I’m able to then see the colors. I think somehow my brain compensates for what my eyes miss.

I also change my behavior to help avoid the issue. The color of clothes I buy is affected. As an engineer I often make charts of data. My charts will always have a color and shape associated with each different label. This is good practice for everybody: if you print out a report/presentation it should be legible in color OR black and white.

“I thought this was a blog about board games?”

I was getting to that… Colorblindness definitely affects my board gaming. The most obvious (and generally least important) result is when I pick out my playing piece. I almost always pick blue. Yellow, white or black are my next choices. I generally avoid green, red, orange or brown. If each player in a game only has one token, it usually isn’t a problem keeping track of the colors (a conscious effort on my part at times). However, if there are several tokens and they will be moved around a lot (Carcassonne for example), I will sometimes ask other players not to use certain colors.

When the colors are a part of the game or can’t be avoided, it may be a challenge. I played Power Grid for the first time a few weeks ago. The board has a map with several regions, each a different color. We only had three players so only three of those regions are in play. I had a hard time figuring out which cities were in play and which were out. My first game of Ticket to Ride was also difficult. The colored train routes and cards were very similar to my eye.

Usually the colors aren’t a challenge and don’t effect my play, but not always. I already suffer from analysis paralysis in some games. The extra few seconds I need to concentrate on who-has-what-tokens-where can slow me down even more. To keep from slowing down game play, I may make a bad move because I didn’t realize that red enemy token was actually a green friendly one.

Ingenious Tiles

The colors may look alike, but the shapes don't.

Fortunately some games design around these issues. I think the biggest key for a game design is to double up on the differences by using shapes AND colors. Ingenious is a game of matching colored tiles. Blue and purple?! Red, green and orange?! This game could have been a nightmare. But each color also has an associated shape. This makes it very easy for me to quickly see what I have and where I can play. We also have a dominoes set that each number has a different color. My daughter matches the colors while I match the number of dots – this helps both of us. The Ticket to Ride designers got feedback about difficulty in distinguishing some colors and added symbols to the routes in later editions.

And when the game is designed poorly (at least in color management), I try to adapt. In a second game of Power Grid, we blocked off the border of the regions we were using with the city tokens of a fourth color. It was a great help and makes me wonder why they didn’t draw boundaries between the colors. A game like Here I Stand looked confusing at first glance – the Ottoman green and Protestant Brown looked a lot alike. After playing, I realized it didn’t matter as those powers’ tokens never interact so I don’t have to worry about confusing the colors. And if it came down to it for a game I really liked that after repeated plays I still had troubles with – I would look at making my own board/tokens to eliminate any confusion. Fortunately, I haven’t had to do that…yet!

Here I Waver: Prostestant Perspective

October 20, 2009

As the title suggests, my endeavor into the religious aspect of Here I Stand didn’t go so well. But first, a little background.

I never even knew what a card driven board game was until my brother, Russ, explained them to me and piqued my interest. (Of course Sorry is a card driven board game, but nothing like this.) My gateway into these games was Here I Stand. I think this was really jumping head first into this new world of board games.

In the first game, I played as the French. That game didn’t go well for me after making several mistakes in the first negotiation phase and just learning how to play. My second go around, I played as the Ottomans. I had some success as a pirate, but Vienna just couldn’t be toppled. This time I wanted to learn the religious side of the game. Each play was using the 1532 tournament scenario, this game was the same:

Turn 4
I was dealt some mediocre cards, but did get Diplomatic Overture which gave me some bargaining power. I immediately teamed up with the English. As we played out the turn, I used my event to give the English a 2CP card and drew a 4 and 5 CP card – spent 7 to get 9. This was great! Unfortunately the Hapsburgs played an event which took that 5 CP card out of my hand, so the first turn was fairly uneventful. I didn’t gain in Reformation attempts, but didn’t lose either. The English scored a huge hand, Michael Servetus and Copernicus! Fortunately, he played Servetus for the CP, so I was able to use my home card to score one easy VP.

