Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category
I haven’t played nearly enough to warrant this, and its not a hyper deep game, but I am amused. So here are my thoughts on Colony Strategy. I don’t have much experience with Attack cards, because the TaoLing prefers to leave them out (so, not much experience with Defense, either).
Upgrades — Right now I’m very consistently upgrading Construction (so you can build 2+ cards a turn OR get 2 CHIPIs instead of one unless you build). The TaoLing likes to upgrade the upgrade card. I originally scoffed at this (all this does is save you a single die when you upgrade), but the died that it saves you is a ‘1’, and there’s no way to get a one die consistently. So I still scoff, but a bit less. The problem is that you the construction upgrade allows for come from behind victories (which need multiple buildings in a turn) and it gets you extra dice. Balanced against that, it isn’t a VP, but that’s not necessarily a downside, given the come-from-behind ability to discard a card. If I have a roll for an early upgrade, I upgrade Construction (unless I can buy a good building).
I rarely Warehouse or Supply Exchange. Or Upgrade.
The dice situation — The basic cards are the “big money” strategy of Colony. If you buy a 2-6 die (the 3-5 are the cheap ones) then you get a) an unstable die and b) a VP. If you upgrade that you get to stabilize a die and another VP. These are good deals. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them auto-buys, because many of the cards that vary each game cost less for similar effect. Often you’ll want to get another die and then a blue card that can stabilize a die. (The pawn shop turns any die into a stable 5, the Recycling Bin lets you turn an unstable die into a chip, the Tweaker stabilizes a die while it adjusts a pip, etc). You can just pile on unstable dice, but some manipulation is in order. I’ve spent a game cursing my inability to roll a two.
One nice thing about the game is that I’ve seen some games where you win with just a single extra die (or so) card, using manipulation or big VP cards to score. There do seem to be a reasonable number of strategies.
Don’t be afraid to turn two dice into one that you’ll need (usually a 1,2, or 6).
CHIPIs — You can get too many of these, (especially if you upgrade construction, as I do), so I spend them somewhat aggressively in the early game.
The early lead — Because you can discard a card to get unstable dice equal to the difference between you and the leader, jumping up to an early lead isn’t necessarily good. In my last game the TaoLing grabbed up the Prize Vaults and then upgraded them for a quick lead. But I simply sacrificed my upgrade card for 8! unstable dice and used them plus a warehouse to buy three fallout shelters (already having one). Lead demolished. If you have an early lead it’s better to build up a few more dice (etc) and try to push for the win later, instead of building up an exploitable VP point lead.
Fallout Shelters — These don’t grow strictly triangular (1-3-6-9-12-16), but are basically 2 VP a pop until you get to the fourth. The problem is that you can’t really upgrade them efficiently. Still, grabbing an early shelter can start an arms race because people do not want you to monopolize them.
Thoughts on the numbers (yes, the do have differences!)
You need a ‘2’ (or two) for every basic die producing card! You never need a ‘1’. In fact, you always need a ‘2’ for a green cards, and only the Experimental Generator (1VP, 1CHIPI/turn) requires ‘1’.
Exchange cards (blue) all need at least a pair of ‘4s’. Trade cards (purple) need a pair of ‘3s’. Attack cards need ‘5s’ and ‘1s’. Paragon/Scoring cards (orange) need ‘6s’. Defensive cards need ‘5s’.
Thoughts on individual (non-basic) cards:
Scrap Shack — 6-2-2 gets you a 5 when built and an unstable 1. Great deal. Cheapest die in the game.
The Black Market‘s ability to turn 1 die into 2 (or three) while stabilizing and preserving pips is useful. In particular, it let you make 6=1=1=1=1 or 6=2=2=2=2 combinations to get fallout shelters. But it is expensive.
The Pawn Shop, Stabilizer, and Recycling Bin all basically let you stabilize a die. The Pawn shop turns it into a five, or lets you turn a (stable) five into whatever. The Bin makes it a CHIPI (which lets you ignore storage limits, but may be an issue if are at the limit of 3), and the Stabilizer just stabilizes anything. All useful. I like the Recycle bin because it upgrades and lets you spend all your CHIPIs each turn, and if you don’t get a great roll, you just convert them back.
I’m not a huge Transmogrifier fan. One more cost for a re-roll. But the upgraded version is nice. The Tweaker‘s ability to stabilize and modify is great.
Trade cards effectively give you a die (assuming you are in a 3+player game you’ll likely be able to trade) and give a bonus VP (2VP + 1 if upgraded, instead of 1+1).
I had a question about Gambling Den, now that I understand it I think its OK.
Time Lock Vault — First of all, any three dice gets a VP, so if this is in the game buy unstable dice if other people aren’t snapping these up. Cheaper to buy these than upgrade your warehouse. Also, this lets you build a big turn, which may let you avoid jumping out to a VP lead (or let you coat-tail an opponent).
Prize Safe — Game changers. These are nine dice (5+4 upgrade) for usually 5-6 VP, but you could get unlucky. Or you could get lucky and get 4 VP for 5 dice. Do not upgrade prematurely.
Or — as we call them around here — idjits.
I mean, how else can you explain the fact that when presented with a game rigged in their favor and offered the chance to bet real money repeatedly playing the game … in any amount they choose … as many times as they could play in 30 minutes
A full third of them lost money! More than a quarter of them went broke! Some of the test subjects were making a living working in investment firms!
Idiots, I say.
Certainly not gamers.
Definitely not gamers with a background in engineering or math.
Of the 61 subjects, 18 subjects bet their entire bankroll on one flip, which increased the probability of ruin from close to 0% using [the optimal strategy] to 40% if their all-in flip was on heads, or 60% if they bet it all on tails, which amazingly some of them did.
Read the full paper (Rational Decision-Making under Uncertainty: Observed Betting Patterns on a Biased Coin) then consider where your retirement savings are.
(Mine are in index funds).
After another burst of (2p) Mottainai I’m starting to see some patterns and harmonies. As my review of Mottainai noted, my chief complaint is that the game ends right after it starts; but that’s a pretty good problem to have. Mottainai plays like Pringles, a game, then a game, then a game…
Mottainai’s similarities with Glory to Rome tripped me up for quite a while. I noticed the subtle differences, but didn’t really grok the implications until recently.
Because of similarities in nomenclature, I’m just going to use Mottainai’s terms. I considered translating to G2R, but that would be a bewildering mess.
FIRST: You release your card at the start of your turn — In Glory, you lead/follow and then the cards immediately go at the end of each turn. So — in G2R — if you play a great role the next player will play Monk and then grab it as a helper for the rest of the game. Experienced G2R players avoid playing a great role and use sheninigans like playing groups of three roles as a wild on the turn prior, just to get you the first shot at them.
In Mottainai tasks release on your next turn, so you don’t have to worry about that.
Related — when it’s your turn to lead you can decline to play a task, which lets you pray for a card. (You can still use the other player’s tasks to craft/pray). In G2R, skipping your turn is a mixed blessing. You fill up your handsize, but you don’t get control. You miss the chance to pick a role that others may not be able to follow.
In Mottainai, following is free — everyone can use your tasks (barring some buildings).
So I figured declining to play a task was fine. You don’t control tempo as much, but nobody can leach.
