Friday, 13 January 2012

Here I Stand

Plays: 3Px1.

My first game of Here I Stand took 9 hours, but I barely felt the time pass, or my hunger, until we forced ourselves to take a break to eat. I was ravenous when I noticed my hunger, and ate two servings. It was something cooked by Allen himself, so his wife would probably be shocked to learn that I had braved two servings. This is how absorbing the game is. Even afterwards I kept thinking about it.

The Game

Here I Stand is about the religious reformation in Europe, the rise of the Protestants. It is a Card Driven Game (CDG) and a wargame, designed for 6-players, and has the many aspects of multi-player conflict games - diplomacy, alliances, negotiations etc. The six factions are the Protestants, the Papacy, the English, the French, the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans. There are various non-player minor powers in the game, like Scotland, Venice, Austria-Hungary and Genoa. The main ways to win are gaining victory points (VP's) and conquering major cities (called keys). The six factions have very different ways of earning victory points.

The Protestants and the Papacy gain VP based on the religious beliefs of the locations on the map. Every city has two characteristics - what the main religion is and who has political control of the city - and they are independent of each other. E.g. technically Rome can convert to Protestanism while still under Papal rule. The Protestants gain VP for controlling Holy Roman Emperor (HRE) elector cities (all German), for Bible translation, and for disgracing Catholic debaters in religious debates. The Papacy can gain VP by building St Peter's Basilica and burning Protestant debaters as heretics. England gains VP by producing heirs, and by converting their cities to Protestanism. The game models King Henry VIII's progress from one wife to the next, each time hoping she will produce a healthy male heir. How's that for unusual? France builds art galleries for VP. The Ottomans do pirating for VP. The colonial powers (Hapsburgs, French, English) can do exploration, colonisation, and conquests to gain VP. Most powers also gain VP by conquering keys.

Game setup. The colours of the cities indicate the initial controlling power. Yellow is Hapsburgs, red is English, dark blue is French, dark green is Ottoman and purple is the Papacy. Grey is independent cities, i.e. they are up for grabs. Light blue is Scotland, pink is Genoa, orange is Venice, light green is Austria-Hungary. Squares are important cities, called keys, which are worth victory points. Circles are normal cities. 8-pointed stars are fortresses. The colour zones are language zones. Yellow is Spanish, blue is French, red is English, faded greyish brown is German, purple is Italian, natural coloured is other languages.

Components for the English player. Is this overwhelming or what. Later I discovered that some of these markers actually belong to the Protestant player, e.g. the English-speaking debaters in the top row (white square markers with a red strip on top).

The player mat for England summarises the actions available to the English player and the action costs. The starting monarch is Henry VIII, and he can be replaced by new monarchs. The marital status track shows that he is currently married to his first wife. All the pink counters are his potential future wives. The square markers are used for marking keys controlled by the English player. At this moment the English already controls four keys, so four markers have been placed on the map. When a fifth key is conquered, the next marker will be moved to the board, revealing the space on the mat, which may give more VP and 1 more card draw.

There is a separate sheet for recording the Protestant vs Papacy struggle. These counters are debaters. Papal debaters have a purple stripe and they are multi-lingual. Protestant debaters speak either German (brown), English (red, and I only have one now), or French (none yet). The partially shown Protestant Spaces Track below is for marking the number of Protestant cities. It indicates how many VP's the Protestants and the Papacy get.

Things that the factions can do differ and reflect history. Events on the cards, some mandatory, guide the game to develop in a generally historically plausible direction. They also force important historical events to occur, although sequence and timing may deviate from history, e.g. new monarchs, and the creation of a Protestant state (actually an alliance of German cities).

This being a CDG, on your turn you always play a card, to either use the number on it (ops value) to do actions your faction can do, or trigger the event on the card. Some events impact only one or a few factions. When you get something that doesn't impact you, you can still use it for negotiation, either threatening to unleash a bad card, or fishing for a good deal using a good card.

The Play

First, sorry Afif, I had planned to rope you in for a game, but this session was arranged quite last minute, and I decided to be less ambitious and stick to a 3-player game and not try to shoot for 6 players. The game is playable 3 to 6, but is recommended for 3 or 6.

