Friday 3 August 2012

Stronghold invader phase overview

Continuing my first impressions post on the Stronghold board game, this part covers the phases 2 through 6 of the turn sequence.

Phase two of each turn when the invader builds machines. In the basic games this includes covers which protect a rampart against marksman fire, something my opponent used to good effect. It also included ballista and catapult engines, with the former being used to kill defenders on the walls and the latter destroying wall sections.

Ballista seemed moderately effective, inflicting a casualty every other turn. Gradual attrition could lead to an eventual breach, but there is also an area-denial aspect as the presence of a ballista discourages placing a veteran on a wall section (due to the high cost of training them and the certainty that it will be targeted). I can see the threat of Goblin Frenzy combined with two ballista covering a single wall section being a real nightmare but thankfully my opponent used his Goblins for rituals instead after some early frustration with goblin traps.

Catapults have the same hit rate as ballista but with a new stone wall becoming available to the defender each turn this seemed less effective. Good results were achieved (much to my dismay!) when the Bloodstone ritual was used as this killed off a defending unit as well as destroy a stone wall. My opponent noted in the post-game talk that he felt that spreading the machines out was a mistake and that it would have been better to have two engines covering the same section.

Catapult deck with Bloodstone ritual marker and accurate shot tile, a deadly combination!
Phase three covers equipment such as banners, shields and bridges. As each is available in limited quantities it is important to have a clear strategy in mind when placing them. They will signal your intent so you can expect the defender to reinforce the wall sections you threaten with banners, thus possibly drawing in new victims for ballista fire or weakening other sections sufficiently to allow a breach.

Banners and bridges are very easy to understand. Shields are a little bit more confusing because they force the assault on a wall section to be calculated twice if the first assault generates a defender advantage. In the second calculation the shield value is added and casualties are only inflicted on the invader if the defender still has an advantage.

Unlike banners, the shield bonus is per unit so three orcs with banners and shields would attack with strength 7 (2+2+2+1; six for the orcs and one for the banners) and if the defender had 6 or higher strength then invader strength would be recalculated to 10 (2+2+2+1+1+1+1; six for the orcs, one for the banners and three for the shields) for calculating losses. This makes a huge difference and can really help invaders get a foothold on a wall section, letting them survive until the next turn when more units can be moved up.

Training is done in phase four, offering (in the basic game) artilleryman, master archer or saboteur. These are more valuable the earlier they are used and likely to be a focus in the first few turns. As Master Archer is placed on a rampart it is important to make sure there is a bridge guarding the path to that rampart first. Otherwise the defender can place a goblin trap, rendering the Master Archer useless.
A saboteur is in place at the cathedral, increasing action cost by 1 hourglass. One hourglass has been spent on marksmen blessing, normally it would require just one more to complete but will now require an extra hourglass. Sharpshooter in the tower has already been used this turn and is marked as unavailable.

It should also be noted that the Master Archer can be countered by moving marksmen away from any threatened wall section as Goblins can only shoot marksmen (other defenders hide behind walls). While forcing such a withdrawal may be useful, the defender can use Sharpshooter in the Tower or Marksmen Blessing to continue inflicting casualties on any rampart if he's willing to pay hourglasses. My opponent found it very annoying that I just moved marksmen away from threatened sections, replacing them with soldiers who would hide behind the walls.

Saboteurs seemed very important, increasing the cost of many actions by 50% and forcing me to waste several units sweeping them out. I lost more units to tracking saboteurs than to ballista fire! As they can be swept in any phase but only placed in phase four, there is an incentive to sweep them as soon as the third saboteur is placed. This can create interesting tension where the invader may not want to place a third saboteur at all.

Phase five is an opportunity for the invader to carry out fell rituals by sacrificing goblins. These rituals include the aforementioned Bloodstone which turns  a catapult into a deadly threat, but also spectres that turn defender casualties into undead warriors for the invaders and gale that adds extra hourglass costs to movement.

Gale probably has the clearest cost/benefit ratio. If the invader can use it to prevent enough reinforcements being moved to a critical wall section it could secure a win and in more marginal situations it could cost the defender enough hourglasses to at least grant a foothold and maybe some defender losses. While the extra cost was unwelcome I never found the gale to be very effective against me.

Three orcs and a troll, using banners and shields, attack a wall section guarded by two soldiers. Two stone walls protect the soldiers. A gale is making it difficult for reinforcements to join the fight. The defender's cannon can not target units that are already on the walls.

Spectres are a bit more unpredictable and were never used effectively in our first game as there was not enough defender casualties in the melee phase. They are perhaps best in the mid to late game when several wall sections are under pressure. Hopefully they'll see more use as we gain experience with the game.

Bloodstones were used to very good effect in our first game. While dependent on drawing a hit card for the selected engine the odds can be improved by using artilleryman training and accurate tiles. It was very frustrating for me when my first veteran stepped up on a wall section only to get a catapult bloodstone in the face, earning him an instant one-way trip to Valhalla.

Dispatch and orders are handled in phase 6 and covers the movement of troops and any special instructions. The mechanics are straightforward, with the phase card offering a major and minor dispatch. Each can be used once per turn and offers different number of units that are moved and different hourglass costs. A unit can only be moved once per order, but if both major and minor dispatch are used then a unit could be moved twice.

My opponent noted that after flipping the phase 1 card (which increases reinforcements from 14 to 16 per turn and prevents trading a unit for extra resources) in the mid-game it became difficult for him to move all units forward and his camp rapidly became congested, offering extra hour glasses to the defender.

After the defender spends the hourglasses from phase 6, the game moves on to the assault phase. This will be covered in the next post.

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