But you can punish a player who consistently skips by grabbing cards from the floor into your craftbench or helpers. Normally whatever role you select your opponent could take the task he played his prior turn. But no task last turn means nothing to grab, so they have to pray. (Or craft, but crafting stone instead of using a Monk requires a stone building in hand and a stone on the craftbench, and crafting clay instead of using a Potter (laborer) requires two clay).
SECOND — Having cards in the craftbench is even better than in G2R. In Glory, you can either use materials in your bench to finish works or sell for VP. You can do the latter in Mottainai, but sales aren’t necessarily VP. To earn VP, you must cover the sale. Having the most of one material earns you the variable backorder points for cards in hand (instead of 3VP). But once you have something in the stockpile, it isn’t used up. If you have a clothe on your craftbench, then anytime someone plays tailor you can use the action or finish any grey work. Powerfully flexible. Having two clay or metal on the bench means you can craft instead of Potter or Smith. Again, flexible. If that doesn’t end the game, then you can craft to move a good or two into sales.
THIRD — Tempo! In general, you want to put your buildings on the sales gallery, to cover your sales. These are worth more points at the end. Also, splitting your works means you can’t control the end of the game. In general, you want to end it. There’s one exception (see below), so splitting works just to double the efficiency of a helper isn’t a great deal. You can always slap down 3-4 works on the sales side then start on the other gallery. (The exception? If you need a long game, you may as well start doubling helpers now).
FOURTH — Helpers aren’t as critical as clients in G2R. You still want them, but because you can have any number (not limited be influence). Grabbing a mediocre helper isn’t a problem. And because you pray by using a helper (or task), the more the merrier. Even multiple tailors may let you craft a cloth work, then tailor, then pray for a sixth card. Yes, you have to discard the sixth card at the start of your turn, but….
FIFTH — Extra hand size (even though discarded before you can use it) is amazing. You may turn your enemies Smith into a metal work. There are only 10 metal cards out of 54, so the odds of getting three metal out of five random cards are only 3% or so. But getting up to a seven card hand nearly triples the odds. And — more importantly — you’ll be well placed to handle whatever your opponent does. Beware of playing an action that the opponent can craft on (particularly with multiple helpers) or beware the smith if your opponent has a full hand.
Incidentally, the exception about ending the game? Backorders. Like many Chudyk games, the game ends right away, nothing else, when it triggers. Which means if your opponent has a 7+ card hand, they all count for backorders. If they aren’t winning anything, fine, but if they are … particularly with a single ‘3’ card sale, you could be in for a nasty surprise.
More thoughts later, if I have any.
The four bolts (Fire/Ice/Swift/Air) all either get you a crystal or give you a ranged attack 3, with some bonus (the fire/ice have the approrpriate element, the swift bolt is ranged attack four, and the crushing bold is siege attack 3). The bolts are always useful. If you are mana poor, you get a crystal. Mana rich, you get an attack. Granted, in solo conquest the attack won’t necessarily be useful (although Siege will be), but even if you wait to the regular attack phase, attacks that change element are nice ways to deal with physical resistance. A bolt is rarely a bad pick, although there may often be something better. Solid citizens, the lot of them. B+
I’ve separated the rest of the cards roughly by type, although some cards live in multiple categories.
The weakness of (non-ranged) attack cards is the necessity to not throw them away due to paralysis or getting knocked out. But other than that, attack cards are always in style. Block cards also due some heavy lifting, it’s rare you’ll block nothing (unless you cancel some attacks, or just plan to heal as much and have your followers do everything).
Blood Rage is just super rage, where you can take a wound for an extra +3/+4. Killing stuff is always good and worth a wound. B+
Chivalry gives you solid attack numbers, or lets you reduce them a bit to gain some reputation, which (in turn) may help you recruit. B+.
I’ve mentioned my love of doubling. Well, in some ways Counterattack is a doubler. Attack 2/4 and an extra attack 2/3 per unit blocked. That’s not a strict doubling, but against Volkare it can often come close (especially if you have a few elusive units where blocking also lowers their armor). Even against a regular city assualt you can often see this boosted to 10 or 13 easily enough. A-
The more I play, the more I like Dodge & Weave. In some senses another doubler — it lowers attacks and gives you bonus attack if you take no wounds — but against a large army you’ll likely forfeit the bonus. But even ignoring that — lowering attacks beats blocking. Reducing is always efficient (unlike swiftness or elemental attacks). You can’t partially block, but can partially lower (to maybe let a resistant unit bounce the rest). Lowering a 5 cold-fire paralyzing attack is a good deal, even if you never get any attack bonus. A-
With a big enough unit Force of Nature absorbs a decent attack. (A problem with resistant units — albeit a minor one — is that each can only bounce one attack. If you can already bounce 3-4 attacks, you don’t have many worries). And you can power it for block (for pesky assassinating enemies) or siege attack (always nice). B+.
The Ice Shield (which provides Ice Block 3 / & Reduce Armor of the blocked enemy by 3 if you power it), is an OK doubler. Ice Block three isn’t enough by itself to fully block lots of your more annoying enemies, and reducing armor by three is fine. It really helps if the unit is resistant. Still, there are often a number of good targets, but typically you have to power this to really get value, so call it a B-.
Intimidate provides a strong attack at the cost of reputation or a bushel of influence at the cost of reputation. Attack and Influence? Both good. Yes, your reputation will spiral down. Grab a few followers ASAP and embrace the decline! A+, but it may require some finesse and if you have no followers and are already dangerously low on reputation beware.
Into the Heat provokes mixed results. If you have built up an army and have lots of ranged/seige attacks, this just destroys opposition. The downside — being unable to assign wounds to followers (or block with resistant ones) is a big deal — but this card can provide twelve to fifteen points of oomph. On the other hand, if you draft this without a plan Into the Heat is one of those cards most likely to cause you to go “Hm…” and eventually discard it. You need ranged attackers (or Altem Mages) to make this work, or some plan to just eat all the wounds in the world, then unleash hell. (Sword of Justice goes well with this). I wouldn’t draft this early (until I knew my setup) but late game this can be anywhere from an A+ to a pure Failure.
Ritual Attack — Another mid/late game card. You don’t want to discard 6 cards (one per round) from your deck, no matter how good an attack you get. Still, discarding a red card (intimidate being the logical choice) for attack five or fire six (if powered) is a good deal. You do also get to choose what cards you get rid of, so you can make an assault time decision on what you need. Downsides — you spend two cards for one attack, so its anti handsize. Most decks can’t afford to give up many cards, but some cards do lose value over the game (people with X reputation don’t need influence cards, you may not need much movement in the late game, crystalize and tranquility are often redundant towards the end). Still, not a frequent target, unless I’ve drafted a card that adds cards to my deck. Then absolutely draft this, to reduce the variability of your deck a little. C+.
Unlike Ice Shield, Shield Bash finds decent targets. Swiftness shows up early (more so than fire). The armor benefit for the powered version isn’t as good but — depending on who you fight — you’ll get more block out of this. And you can tune Shield bash or dump extra cards into it. So — better than Ice Shield, but it depends on what you find and you can’t necessarily plan for it. Still a B-, though.
Agility gives you movement, then lets you spend movement points as attack (or ranged attack with the powered action) during combat. Note you lose movement points when you start combat, but (unlike ranged attacks or blocks) movement can be saved throughout combat. So if you are about to get paralyzed you can dump your hand as movement (or block) and still attack. B+
Given how much I love Concentrate, no points for guessing I like Ambush. Move to the attack, then boost it (or a block). Sadly, ambush is a strictly arithmetic card … always good for a little boost, but never turning into a monster card. Early, it’s A, but its effect will down as the game goes on, maybe half a grade per round. At some point you’ll be happier with other cards. In a siege, Agility may be much better, depending on what you draw.
