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Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part VI — Characters)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. The first article enumerates my typical caveats. This section covers character skills and improved starting cards. I’m not going to talk about competitive (“hose your neighbor”) skills; I play solo/co-op, but as of this writing I have gone 1/3rd of the way to a thousand games. I doubt I’ll ever make it, but 500 may still be in the cards….

General Notes

Mage Knight is a deck builder, But you cycle your deck ~5 times. Given a vast, random array of options you rarely build the same deck twice. Of small differences do histories diverge. A deck with spells and Crystal Mastery should not be played the same way as a deck with Into the Heat and Banners.

Character doesn’t control destiny, but affects it significantly. Your character provides two upgraded cards and the vast majority of your skills. You could choose to take another character’s skill when you level up, at the cost of having no choice of advanced action cards. If you were selecting the bottom Advanced Action card in any case, then there’s no cost to selecting another player’s discarded skill. In solo or two player game, that’s usually not great. But with 4 players, which the TaoLing and I sometimes do, then you’ll likely have an excellent skill choice from another player, unless this is your first level up.

The interesting decision is when the lowest AA card isn’t your preferred choice. In that case, I’ll still consider taking it for the skill under several circumstances:

  • If the skill reduces multiple rest turns into one, take it. The only exception? If the round is going to end anyway. But even then, consider it (because at that point you’re carrying enough wounds to need this again). If you are playing cooperative, sometimes the right play is to accept way too many wounds in order to kill some units to soften up a city / Volkare. In solo you can’t do that (well, perhaps once).
  • Ask the standard economics question — as opposed to what? Sure, the bottom AA may be your least favorite, but how big is the difference between it and your favorite option? Similarly, how big is the gap between one of your skills and the best opponent’s skill? Mind the gap. If it’s close, prefer your own skill because next time the gap may be bigger. (If you take an opponents skill now, that’s one less potential option for next time).

The skill common to all base characters is Motivation, and so deserves extra talk. Motivation lets you draw two cards (once per round) and gives you a mana token if you are at the lowest fame. Good news: in solo you are! Motivation offers two standard uses — bulking up your hand (and mana!) for a key turn and recovering from a big battle. Usually, the better choice is to take the big turn and use it to avoid suffering a loss big enough that you can only discard one wound. But (particularly against cities) that isn’t an option. In that case, use motivation the turn after you get knocked out to draw two cards and pitch one plus all the wounds you’ve got.

Motivation probably isn’t good enough to getting a second copy (the rare times that’s possible). You can’t use them on the same turn. You have to wait until the end of your next turn to do a second. Sometimes motivation doesn’t help in a round, but it often does. It lets you take risky plays like entering a dungeon when you can handle most things. If you get a reasonable draw, fine. If not, you can gamble that the next two cards may help you enough. Good early. Good late. If you already have massive hand size improvement you may consider passing on it, but you’d have reasonable games just selecting it all the time. A solid B, at least. But sometimes motivation fails you. You pays your money and takes your chances. That makes a reasonable choice, but not necessarily the best one. I think it falls in above average for all characters, and if you run a really heavy wound style, that may make it better.

Skills that provide attack (ranged or not) are good, although I’m more fond of attack two than siege one, because seige one only matters if its a break point, and if it isn’t you just have less attack later one.

For each character I’ll put their skills in rough order for the first level up choice. Late game will be more specific to your current needs.

Arythea

Arythea has good cards. Battle Versitility — which replaces Rage — gives you 1 ranged attack as an option, and if you power it, you can choose from (ahem!) attack 4, block 4, fire attack 3, fire block 3, ranged attack 3 or siege attack 2. Versatile. With Lost Legion blocking with a powered Rage becomes useful; converting this to fire or a ranged attack is the typical usage. In any case, great.

Mana Pull’s basic ability to use a second die and to treat a black as any color (during the day) unlocks a stuck source die. The advanced ability to set two dice and get two different crystals is a nice boost past basic mana draw; but the basic version is quite good. As for the skills:

The Power of Pain — Play a wound sideways for 2 points? Yes, please. Your score goes down with wounds, but your ability goes up, way up. You may take the final city a turn or two faster, and that’s good. You have the option of not blocking a token to get a wound or two to finish it off. Then you worry about the wounds later. (Use a wound to get +2 to walk into a magical glade… done and done).

Dark Fire Magic — A red crystal and a red or black token is good. “Black on demand” is always welcome; this skill singlehandedly powers Fire Storm or Sacrifice or Flame Wave. Using the black for non-red spells is just as good. Even if there is black in the pool, sometimes you have two spells. And (during the day) you can get a red crystal while still powering something. Poor Goldyx, he got three Crystal + Token skills, none this good. If you don’t have any spells, then yes, this becomes mediocre, but red+red is still ok.

Hot Swordsmanship — Attack two or fire attack two is Ron Swanson. Kind of a big deal.

I won’t say the above skills are better that Motivation, but …. they are are great skills. And yes, probably better.

Dark Invocation — First of all, another way to get rid of wounds? Delightful. And it gives black mana!? Great. But the ability to chuck a card for green or white is also good (usually better than playing a card sideways).

Cooperative Skill — Healing two is good, and then the ability (on the next turn) to use a wound sideways for 3 points is also good. (And, if you have Power of Pain you can use two wounds sideways).  If you are playing an actual co-operative game (as compared to solo) this may be good to let go, just because other people will probably need more help dealing with wounds than you will.

Dark Paths — Movement is always fine.

Polarization — I rarely take this, although the ability to use gold as black (at night) and black as gold (during the day) means you’ll rarely got a locked source. In solo (three dice pool) that’s a big deal. But Athyrea already has two other ways to get black mana and Mana Pull to clean up the source during the day. This isn’t bad, just overkill.

Burning Power — Siege one is a weak skill, and Arythea has so many better combat skills (counting Power of Pain and black mana gaining as combat).

Dark Negotiations — Influence 2 (three at night) is good, not great. See Norowas’s Bright Negotiation for more details.

More than any other character, Arythea’s skills shine. Even the bad ones are solid. You can play it totally safe, but that’s not winning Mage Knight. You shouldn’t let your skills goad you into accepting excess wounds; but a few ar fine. Athyrea turns that negative around. Multiple skills that directly boost combat, excellent access to black mana, the ability to shrug off wounds, mana source unlocking, and versatility. When I increased the city levels to (11/16), I struggled mightily with Goldyx  game after game, then cruised with Arythea. Perhaps I got lucky. It may be she is suited to my style of play. But one character has to be best — I think it is her.

Goldyx

Goldyx two cards are the whelming Crystal Joy and the excellent Will Focus. Will Focus improves Concentration — already great — by having the powered version pump up the follow-on card by three points instead of two. Given the nature of breakpoints, that means you have six ranged attack (instead of five), or whatnot. The unpowered version can get a green crystal (concentration can get tokens of any non-green color), which means on the off chance you don’t find anything to do with your Will Focus, you get a crystal for next round.

By contrast, Crystal Joy is fine. The ability to crystalize over and over sounds great, but typically is only useful if you were already planning on spending a turn or two at a crystal mine (or magical glade) for other reasons. Crystal Joy makes some bad turns suck less, although the ability to chuck a wound with the advanced power is good. Sometimes its worth it to power it with a blue from your own crystals, just to toss a wound and get it back. Doing this when you attack a city and expect to get knocked out is great. Like a mini-motivation recovery.

Universal Power lets you use spend mana from the source for plus two (or maybe three) even when you don’t have a card that gives you what you need. Red mana turns attack two to attack four … if you hold rage. Universal Power turns <something> 1 to <something> 3 or 4, pretty much no matter what. The worst case is you play your rage sideways and a non-red mana for 3 attack instead of 2. For a long time I consider this wasteful, but Universal Power combines flexibility with might. If you already have the right mana and cards, this isn’t great but you don’t always have the right mana.

Flight is Goldyx’s signature skill. Bounce a space for free or two spaces for two points, and ignore rampaging. Simply great. Either this or Universal Power are worth considering instead of motivation, although your needs may very.

Cooperative Skill — Re-rolling a die in the source is ok. The cooperative part of crystalizing a second die is pretty good. So this is OK in solo, so-so in co-cop.

Glittering Fortune — 1-4 influence during interaction is fine (although you can’t use it during peaceful moment, etc).

Freezing Power — Siege 1 or Ice Siege 1 isn’t great. This would be the worst skill for many other characters (like Tovak), but Goldyx has a distinct lack of firepower, which turns this into a reasonable choice for him.

Colour* Crystal Craft — Gain a blue crystal and a token of the (non-blue) colour. [*Goldyx is British, obviously]. In general, the colour of the token matters more to me than how many blue cards I have, because you can save the crystal from turn to turn. It’s worth remembering that there are three of these, because its quite possible to get two of these the same level up.

Potion Making — Healing two is useful, see comments on Golden Grail. That being said, this isn’t a great skill to take. Crystal Joy already provides some wound amelioration, but if you find yourself wound heavy it’s reasonable. Still — I’d rather get something that helps me in the end game, and that is probably anything else.