End of Turn 4

End of turn 4

Turn 5
This time I picked up Printing Press on the deal! I allied with the English, again hoping to score big in England with the Reformation. I also used this turn to take back the electorates. I was able to take one, but at the cost of two cards. With Printing Press in effect, I started to convert Europe to Luther’s teachings. I was up 3 VP this turn with a good chance of gaining 3-4 more in the final turn. However, the English now had a good lead after taking Paris! I couldn’t rely on help from them anymore without giving them a win.

End of Turn 5

End of turn 5

Turn 6
This time my hand was lousy – low CP value cards and nothing to help me debate or reform. I went fishing in the diplomacy phase, but only the English could help me with Printing Press. But he had the lead and wanted cards. The Hapsburg, Papacy and French were teaming up to take back Paris from the English, but they needed my help. They wanted me to give France a card draw in exchange for the Hapsburg not playing Erasmus or another card against me. I couldn’t take either deal. I would need all my CP and a little luck, but I had a chance of victory if I could get 4 VP. I figured I could take my final electorate, be +1 on cities reformed and gain one more VP somehow – possibly disgracing a Papal debater with Luther. As the turn played out, I took my final electorate, but it was again an expensive endeavor. Unfortunately, the Pope had some hot dice and lots of card. He forced my hand in the end game by calling a debate. If I lose the debate, I lose the game. I had to play my Here I Stand home card to use Luther in the debate. Luther still lost and with my card draw I picked up Edward VI. Not enough CP to debate and the reformation attempts failed. I lose two electorates and 5 VP from the loss of religious control of those and other cities to the Pope. Ugh…

End of Turn 6

End of turn 6 and the game

The End
It was a good game and I had a legitimate shot of winning until the final turn. I ended up with 13 VP, 4 behind the French, but it was actually a much closer game due to the huge 5VP swing in the last couple of card plays. Looking back, I think I made the right decisions in my diplomacy, but there were a few things I could have done better in my plays. I should have focused on the Full Bible translations to help win reformation attempts. The plus +1 modifier would have been helpful later in the game. Moving my army out to take the electorates earlier would also have helped in reformation attempts. Overall it was a great experience. I’m looking forward to the next game and hopefully my first victory.

The HIS Players

The HIS Players all in colors matching their powers. Apparently eating the captured enemy leaders is allowed when you take their capital.

Here I Stand Primer: The Hapsburgs

October 13, 2009

We continue our primer for newcomers to Here I Stand by taking a look at the second power to act in the action phase, the Hapsburgs. Again, I’m talking about the tournament scenario, and pulling the game map up might be helpful.


As the scenario opens, your forces are divided between four distant regions: Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, and Austria. You have the highest point total in the game, which makes you an easy target. In addition, you are the only power to start with some of your territory under the control of another power (Buda is Turkish territory). No doubt you’ve already figured it out–winning will not be easy!

Basic Openings

I will admit that the Hapsburg opening moves are not obvious and are the most dependent on how diplomacy plays out. However, keep some general considerations in mind. First, you are the defender of Europe. Whether the Ottoman onslaught succeeds or fails is based almost entirely on your actions (or lack thereof!). You’ll need to work to keep Vienna from falling to them. Some people prefer to build up a large force in Vienna itself, while others prefer to move a large force to Pressburg, Graz, or Linz and intercept the Ottomans from there. Deciding when to fight the field battle and when to withdraw inside the walls is based on what combat cards you’ve got, keeping in mind that the Ottoman player can lay down “Janissaries” at any point and throw in five extra dice in a field battle.

If the Ottomans aren’t applying too much pressure, it is possible to snatch up Tunis early. This takes some planning and costs several CPs (hey, it’s a sea invasion!) but success is assured if you can keep the Ottoman navy off your back with a strong naval force. This move is most commonly launched from Naples, but it could work just as well from Spain or Corsica.

Other players prefer to begin their first turn by retaking lost electorates in Germany. The Protestants have to split their resources between military and religious actions and their leaders are just plain awful, so marching a force from Antwerp into western Germany is pretty easy. Remember, each electorate you own grants you 1 VP and harms the Protestants greatly (their hand size is dependent on number of electorates owned). Also, the presence of your Catholic forces in these spaces will aid the Pope.