OK, the real advantage of Frost Bridge is that it reduces swamps to one. The green city tile is filthy with swamps, and the powered ability to walk over lakes can be great. But typically you only take this if you know you’ll need it (or are absolutely desperate for move, or perhaps if you’ve taken another knight’s skill token, so you get no choice on your AA). D+ [After writing this, the very next day I bought Frost Bridge while in the green city, because I needed to beat feet over some swamps to the white city, which the TaoLing had discovered. So –rarely useful, but otherwise ignored].
Unlike a lot of other skills, Mountain Lore gives you 3 or 5 move, instead of 2/4. The bonus of 1 hand size if you end in a hill is nice, but highly conditional. The powered version also lets you stop on a mountain (and get two hand size). Hand size is nothing to sneeze at, and this is a big movement booster, although other card’s discounts make them just as good. But again, you’ll likely only draw this if you see a mountain you want to cross. C+.
Path Finding is the ‘rush across the board’ card. You want to play this with lots of movement to take advantage of the big discounts. Particularly on core tiles, a powered path finding can let you race to your next target. B
I frequently take Refreshing Walk because movement is good, and healing is good. You use something else to walk into battle, then can heal (wasting the movement) or perhaps move/heal the next turn (particularly good when you are heading for a glade or mine, and don’t really need the handsize right away). A solid B.
Song of Wind discounts some spaces to one and zero, and in theory lets you shoot several spaces across the board. But here’s the thing. Those spaces weren’t noramally that difficult to get through anyway. (OK, deserts and wastelands are, but plains aren’t). And moving through lakes isn’t bad, either. Perhaps I’m undervaluing this, but this feels like the worst movement card. D+
Steady Tempo feels … steady. It’s a solid movement card. If you play it, you’ll draw it again at the end of the round, for more movement (or just one more card to chuck to something). If you are desperate, you power it and get it again ASAP. Not flashy, but useful. B-
In some extent, how much influence counts depends on your scenario. In Solo Conquest, you’ll typically have a turn or few loading up in your city. If your reputation is around zero, then you’ll get 3-5 influence for city tokens, so a few more actions to bump that up (or skills) can make a big difference. I’ve already said how much I love Intimidate, so let’s discuss the others.
Also, many of these skills go up in value when you buy them at a monastery, because you can then (next turn) use these AAs to buy another unit (assuming one is available).
Finally, these cards go in up in value if you have heroes and/or thugs (unless you have a skill that provides influence) since you’ll need to pay them off to attack a city or absorb a wound, respectively.
Diplomacy lets you spend influence for block. Not a big deal (unless you have an influence skill), but the powered version can talk some heavy hitters out of punching you in the face. So, you get slightly less influence than the other skills, but you can use it combat. Flexibility like that is often useful. B+
Despite the fact that Heroic Tale pays out 3/6 influence, it’s not my favorite. Yes, the bonus reputation and fame are nice (and can stack up fairly quickly), but all you can do is get influence. Typically you’ll only take this if you are going to use it next turn. B-
A literal feast or famine card, In Need provides munificent bounties of influence, all at the cost of having been beaten like a red-headed step child. Still, at a monastery this single card can heal your entire hand (or army of foresters and peasants) single handedly. Not the sort of thing to draft without a plan, but often when you draft it In need will pay dividends. B.
You can use Learning outside of interaction (which means your rep/city tokens don’t matter) to draft another card. You can also use it inside interaction, which will be useful if you have reputation or are at a city. The ability to use this outside interaction (which takes an action) does mean you can do some interesting things, like chuck your soon to be paralyzed hand to improve your deck for next round or possibly take a great advanced action right now. Remember that you can’t power the card then use the basic ability. That fact drops it down to B-.
Remember that if you use Peaceful Moment for its action, you aren’t interacting. Which means after a hard day of burning down monasteries and being shunned like the Pariah you so obviously are, you can still heal three wounds or ready some units with this bad boy. Often in the end game I’m taking a turn or two waiting next to the city, either building up my reserve underneath Sparing Power or I simply have to trek from the first city to the second and have nothing to do. So, a useful action is nice. Even readying one unit can mean taking out an additional Draconum or some such.
AAs that gain cards
Is I’ve mentioned before, it is possible to bloat your deck too much. (I just played a co-op game where I spent the second night waiting for Sparing Power to build a huge assault, but because we didn’t control the mana pool I absolutely needed Mana Draw to set a die to black. The dummy rushed so I had to assault with a few cards undrawn. This time I got lucky).
I just read a session report of one player versus the world where the one player (who seemed quite good) called Magic Talent “The best first Advanced Action.” I concur. Even ignoring the spell gaining ability, the option to chuck a card to use one of three is spells is highly flexible. Obviously whenever you go a spell route you want to get a good source of mana, and you can have too many spells, but unless I’m totally dry I’m happy with this. Even then, the source will power a basic spell action, and the offer normally has some spells that are situationally useful. And you don’t have to take this early for it to be useful. A single shot of a spell can game changing. A+.
Blood of Ancients costs a wound (tolerable) and a mana to get a card into hand. The advanced action doesn’t get you the card, but lets you put the wound in the discard pile (or not). It’s a decent first draw, because you’ll get another card next turn, but don’t go crazy. The nice thing about BoA is that you can grab the card you need right now. B+
Training lets you improve your deck by chucking a card to get a better one. Unlike the advanced Magic Talent, you still need to a chuck a card (instead of spending a mana) which sometimes means you lock up and don’t get to use it a round, but that’s fairly rare. Still from time to time I find myself carrying this for a few turns waiting to draw the right color and then it is somewhat of a load. Also, it doesn’t have the late game punch that Magic Talent does, because Magic Talent converts an Advanced Action into a spell usage, and with Training you could presumably have just taken the right card. There are exceptions (the skill forced you to take the bottom card, or all the cards are terrible but you hope to turn this into the new top card or wait for someone else to level up). But this is still a quite reasonable. A-.
I’m blase about wounds, so Blood Ritual strikes me as a good card. A wound for what you need right now is good, and the advanced action lets you crystalize. The ability to take Black Mana can be — the non-judgemental necromantic equivalent of ‘godsend.’ Note that the only other card in this section that can earn you a black die is Mana Storm, and that’s based on Lady Luck. A-
The TaoLing loves Crystal Mastery, and it does have turns where it lets you go hog wild (particularly with spells) and not spend anything. But — it can’t gain you a crystal you don’t already have (which Crystallize sometimes can). Still, if you ever get a fair amount of Crystals, this can save you a mitt-ful. B+
Not all decks have Chaff, but towards the mid game most do, and Decompose lets you trim it out and gain some crystals to boot. Typically by the second night (assuming you’ve set your layout) you know if movement is overvalued and you’ll know if you’ve toileted your reputation, so you’ll have some target for the card. (In solo conquest — Swiftness is often reasonable to get rid of by mid-game). I’d rarely take more than one card that throws away cards (not counting those — like Training — that replace them), but this one is pretty good. B-
How good Mana Storm is depends on number of players. Pure Solo, the source only has three dice, so if you use one to roll the other two, its a literal crap-shoot. Again Volkare, you have another dice. With co-op, the pool goes up as well. In a four player coop, brilliant. The ability to grab a crystal and force a re-roll — without using a source die — is solid. But in pure solo, the source is a bit too small. B- in a four die source, and adjust based on the number of dice.