Putting it all together, Goldyx has lots of ways of gaining mana and crystals, some movement, some healing, some influence. He lacks punch. Ironically, that kind of means that Freezing Power should be taken more than I suspect, because one (reusable) attack is better than nothing. You need to go out of your way to some attack as Goldyx, as a string of recent losses re-iterated.  Whereas the other three characters have a sharp glittering arsenal, Goldyx basically builds up a bankroll of extra movement, influence and mana. You need to turn that into something useful.

Norowas

Norowas’s cards are Noble Manners and Rejuvenate. Noble Manners replaces influence and gives you a bonus to rep and fame. OK, not great. Rejuvenate (improved tranquility) adds the options to get you some green mana or  ready a unit (instead of just drawing cards or healing). Again, nice not great. Actually, the improved Rejuvenate’s ability to ready a level 3 unit is fairly powerful, but obviously a late game card.

Bonds of Loyalty — Arguably Norowas’s signature skill, and truly great. This gets you an extra follower slot and more choices (which could be picked off, but in a solo game not an issue) and a five discount. Yes, you can’t fire that person, but you can have them step in front of a paralyzing unit.

Inspiration — Heal or Ready a unit is big. Units are nice because they are always “in your hand,” even a lowly peasant is pretty good if you can use them twice. Yes, you can’t do this in combat, but taking an Utem Guardsman and having them block four, eat up to five points of attack, then heal them and have them eat another attack. That’s up to 14 points of attack you just ignored. Then you toss the unit away and repeat next round.

Those are the two that are better than Motivation.

Day Sharpshooting — 2 ranged during the day (1 at night) is pretty good. But it’s more often night than day (for final battles, underground, etc).

Foward March — Movement is nice, but this is variable (You get 0-3, based on readied units). This may let you fly across the board by midgame, but is highly conditional on your opening. If you can’t get an early peasant (etc), pass on this.

Cooperative skill — Lowering movement costs by two (to a minimum of one) can let you get through some nasty forests or swamps, and the secondary effect only lowers by one, but again to a minimum of one, so its always useful.

Leaves on the Wind / Whispers in the Treetops — Green Crystal + White token (or vice versa). OK, not great, typically taken if you are short on mana.

Bright Negotiation — 3 or 2 influence is again OK. You could get lucky and camp out in the green city and just take a free advanced action every turn, but honestly that’s not great unless you are tuning your hand anyway. If you really get lucky you’ll camp in the red city and get 2 Influence + 3 or 4 for city tokens + 3-4 for rep + a few a turn and get an artifact every turn. But for every game that happens Bright Negotiation turns out to be ok not great. Now, if you have heroes and have to pay to use them in an assault (a rule I just now realized I forget in my last game) then this comes in pretty hand. And influence does equal healing. So, a highly variable power one that can shine with the right setup but is mediocre otherwise.

Leadership — +1 Ranged or + 2 attack or +3 block each combat, with a follower. Awesome in theory, but in practice you only get to use this once or twice a round (even if you have 3-4 followers, because you often spend them all during a big attack in the endgame.

Norowas’s style of play is pretty obvious — followers. Some games he raises an army that makes the world tremble, but it does leave yourself open to getting a bad draw (especially in Solo Conquest where there are only 3 followers/round). He — more than other characters — suffers from feast or famine.

Tovak

Tovak’s two cards are Cold Toughness and Instinct. Cold Toughness is improved Determination, and is a big deal. Ice Block 3 instead of Block 2 is nice, a point better block and against some opponents four points better. But the powered version of Ice Block 5, plus one per ability or color of attack allows Tovak to block damn near anything with one card and one mana, unless they have magic resistance (which turns off the +1/per) or swiftness. In the late game, this + a blue mana typically blocks the most annoying thing you face.

Instinct improves Improvisation by giving you the option of not discarding a second card (at the cost of that cards +1). Since you can always discard the card anyway, that’s nice. Sometimes you only need two or four points instead of three or five, or you don’t have a card, or you don’t want to waste a card. Early on, its not much of an improvement, but again in the late game you’ll appreciate the option of not discarding. As for Tovak’s skills:

Cold Swordsmanship — Attack 2 or Ice Attack 2, once per combat. Excellent. The problem with blocking is it doesn’t kill stuff. You don’t win wars by not dying, you win them by killin’. This or Motivation is Tovak’s best skill.

Double Time — Move 2 (1 at night). Remember, this list is for your first skill. On Day one, great, but this drops quickly.

Night Sharpshooting — Range 1 (2 at night).  In Solo Conquest, ranged isn’t great, but you’ll often want to take cities at night, so its still attack two then. Ranged 2 underground is useful. This is at least a half grade better than Norowas’s Day Sharpshooting.

Cooperative Skill — This gains black mana, or gains you a token and then later (in solo) a bonus.

Shield Mastery — A great early skill that commands some value in the late game. Block 3 (or Fire/Ice 2) lets you gamble a lot more on dungeons/tombs and multi-chit draws like Spawning ground.

I Feel No Pain — Turning a wound into a card will let you recover much faster (mostly). This can be a game saver, if you had to attack and got a bad draw or are just playing at insane levels of difficult. Even without that, it may improve your hand a little bit each turn.

I Don’t Give a Damn! — Once a turn play a card sideways for +2 instead of +1 (or +3 if its a non-basic card).  I have mixed feelings. A nice boost, but using a card sideways is not great. This goes up with hand size boosts and late game (where typically you’ll have extra movement and be short on block or attack, or even just spend a round at your city and turning cards into influence).

Resistance Break — Late game, this moves up. Early game, its not as worth it (remember, its only once per combat). Reducing fire/ice resistance is minor, since odds are you’ll have physical attack. Reducing physical resistance is great. For the end game this can effectively give you six attack, but in the early game its often zero or one.

Who Needs Magic? — Inferior to IDGaD, because want to use the source. Not using it is gaining +1 by giving up +2 (or a spell!)

Tovak’s many good battle skills dish out or block damage. Complement that with movement to reach the scenes of carnage you’re trying to cause (one reason I rate double time so highly for him. By comparison Wolfhawk already has movement …. so it would be marginal for her).

Wolfhawk

Swift Reflexes improves swiftness, and lets you play it (without mana) for ranged attack one, or reduces an enemy attack by 1 (2 if powered). Reducing an attack can function is slightly better block, since you can reduce a swift or ice attack. It can make the Storm Dragon’s 4 Ice/Swift attack blockable with a mere 8 regular block instead of 16. Tirelessness improves Stamina, but not by much. Adding one to your next move isn’t nearly as good as move 3, since to get any benefit you must spend another card. The advanced power adds one to every other card, so its possible to make it move 8. Wolfhawk likes Mazes, Tirelessness + any card is 6 movement.

Dueling — +1 Block and +1 attack isn’t bad (though they have to go the same enemy. A bonus fame (if you don’t use a unit against that enemy) is the icing on the cake.

Know Your Prey — I used to pass on this, because its once per round, but what an ability. Removing physical defense can save you 7+ attack. Removing fire or ice can let you target a spell.  Summoning is an ability. Know your prey is 5-6 “I am not left handed” moments. It’s a toss-up between this and dueling for best skill. These are both better than motivation, IMO, but Wolfhawk’s motivation gives some fame, which is intriguing.

Cooperative Skill — A card sidewise for 4 points (not for interaction) is not to be sneezed at. A bonus for each unassigned command token can be gross, but typically you want followers anway. Still, sometimes they get paralyzed away, and 4+ points of block or attack or move is not swiss cheese. The -1 attack and -1 armor secondary ability aint bad either.

Taunt — As discussed on the Swift Reflexes, lowering an attack is sometimes better than block because of swiftness or fire/ice. It also may let you just let it through for one less wound. Taunt also has the option to increase the attack and lower armor (after the ranged attack phase) which turns extra block into attack, or may just save you same attack (at the cost of a wound, or not).

Hawk Eyes — 1 Movement a turn is nice, and the bonus (exploring for one less at night, revealing from two tiles away during the day) are nice kickers.

Deadly Aim — Adding +1 ranged/siege or +2 attack to a card isn’t as good as just providing it — you need a card, but that does mean you can keep any modifiers (fire or ice).

On her Own — Influence 1, 3 if you don’t use it to buy a unit. A decidedly inferior influence skill.

Refreshing Bath / Refreshing Breeze — Get a blue (white) crystal and heal one. I’m not sure how I feel about this instead of a crystal and a token. I guess healing is slightly better on average, but the token can be huge with the right comination.

Wolfhawk has a fun style of play, and her skills provide some compensation if you don’t happen to get followers. Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring followers (they are almost always useful), but Wolfhawk suffers less from their absence. A dueling, prey-knowing Wolfhawk is a force to be reckoned with, but a city is still a city.

