Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Next Game Coming Up: Here I Stand

The next game we will take a look at is Here I Stand:Wars of the Reformation designed by Ed Beach and published by GMT Games.  Commonly called by just the first three words: Here I Stand and is often abbreviated HIS.

Box Art
HIS is a wonderful game which captures the sweep and grandeur of the history of the 1500's.  It covers the complex political, religious, and fundamental changes going on at this time.  It is by no means a simple game, but it is one which leaves you with a better understanding of what happened and why.

When I saw this game sitting on the shelf, I read the title and said to myself, "Wars of the Reformation? Now that sounds unexciting".  Months later, seeing the game laid out on the table with all of the counters and cards, it hearkened back to the hex-and-counter games of old.  I passed it up as an "Advance Squad Leader" style in the 1500s.  ASL was a game I enjoyed when a teenager, but it quickly became a "game of mathematics" as opposed to a "game of fun".

A buddy of mine continued to promote Here I Stand as a great game and so I agreed, having forgotten what it was.  He spoke of asymmetrical objectives, multiple win conditions, and to that I agreed.  Seeing the game laid out did not entice me too much, but after my first two turns I was hooked!


Europe: a hotbed of Intrigue, double cross, and deception
The appeal of HIS involves the interactions of the various players and sides.  Each side is attempting to gain victory points, but they do so in different ways.  Protestants want to spread their reforms, while the Papacy is trying to keep things the same.  The Hapsburgs are a superpower controlling almost all of Europe, with the exception of France and England.  Their size is both their strength and their weakness.   France is fighting a war to regain the city of Naples and finds itself at war with a weakly unified Italy.  England just wants an heir to his throne.  Meanwhile, the Ottoman empire has risen to power in the East and threatens to consume all of Europe.  And then there was the discovery of the New World and with it came the possibilities of untold wealth and glory.

It is on this tapestry the players find themselves controlling their nation, vying to maintain a balance between their various enemies while seeking an edge.  Each player must use everything in their bag of tricks to win.  Diplomacy, deception, and military might all play their part, as does the very geography of the country.

In short, HIS will take all day to play.  But after a single play I left with a hunger not only to play it again, but to learn more about the characters, events and history behind this incredibly mesmerizing and involved game.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Through The Ages - Card - Hammurabi

This is a series of blogs written about each card in Through The Ages.  To find more, simply click on "Cards" label.
Hammurabi was the sixth 'Priest King' of Babylon and ruled most of central Mesopotamia (the modern day Iraq region).  He is most famous for his 'Code of Hammurabi', which was one of the first set of laws to be written down.  The 'Laws' were etched in giant stone columns called Stele, and many exist to this day.

Hammurabi rose to power around 1792 BC when his father abdicated the throne.  For many years Hammurabi ruled his country with a drive towards fairness, although there were many tribulations from floods and other natural occurrences.

His country was invaded by the country of Elam, but he managed to repulse the invaders.  During the war, he made an agreement with the people of Larsa to the south, but they failed to live up to their end of the bargain.  Hammurabi exacted revenge by attacking Larsa once Elam was defeated, expanding his country all the way to the sea.

Hammurabi's code of laws was discovered in 1901.  The Stele on which they were written had 282 judgements, although it is suspected this was only one of at least 6 Steles.  The laws are written in If...Then statements such as "If man steals an Ox, then he must pay back 30 times its value".

Hammurabi was not the first to have laws written down, later discoveries showed other cultures had performed the same action hundreds of years prior.  By the time these were discovered, Hammurabi's name had become widespread.  Furthermore, Hammurabi's code had written a saying attributed to him which showed he valued the concept of justice, even if there were still class differences in the laws between Freedmen, Royalty, and slave: "to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak and to see that justice is done to widows and orphans."
Game Stats
Hammurabi has what appears to be a decent trade off so early in the game: Gain one civil action for the loss of a military action.  Although it appears good, it is deceptive and is actually a very poor trade.
Strategies, Combos and Opinions
The major problem with Hammurabi is really one of timing.  This early in the game players do not need another Civil Action (CA) and they can't withstand the loss of a Military Action (MA).  Let's view it from both sides.