Last, some players go for Metz (independent), Calais (English), or any number of French keys. This is not always easy to do–Metz is almost surrounded by French and Protestant spaces, and declaring war too early on the English or French may spell disaster if someone else decides to beat up on you while your back is turned.

Negotiation Considerations

Keep this thought in your mind: “The Hapsburgs are the fulcrum of Europe.” You’re top dog, you’ve got a lot of resources at your disposal, and you’re trying to keep the entire continent from descending into utter anarchy. Those foolish rulers: why don’t they ever listen to the guy with “Holy” in his title? In negotiations it’s critical to get one or two of the four powers directly opposing you–that’s everybody but the Papacy–to agree to an alliance. Then you can keep the others on their toes! On the other hand, if it seems two or more powers are planning on teaming up against you, watch out!

Keep Your Eyes Open For…

I’ve only played the Hapsburgs twice (and won both times), but in watching other players take on the role of Charles V, one danger has become abundantly clear to me. Some people will become paralyzed by the multiple fronts and just spend cards to hold territory, never actually working up the VP track. It’s true that there are times when you just won’t be able to make military gains, but this doesn’t mean you don’t have options. If you have the CP in your hand, send an explorer AND conquest in one turn. Sure it’s a gamble, but there are very few cards in the deck that can cancel these entirely, and they can win you the game. In round 1 of the 2009 Here I Stand play-by-email tourney, I spent cards to resist Ottoman piracy on the first turn, took one electorate (moving me to 19 VP) and then got a successful exploration and conquest to win the game in the second turn. If people really aren’t paying attention, you can actually do this and win in the first turn of the scenario.

Its tough being Emperor!

It's tough being Emperor!

Last, use your home card wisely. Being able to “teleport” Charles and the Duke of Alva anywhere in Hapsburg territory is awesome. Doing so will probably scare the living daylights out of the enemy (especially if it’s the French, Protestants, or English!).  Many people  choose to move Charles to face the Ottomans, but then it’s a pretty equal match. Instead, think of teleporting him to Antwerp and charging after electorates, or any other number of fun places. Being able to spend the 5 CP right away is neat, because you can teleport, bolster an army with mercenaries, and then move it right away. Any of your small armies can become a force to be reckoned with once the Holy Roman Emperor shows up, and that knowledge will give your enemies pause.

Final Thoughts

I am sorry to be so vague, but in my opinion the Hapsburgs really have the toughest job in the game. You’ll be the great balancing act of the continent, and everyone is jealous of your armies, your number of cards, and your chances for an early victory. The wolf pack will do its best to drag you down, but through skilled diplomacy, military might, and a little of that “I’m the Emperor–don’t mess with me!” bravado, you’ll find yourself pack leader at game’s end!

Here I Stand Primer: The Ottomans

October 5, 2009

[Note: We’re playing Here I Stand again this weekend with a few new players. Joe requested that I sketch out some possible strategies for each side. As our least experienced player is going to be the Ottomans, I’ll start here and fill in the rest over the coming months.]

When we have new players at the table, it’s customary to offer them the Ottomans or French. While both offer plenty of fun opportunities, they are “rules light” powers because the religious game does not directly affect them. Of the two, however, the Ottomans are more straightforward–perfect for someone who is learning the rules. What follows is some advice for those new Ottoman players who are sitting down to play the 1532/Tournament scenario. (Feel free to refer to this map as you read.)


You begin play with the second highest victory point (VP) count, 16 to the Hapsburgs’ 18. As the game opens, your land forces are clustered around Istanbul and Buda. However, you are also in control of a powerful but scattered navy. Your time will be split between engaging in piracy, fleet actions, and taking keys.