Krang

Savage Harvesting is  a march that lets you chuck a card to gain a mana (multiple times, if you pay for it). It is often useful in the first turn to get rid of an unwanted tranquility or influence. Ruthless Coercion ‘improves’ intimidation by adding influence and (when powered) the ability to ready spent units, but costing even more reputation. Krang often falls harder, faster down the reputation track. Note that you can influence away from a village/keep/etc and not deal with the reputation effects, so Krang can still coerce his followers, so long as their are no witnesses to restrain him.

Also note that Krang doesn’t have motivation!

Battle Frenzy — I won’t say I’d always take this and ignore the other skill, but it may be true. +2 attack, and +4 attack on your final battle each round (or if you are desperate) is great.

Master of Chaos — This does great things, but the timing is hard to control. You can get something every turn, and if what you want lines up with what you are doing, its great. Worth taking if you can see the next few turns and line up your starting position, and about once a round you can choose what you want. Not as good as Battle Frenzy, but probably the ‘signature’ of Krang.

Spirit Guides — 1 move and 1 block every turn. Solid.You may not use it either turn, but this is a good amount of both.

Puppet Master — Either take a token each combat or spend a token each combat for half attack or block, keeping the type. So, this is free-ish, attack or block, but only half the time. As apart from that you get some flexibility, assuming you’ve been rampaging properly.

Arcane Disguise — As noted above, 2 influence isn’t huge. But the ability to cancel a -5 (or X) reputation can be a big deal. That means getting a follower in your first city, even after you’ve burned and pillaged your way across the board. It means ruthlessly coercing your followers and still getting more.

Regenerate — Spending mana to heal is ok. It lets you use something from the source each turn, and a red mana may get you a card for a full heal. But this isn’t up to Athyra or Tovak’s skills. Mediocre but sometimes great.

Curse — Reduce an attack or armor by one. You can use this in ranged attack phase against unfortified opponents, which is nice. At worst this acts like attack one.

Cooperative skill (Mana Enhancement) — When you spend a mana (however) gain a crystal. And then someone can get a free token of that color. So this is basically two mana, making it roughly equivalent to all the “Crystal + Token” skills. BUT, you need to have the mana (either source or other means) to get it. On the plus side, you can take whatever color you need.

Shamanic Ritual — A mana token of your choice is good, and giving up an action to reset is OK but will be done rarely. The issue is that with Savage Harvesting Krang usually isn’t desperate for mana, and his other skills are great.

Battle Hardened — This lets you ignore some damage, and may save you a wound (see thread for details). In that sense, its better than block because you can use a bit, but rarely is taking one less wound taking zero. It could really help against paralyzers that you sacrifice a follower to, but that lets a little bit left. I may be undervaluing this, but I hardly ever take it.

Krang is whatever he gets. If you get battle frenzy, he’s a murderchine, if you get master of chaos, he’ll try to tap dance the best he can. Roll with the punches.

Braevalar

The newest mage knight has two movement based improvements. Druidic paths reduces a terrain by one (min of 2). Unpowered, this is better than Tirelessness, assuming you aren’t going only on plains. It lets you get into a hill (or woods/desert at the right time) for one card. If you are only going through plains, useless. The powered version lets you reduce all of one terrain, which is probably only one or two points of movement. One with the Land can be used for heal 1 or block 2 instead of movement (or heal 2, block X, where X is the cost of the land you are one). That’s nice. Towards the end game you often have too much movement and an emergency heal/block is nice. Flexibility is always appreciated.

Braevalar has a few good skills and a lot of OK ones.

Forked Lightning — +1 Ranged Cold Fire attack against up to three separate targets. Yes, you’ll often be saving this to the regular combat phase, but its 1-3 attack, and great against physical resistance.

Shapeshift — Turn movement into block into attack, but for basic cards only! Flexible, flexible, flexible.

Feral Allies — + 1 attack or reduce an attack by one is good, not great. -1 to explore costs provides a little bit extra.

Secret Ways — +1 movement is fine, and the mountain or lake movement can save your bacon, but its tough to tell early.

Cooperative Skill (Nature’s vengeance) — Reducing an attack by one isn’t great, but making it cumbersome (so you can spend movement to reduce it more) is intriguing. This can let you partially block, and sometimes (I’m looking at you, Storm Dragon) its a god-send. And someone else can do it agian.

Thunderstorm / Lightning Storm — Token + Token instead of Crystal + Token, but you get some choice (Green and either blue/white or blue and either green or red). OK.

Regenerate — As with Krang, but made somewhat better by the storms, which may find a use for a ‘wasted’ token.

Beguile — Like most influence items, usually 2 influence, the 4 at a the circle or 3 at a village is a mild kicker.

Elemental Resistance — As with Krang’s Battle Hardened.

Maybe its just lack of experience, but Braevalar appears to be the weakest Mage Knight. Lots of OK, nothing crushing. He can do just fine (Shapeshift and Forked Lightning are quite good), but often has to choose between two mediocre skills.  One may be much better in the current situation, but wouldn’t it have been nice to draw a rock crusher. Also note that Braevalar (like Goldyx) is somewhat short of attack, so grabbing those advanced actions is a priority (although with shapeshift you can grab whatever and then use the basic card you doubled up as attack).

Written by taogaming

July 29, 2017 at 10:40 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part V — Advanced Actions)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. (The first article has my typical caveats). This section covers the advanced actions (AAs).

The Bolts

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.

Combat AAs

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.

Movement AAs

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-

Influence AAs

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-.

Mana AAs

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+

Misc AAs

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.

Written by taogaming

June 17, 2016 at 6:04 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part IV — Artifacts)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. (The first article has my typical caveats). This section covers artifacts.

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.

The Rings

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-.

Always Useful

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.

Conditionally Useful

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-

Sad Trombone

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

Written by taogaming

June 12, 2016 at 10:43 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part III — Spells)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. (The first article has my typical caveats). This section covers the spells.

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.

 

Written by taogaming

June 7, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (part II)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. (The first article has my typical caveats).

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).

Early Followers

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.

Hidden Enemies

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.

Written by taogaming

June 6, 2016 at 4:40 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (pt 1)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. There are many ways to play MK, but typically I play solitaire (Volkare or Solo Conquest) or Cooperative (usually Full Co-op scenario … Conquest again). My thoughts are tailored towards that. Most of this will be useful if you play competitive, but some won’t. I have zero PvP experience, so remember that.

On the other hand, after not playing much the last sixth months I’ve been binging with 25 games in the last few week, putting me well over 250 plays (99% solo/co-op) and have scores ranging up to 270 or so in Solo Conquest (standard settings, harder cities can score more),  so I possess some skill. I see session reports of people who have much higher scores than I do; I hardly know everything.

I’m going to assume you have Lost Legion, but if not most of this will apply. I do have Shades of Tezla, but those monsters aren’t really incorporated into my thinking much.

Key Concepts

Many strategy discussions focus on “which advanced action card is best?” or “which skill is best?”

Interesting discussions, to be sure, but we set the table before the meal is served. Just as it is a mistake to study Joseki (opening patterns) before tesuji (typical attacking/defending moves), so too should we start at the beginning. There are several concepts that form the core of MK.

Mage Knight is about Bombs. Breakpoints appear all over MK … you have enough or nothing. When facing a Medusa (4 Armor, 6 Fighting, Paralysis), ranged attack three is worthless, and you will likely discard your hand to avoid taking two wounds then discarding your hand. Range Attack 4? You win, and get a tasty spell/artifact. Seven influence + a mana buys a spell at a mage tower. Six influence? Nope (well, there may be something available, but not always). 4 Movement won’t get you into a forest at night. You need five. All or nothing.

Therefore, hand size is a bomb. Because you can play a (non-wound) card sideways for +1 Move/Influence/Block/Attack that means that bonus hand size is effectively helping you achieve breakpoints. Don’t undervalue cards that give hand size (typically next turn).

Also, Mana is a bomb. Because mana typically adds two points (with the right card).

Wounds are typically an anti-bomb, but the counter to that is that MK is a timed game, like baseball. You have so many turns before the round is called (by the dummy). If you don’t risk any wounds you are probably going too slow. Ideally you have only a wound or two, but you can win with a surprisingly large number. (Granted, it will hurt your score). If you play conquest at a higher level, avoiding wounds is impossible. You can limp along with a wound, but if you have more it’s probably best to rest (you can still crystallize, heal or do other non-move, non-actions. Being on a useful space like a mine or glade makes that turn more palatable).

You want to do something every turn, but ‘something’ is flexible. Walking to a crystal mine and crystallizing a token from the source is a fine turn during the first day. Presumably you are moving towards another goal as well. (Rarely backtrack in solo-conquest). Getting a peasant in turn one is something. You can’t get an artifact every turn. Yes, sometimes you just rest and get a better hand, rather than limp along for 3-4 turns, or burn your hand to get to a magic glade, to start the healing process.

Too much of something isn’t flexible. If you only got attack skills and cards and spells, you’d be a walking advertisement for murder. If you can walk far enough. Better to get some attack, some movement, some block, some mana generation, because

Typically, in Mage Knight you are defined by your minimum. You will regret being mana short (and relying on the fickle source) or having no followers, or having no bonus movement when the swamps arrive.