First, the Civil Action gain comes at a point in the game when the player has fewer resources with which to use the Civil Action.  Many times when he is played, the players end up ending their turn with an unused Civil Action.  For at least the first four turns there is an 80% likelihood the player with Hammurabi will end at least once with a Civil Action, and there is a 60% likelihood the player will pass twice with an unused Civil Action.  Furthermore, research shows players tend to choose more cards and hold them in hand if they choose Hammurabi, resulting in increased probability of "Science Lock".  So, the extra Civil Action looks nice, but is really not that useful.

Second,the loss of a Military Action is devastating.  The player with Hammurabi draws only one military card a turn.  This opens the player up to being the target of military attacks by the other players.  The odds are greatly in favor of the attacker as the Hammurabi player only has a single card, and the probability of a single card being a "Defense" card are low.  Even if the card is a Defense card, the next player in order will succeed if the first player's attack fails.

I have a gut feeling Hammurabi's trade off is ill-timed.  Perhaps later in the game such a trade would be worthwhile, but early in the game this is crippling.  The extra Civil Action proves to not be worthwhile while the loss of a Military actions stifles the ability for the nation to adequately protect itself.  In short, Hammurabi is best avoided.  The only major surprise for me was how well he performed against other leaders overall.



Monday, February 18, 2013

Through The Ages - Card - Homer

This is a series of blogs written about each card in Through The Ages.  To find more, simply click on "Cards" label.

Homer famously wrote to pieces of literature which defined Western Civilization: The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Exactly when he lived and much of his life lies in mystery.  He was born sometime before 800 BC, possibly as far back as 1200 BC.  There even remains the possibility the figure of "Homer" never existed, although obviously someone wrote the poems.

Whomever Homer was, and whatever his life may have been, the two epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey shaped Greek Culture tremendously.  These two poems laid down the foundation of Western Civilization and expansion.

Homer's contribution to Western Civilization is practically limitless.  The two epic poems are still studied today in Western literature.  In modern cultures we have made movies and TV Shows based off the stories or the characters in them.  Though Homer may remain unknown to us, his greatest works live on.
Game Stats
As a card, Homer is not particularly impressive.  He remains in the lower half of popularity.  he

Homer, more so than other Age A leaders, is one I want to like but can't.  He just falls somewhat short.  The card appears to tackle two big problems at once: boosting military strength and providing culture.  However, like most Age A leaders, it is too early for both.  Players need to concentrate on their economy in the first Age, and Homer provides a distraction from that goal.  He diverts resources to the military when it is needed the least.

One benefit of Homer is he does help to counter Julius Caesar's military aspect.  However, Homer's ability to provide culture increases the likelihood the player is to be targeted by culture actions later in the game.  As a card, Homer is lackluster.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Through The Ages - Cards - Aristotle

This is a series of blogs written about each card in Through The Ages.  To find more, simply click on "Cards" label.
Aristotle was a Greek Philosopher who lived from 384 to 322 BC.  His area of expertise expanded many different areas, from the physical sciences and logic to art and theology.  It is hard to determine his primary influence, as he influenced nearly all areas of study.  Some of his biological studies were not confirmed until the 19th century.

Born in 384 BC to the court physician in Stageira, Thrace, he eventually traveled to Athens to study at Plato's Academy.  For 20 years he stayed at the Academy, eventually becoming a teacher.  After the death of Plato, Aristotle left Athens, becoming the court philosopher for Assos, Asia Minor.  There he married the king's daughter Pythias and they eventually had a daughter (also named Pythias).  Five years later the King was killed in battle and Aristotle was summoned by the king of Macedon, Philip II to tutor his children.  Philip II would be the king that built the Macedonian Army, and his son became Alexander the Great.

After 10 years, Alexander rose to the throne, and Aristotle took his leave.  He returned to Athens and founded his own school, the Lyceum.  The Lyceum was a school where Aristotle instructed the next generation of philosophers, though Lyceum would fade away in the shadow of the Academy.  Aristotle died in 322 BC.

It is believed Aristotle wrote over 150 treatise on various topics.  Only about a third or so made it to our age.  His primary belief was the world could be understood through physical examination of the world.  His teachings were praised by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars.  Unfortunately, religious dogma being what it is, any new idea which contradicted Aristotle became heresy.  Although Aristotle greatly advanced human progress, particularly in the West, this religious dogma would slow down the advancement of new ideas of others.

Game Stats

Aristotle is one of the most popular leaders.  His ability to jump start the science economy can be a great bonus as it sets the player up for later in the game.