Spell Forge is super crystalize. You gain a crystal, and it will always work (unless the spell offering is only spells you are maxed out on, in which case you instantly gain a token), and if you spend a blue (from the source) you get two crystals. Solid and efficient. B+
As I stated in the first section, Mage Knight is a game of brutal bombs, so I’m reasonably pleased to take Maximal Effect once we’re into the second day or so. It makes your hand denser — blowing up a Stamina to move six now may be much better than being able to move four. Blowing up Determination for block ten will stop a lot of things, and almost stop the rest. And you can tune it for what you need. Blowing up another Advanced Action costs you a point, but you get a lot more out of it. But unless your deck can already do what you want, this won’t help. B
Flexibility powers Pure Magic, but at the cost of mana. If you’ve got mana, then this is a great card. In particular, if you have a lot of mana but not mana spells — you’ll be flush and the ability to swing this card from block 4 (or 7) to attack or influence or move is great. B
The ‘super-tranquility,’ Regeneration has the flaw that it doesn’t replace itself if you don’t draw wounds, but the ability to ready a unit is pretty nice. If you are totally unit-less, then yes, this could become dead weight. But if you’ve got this in your deck, use those guys to block and wound, and then by the end of the round they are ready for the next day. B.
I prefer Stout Resolve to Pure Magic even though the latter gets more oomph, because Stout Resolve costs less mana and lets you discard a wound without resting. Assuming you can keep your hand, Stout Resolve turns that wound into two more attack during a city assault (as well as making any other useless card a bit better). Never a great draw, but never a bad draw, and that earns this an A-.
Granting movement and handsize at the cost of an action, Temporal Portal was one of those cards I didn’t draft for many, many games, because the action seemed big. But moving two spaces — even one — can be a hurdle in the early game, and many sites that look daunting with five cards seem trivial with seven. As I’ve stopped trying to sweep the board clean and (in particular) try to skip past rampaging orcs that give nothing but fame except after my first level up, and as I’ve lost game after game getting pinned by some dragon or trying desperately to route around lakes and mountains, I’ve grown to appreciate this. It still has limitations, but I think this is a solid B.
Aah artifacts. Even the ‘basic’ action is usually great … and nary a mana to be spent. A dungeon near the portal is always a welcoming site — with a decent hand and non-abysmal luck you level up and likely get an artifact. A fair price for a few wounds.
And early on, any artifact is good. Later on you may get unlucky and draw two artifacts that are both mediocre or affect areas you can’t use much of. But even in the mid game an artifact is not to be shunned lightly. The two points for the artifact is the least important part of it. You can make your destiny without breaking a few artifacts, but its much easier if you do.
A Sidebar — The Power of Doubling
I mentioned the Disease spell’s power derived from the fact it turned Block into Block + Attack. In effect, it doubles what you’ve got. Geometric progressions grow so much faster than arithmetic. These are combos to look out for. Successful ranged attacks effectively double, counting as attack + block (since they kill the target before you have to block).
So, if I say something “Doubles” in value I may not mean it literally, but that the effect grows quickly.
All four rings either gain you token plus a crystal and 1 fame, or you destroy it for infinite tokens of the appropriate color (and black!) and +1 fame per spell of the matching color. Black man on demand means that selecting a ring is always a reasonable choice. You can power 2+ spells (even if they don’t match the rings color, you’ll probably have a few crystals by the second night, when you might reasonably break a ring).
If you happen to have spells of the right color, that’s a bonus, but I don’t worry too much about it.
Mid-late game, you may know that the ring isn’t that great if you lack spells and are mana rich. In that case you’ll snatch the other card, but first day? A ring is a safe choice. (Maybe not the top choice, but good). You’ll earn 5-6 fame, load up on crystals, and some spare mana. I don’t worry if I waste the token the turn I play the ring, although of course its nice to get full use. Early on, a ring is a B+ grab. Maybe A-.
I consider the Endless Gem Pouch a psuedo-ring; not quite as good, decent. You’ll get less fame, but you keep everything you can’t use right away. If you break the bag, you’ll get 5 tokens (one of each), which gives you a single black (assuming you break it at night) plus a variety. When you roll gold you’ll get the crystal you want most, and when you roll black you’ll get fame. So — More variety, two crystals a round (instead of a crystal + a token), less fame, no infinite black. Call it a B-.
To make this category a card should be generally useful and/or have a huge upside.
The Horn of Wrath is great in conquest. Siege attack five can usually pierce out a cities minor unit, and if you break it you can take out a non-resistant major unit. Sure, you may eat a few wounds, but you probably would have anyway. Even when facing Volkare (where you’d prefer ranged) the horn works fine. You get a free Concentration + Swiftness that you always draw together (and a bonus card). If you always took the Horn you’d be wrong some small percentage of the time. A+
The Banner of Fear has a place in my heart. Drafted early, give it to your peasants (whoever) to wave at your enemies. Then (before the second night) you shuffle it back in and during your first city siege you cancel three units. (If you don’t need to do that, then congrats! You’ve got a great game). This lets you hit your first city taking almost no wounds (assuming you hold a heaping helping of Murder, which you should because you just cancelled three units for one card). The time/wounds you save will pay you back. Sure, this is only a one-use card, but what a use. A+
The Bow of Stardawn shines against Volkare (who tends to not be fortified) but the ability to break it to turn ranged into seige is also good, or doubling seige to ranged is going. Its either a literal or figurative doubling, and also great early (when tramping down into dungeons, etc). A- only because you need a few combos with it in solo conquest.
The Sword of Justice is a literal doubling when you break it — you double your physical attacks and remove physical resistance (from the non-magically resistant). So — a sometimes quadrupling. You can’t save attack from phase to phase, so you can’t play your attacks prior to block, lose your hand, and then do this, but you can still break it prior to losing your hand, then double your followers/skills/etc. A-
The Amulet of Darkness is a stretch for this category, because you don’t always have spells. But when you do — man, playing an advanced spell during a daytime round can be huge. B+ in general, but in the right deck this is an A+ card.
The Circlet of Protection (aka the “Chiclet” of protection. I don’t know why I started this). I rarely own the Chiclet, I just rent it by breaking this the following turn. Skills are great; taking a skill — even one someone passed on as the weaker of the two — rocks. Keeping the circlet provides flexibility (maybe you want one skill this round, and a different one next round) and using a skill twice during a battle can be amazing. But not breaking this risks the timing, and usually the flexibility isn’t worth it. So — as I said — I typically posses this for one turn. This goes up a fair amount as you add players, because the number of skills to choose from grows.
The Golden Grail. You say you have no wounds so you shouldn’t draft this? I say go forth and attack your closest enemy then (airquote) block (airquote) it for free and earn two bonus points to boot. If you draw it with wounds its obviously valuable. And if you have too many wounds.
Because it’s useful with a wound free deck, the grail is actually weakest when you have a medium number of wounds. Enough that you might draw it with a single wound and not be willing to take one more. This also gains value the earlier you draw it (like a ring). Solid A- on day 1 (especially as you are almost certainly staring at 2-4 wounds from earning it) and drops a half grade (or more) each round. It can also be a late game life saver, letting you flush out wounds redraw and attack right away.