You have to spend money to make money. Crystals don’t exist  to score 1 pt each at the end of the game. They make your hand more potent, you can often spend them for much great effect early on. You don’t dungeon delve just to take an artifact for 2 points (plus the points for the monster and adventuring). That artifact lets you do something amazing. Sometimes I discard it the very next turn and only get a single use from it. Spend it, but wisely. An artifact you use once to conquer a city bloodlessly is better than getting three uses from it while also carrying a few wounds (or even just being slowed down a turn or two by having to lay siege two or three times).

Cards will come at poor times, need some flexibility. Attack does you no good if the nearest enemy is too far away. Movement does you no good if a dragon will smack you the first step you take. Any card can show up at a poor time. You can’t avoid bad draws. You can mitigate it. But there’s a bit more to it. The game state changes as well, and what is a great card at one point may grow or change as the game goes on. The most obvious cards are spells — they (potentially) work much better at night (or underground), but all cards have some variability. Well, I say that, but it’s not entirely true.

Skills and Followers are always in hand. Followers aren’t as flashy as artifacts, but you know they’ll be there in the opening hand. Yes yes, you can’t use them in dungeons or against monasteries, but you know when they aren’t available.

Finally — Time your actions to the dummy. Should you spend a card for +1? Well, that depends. If your deck is going to run out first, you can afford to pause for a turn to let the source reset, maybe draw some cards that let you be more efficient, etc. Has the End of Round been called? In that case squeeze every last drop out of your hand and followers. This shows up in a few ways.

Let’s discuss the game state in some detail.

The phases of the game

On the first day your goal is to level up. It doesn’t have to be on your first turn, but it shouldn’t be on the last (you want time to enjoy your new advanced action and skill). A follower would be nice, as would several crystals. Artifacts and spells work, too. It’s entirely possible to sac a dungeon on your first or or second turn (or burn a monastery), possibly at the cost of some wounds. But a bad draw could see you discard your hand. In that case, try again. (The TaoLing had a recent game where his first two dungeon raids required him to discard his hand to avoid wounds. On his third try, he got an artifact and was off to the races. A slow start, but recoverable).

You don’t have to get a follower, but it doesn’t hurt. You don’t have to crystallize a token (or sit on a mine), but it doesn’t hurt. Ditto artifacts and spells. Ditto exploring. In general, as long as you expand your power, you are happy on turn one.  Sometimes I’m at level 3 by the end of the first day, but not always (or even often). Fame will come later. As long as I’m at level two and have some reasonable growth (an artifact, spell, follower, crystals, or significant forward motion) I don’t mind being ’empty’ in one category, or having a few wounds.

The first night is similar. I’d like to be at level 4 by the end of the night, but it’s not as pressing as level 2 was. Now you start with a skill and advanced cards, you should be able to stockpile power and routinely take a dungeon/maze/monastery and most ruins, although Dragons and White Tokens may give you problems.

During the second day my goals are to make sure at least one core tile is played while grabbing enough fame to get to six hand size (level 5). Getting more powerful cards is nice, but I want a shot at attacking a city on the second night (when spells are more useful) or at least recruiting a large unit. And the hand size

Core tiles require more movement, a lot more swamps/wastelands/lakes, but at some point movement is going to diminish in value. If you haven’t killed your reputation, then influence is going to go up, because once you take your first city you can spend influence (and you’ll get ~3 bonus, +reputation) to buy cards, and possibly the great city followers.

By the third day, I’m preparing for the final assault. I’m hitting targets of opportunity, and sometimes I’ll attack a spawning ground/keep/whatever just to grab a level or increase my handsize, but I’m selective on my targets. Followers are there for city assaults, unless I’ll get a bigger buff spending them early (or its the third day and they’ll reset before I attack on the third night). Note that (except vs Volkare) ranged attacks are not a big deal — most city defenders will be fortified, unless I’ve picked up something like Expose. (If I have a handful of ranged attack, that’s when I start looking at ruins or other enemies to convert those cards into a buff card).

I discuss the state of the game because values change. Swiftness is a great card on a first day battle but mediocre vs the final city assault (unless you can remove fortifications).  Buying 10 advanced action cards is great, unless your deck becomes a hodgepodge where you may have all your attacks at the bottom. You might want a +attack skill and +influence skill, but you probably want the attack skill first and the influence skill second, and not vice versa. Naming a card or skill ‘good’ or ‘bad’ also means discussing ‘when.’

The basic deck

You have sixteen cards. So let’s consider the ‘base’ opening deck, independent of the upgraded card. You’ll have these all game, unless you throw some of them away.

Stamina (x2) and March (x2) — Move 2/4. You need lots of move in the game. Typically you won’t need much move towards the end (as you camp outside the final city or wait for Volkare to wander up) but movement is good. Extra movement lets you swing out of the way to sack an extra target, or cross those annoying swamps (or deserts/forests at the wrong time). Movement is better than block against cumbersome foes, because you may be able to partially spend and reduce a wound. Beware of spending too many of these cards early, unless you are just going to camp on a dungeon for points to end the round.

Let me digress to state that picking up a single movement boost (skill or advanced action) is fine, and if I get a lot of cards, a second is not unreasonable. You can wind up with too many ‘cool’ cards and find yourself sitting or spending your cool cards for +1, so picking up move/attack/block/influence in rough proportion to your starting deck isn’t a bad idea.

Swiftness (x2) — As discussed above, ranged attack is great early and mediocre late. Early, I want to use this to shoot something (and not have to block). Later on? If I can use it for shooting, great. If not, movement it is. Also, I’m content tossing these away for better cards (via Training or other effects) or for crystals (via Decompose) around the halfway point. I don’t often do (those cards don’t show up often), but it’s possible. Again, playing vs Volkare Ranged attack never really goes out of style.

Rage (x2) — You need attack to kill stuff. Later on, you may spend this as block, but early on unless you are going to be paralyzed, its usually better to eat some wounds then kill your enemy, and level up and earn your reward.

Concentration (x1) — Concentration is the bomb. It gives you a mana (which is a bomb) or if you spend a green mana it lets you pump another card by four (instead of two). If you have Concentration + Swiftness (with a green mana) and one other card in your hand you could reasonably attack a dungeon on T1. Add in a block and now you can defeat a shadow or gargoyle (albeit at two wounds) or  a crypt worm (3).

Block (x1) — Lost legion made block much more important. Block Five (with a blue mana) will take care of most early game things you’ll face, although there are exceptions.

Improvisation (x1) — Without spending a mana, this basically lets you play two cards sideways for +3 instead of +2. That’s not bad (it’s like having an extra ‘blank’ card), but when you spend the mana now you are spending two cards for five. That’s more like it. The flexibility makes this a good card for emergencies (at least, when red mana is available).

Promise (x1) / Threaten (x1) — I want to get an early follower, but I’m not desperate. Especially if there’s no convenient place to stop, these are the most likely to be spent sideways. Do I threaten? If I have to. Obviously I’d prefer not, but especially if I’m getting a reasonable T1 follower (more on that later), I’m fine doing it. If there’s no great follower on the first day, I’ll try to grab two the first night (once I’ve got level three) but … there may not be two available.

Tranquility (x1) — The problem with healing yourself: you have to draw Tranquility with the wound. 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 a follower wounded then you always draw tranquility at the right time. You can also spend this for another card, effectively shrinking your deck. (Or spend it for two cards if you have a green mana), which may help you over a breakpoint. If necessary, take a turn spend a green mana and grab one card over your handsize, then wait one turn to reset the mana pool and go. Not a great turn, but do-able, and if you are sitting someplace useful, such as a crystal mine, it may have other benefits.

Crystallize (x1) — Again, if I have a free turn I grab a crystal from the pool (of course). But I’m also fine just using it to turn a blue into what I need (assuming no gold). Unless I’ve seen concentration go by, I’m usually pocketing green unless I know what I’ll need next turn (assuming I have no mana) or a color I’m missing (especially if the source is missing). Second choice is usually white (for Mana Draw and Swiftness). But often it’s just ‘what am I missing?’ Unless I’ve picked up a lot of great cards of one color, I want to be flexible.

Mana Draw (x1) — Basically a bizarro Crystallize, except you get a spare mana that you use right away (sometimes to Crystallize, yes!). There will be times when the source locks up or threatens to lock up, and in those cases you may want to spend a white just to turn a black/gold die to a color you can use, even if it costs you a crystal.

The Tactics Deck

In both solo and co-op the player(s) pick their tactics, then dummy chooses randomly. You rarely want to take a high number, but there are exceptions. At night taking Preparation (5) can help if you need one key card (usually a spell or artifact) for an assault if you have a good hand, or Sparing Power (6) if you have a poor hand and plan on building up to one huge hand. (Alternately, attacking ASAP and then taking the cards from S.P. next turn to ensure you have at least one real card, so you can discard all your wounds).