Personally, I prefer Aristotle over Julius Caesar.  Caesar improves the likelihood of drawing a military card, but does not guarantee the card draw.  Aristotle permits the player to learn key technologies, providing flexibility to the player's available actions.  With Aristotle a player is less likely to suffer from Science Lock, and can implement technologies which provide the same benefit as Caesar, but for the remainder of the game.


Through The Ages - Card: Fast Food Chains

This is a series of blogs written about each card in Through The Ages.  To find more, simply click on "Cards" label.

Fast Food Chains

Prior to the development of fast food chains, restaurants catered to travelers and tourists.  In 1916 A&W opened a new type of restaurant with a different target market.  A&W offered food served quickly at a relatively cheap cost, but most importantly it targeted people who lived in the area and provided repeat business.  In 1921 White Castle took the idea a step further and provided pre-cooked food which was made in an assembly line manner and targeted the same market.  Technically, this makes White Castle the first "Fast Food Restaurant".

In 1948 two brothers opened the first of what would quickly become the largest restaurant chain in the world: McDonalds.  Restaurants in other food styles quickly followed suit.  Within a decade Fast Food became a thriving new business.

Fast Food Chains provided not only meals, but also carried with it a "unified cultural experience".  Anywhere within the country it is possible to rely on a specific chain to provide a meal which provides a uniform taste and style.  Lastly, with success comes expansion.  Today most countries have some form of Fast Food Chain, and along with it they carry the consistent business practices of their particular chain. 
Game Stats
Fast Food Chains and First Space Flight have much in common, except for popularity.  Fast Food Chains is more popular, despite providing less culture on average.  Other than that, it provides the same type of security blanket in it ensures the person maintains their position.
Strategies, Combos and Opinions
Being a purely culture generated "end game" card, there are no combinations for this card beyond the obvious.
Much like First Space Flight, by the time Fast Food Chains makes an appearance, the winner has already been decided (the player leading by end of Age II wins).  Fast Food Chains simply secures the win for the player.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Through The Ages - Card: First Space Flight

This is a series of blogs written about each card in Through The Ages.  To find more, simply click on "Cards" label.

First Space Flight

The drive to reach space and see what is out there seems to be a primal drive in the human race.  In 1957 Russia hoisted a satellite into earth orbit: Sputnik 1.  However, Sputnik 1 not only launched a piece of metal into orbit, it launched two great superpowers into a race.  The Soviet Union and the United States were pitted against each in a race for dominance of the skies.  Who would be the first to make it away from our home planet.

The United States initiated crash course program with two aims: put a man into orbit, and to do it before the Soviet Union.  With an emphasis on speed, they named the program: Project Mercury.  Begun in 1958, the Project worked at breakneck speed to design, test and prepare a human for space flight.  The rocket was designed in less than a year.  Manufacturing, testing and assembly began shortly thereafter.  On May 5, 1961 the program achieved its first goal of putting a man into space.

But the program failed to beat the Soviets.

Unlike the US, the Soviets classified their rocketry program under military objectives.  As such, they were worked on in secret and many results were not disclosed except for success.  In particular, setbacks were kept hidden and not realized until after Mikhail Gorbachev released them with his "Glasnost".

Despite their secretive nature, the Soviets overcame the same hurdles the US did and more.  A month after Sputnik 1, on Nov. 3, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with the first recorded animal on board, a dog named Laika.  Their success showed human flight was possible, but it also showed Space Travel was fraught with danger.  Due to an equipment failure, Laika overheated and died in space, becoming the first casualty of Space Exploration.
Picture of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin -  First Human in Space
(courtesy of NASA Archives)

On April 12, 1961, less than a month before the first US manned space flight, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin achieved earth orbit and returned to land intact.  And so with the launch of Vostok 1, the Soviet's "won" the race to space.  Yuri circled the earth only once, but he did so at an altitude of over 200 miles.