The Banner of Command works great because its a one time Call to Glory. Typically there will be an early city unit you’d like to recruit before you conquer the city, and breaking this gets you the unit (and the two fame you’d lose by breaking it!). If you get to use it for influence a time or two prior to breaking, that’s a bonus. In contrast, the ability to have an extra unit is sometimes amazing, but typically the units run low fast. But sometimes you get hosed in the unit draw (particularly solo). B
Book of Wisdom — As an early pick, this can really make for a monstrous deck. In many ways, its nice to trim your deck out as you improve it. Just grabbing a bunch of new cards (with Blood of the Ancients, or Learning, or buying everything when there are multiple monasteries) can get you a theoretically awesome but practically too-variable deck. Using Book of Wisdom to toss base movement for advanced movement (like Steady Tempo or Pathfinding) and Rage for better attack isn’t flashy, but its solid. And if you find you no longer need influence, you can turn those cards into something better. B
[TaoLing particularly enjoys cards that net more advanced actions and often drafts them. Sometimes this works spectacularly, but I’ve seen him struggle with bloated decks increased variability. He draws no movement or all movement no attack and then flounder the final day or two. It’s a grueling way to lose].
Tome of All Spells –Any spell can huge, and I’ve already sung the praises of casting an advanced spell during the day (with the mana paid for). Still … the tome is an anti-hand size combo in that you are giving up two cards (and one must be the right color) for a spell. If you have hand-size-boosting, that won’t be a problem. But a knight with six hand size (and say, a wound) will find this dead weight from time to time. B
Druidic Staff — The nice thing about the staff: flexibility. You get what you need (at the cost of a card). But typically I use it for the white (move up to 2 revealed spaces) ability. The staff is the only movement-granting artifact, but it’s good. Readying a single unit can help take out a dragon, crystals are nice and healing is nice. But nothing is great, although the advanced ability can often prepare an assault by teleporting to the right place and giving you some crystals. B because its usually useful.
The Amulet of the Sun doesn’t have near the power of amulet of darkness, but its minor powers are good. Using a gold at night can really reset the mana pool, forests are much more common than deserts and two move is not to be scoffed at, and revealing garrisons is great. B
Look, the Bag of Infinite Gold gives you fame and influence. What it doesn’t give you is time. I’d much rather have less fame and some mana (like say, a ring). Repeated four influence is nice, but you can only recruit so often, and by comparison the Banner of Command just lets you nab that great unit (without requiring an action or being in the right place). B-
Soul Harvester — Attack 3 and gain a crystal. Nothing wrong, but not sexy. The advanced ability (attack 8 and one crystal per defeated unit in the phase) can actually gain you more points than you lose from breaking it in the right situation, but the Soul Harvester is purely additive. Even the (terrible) banners may have a right situation come up where they are game changers. With Altem Mages or some other combo you could gain massive crystals with this, but that makes the Harvester icing on an already delicious cake. C+
Shield of the Fallen Kings — Block improved in Lost Legion, but this isn’t enough block to shine. Block six with no special powers is just barely better than determination, although you have the option to block four twice. If the shield doubled against swiftness that would be something, but “one point better than a powered card you start with” isn’t much to write home about. Breaking this isn’t great either (Cold Fire Block 8 or three cold fire block fours). C
Most Banners grade poorly because they require a parlay. You need units that match the banner. (The Banners of Command and Fear are great because they don’t require units. Command gets you units, and Fear stops enemies). That’s why most of them are listed here.
The Banner of Protection grants Armor +1 and all resistances. This (typically) turns one unit into a tank, able to bounce 1-2 wounds a round. (An Utem Guardsman works well with the Banner). The advanced ability (“Throw away all wounds you received this turn”) is ok; but hard to time. Typically that means you throw away five wounds, and if you had it in your hand, you could have used it to bounce some wounds. C+
Banner of Fortitude is here because ignoring one wound a round isn’t bad, but it’s no Grail. If you have it you can end a round (the second night, say) by assaulting a city/volkare and wounding every unit, then reshuffle it and break it the next day to heal them all your units. Particularly against the green city (which poisons) that can be huge. But … still a parlay. C-
The Banner of Courage lets you ready a unit (except during combat) or ready all units. The advanced action can be great, attack a city (etc) and discharge a massive volley, trash the Banner, repeat. But …. You have to have enough units to be worthwhile, and either be weak enough to not take out your target the first time, or have another target(s) that really need the units the second time. And you have to get the Banner at the right time. It clogs your hand. But if you get an Altem Mages (etc) good. C
The Banner of Glory (Armor/Attack/Block + 1 and +1 fame per attack or block) is a minor boost, really only efficient on a resistant unit (to boost the repeated block) and a small fame bump. If you’ve got a Guardian Golem, it’s fine (if you get them both really early, especially) but the number of times its fine is way too low. If you quickly get a healers + a unit, you can pop this for 2 fame a round, and I’ve done that, and I’m still underwhelmed. C
I don’t always get spells, perhaps incorrectly (ignoring the times where none of the mage towers are on my path of destruction). Spells aren’t as good as artifacts (they cost one or two mana) … but you’ll pick from three known choices (instead of two unknown). ‘Known’ counts heavily. Timing when to attack a Mage Tower or buy a spell at a tower or blue city before a round ends (to grab a good spell) or just after a round begins (to hope for a better one) is an issue. If you get a consolation prize in a dungeon, well — sometimes tough luck.
In theory you can time your Advanced Actions, but there roughly twice as many AAs and it’s rarely worth it to time your level ups. In general, the right time is now. Hit Level 2 ASAP. Maybe wait a turn for an AA (if another player is about to level up). It’s certainly not worth waiting for a round, since you’ll cost yourself a skill use. In solo the spell deck is the most consistent, game to game. (For large co-ops you’ll see most of each deck, since the AA deck cycles faster and you’ll likely hit several monasteries fast).
Format is spell name / advanced name [Description] — Thoughts, and final Grade (overall).
Good Spells better in Solo Conquest than vs Volkare’s Return
Fireball / Firestorm [Ranged Fire 5 or Siege Fire 8 + take a wound]. — Solid attacks. Quite good in Conquest (where Siege is valuable). (Snowstorm/Blizzard are the same, except ice). Solid B.
Expose / Mass Expose [Target loses fort/resistance, ranged attack 2 / All enemies lose one or the other, ranged attack 3.] — Note that the two effects (cancelling and ranged attack 2) do not have to be the same target. A in conquest, B vs Volkare.
Mana Bolt / Mana Thunderbolt — For this you should be flush with mana. This costs two (or three). You can tune it to what you need, but it’s not as tuneable as you hoped. Unless you pay red, it’s an ice attack (red makes it cold fire). You can really just tune its type. Green makes it siege, white makes it ranged, blue makes it large (but only a bit) and red makes it cold fire. Generally not as good as Snowstorm. C+
Underground Travel / Underground Attack — Turn one green into 6-14 movement. Note that underground attack de-fortifies the site, but you’ll withdraw back to your space if you lose. I originally rated this a terrible spell, but it’s grown on me as I’ve been writing the series. That’s a lot of movement for one spell, and I often find myself using Magic Talent to cast this if its a legal target. B- [But note that in Volkare’s Return you have to find a single city and then defend it. Not much movement. If you are playing Volkare’s Quest (where you have to go out and back) this goes up to at least a B+.]