Against Volkare there’s something to be said for taking The Right Moment on the third day. The double turn lets you fully commit to a defense (or attack) and then declare the end of the run immediately on your doubled turn. (Obviously, you have to have an empty deck). Attacking Volkare (or defending) and then instantly calling the round is one of the key tactics against Volkare. Unless you have built an overwhelming force (which you can do in Solo) you’ll want to attack with all your units, then reshuffle your deck, reset your units and do it again.

Also, against Volkare’s Return (where you frequently wait in the city for him to arrive) you don’t care about turn order as much. It’s just two points (if the deck doesn’t end). But Volkare deserves his own section.

Back to Solo Conquest. Typically on the last day/night take the lowest number to ensure going first. With nothing better to do early I will grab the 1 on the first day, but I will grab the 2-4 as needed (whichever one speeds up my first level up). First night, if you are in a good mana situation tend to take long night (and hope the dummy doesn’t draw the one) because it makes my deck 3 cards larger, so I can spend a bit more dramatically and rush forward. But if not, taking the Mana Manipulation (3) card is a life-saver. Preparation to fix your hand is an option (taking Tranquility while you have two wounds, taking a card to ensure your first combat, etc).

In Co-op you’ll have to discard one of the player’s cards, but we still tend to take the (no special ability) 1 card whenever convenient then discard it. That makes the next days/nights a bit safer.

Reputation

Let us discuss public relations. In Solo Conquest, a slightly negative reputation isn’t big deal. If you are at -2 when you take your first city, you’ll be slightly positive after your +3 reputation at the city (one per chit you killed). If it’s the red city (artifacts at 12 Inf/pop) that’s bad, but for each of the other three you’ll be able to buy a card (Green), spell (blue) or unit (White, which allow you to buy any units). Useful. If you build up your reputation even a bit (no pillaging, no burning monasteries, and killing a few orcs and dragons) to +1 or +2, you can often sit for several turns (again, not at red) and buy several card. Nice. But the downside is that keeps and mage towers are also -1 reputation, so it’s incredibly easy to drop five slots (or so), from that. A threaten, a keep, a mage tower, attack the city, that’s four steps. Sure, you’ll kill 2-3 orcs ASAP, but after that? Only when convenient.

So in my typical (Conquest) game, I am slightly negative reputation. Some games you can tell you are going to go hard negative. -5, or even the dreaded X. In those games, you want to get a few followers quickly, and then if you are lucky enough to see Thugs (before you get to X) or Magical Familiars grab them . The rewards for going negative will be good (an artifact for each monastery burnt, plus more fame). Typically I may try to save a Dragon for after the first city: kill it to go from X to -3, and then interact once or twice before the final assault. But what you don’t want to do is drop hard before you get a single follower.

And Norowas? You probably don’t want to go hard negative with him, at least not until late.

In Volkare’s return, you are likely to be camping in the city for a turn or few before Volkare shows up. In that case, a solid positive reputation gives you sometning to do. Chuck your influence (and movement) cards for a spell or advanced action. Even 12 Influence for an artifact is doable, if you are positive.

The Map

Your deck is what you have to work with. And the map is … what you have work on. The meals you partake on on your way to the final banquet. A smorgasbord of locations to visit, set aflame, and cook your meals on. Sometimes literally.

Villages — You can recruit, heal (3 inf/wound) and by no means should you forget the ability to pillage (-1 reputation for +2 cards).

Crystal Mines — Good stopping points, and good places to spend resting or even just crystalizing. Ditto Magical Glades.

Keep — Better recruiting (more common, anyway). The hand size bump (when near a keep) isn’t a great buff, but they stack, and there is always a keep next to the white city.

Mage Tower — A spell is a serious incentive (at least the first one or two until diminishing returns set in, unless you have a good source of mana). On the plus hand you can select your spell, versus the artifacts blind draw. Sometimes you sac a monastery and get two artifacts that aren’t much use (duplicate what you are already good at). For both Keeps/Towers you want to sidle up on them early on just to make sure they don’t have something you can’t kill (Golems and other high-armor and/or physically resistant targets)

Monster Den/Dungeon — Both of these are a single brown token (that you can’t see before you commit). The monster den only gives you two crystals, but you can bring followers. The Dungeon is an artifact (2/3rds) or spell (1/3rd). Unlike fortified sites, you can use ranged attacks. Sometimes you have a choice, and the choice is dictated by your hand. If you have ranged attacks, head for a dungeon. But without those (and only mediocre block) you may want to take a fortified site b/c you are sure you can hit it. The advanced sites are similar but with tougher monsters. Of the two, the Spawning Ground is better — two browns is less of an issue than a Draconum, and adding crystals ti an artifact (Grounds) is better than adding a spell (Tomb).

Maze — A somewhat tune-able Dungeon. You have to spend 2-6 movement (and movement from the movement phase does not carry over) but you can take a single follower. Often in the early game, two crystals is the best shot.

Monastery — Ah, the Monastery. These have the ability to interact (for advanced actions and followers) or burning. (Note — the purple defender isn’t fortified!). Often enough, you interact one turn, flambe it the next. As discussed above, assuming you have a follower or two already, the reputation hit for the first time isn’t bad. Burning a second monastery (or lots of threatening) may spiral your rep to the point you never get another unit. But (assuming you can handle the majority of draws) the three steps of reputation will be easily balanced out by the artifact and ~5 fame.

Rampaging Units — These aren’t sites, in one respect, but like sites they cost time and cards. Both are in short supply. The first orc you kill? Great, that’s a level (usually). Killing one later on, not so useful (except in the cases where you can literally shrug off the damage and the card would be one you’d likely discard anyway). Later on kill rampaging units when it’s convenient or you have to to move on. Killing a Dragon is valuable (points wise) and sometimes necessary but typically requires significant resources. Are those resources going to be needed? Time your deck. There is nothing worse than killing a dragon before walking into the final battle and realizing your deck cannot generate the attack needed to kill the last unit.

Putting it all together — You can’t really plan on sites, but you know what to expect. Just as with your deck you’ll have to go with the flow, but the game is all about tradeoffs.

In Part Two — Some comments about the Conquest vs Volkare’s Return, the heroes and the minions.

Written by taogaming

May 22, 2016 at 8:26 pm

Too Many Words about Quartermaster General

This article covers my (evolving) thoughts about Quartermaster General strategy, tactics and planning. This article assumes the game with Air Marshal, but a fair amount of it applies to just the base game as well.

Currently (in our group) games rarely go past Turn 15. One side wins via a 30 point lead. This colors my view on  discarding and Economic Warfare. Any game that goes past 15 turns is usually just seeing if the Allies win by 30 points or win by total points on T20. I’ve never seen a game where the Allies are ahead at T15 (or later) won by the Axis, although I assume someone has.

My (one) criticism of QG is that each game revolves around the appearance (or lack thereof) of key cards for each side. QG feels balanced as a series, but most individual games seemed wildly unbalanced. It is, after all, a card game with each deck sporting a dozen or two unique cards. Each game feels different, but on the order of “Woah, look at this new way the (Axis/Allies) are crushing!” Even when balanced, the game feels like the Axis rushing to win before they run out of steam.

Time will tell if this is typical.

Supply and Tempo

Quartermaster General’s main thrusts are tempo and supply. (Pretty good description of war, actually). Most turns you play a card, and that’s it. One turn = One card (plus maybe a bolster two or an Air Deploy). Some decks (particularly Japan) let you bank turns, but one turn = one card. You get twenty cards, plus a few bonus (if the game goes the distance).

If your supply is cut (say, the UK’s North Sea Fleet) you may lose several turns time after a chain of units (North Africa, Africa, etc) go out of supply. And out of supply units can’t build or battle, so you don’t even get any last licks in. Losing one key point in the chain can cost 4+ turns and key cards. Even if you rebuild your fleet right away (to put everything back into supply), it’s a terribly urgent move. If you don’t get cut – if your opponents dawdle and give you time to build a bit more (Bay of Bengal, India) – suddenly you have two supply routes and losing that Fleet is annoying, but not devastating. It costs 1 turn, but you get to keep the rest of your turns.

A long spread out chain makes your position fragile. You risk having to play an Urgent move at a time of the opponent’s chosing. If they have a well placed bolster or two enemies time it correctly, you may be unable to recover even with the right cards.

Many cards spend tempo for long term advantage. That’s what a great status card does. You spend a turn playing it, and then next turn you can do more. Germany excels at this. Blitzkrieg (“Use once per turn when you battle a land space. Discard the top card of your draw deck and build an army in the space battled.”) lets you turn a Land Battle and a random card into a Land Battle, a Build Army and the tempo to play it.

(I’d buy a lot more books if they came bundled with the time to read them).

So an early Blitzkrieg earns back interest. Germany’s deck gives it a massive tempo advantage.

German has to pay twice for this:

  1. A random card for each use. We’ll discuss this later.
  2. A tempo right now. Often times this isn’t a big problem, but it’s a cost.