Although our story ends here, the Space Race grew and expanded beyond the simple "First Space Flight".  It became a race to the moon, to establish a space station in space, and from there... who knows?  As a record of note, the picture on the card is of the Space Shuttle, which was not built until 30 years after Yuri's historic flight.
Game Stats
This card generates the most average culture of all the Age III wonders.  Despite this, it is the second most popular Age III wonder, losing out to Fast Food Chains.  This is interesting because looking at the charge below, First Space Flight provides a 74% chance the player is in first or second place, whereas Fast Food Chain is only 60%.  From this and our previous analysis, we can determine First Space Flight is mostly chosen by the player in 1st or 2nd place.
Strategies, Combos and Opinions
Being a purely culture generated "end game" card, there are no combinations for this card beyond the obvious.
It is important to realize the card counts all technology cards.  This is all cards which were "bought" with Science and are still in play.  Thus, government cards, military technologies, and building upgrades all count towards this score.  Unfortunately, as seen by our previous analysis, by this time the gains from First Space Flight are not significant.  In other words, they secure the player's position, but rarely decide the winner.  First Space Flight, if your in the lead in Culture, should you secure the win.  If not in the lead, it is unlikely to put you in the lead, but it is likely to boost your final positioning.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Through The Ages - Final?

For all of my readers, thank you for bearing with me for this long dissertation of Through The Ages.  At this point I'm not certain I have much more to add.  If there is a specific item you would like to see more information on, please email me or leave a comment and I'll expound on it.

Lastly, I will be moving on to a different game.  Not sure which game it will be.  I'm thinking either Here I Stand:Wars of the Reformation, or Chaos in the Old World.  Both of these are asymmetrical games, with each player having either different units, or different objectives.   Do you have a preference?

This game and its analysis was an arduous task, but one I enjoyed.  I've seen my page views increase from just a few hundred, to several thousand.  I want to thank you all for hanging in there with me.  I also appreciate all the comments and feedback I've received, plus a correction to a few mistakes.  In fact, I have one I need to fix right now.

Let me know your thoughts and what game(s) you'd like me to discuss next.

At Your Service,

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Through The Ages - Part XXIV - Strategy: Managing Your Hand

Managing the Hand

Managing your hand is a major consideration in Through The Ages.  The Military hand is relatively easy to manage, the only decision is which cards to discard.  However, in the Civil cards, there are are several considerations.

The Card Row is across the top
First is the Hand size limit.  At the beginning of the game, and most likely until the third turn, every player will have equal hand size.

Second is managing card balance in the hand size.  In particular, to avoid ending up in Science Lock.

Hand Size Limit

A player's hand size equals the player's civil actions, with a few exceptions based on Leaders and Wonders.  For most players this will equal four or five cards, even after Pyramids or Hannibal are in play.  The special technologies Code of Laws can also generate an early card slot.

Governments dictate Civil Actions
which drives Hand Size
About midpoint in the game players will begin learning better governments, which will increase the hand size.  Prior to that point, players are subject to a very constricted hand size.  This is compounded by a limited Science Output.

Special Case Leaders

A few leaders, such as Isaac Newton and Michelangelo, affect the number of actions a player may take in a turn, but they do not impact hand size.  As such, they are out of discussion for most of this article.

Science Lock

Breakthrough requires the
Science, but generates a
decent amount in return.
One ailment, particularly among new players, is the so called "Science Lock".  A player chooses too many technologies and then does not have the science to play them.  If too many cards are kept in hand, the problem is the player cannot choose a card they critically need.  In many cases, I would say it is better to forgo taking a card completely rather than taking a card which will cause Science Lock.

The main reason for this is the player is now at the mercy of the other players.  Whereas a well chosen "Breakthrough" or "Revolutionary Idea" would provide enough Science Points to get the cards in play, most experienced players will take these cards for 2 actions if it prevents another player from escaping Science Lock.  Furthermore, many players will begin initiating military Raids which force the player to either divert resources to build the military, or destroy science facilities.

The aim of these players is to force the player to enter the next Age with a handful of cards and now means of getting them into play.  When everyone else is able to begin taking the Level II artillery, the Science Lock player is struggling to still get rid of the Level I technologies, and the other players are moving on to better things.

Escaping Death Spiral

Rev. Idea would provide
escape from Science
Lock, but only if there
is room in hand to take it.
If left unchecked, Science Lock quickly leads to a Death Spiral.  The player cannot build new technologies, which means better units and production.  The other players will rapidly outpace them, and the player is left defending their homeland with Warriors while everyone else has Tanks.

When the game enters a new Age, the cards from two Ages past are discarded.  This may seem to provide a player an "out" from Science Lock, but in reality it is too far gone by that time.  The other players' economies and military have taken off to a point unreachable by the Locked player.

An Alternate Veiwpoint

Another way of viewing Science Lock is if the player must discard cards when an Age expires, each of those cards represents a loss of at least one Action Point.  This is because the player had to choose the card in the first place, but the player gains no direct benefit from it.  For a Science Locked player, this usually means three or four cards will be lost, effectively putting the player a full turn behind everyone else.