Three Basic Openings

By spring deploying  troops to Buda, some Ottoman players opt for a swift and decisive victory at Vienna. This will most likely force the Hapsburg player to meet you in the field at Pressburg and/or spend his home card building up a defensive force. However, to ensure victory, you will probably spend your home card to get some extra dice in that field battle. If you win, you have hamstrung the Hapsburg player in the east, allowing you to make a later assault on Prague. If you lose, you have spent a lot of command points (CP) for little/no gain. I consider this your riskiest opening move. There are a lot of possibilities if you win, but if you lose you end up spinning your wheels a bit. This is the “Vienna option.”

Another choice is the “Tunis option.” Spring deploying a token force to Buda will most likely scare off the Hapsburgs. Consider burning a 5 CP card to put fleets into the Aegean Sea and North African Coast on the first impulse (2 CP). Then naval transport a decent-sized army to Tunis, an independent key (3 CP). Taking this key will net you a nice 2 VP without ticking off the Hapsburgs directly. Then you  can build up a fleet of pirates and raid the Hapsburgs, French, or Papacy.

A third choice is the “Venice option.” Through careful wheeling and dealing, go to peace with the Hapsburgs and declare war on Venice (a minor power). You’ll need a powerful navy to blockade Venice, but snatching up that key and threatening Italy might be worth it! Keep in mind that declaring war on Venice will allow the Papacy to intervene (2 CP), thus putting you in the Pope’s bad graces (but who cares, right?).

Negotiation Considerations

Never hesitate to speak with the Protestants and English. They don’t directly threaten you in any way, so you can usually work out some deals. The Protestants are “card hunting” for key Reformation events; if you have these, you may be able to get a random card draw from them or a promise to play “Foul Weather” or “Gout” on your behalf. It’s usually good to talk to the French too; if both of you decide to go after the Hapsburgs at the same time, you can make great gains and keep the Holy Roman juggernaut off balance.

I would also argue that there is a time when making peace with the Hapsburgs is a good idea! This agreement will allow both of you some breathing room to pursue other interests elsewhere (for you, Tunis or Venice…for him, electorates, Calais, Metz, etc.).

Keep Your Eyes Open For…

Because Here I Stand is a card-driven wargame, you obviously can’t prepare for most situations that will come up. However, you can stay on the lookout for opportunities. Tunis, Venice, Vienna are your three key considerations. If you ever see that you’ve got a good shot at taking one, go for it! Later in the scenario, the Hapsburgs may need to draw forces out of Italy to deal with threats elsewhere. If this is the case, feel free to nab Naples. If you can build up a strong pirate fleet, go a’raiding and just pick at whomever you feel needs to be brought down a notch or two. You may even be able to get something in exchange for going after a particular power (“Hey Martin Luther…what would you offer me if I agreed to raiding the Papacy?”).

Final Thoughts

Through careful use of pirates you can leech resources from your enemies. You will be tempted to use your home card in all sorts of situations; gauge carefully where it will do the most damage and let your janissaries do their worst. In short, playing the Ottomans gives you the perfect opportunity to play the “Boogeyman” of Europe during this period; enjoy it!

WBC, Day 5 continued: John’s Perspective

August 7, 2009

Well, it is 11:00 and I am sitting on the bed in our hotel room, chomping on a few Wheat Thins and looking back over the day. It was great fun! After Here I Stand, I bought the guys from my semifinals game a round of beer (oh, I will miss Yuengling back in MN), and then some of us settled in for a quick demo/pickup game of Conquest of Paradise. The designer, Kevin McPartland, came over and introduced us all to it, which was gracious of him. He has an immense enthusiasm for what the Polynesian people have done throughout history. This is a two to four-player game. It’s published by GMT, which is odd; it feels like a civilization-building type game, which is very out of character for them. After one play, I am impressed by the marriage of theme and mechanics, though the game feels a bit too short to me. Just as you are done exploring and are busy building up an army, it ends!

After we wrapped up, I got in a three-player game of Small World with Ted from the Here I Stand semi-finals and Tim, a random guy we met in the open gaming room. This was followed by another game with Russ and Noah. And this is when I snapped my eleven game losing streak! I don’t care if Russ had never played the game before and if Noah was ten years old. It doesn’t matter. I won.