For cards like Blitzkrieg the second cost is rarely painful, but for many status cards (and events, etc) the cost is paramount. Especially in the base game, which is much less fluid. Consider three spots Germany-Eastern Europe-Ukraine. The first player to build in Eastern Europe is now the invader. Yes, the other player can battle, then you rebuild (back and forth) but of course Germany has to worry about the UK and Moscow about Japan (or Italy). If the invader has something comes up you can ignore Eastern Europe for a turn and lose the initiative.

If your opponent has Eastern Europe and something comes up and you have to ignore it for a turn? You just lost your unit in your Capital.

Examples of Tempo:

Consider a novice UK player. We’ll call him, oh, Tao. He looks at his opening hand and sees not many battles, but builds and the “You may build in India” status card. Ah ha! That’s fast points, and the UK often struggles to get points. Germany goes into Western Europe, ‘Tao’ drops his status card, and the next turn Germany builds in … the North Sea. If the UK had a sea battle, no big deal. But I don’t (ahem, the UK doesn’t). And now Germany starts hitting the UK. On the other hand, Build the navy first, Germany would have to Sea Battle (hardly Germany’s strong point), then build a navy and while that would be painful he’d be neglecting the East Front. A huge swing. Build the Home Fleet First.

On a more advanced level, the UK’s second build can be into North Africa (unless an event comes). Even if Italy builds into the med, the UK can reach N. Africa first. If the UK declines, Italy can go in there and at that flips who can battle across Gibraltar. I’m coming to the conclusion that the UK really should grab N. Africa as the second play, because now all of those sea battles can go towards the Med. And once the UK parks a Navy in the Med, things get ugly for the Axis. (I believe this play will swing our play group’s win ratio from Axis winning 2/3rds to Allies winning over half, possibly even more).

The Squeeze

You want to threaten the initiative, to force your opponent to respond. Cutting supply is a squeeze. Taking a critical point (like N. Africa) is a squeeze. If an ally is nearby you can each strike at a weak point and only one can be defended. Or you can use a bolster card to get a critical tempo advantage to swing at two points (or to take the initiative). At it’s heart, Deploying an Air Force gains initiative. If you go Eastern Europe + Air Force, then if your opponent land battles, you lose the planes and attack the Capital. So one player can squeeze one opponent, with the right plays. But two people can almost always deal with one opponent.

The Deck as resource

Decks range from 37 up to 51 cards. If you assume you are going to play 20 cards, plus discard five at the start. Plus 5 bolster/air deploys, that’s 30 cards. But in our play style we only have 15 turns, so that means 5-8 fewer cards played. Even if you go the distance, you have cards to burn. I’m willing to discard aggressively (either at the end of a turn, or to reallocate resources) with those cards. Cards knocked off the top of your deck only matter if you are going to run out. Germany and the USA can spend a card every other turn. The final push to win it can be worth your entire deck to earn that decisive VP. Similarly, discarding (weak) cards from your hand to trigger a status is fine.

Yes, discarding could mean that economic warfare cost you points, but the game often ends by the 30 point concession (which is now the real auto-victory, instead of the two Capital rule).

So you can afford to discard four cards to go fetch a build or battle (or deploy Air Force card) once without much pain, assuming you don’t mind giving up those particular cards. You can even do it twice. If your cards are unlikely to be useful soon, consider chucking them during the prior discard phase. You may save a card or two or draw a great status/event. Each deck has several game changers you’d want to get hold of, and those you just have to draw.

Sometimes you need to reallocate. But discard aggressively, particularly for non-playing event/statuses/bolsters. Most decks have a few ways they can go, and once you decide not to do Operation Sea Lion or that hitting an opponent with economic warfare isn’t a big deal, get rid of those cards aggressively.

One time to keep a few bad cards is if you are planning to spend them as part of a bolster cost (or to trigger a status). Then you hold them to avoid drawing all useful cards you don’t want to chuck.

One final note on Re-allocating resources. If you have a card that puts cards back on the bottom of our deck (such as Rationing or Rosie the Riveter), you can re-allocate to shuffle your deck, which may put those cards back on top! (This is really only important if the UK puts the awesome “discard a German status” Engima back on the bottom of the deck by Rationing. I still wouldn’t re-allocate just to do it, but it would tempt me).

Card Limitations and True vs Small threats

Novices make non-squeezing plays. They battle their opponent because …. just because. The UK can’t afford to spend all of it’s precious land battles early. Yes, the Resistance may let you take Western Europe, but how will you take Germany? Save them for when they matter, or you can threaten a squeeze.

Or consider if the axis attempts Operation Sea Lion (the Germany Amphibious Invasion of the UK). This can actually happen fast (I’ve already shown a self-inflicted version). Assume Italy and Germany are both in Western Europe, with Italy having an air force. Italy battles into the North Sea (sacrificing the air force if necessary) to clear the space (the US has headed to the Pacific). Now the US gets a play, but if they don’t occupy the ocean (or Lend Lease) Germany builds a navy before the UK and moves an airforce into the N. Sea.

The UK is in trouble (particularly if there is no AF in England).

But Italy only has two Sea Battles, and Germany only has two Build Navies. If either player has squandered both, it won’t work. And you can’t really have Germany attack and the Italian navy build … the UK gets a move in between, and they usually can build a navy. So you need to get the cards and get a bit of luck, but wasting the card to check if the Royal Navy has a Build card is pointless and forecloses most of your shot for Sea Lion in the future. To summarize – Well timed Squeezing in the Atlantic is huge, battling just to battle does nothing. The UK has more sea cards than Germany and Italy combined.

(Similarly to how I think the UK has been ignoring N. Africa in our group, I now think that the Axis have been ignoring Sea Lion in our group. But the US can also help stop Sea Lion just by building it’s east coast navy, so it’s available to Sea Battle Germany the turn after Germany builds into the N. Sea, or to build after Italy battles).

Tempo and Two Points

Why are we seeing most games end by 30 point concession? One player gets off to a rocky start and falls behind (maybe self-inflicted, maybe not). They earn two points when everyone else earns four, or four instead of six. If your team is earning two points less per round, you lose in fifteen rounds. If two players are earning two points less on your team, then you lose in eight rounds. All three? Five rounds.

Our last game hand an instructive Allied Victory. Germany, unlike most games, drove towards Scandanvia on turn 1. (Presumably he had a handful of cards that required an army there). The Soviets played Germany-Soviet Treaty of Friendship… to build in the Ukraine and Russia, then the US played Murmansk Convoy, giving the USSR two more builds. That’s an extreme example, but not outrageous. The odds of the Soviets starting with that event is just under 1/3rd, and the odds of the US holding Murmansk are only slightly worse, call it 10% odds of this being a possible opening.

Now Germany had a defensive knife fight on the Eastern Front. If he’d taken Western Europe on T1 that still would be true, but then Germany would be earning 4 points a turn instead of 2 during that fight. The Axis lost on around turn 15, so those two points a turn were decisive. (Obviously Italy ended up getting some points in Western Europe instead of Germany, but Italy spent several turns doing this instead of building his own point base).

If Germany earned two extra points each turn, the game would be effectively tied.

Don’t discount two points a turn. You don’t want to sacrifice tempo or risk a long term squeeze for it, but all else being equal, grab the points. Germany can go East immediately, but then Italy has to go to Western Europe. (Since it’s a 2-team game, it’s zero sum. Denying Russia 2 a turn is just as good as earning two points, but as we’ve seen there are tempo considerations on Europe). If Italy could have gone into the Balkans or Med for a point, that’s a cost. As the UK, once you’ve secured your home waters getting a second supply center early (Australia or India) on turn 3-4 is 30 points over the game (in undisturbed). That turns an automatic loss into a nailbiter.

(Also note Germany going to Western Europe threatens the North Sea and Sea Lion in the early game, So it’s a points + squeeze, whereas Italy in Western Europe on Turn 1 means the UK can grab Gibraltar).

Taking a Capital looms large because it denies all of that player’s points and also severely restricts their card play. Moscow is the most precarious, but apart from the US they are all reasonable (the US could fall, but that would be amazing. I’ve seen the West Coast conquered, though).

The Wild Blue Yonder

Planes are tempo in metal form. You can drop them (with a deploy card) as part of a turn, and they let you go on the offensive. You build + AF, they attack, you can take the loss and attack back. But the units and cards are a limited resource, which leads to the interesting question: When do you to take the AF as a loss versus accepting the loss of the army/navy and reposition the AF? Obviously if you can’t move the AF to a legal adjacent space, sacrifice it instead of the base unit. Evaluate the tempo situation of each option. If the tempo is OK, take the regular unit loss. If the tempo squeezes you, lose the AF. (Obviously if you have another AF card in hand, then that adjusts it). Having an AF on the board lets you also threaten multiple fronts. Build an AF and now you solidify a front and maybe threaten to sacrifice to kill your opponents’ AF. If the give up the normal unit, you can then move the AF (after battle) into a weak spot.