Wings of Wind / Wings of Night — This can move farther than underground travel (good!) but you have to pay (bad!). At night, you can stop a large number of enemies (3 moves points stop 3 enemies). As a white spell, it affects anything not-magically resistant. Honestly, I should take this more often. This + Improvisation or a powered March practically stops a Level 5 City. You’ll want to bump hand size with this (b/c you’ll need to move into the city, and can’t store movement) and you’ll need followers with attacks. But even if you don’t use the night action, this will also let you jump over to a wrongly placed city in cooperative games. B-. (When it works, amazing, but takes effort to work. I may be undervaluing this).
Demolish / Disintegrate — Armor – 1 and either ignore fortifications (Demolish) or destroy a (non-fire resistant) enemy (disintegrate). The basic ability makes attacking cities in the daytime much easier. This is also a good spell to pick up and go hunting in Tombs (where it’s always night) as long as there’s a black mana showing. Yes, Yes, you’ll suffer when you draw a Summoner Dragon. That’s kind of a theme. [FAQ — The ignore fortifications part is versus a site, so fire-resistant creatures may still be ranged attack. But they don’t lose the armor bonus. See this thread). A-. This isn’t terrible against the Big V, because he’ll have so many units.
Call to Arms / Call to Glory — I’ve loved Call to Glory (recruit a unit) for a long time. It’s the “get out of reputation hell free” card. I’m not sure it’s the best spell, but it’s pretty good. Call to Arms goes down in value the more players there are (because you go from 3/4 followers for one player per turn to 4/5 for two players, etc). Volkare also sucks indecisive units away, so better when playing Conquest. B+, but drop this with more players.
Good Spells better vs Volkare
Flame Wall / Flame Wave — The advanced attack (with +2 versus each enemy) can get huge against Volkare, if you can save this one card (using your hand and units to block), you can often unleash an 17+ point Flame wave. IF. B
Tremor / Earthquake — This lowers value, and the advanced version lowers value of fortified units more. That could make it better versus cities, but Volkare has more units (and the daytime version doesn’t care, so Volkare affects more). B+
Offering / Sacrifice [Discard cards to generate mana / turn crystals into tokens to generate ranged/seige fire/ice attack] — The spell I’ve gone back and forth over the most. For a while I grabbed this every chance, but too often sacrifice isn’t great. Siege 8/12 isn’t huge. Ranged 12/18 is better, but 18 will usually be ice. And then you typically waste some of the converted tokens. Some very good PBEM players call this “The best turn 1 spell.” So consider grabbing early (especially if you’ve gone hard negative in rep, because then you can still spend your influence cards on this). However you value this, it lowers in value as the game goes on, although if you happen to be mana flush its a solid late game pickup for Sacrifice. This is probably a B+ card on day 1, and gains a bit vs Volkare.
Equally Good Spells
Equally good mainly because they affect a single enemy.
Whirlwind / Tornado [Cancel an attack / Destroy an enemy] — The advanced version is great against Altem Guardians (which require 14 of any attack to kill) or any non-magic resistant unit that has too much armor and especially physical resistance. (Storm Dragons, etc). The weaker version is good against your must-block creatures (paralyzers or those that deal out too much damage, like Familiars). Since this only affects a single unit it’s not an instant game winner, but typically in either game there will be that one annoying unit this takes care of (either attacking or defending). Sadly, it doesn’t work against Summoner Dragons. A-
Burning Shield / Exploding Shield — Fire Block 4, and either turn it into Fire attack 4 or destroy the enemy (if successfully blocked). Against weaker enemies (that aren’t fire) this is a superior whirlwind/tornado because it blocks and kills (instead of either or). But against better enemies or fire resistant, it’s inferior. So a good early game spell, and Whirlwind is better late game. A if you get it in the first day, but drop a grade each day.
Chill / Lethal Chill — Again, a lesser whirlwind. Chill does remove fire resistance, but doesn’t work against Ice resistant creatures (a fair percentage of those you’d really want to stop, Delphana Masters and Ice Dragons, all of which paralyze. Interestingly, Freezers have an ice attack, but are fire resistant, so it works against them). B
Restoration / Rebirth — Heal 3 / 5 (in forest) and rebirth readies 3/5 levels of units. Never get this, unless you are just swamped with wounds. Although the nights ability to ready 3 levels isn’t bad, if that gets you 2 units back (foresters and something else). I suppose you can use this to attack, use your units to block and soak wounds, then re-set them. Perhaps I’ve been ignoring this, but it’s probably the worst spell. D. (I’m willing to listen to arguments. It does let you resurrect units).
Meditation / Trance — Another spell I don’t use much. Reshuffle two random cards and two handsize? That’s actually not bad, but its random. This works well if you’ve been using Training (etc) to make your deck better, or have a lot of artifacts, etc. If you use Preparation to grab an early artifact, then (since its night) you can use it twice. Note that Trance isn’t an action. You can do this and other things. C+
Space Bending / Time Bending — A feast or famine spell. Space Bending is a minor Underground Travel … but Time Bending? Woah. Take back all the cards you have and do another turn right away? With a large hand size that’s monstrous. If you take Sparing Power and put one card a turn under it, and happen to get Space Bending late, you can take a turn with 10+ cards (more with Motivation) and then re-use them. I’ve upped my opinion about this after seeing some examples but often it’s merely “good not great.” But if you grab this early you can cater your deck to it, and if you just space bend on a night or two, that’s usually great horrible. B
Mist Form / Veil of Mist — [Move 4, all terrains are two, but you can’t go up hills or mountains for the entire turn. But you can cross lakes. / All units gain resistances, ignore the first wound and any additional effects.] Another spell I almost never take, although looking at it I’m not sure why. The Veil would let you effectively block a number of tokens equal to units + 1 (assuming the +1 was relatively small), and move four / ignore terrain isn’t bad. I’m going to make a concerted effort to look for ways to play this. If nothing else, this stops the annoying lakes. (I don’t often play with random orientation….). C+? based on my actions, but what do you know.
Charm / Possess — Influence four with either a discount or a bonus crystal (often a rebate), and the advanced ability is a combined block and attack. Another spell I’m always happy to see. A- only because sometimes during the day you just chuck it because you have no place to recruit or no good targets, but possession is always worth it.
Cure / Disease [Heal 2 with a bonus, or all blocked enemies have armor reduced to one] — Another spell I’ve been grabbing more and more often over the last month. Disease effectively turns your blocks into block + almost lethal attacks. Combines really well with Utem / Altem Guardsmen (both of whom double their block against swiftness). Heal 2 (during the day) is often just enough healing to be useful to pick up a few spare wounds and redraw right away, or reset a damaged unit. Honestly, during the day I’d be looking to go underground with this, unless you had a lot of wounds. Still, this is only rated B, mainly because the day effect is only so-so.
First, a comment on the first article, D. F. says “it’s all about the level ups,” (in reference to the Shades of Tezla expansion). I don’t disagree, but — I think “it’s all about the first level up.” You certainly want to get level five (for the sweet hand size bonus) eventually, but I’ve had very good games where I sat at level two for a long time then jumped up, and very bad games where I hit level 5 quickly. But typically yes, your power is tied to your level (even getting better followers tends to require power ups, and getting artifacts will naturally increase your level).