I also managed to get in a demo of Dominion: Intrigue, a nifty little card game that feels collectible, but isn’t. It’s a fun brain-puzzler sort of game. You have to purchase cards and build a deck to amass victory points.

Later in the afternoon, Russ and I headed over to a conference room for a one-hour look at Virgin Queen, the “sequel” to Here I Stand. I’ll have a whole post on this in the near future, but suffice to say that it looks like it’s coming along nicely and will (once again) set a new standard for what can be done with card-driven games.

In the evening, we met up with Dennis from the Here I Stand tournament and Battlestar Galactica demo and created a team for the Wits & Wagers game show. I’d guess about 60+ people showed up, and there was a lot of good-natured heckling. I appreciated the chance to blow off a little steam and learn insane bits of trivia like…how many US states allow marriage between first cousins. (That’s sixteen, by the way. Land of the free and home of the…shrinking gene pool?) That got out around 9:30 PM, so we headed to open gaming for one! last! game! It ended up being…Small World. It’s a fun, light little game that doesn’t take a lot of brainpower. And after 12 hours of gaming, you’re no good for anything else.

Today went so well that we decided to essentially end on a high note. We’re sleeping in tomorrow, and will be taking one last lap around the vendors’ hall before heading out. More reflections on the WBC as a whole later on.

WBC, Day 5: John’s Perspective, Part 1

August 7, 2009

This morning I awoke at 7:30 AM, got ready for the day, and headed off to the Kinderhook room to duke it out in the Here I Stand semi-finals. I came in as an alternate and was placed at a table with Dave (our third game together!), and three people I didn’t know: Jeff (assistant GM), Paul, Ted, and Manuel. I had second to last pick, and, as I knew that I wouldn’t be able to advance to the finals because of travel days back to MN, I took the English. My intention was to sit back and watch sparks fly, and fly they did!

The game was over in 90 minutes.

For people who know Here I Stand, this is pretty darn rare. On the opening turn, I pulled an okay anti-Ottoman hand. I tried to convince the Hapsburgs to give me something for it, but he (Dave) wasn’t interested. So I chatted it up with the Ottoman, and he granted me a card pull in exchange for an agreement not to play the anti-Ottoman cards (I wouldn’t have anyway, but hey…). The Pope and I agreed to one card pull from me to him and one play of Erasmus for the event in exchange for the divorce (essentially two cards). Then I gave the French two mercs in exchange for an agreement not to intercede in Scotland. I allied with the Protestants (in case Henry ditched three wives this turn and we both got a card draw for that third wife) and that was that.

Then things went a little south for me. The card the Pope pulled from my hand was a 4 CP card, and I only drew a 2 CP card from the Ottoman. Then I whiffed the “get an heir” roll. This now meant that I’d have to spend my home card on divorcing and remarrying, and another card on declaring war on Scotland. Long story short, I got one shot at Edinburgh at bad odds, didn’t make it, and came in at 14 VP (Edward was eventually born). This put me one behind the French by game’s end, on that same turn.

Who won, and how? The Ottoman did a bit of thrashing around and never took any keys. The French allied with the Hapsburgs, and the Protestant had a screwy hand: Michael Servetus and Copernicus (+3 VP) but very few CP. Dave took Tunis and Metz, nabbed an electorate, and then…in the New World phase, aced an explorer and a conquest roll and came away with 23 VP, the Pope behind him at 22. An interesting game, to be sure.

I face an odd choice for the rest of our time here: I can throw my lot in with Crusader Rex tomorrow morning (a small tourney, probably a lot of extremely good players) or go play 1960: Making of the President. The problem with the latter choice is that I’ve only played it twice, have never read the rules, and it’s rated as an “A” tourney–experienced players only.

This afternoon will be filled with walking around the vendors’ room, which just opened today, playing some games in the open area, attending Ed Beach’s preview of Virgin Queen, and playing the Wits & Wagers game show.

I should be able to post later today, so stay tuned…