Each country has natural choke points. If Italy can’t get into the Med (or control N. Africa, after that) they’ll have a tough time getting extra points. An AF can be a critical position holder. (As Italy, Build Med/ Deploy AF med as the first play is reasonable, hoping to build N. Africa, move AF to N.Africa. Now Gibraltar and the N. African forces shield the Med fleet). I don’t mention an Deploy Air Force in my discussion of openings, but if you have one you’ll usually throw it down on a choke point ASAP.

 Economic Warfare (EW)

In the base game, Economic Warfare routinely entered into play. With the expansion, since most people don’t play most of their bolster cards, the threat of earning a ton of VP as your victims sit and do nothing is much reduced. (Good! That’s not fun). Economic Warfare (and any forced discard) hits random cards. It may discard cards they want, or cards they don’t want. As the opening (draw 12, discard 5) proves, all cards are good sometimes. Most EW cards also give you a VP or two (this isn’t true for the US). Not much – I’d certainly rather drop a status card that earns points each turn – but those few points add up. If you have the tempo, take them. The loss of cards also forces some caution on an opponent if the game does threaten to go long, and who knows, you may hit a great card. Another consideration is that if your victim is desperate and not playing a card you know will crush you, it’s probably in their deck. If you are Russia and Germany is Land Battling instead of playing Broad Front (“Battle up to 3 Soviet Armies that were adjacent to yours at the start of the turn”) It’s reasonable to guess that the card is still in his deck. (Russia doesn’t have EW cards, but you get the idea). Similarly, if the Reich is partying in Moscow for a few turns and Russians are muttering “Winter is Coming,” then probably Russian Winter is somewhere in their deck. (Maybe they are dropping response cards, because Winter by itself isn’t enough, but you never know).

After the expansion, play EW cards for the points and to help your opponent feel constrained. Or just whenever you are in a solid position and waiting for a good combo. Until you get hit with the second EW card (or Heavy Bombers) it isn’t so bad, although you’ll have to cut back on re-allocation and maybe not discard as aggressively.

If you do run your opponent out of cards you may be able to waltz into their homeland, and deny them any more points for the final few turns.

Not really related to EW, but you can also sometime squeeze a final point by joining in a supply center, if the other person has already scored their two points! (Italy can go into Western Europe to get a point, after Germany took two. This is useful if you need one critical point to end the game). This won’t get you one or two a turn, but sometimes you need to scrounge it!

Card Diversity and Limits

Apart from the deck limit, each deck has a card diversity limit. Japan has few battles, but lots of responses that let you stack battles. Be aware of how many of each build and battle card you have, and know when you are running down. Don’t spend them wily-nily.

Some status cards that let you convert any random 1-3 cards into some other card. Russia and Germany can spend two cards to fetch a build army from the discard pile. Italy can spend 3 (ouch) to fetch a land battle from the discard pile. The UK has Resistance which lets you spend 2 cards to attack Western Europe or Italy. These can be great options, cycling chaff to pressure the enemy. Sometimes you even want to do this when you have the right card in your hand! (Particularly Resistance, since the UK wants land battles for different spaces). If you have one of those cards, you can be a bit more liberal in spending those cards. Russia, in particular, can cavalierly toss Build Army cards in the opening.

The Opening Discard

Given what I’ve stated above, I hope to draw five useless bolster or EW cards in the opening to make the “Twelve Choose Seven” choice easy. What I don’t want to see are lots of builds and battles, particularly all my land or sea battles! Those lack flexibility, and you don’t want to run out early. If playing with the optional rule that allows for mulligans as long as a pair from each side agree (which I do), don’t mulligan easily, because you have to give up one good card. Mulligan because you have to give up three or four cards, or are staring at way too many battles.

Notes about Specific Countries

Deck information is total cards, # Armies/navies, # Battles Land/Sea, EW cards, Ev(ents), Status, Response, Deploy AF and Bolsters)

Germany (7 armies, 3 navies, 2 AF)

(51 cards total, 6/2 A/N, 7/2 Land/Sea, 5 EW, 7 Ev, 11 Status, 0 Resp, 3 AF, 8 Bolster)

The most important cards are Statuses: Blitzkrieg and Bias for Action let you turn a Build into a Build + Land Battle and a Land Battle into a Battle + Build at the cost of a random card. These effectively let your deck count as having many more battles and builds, but also means that the German deck is not nearly as thick as you’d expect at 51 cards. You hope to spend 5+ cards a game on these guys. Similarly, Dive Bombers lets you battle twice, which is useful in dealing with Air Forces. The Production Initiative Event lets you go get one of those statuses, so expect the Germans to get at least one (maybe two) of these early. Conscription lets the Germans discard two random cards to play a build out of their discard pile. Coupled with a Blitzkrieg this makes the German feels a smaller deck, but every card builds or battles.

Germany’s Bolster cards mainly let you battle hard and often and are also quite good.

Germany’s weakness is that it really can’t do much against the UK (barring a coordinated assault or mistake) and it’s not a point machine. You can often get to the Ukraine, but Russia may scorch it. By all means take Moscow but be aware that the Russian events will probably mean you can’t keep it. Germany effectively scores by denying the USSR points. Italy will often outscore Germany, even as Barbarossa rolls on. As long as you fight the Reds, that’s fine.

As the Russians, you should not feel the need to keep a front line next to your opponent. (Particularly if they have Bias for Action and not Blitzkrieg).

Germany has a minor theme in getting to Scandinavia. This turns their economic warfare against the UK into a serious threat, and offers a few more points with Statuses. If the US comes calling you may want to play Atlantic Wall (to make land battles in Western Europe costly) and Jet Fighters to blunt the US economic warfare, but honestly I chuck that.

Typical opening: Western Europe, then Roll east. Rarely you can head east and let Italy secure Western Europe (typically if he has no bonus scoring cards, but even then, you are forcing him to use a limited Build and army that could be spent elsewhere). Leaving Western Europe open after Italy’s turn is not an option, it’s an invitation to lose brutally (The US has plenty of ways to give the UK a bonus turn.)

So grab Europe and take two points now. Sometimes drive for Scandinavia and the N. Sea. Great opening, play the Forced Conscription to build twice (Go West and East) and then drop your monstrous status cards and don’t look back. Guns and Butter is a great card because it lets you fetch and play a build or battle. Note that Western Europe opening lets Italy play Afrika Korps, which lets you drop a navy in the Med and an army in North Africe, so that the Axis control Gibraltar. You won’t care but Italy does.

Cards I love to discard in the opening – EW cards and statuses, Volksturm (if you are fighting for the Fatherland, you’ve lost).

Italy (4 armies. 3 navies, 1 AF)

(37 cards total, 4/3 A/N, 4/2 Land/Sea, 2 EW, 7 Ev, 5 Status, 3 Resp, 2 AF, 5 Bolster)

Poor Italy is a lot of fun, IMO. You can get points from Mare Nostrum (+1 for the Med), Balkan Resources (+1 for the Balkans), Africa and the Middle East (Imperio Italiano) and parts of Russia (Anti-Communist Sentiment). Coupled with a plunder card (one time +1 for each army/navy outside of Italy you can rack up 5-6 a turn starting very quickly (particularly if you get the early double build. With the Afrika Korps you secure the Med early on, really nice temp.

Your downside is you barely have any cards or pieces. The Italians can harass Russia or the UK somewhat, typically not both. Actually, the best play is to harass each one in turn as a squeeze. Italy also can use the time to play a few minor Economic Warfare cards for the spare points.

Typical opening. Secure the Med, the generate extra points. Shore up Germany’s weak spots and apply gentle pressure. If you get Italian East Africa (which you could play on T2 if you took the Med T1 and the UK didn’t battle it) you threaten to grab India as quickly as Turn 3! This can also help keep the US out of Szechaun. Like I said, Italy has options.

Don’t be afraid as Italy to just get some points and then solidify a position. Play Economic Warfare cards (or Plunder) for spare points if nothing happens. Use Division Azul to remove a Soviet Response. The tide will turn, you have to win first!

A note on the Balkans – There are several cards that hose the Balkans, but you have a status that gives you points for them, so you just have to accept the loss from time to time.

Cards I love to discard in the opening – Golden Square Coup, German Reinforcements Counterattack, Monte Cassino (if Italy falls, etc etc), Anti-Communist Sentiment (Yes, it’s a point per turn, but it’s really hard to keep for long, what with Russian Winter and all, and the other point statuses are better.

Japan (5 Armies, 5 Navies, 2 AF)

(43 cards total, 4/6 A/N, 3/4 Land/Sea , 2 EW, 0 Event, 3 Status, 11 Response, 3 AF, 7 Bolster)

Japan has seven battle cards. Japan has seven battle cards. Just like Italy. Look at it again. Seven.

Japan has a metric zillion of response cards and bolsters that say “When you battle, do this other awesome thing.” In my very first game, as Japan, not knowing what to do, I stumbled on a very good Japanese strategy.

Turn 1: Sea of Japan. Turn 2: Build in China. Turns 3-10 (ish), play a response card, pausing maybe to drop a VP status card and build to get the VP.