End Game Hand Management

Towards the end of the game a different situation will occur.  Players may not have enough Science to play cards, but keeping a card out of another player's hand will prevent them from playing the card.  In this case the player doesn't have to worry as much about Science Lock.  In fact, taking all these cards will accelerate the end of the game, giving the other player's less time to get cards into play.

This is one of the main reasons the last Age of the game takes only half the number of rounds as the first Age.  By this time the players have built a science economy to get cards into play and are willing to fill their hands with cards to speed up the end of the game.  In most cases, longer games benefit those who are behind in culture the opportunity to catch up.  If in the lead it is best for the player to end the game as quickly as possible.

A Good Balance

Code of Laws gives
a Civil Action, and
a card increase
Justice System replaces
Code of Laws, but learning
both requires 13 Science,
Is that Worth it?
 How many cards should a player have in their hand?  I tend to believe no more than half of the cards in a player's hand should be technology cards.  Furthermore, the player should always leave one card slot open.  In this way the player could still take a leader card and play it in the same round, emptying the players hand.  Only if the player can foresee no useful cards in the card row should the player consider filling their hand with an extra Yellow Card or two.

Lastly, choose cards wisely.  Selecting an Age I technology and then choosing an Age II technology of the same type is wasteful.  If the player manages to get Age II tech into play, the Age I technology is simply sitting there taking up space.  If the player puts the Age I card into play and later "upgrades" to the same Age II card, it represents a great expenditure of Science for little gain.  This is particularly true of Blue Technologies which replace the previous Blue Tech of the same type.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Through The Ages - Card: Internet

NOTE:  Special thanks to Nick Page ( for pointing out this blog was not completed.  Good job!

This is a series of blogs written about each card in Through The Ages.  To find more, simply click on "Cards" label.


The Internet's history is linked closely to the electronic computer.  Computers grew to fruition during World War II as cryptographic code breaking tools.  It wasn't until the 1950's that networked computers were introduced, albeit they were very limited.

The biggest challenge of networked computers is not the hardware, but the software.  How to create a reliable network with failsafe redundancies capable of transmitting large amounts of data to any location in the world?  At first, just linking two computers together seemed like a giant leap.  Later they were added, for lack of a better term, "in serial": one computer was linked to two other computers, which were in turn linked to another computer, and so on.  To send a message from one terminal to another required passing through every linked computer.  Furthermore, the entire message had to go before the next message could be sent.

But things would change rapidly in the 1980's and 1990's.  Internet protocols were established.  Packet filtering, Addressing systems and routers were developed.  Networking systems rose and fell within years: ARPANET, NSFNET, CSNET arrived and vanished.  But each modified the way the next network would be built.

In mid-1990's restrictions on who could use the Internet backbone were removed, and the world changed.  Today the internet permits information to travel around the world quickly and easily.  Nations are stuck in a dichotomy of trying to suppress the internet, and at the same time risk falling behind by ignoring it.  Those that want to suppress it find their people come up with new ways to bypass the restrictions, forcing them to acknowledge embarrassing or unsavory events.

Electronic Commerce (e-commerce) permits fast and efficient ordering of products online, as well as the comparison of competing products.  People have created social networks, online learning systems, and freedom of expression.

The history of the Internet is being written now, so measuring its impact is nearly impossible.  All we truly know is the impact is great in just the past 15 years.  Where will it end?
Game Stats

In Game Terms the Internet is not the most popular Wonder, being played in less than 50% of the games.  Still, the Internet generates 21 culture on average, which is puts it in the 6th most cutlture generating position

Strategies, Combos and Opinions
Strategies & Combinations
Given Internet is an End of Game Wonder, there are no real strategy except to boost your labs and libraries

Internet is a good End of Game Wonder in my opinion.  I believe its biggest issue is the cost of building both Libraries and Labs.  However, both of these are critical science revenues and a player is almost assured to have one or the other.  Given they are labs and libraries, it is unlikely a player has both to a great degree.

This card may do well in a "Shakespeare" culture strategy, if it survives the inevitable attacks against it.  Unfortunately, the culture strategy is fairly weak militarily, making it a prime target from other powers.  If a player were to attempt such a strategy, it would be better to take cards to end the game quickly than to complete this Wonder as it would give the other player's less time to catch up.