D.F.’s point that Tezla makes the timing much more chaotic is absolutely correct. My comment is more of a nit.
Some General Point I Missed in the Previous Document
I know I stated not to worry about taking wounds, but even after playing so many games I am personally still too cautious. I’ve been experimenting with new styles as I write this (see, for example, my latest session report) and reading other session reports and PBFs it became clear — still too cautious.
This affects my comment about tranquility. Earlier I said (in regards to drawing tranquility) “If you just have a single wound, well, that’s not likely. If you have lots of wounds, that’s its own issue.” But if you have, say, 4 wounds then when you draw tranquility you’ll probably get rid of a wound or two, and if you draw them all in the same hand, you rest. The problem with wounding a follower: yes, your tranquility will always have a target, but you can’t use your follower. Followers (like skills) are always “in your hand,” so a wounded follower is always “in your hand.” I’ve been experimenting with wounding followers much less (unless I know I am going to drop them) and it’s paying off. (Obviously I wound any followers I intend to dump soon in preference to taking a wound).
So I’m rushing more. Moving slightly farther than convenient; attacking with less in reserve. Offensive à outrance. The result? A solid improvement of my scores.
Anyway, more specific notes:
Ruins — I also forgot the Ruins! These are sort of super-spawning grounds with some combination of monsters for some combination of rewards, plus the ruins that let turn 3 identical mana (or one of all four) for seven (ten) points. If one of the five ‘mana-ruins’ show up in the first opening that’s likely a good game. There’s only so much murder you can do Roune One, but you can often scrounge 3 identical mana (using Mana Draw, Crystalize, Concentration and possibly the Mana Steal tactic or a magical glade) and still murder quite a lot (leveling up helps). Pretty much all my games of hitting level four before nightfall involve mana-ruins.
The other ruins are tempting targets (mostly), but best avoid early dragons. (The follower gaining ruin are much better late game).
In most games, the guideline for early followers matches everything else — take what you can. You’ll spend time for followers, and sometimes the choice is obvious because there are only towns (or only keeps) the direction you are going, and there’s only one matching unit.
When you have only one choice, it’s probably the best one. It could be worse, sometimes everyone is hanging out at the undiscovered monastery. That being said:
For the early (Level I/II) followers, I’m a sucker for the Foresters. Movement 2 (really three, because they’ll reduce costs for forests and hills) and Level I means you can heal them with tranquility without spending mana (or heal them + a wound from your hand spending a mana). (And at four body, they can often eat a wound that would cost you two wounds).
5 Influence is only a powered Threaten (or Improvisation or Influence + 1 card). The advantage of an early follower is the ability to soak up a wound or two, and these guys are great. You can use them to move then take a wound, or block one attack and eat another. You’ll probably abandon them late game, but hopefully that’s true of all units.
They have no attack, you say.
Early on, rarely a problem. You may have to stretch to get to attack 7 or 8 (for Guardsmen or Golems) but most of the time you can do it if you have 5 cards (assuming they include a rage or improvisation, and if they are all movement, perhaps attacking wasn’t a great idea? Brown units tend to require more attack, but typically (except at spawning grounds or when facing Orc Summoners) you can’t use units against them anyway, and in those cases bonus move you can use is better than attack/block you can’t.
Late game you absolutely want attacking units. Those let you attack Volkare/City, spend your hand blocking or range attacking and you still dish out damage even if you lose your hand. You may still block with some units (particularly to save your hand). Blocking also lets you block and then soak a wound or two…double duty. But units w/attacks offer the option to just soak 6+ wounds or eat a paralyzing attack.
But these guys can last a long time. And if you pick up the Banner of Fear (spend a unit to cancel an attack) they work as good as anyone.
For cheaper follower (3-5 influence):
Peasants — Flexible, you can get them and later spend them for influence. Fine.
Herbalists — More to get a green token and then eat a wound, in my book. I liked these quite a lot when I started out, but now I pick up Herbalists when I have nothing better.
Thugs — Often taken since they ‘reverse the polarity’ of reputation (for the entire turn you buy them). Thugs can attack, block or influence (with some rep penalties) but their inability to soak a wound unless you spend influence is a significant downside. (That, and they often finish your death spiral of reputation by use). Still, you take them when you’ve been torching the landscape. Ideally you take them and a powerful keep unit at the same time.
Scouts — Siege/Ranged attack 1 isn’t too useful (unless you’ve already got some). I mainly use these guys once to peek at the next purple/brown token or to explore far away (and move). Those abilities are nice.
Utem Guardsman — Let’s compare to a Forester. Block 4 isn’t much better than Block 3 (although doubling vs swiftness is nice). Attack 2 versus movement … early on I typically want the movement. The Guardsman can soak up to 5 damage instead of four, but then takes two heals to heal (as he’s level two).
The followers that cost 6 (or 7) require a serious investment, at least two cards + mana (unless you have a decent reputation … which can happen even on the first day, but often not). But they are good.
Utem Crossbowmen — Ranged Attack 2 (when it helps) effectively gives you a bonus Concentration to your swiftness, and attack/block 3 is significant.
Utem Swordsman — The ability to attack/block 3 or attack/block 6 (at the cost of wounding the swordsman) is powerful. Yes, that means they are one-shots. Consider these guys barely sentient hand grenades, and if you get more than one use out of them, great!
Shocktroops — Terrible, except that the ability to lower an attack by 3 (and redirect it to the troops themselves) is great against many late game enemies — swift, cold fire, assassinating attacks and the like. These can save your bacon against Delphana Masters (5 Cold Fire Assassinating + Paralyzing), Storm Dragons (Ice 4 Swift with 7 points of Elusiveness. Cancel 7 points of armor with 4 points of block instead of 16!). Shocktroops are insurance (unless you have lots of ranged attack units, at which point their ‘bump all ranged attacks by one’ is OK). The issue is, you don’t know ahead of time what you’ll need.
Magic Familiars — Recruiting Familiars is not interaction, so negative rep (even X) is fine. But the price is hefty — mana (in addition to getting to 6 influence). If you recruit them from a glade during the day, the site will provide the mana assuming you started there. You buy a lot of flexibility. Don’t be afraid to use one of the non-boosted powers, as long as it’s the right time. (Don’t be afraid to buy them even if you have to boost the wrong power). Still, you’ll want a decent mana supply, or just plan on recruiting, using, wounding, and then discarding at the start of the next round before you have to re-up your contract.
Illusionists — Influence is fine, white crystals means if you don’t use them earlier you can always get some benefit. A low armor, but physically resistant means that they can absorb some strikes from Golems or Heroes (saving you a block), but their real ability is to spend a white many to prevent an unfortified enemy from attacking. Respectable late game units against Volkare, they can shut down a white (city) or red (dragon) token.
Guardian Golems — Armor 3 and Physical resistance means that Golems bounce one attack per round. That’s their job. Block/Attack 2 is a bonus. Being able to spend a mana for Fire/Ice Block 4 is a bigger bonus. But ‘bouncing one attack’ is not to be discounted. (Particularly against Volkare, who will have a number of Orc and Keep tokens ….)
Foo Monks — At 7 influence, OK not great. Attack/Block 3 or spend a mana for Fire/Ice/Siege attack (or fire/ice block) four. In Solo Conquest, Siege is by far the best version. Not an early game purchase, but often bought towards the end game when the advanced units are ‘wrong.’ (Monasteries don’t have many recruitment potential, so if that’s where you are, you often get a monk by default.