Then – on command of the Emperor – Unleash Hell. You know, sea battle, then “After a sea battle, also land battle, then build a few armies, then maybe some more battles and, oh, I don’t know, drink all the sake.” And then when the counter attack hits, just flip up some response cards to nullify it.

That’s a pretty good plan.

Using your land and sea battles without responses leaves you no way to trigger your responses. Note that you can battle an empty space to trigger responses!

All three of Japan’s status cards grant a new VP condition, corresponding to a SE Asia Strategy (Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere) an Easter Pacific Strategy (Forward Bases) and a South Pacific strategy (Imperial Designs). Japan can (barely) stretch to India or Australia. So a status, + 3 supply centers gets you up to 8 or even 10+ points a turn. If this is happening the US had better be rolling through Europe.

Japan may have to fight the UK or US quickly, if they drop a status that lets them build in Australia or Szechuan early, but often you get left alone.

As Japan you have to be somewhat flexible because Magic discards a random response. Japan’s chokepoints aren’t just annoying things like Vladivostok not touching Japan, but having to remember which responses you have. Several of your bolsters also let you discard a response from hand to do an action, which is nice.

Japan doesn’t really have the armies to march on Moscow, but if the Soviets have to fall back and forage for supply they can threaten to eliminate them completely. Rather surprisingly Japan can actually threaten the US (especially with Forward Bases to make the threat earn VP). Taking the Western US is a 4 point swing, and probably gives Germany some breathing room. But Japan will have to pick his battles.

Typical Opening is Navy in Sea of Japan then China (2 points) then whatever your hand says. Note that if you have Special Naval Landing Forces you can drop this on T1, build a navy and activate it on T2 to grab China and the Phillipines/Iwo Jima. Then you could drop a status on T3 and be at 5/turn!

Cards I like to discard in the opening – EW cards, everything else is conditional. Evaluate your hand for Japan. It has lots of moving parts.

USSR (7 armies, 1 navy, 1 AF)

(41 cards total, 8/1 A/N, 6/2 Land/Sea, 0 EW, 6 Event, 7 Status, 4 Resp, 2 AF, 6 Bolster)

A fact that I am reminded of when I play this game. The Soviet Army took more casualties than the size of the entire German army. Every year. (I’m not entirely sure it’s true, but I heard it, so it probably is). See those 8 build army cards? May as well be infinite. Women Conscripts lets you put a played Build Army back on top of the deck. Defense of the Motherland lets you build twice (for two discards, in addition to the build). Guards lets you spend two cards to play a build from the discard pile. Asian Reserves (a bolster) fetches two back.

No discussion of Russia would be complete without Russian Winter. This is your one-time get out of jail free card. It’s for when Moscow is occupied. But don’t just slap it down. You may want to put down the Rasputitsa, which cancels a build in/adjacent to Moscow. And Stalingrad, Moscow and Leningrad responses keep armies in Ukraine, Moscow and Russia. Be sure when you play the winter you’ll have time to build there next turn.

Another status worth mentioning is Shvernik’s Evacuation Council, which keeps all your troops in supply. This is good because you can build behind Moscow and still fight after Moscow falls. If you have a lull, it’s often worth playing. It also means that when you play Vasilevsky Takes Command in the Far East to eliminate the Japanese army in China you get to keep the army in Vladivostok. (Ditto Tito’s Partisans for the Balkans). You’ll often want to play Scorched Earth to deny the axis the VP from Ukraine.

As noted before, you can build up a quick offensive with German-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Demarcation and/or Murmansk Convoy.

You only have two sea battles, but can often use them on the Sea of Japan or North Sea at a critical moment.

Typical Opening – Ukraine (two points a turn, while it lasts) then drop down statuses and responses to hold off the inevitable (unless Operation Sea Lion starts, at which point you have to attack!)

Cards I like to discard – Usually a build army or even two (especially if you Asian Reserves!) Trans-Siberian railroad is a great late game card, but not worth holding early. Leningrad protects Russia, which is nice, but it’s no Ukraine or Moscow.

UK (5 Armies, 5 Navies, 2 AF)

(47 cards total, 5/5 A/N, 4/5 Land/Sea, 2 EW, 7 Event, 7 Status, 4 Resp, 3 AF, 5 Bolster)

Britannia rules the waves. So do that. Much like Italy, I find the UK fascinating. Russia has a grim situation, the US has to position it’s overwhelming force, but Britain can do lots of things. Try to spread out to score points. Harass Europe, slug with Japan. Build into the North Sea (after Scandinavia) and try to support the Soviet Union, particularly if you have Warsaw Uprising. (OK, that’s probably not good).

Interesting. Much like Italy, you’ll have to time your battles. The UK can rely on the US to give you a spare turn or sometimes build, so you’ll have that. You’ll want to play either Resistance (discard two to battle in W. Europe or Italy) or Rationing (discard a different card to put your played card on the bottom of the deck), both of which turn your spare cards into a huge asset, and typically mean that instead of 9 battles you have many more.

For Bomber Command, just trust me and Bomb Italy.

If you can drop a Navy (+AF) into the Mediterranean you’ll note only deny Italy points, you’ll practically ensure Europe’s fall. You only have to survive 4 sea battles there, max.

Typical Opening – Build Navy, then you may want to battle the med or seize N. Africa. If not, Dutch East Indies, Australia Forms the Directorate of Manpower or Lord Linlithgow Declares India to be at War all give you two more points a turn and put some pressure on Japan.

Cards I like to discard in the opening – Free France is similar to Resistance, but much inferior. In order to use it, you have to actually open up Western Europe. Ifyou can keep it empty for any length of time, the US can invade for you. Mackenzie King Drafts the National Resources Mobilization Act is just an inferior point card that doesn’t actually let you build, it takes too long. I’d only keep it if I had no other status/event that let me build in a remote supply center. General Smuts Strengthens Ties to UK has builds in typically mediocre places without providing supply. Singapore as well, but if you have Australia it’s great.

USA (5 armies, 5 Navies, 3 AF)

(50 cards total, 5/5 A/N, 4/4 Land/Sea, 5 EW, 8 Event, 9 Status, 0 Resp, 4 AF, 6 Bolster)

As the US, your job twofold: Second, win the endgame. First, ensure there will be an endgame.

Your goal is to put pressure on the Axis, and fast. The best way to do this is to play cards that help the UK or the USSR in the opening, and grab points. Sure, in the endgame the US Economic Warfare dominates, but with the expansion the game rarely lasts that long. Toss those to Rosie the Riveter, who lets you cycle cards. The US can often give it’s allies (particularly the UK) a turn. It’s wise to do it, particularly in the opening or when they can use a tempo. Once that’s done, see who you can attack first. Assuming you spend 1 turn helping allies and another getting the Western US, you attack Europe on turn 5. Japan takes longer (although if you have Fleet deployed to Pearl Harbor you can play it, then build a navy in the Pacific and then attack the sea of Japan on T5 … if your Navy is still around).

You shouldn’t entirely discount EW cards. Some turns you just have little to do. Probably it’s better to put down one of America’s great status cards, like Aircraft Carriers or Amphibious Landing (both turn a battle into a battle + build), Radar (save your ships) or Superior Shipyards/Wartime Production (double build). Since it takes you so long to attack the Axis, the slight delay for dropping a status or two will usually be canceled by the benefit before it matters.

The US also has a bit of a problem because of it’s distance. If you go for the Pacific you’ll need Hawaii and another forward base. That leaves you one army free (assuming you have two in the US). Presumably in Szechaun. You can’t afford to go placing armies wily-nily. If you go for Europe you can afford a few spaces.

The US also has 3 AF counters, and 4 AF cards, so feel free to sacrifice an air unit or two….

Side note –If the game balance does swing heavily towards the Allies, starting the US without it’s initial army may be a reasonable balance and is thematic.

Typical Opening – If you can’t give a critical tempo with Lend Lease, Murmansk, Arsenal of Democracy or Free French, build in the Western US (two more points a turn). American Volunteer Group Expands lets you build into Szechaun and count it as a supply center, two more points and attack Japan from the west. Pearl Harbor quickly gets you to Hawaii (rarely beyond, since Pearl Harbor‘s builds are in a specific order as per the FAQ). If you don’t get into Szechaun, you can go fight in Europe or the Pacific. If Russia is in trouble, you probably want to go to Europe. It will take you a long time to pressure Japan, but you can fight Germany quickly (if you can build two navies).

Cards I like to discard in the opening – Apart from EW cards (and P-51 Mustangs, an EW bolster card), Theater Shift (great late game card, but just useless for the first half, besides you can play Flexible Resources to pay 4 cards to play out of your discard pile later on). Patton Advances seems good, but remember you have to be adjacent to Western Europe, which also has to be open. Way too early for the opening hand.

Update (10/13) — Fixed the name of the space around the U.K. It’s the North Sea.

Written by taogaming

August 13, 2015 at 8:26 pm