The Second Follower Deck and the Late Game
Early on, focus on the first level up and acquiring power. Most paths are fine, assuming you don’t completely overspecialize and neglect multiple components. Later, get more selective. Hitting a random Green token for 2-4 points is typically an orgy of waste (unless you need to clear a path). Once you hit level five, you could try to focus on points to level up. But it’s more efficient (power-wise) to grab better followers or spells or artifacts. After all, your first skill + Advanced Action took three fame. Late game you need 20+.
What you want in the late game depends (somewhat) on the scenario you face.
Playing Solo Conquest (“Conquer two cities”), you’ll face ~3 units in your first city and ~4 units in your second (with typical levels). With few exceptions these units will be fortified.
Playing Volkare’s Return (“Conquer a city and defend it against Volkare”) you’ll face ~3 units in the only city, and then face ~6-11 units in Volkare’s army. These won’t be fortified. (If you are playing Volkare’s camp as a possible city on Solo Conquest, then you’ll have less certainty in conquest).
Similarly if you are playing Volkare’s Quest (“Kill Volkare before he gets to the portal,”) I typically never even get to the city, since it’s at least four tiles away and you have to double back to fight Volkare. (IMO, the hardest of the solitaire scenarios. I lose more often than win at Medium/Medium settings).
In Solo Conquest units with ranged attack aren’t great. You have to block (with your hand) and keep the unit undamaged until the regular attack phase. You’d prefer heavier punching non-ranged attacks (or even just block). Siege attacks are golden. Killing units first saves you from blocking and you can have your now-spent unit eat a wound or two, if necessary.
Versus Volkare, prefer ranged attacks (which tend to be bigger or fire/ice to avoid physical resistances). There will likely be some fortified units, but if your arrows blot out the sun you can pick up the stragglers later. (And Orc Diggers aren’t a huge threat).
Against cities, take units that siege, or block / punch. Against Volkare, take ranged attacks.
This doesn’t just apply to followers, but also to spells and advanced actions. You are always constrained by what is available, but playing Solo Conquest after your first city snap up any Catapults, because those will be useful. Amotep Freezers (with attack/block five, or cancelling attack and lowering armor) are more useful than ranged attack. Against Volkare the Freezers aren’t bad, but if you can kill a unit with Ranged attack, you don’t need to block. Prefer the white (ranged) Heroes, or perhaps Sorcerers (with their ability to cancel resistances).
The grand daddy unit in both campaigns are Altem Mages, with their “spend a black Mana to turn all your attacks into siege attacks.” You turn Rage and Improvisation and +2 attack skills into sieges. If you play against cities at exceptionally high levels (or Megapolis), then you’ll want some trick like this. As others have pointed out on BGG, some tricks do not scale, but a few do.
Level III/IV units often posses some resistances, these work as pseudo-block. A unit that ‘bounces’ an enemy token is helpful if it takes you multiple attacks to finish off an enemy.
Beyond that, you get what you can.
The late game is also all about Synergy. If you have Bow of Stardawn (which provides ranged attacks or doubles existing ranged attacks and/or make them seige) then Ranged attack units are good, and Expose (always a good spell) becomes amazing. And if you have ranged attack units, Into the Fire (give your units +2/+3 attack/block, at the cost of not being able to declare them as damage targets) is great. But if your units are mainly there for physical resistances, Into the Fire is a dead card, you can’t declare them even if they would be undamaged). So, as much as possible, synergize.
But you often don’t have much choice.
If you know what you face, you know if you can defeat it or not (or if you may have to spend your Motivation skill to draw a few more cards). Against Cities you’ll see what you face when you step up next to them. Ditto Keeps/Mage Towers during the day. It’s more important to focus on the tokens you can’t see, and early on that means
Brown (Monster) tokens
If you are level one, you can still go into a dungeon or monster den. Typically the worst case to see there are Medusa (6 paralysing attack) or Minotaur (5 Brutal attack, which is enough to knock out a Level 1 or 2 mage knight). Unless you draw one of those, if you have Rage + a few cards (and red mana) you can eat 2-4 wounds and dish out retribution. Those two you have to block. Unless you have Concentrate + Swiftness. In which case you hope to draw them and not the Crypt Worm (fortified 6 armor) or Gargoyle (4 physical resistance) or Shadow (4 Armor + 4 Elusive).
If you have 8 attack you can handle a random brown, but when you draw Medusa/Minotaur abandon your plan to save your hand. That’s not disaster, but it does slow you down. (The rewards are good enough that if you do that and then attack again and win, you are often in a reasonable position). If you are in a Labyrinth maze you can adjust what you are going for to keep cards in your hand (and presumably have a follower to help block/eat wounds).
One reason I dislike the Tesla expansion — the new brown tokens now have a few super kickers, where 10+ damage is necessary to kill them, (even worse specifically block 5 + attack 5 against the Vampire, or a ridiculous attack 13). When crunching the numbers Lost Legion made brown tokens a bit more palatable to early characters (only Shadow required 8 damage to kill, but at least you only took two wounds) and perhaps Tesla is just rectifying this. But it’s a real pain that the tokens are a different size and not just color, so I can’t draw from a bag. Perhaps I should make a deck of cards for the tokens. Hm…
Tezla adds a lot of variety in tokens, there will always be a lot you can’t handle, unless you have a super flexibly hand and mana pool.
Purple (Magical Defenders) Tokens
These are the …. guys … you face when you go after a Monastery or Mage Tower. Again, a starting character can usually take these out if you are willing to eat a few wounds). And again there are two tokens that will typically require blocking … the Magical Familiars (two different 3 attacks, each brutal) and Ice Golems (2 cold paralyzing, and also physical resistance). So the Ice Golem is the token to watch for. Unless you happen to have fire attack or fire block, you’ll need 4 block then 8 attack to deal with this. Thankfully, there’s only one. The Illusionist also summons a brown token, so it has all the considerations. But again — 8 attack is usually enough.
And remember — you can use followers against Mage Towers (and see the token early, during the day), but they are fortified. Monasteries aren’t — they showed you hospitality, you monster! — but your units won’t help. Also of note for Purple are Sorcerers, which are immune to magic, six armor (so no concentration + swiftness without a boost) and poison. Three wounds + three in the discard gets to the point where I consider just blocking and failing. (Depends on who I am, what spell is in the display if I’m attacking a mage tower, etc).
Red (Draconum) Tokens
As Rampagers, you always see these guys coming. But when Lost Legion came out, people stopped going into Tombs. In general, you always had to be careful … because the Ice Dragon (6 Cold Paralyzing + 7 Armor with cold + physical resistance) meant you either needed a massive hand to deal with them, or a spell. (Like, Destroy Target Enemy). You drew a dragon and destroyed it. Or you used your Illusionist to pacify that rampaging dragon.
But the Summoner Dragon … oof. Magical resistant (do, no disintegrating or destroying them) and 8 physically resistant and summons two brown tokens, which can ruin your day. Even for high level characters, having to block a medusa may leave you short of the sixteen(!) damage required.
The Storm Dragon also ruins picnics. And (like the white token Altem Guardians) you can find yourself short of the 14 attack necessary. Tokens like those require a cauldron of whup-ass to kill, unless you have the right combination of fire block or ranged fire/ice attack or an insta-death spell.