Han, Allen and I played this at Allen's place. As Allen and I started the setup, his father-in-law looked for a while, and gently commented, "This is a game for professionals" before leaving us to our crazy endeavour. Han played the Ottomans and the French, Allen the Hapsburgs and the Papacy, and I the English and the Protestants. We made quite a lot of rules mistakes, discovering and correcting some during the game, and realising some only after the game. But we did get a good feel of the game. Well, after spending 9 hours on it, there is no excuse for not doing so.

As King Henry VIII of the English, in the early game I tried to focus my energy on, ahem, producing a healthy heir. By default the English is headed for disaster, in having Queen Mary I as the next ruler. She is a devout Catholic and supports the Papacy, and if she comes into power, the English will suffer many disadvantages, including difficulties in converting to Protestanism, which is one of the ways the English earns VP. To steer the English away from this fate, I needed to be "productive". If I was half successful, I would at least get Queen Elizabeth I to succeed Queen Mary I and try to undo the damage. In the best case, I'd get a healthy King Edward VI, and Queen Mary I would never come to the throne. I managed to persuade the Papacy (Allen) to grant me a divorce with my first wife, which helped speed things up a little in my progression to subsequent wives and thus attempts at a good heir. I eventually succeeded in achieving the best result with wife #4. So no wife #5 or #6 as per history. Staying focused on switching wives was no easy feat, because this required using a very powerful Home Card (a permanent card held by a faction), which could otherwise be used for many other things. It was worth 5 ops points. While making babies, I had a modest secondary goal of subduing Scotland. I managed to strike a deal with the French (Han) to not interfere. It required me to declare war on the Hapsburgs (Allen), but I thought since I was protected by the English Channel, I would be quite safe. Unfortunately my campaign into Scotland was much more costly and took much longer than I had expected, mostly due to Allen playing the Unsanitary Camp card on me. A third of my troops died of diarrhea. Owww...! Allen managed to draw this Unsanitary Camp card 5 out of 6 game turns that we played! Han and I took turns to suffer diarrhea. Baaad...

How many games can boast a Henry's Wives' Pregnancy Chart? You roll a die every time Henry VIII marries a new wife, hoping to get a big number. Once you achieve the best result (healthy baby boy), Henry VIII remarries no more, which is the case in this photo.

The Henry's Marital Status marker will progress no further. Since I have conquered Edinburgh, a key, the fifth key space is revealed because I have moved the square marker onto Edinburgh.

The English did not do much other fighting. Partly because of diarrhea, and partly because later on they focused on converting to Protestanism. Since my other faction was the Protestants, the English proactively doing conversion also helped me. Playing as the Protestants, I had no country and no political control markers on the board at the start of the game. I could gain troops by converting HRE elector cities, but they couldn't move or attack or be attacked. My starting area, Germany, was all Hapsburgs-controlled politically. I knew that there was a Schmalkaldic League event that would establish a Protestant country sooner or later, which would create a state of war between me and both the Hapsburgs and the Papacy, so I tried to delay this event by being less aggressive in converting cities to Protestanism. The event required at least 12 Protestant cities, so I tried to stay just below that. I kept myself busy with Bible translation work, and with converting the 6 elector cities. Bible translation was slow, but whenever the New Testament was fully translated, or the Full Bible was translated, the Protestants gained a bunch of conversion attempts. I managed to delay the Schmalkaldic League event until the last possible moment, buying myself much time to prepare for it. However once the Protestant country was born, the Hapsburgs (Allen) came knocking. I did not have many troops and had a tough time holding them back. Now I realise it's partly because I had forgotten to add two army generals that should have come with this event.

The Protestants have converted all six HRE elector cities to Protestanism. Once converted, they gain some soldiers. The Reformation starts in Wittenberg, which is where Martin Luther (brown counter) is. Cities which have converted to Protestanism get their marker flipped to the white-centre side, e.g. Lubeck, Magdeburg, Leipzig and Worms in this photo.

The Schmalkaldic League event has occurred, and the Protestants have a state now. We played one rule wrong here. German cities that are still Catholic (e.g. Regensburg and Salzburg) should have stayed under political control of the Hapsburgs and not switched to Protestant political control.

The Hapburgs (Allen), French (Han) and Ottomans (Han) did much fighting. Han was aggressive in conquering keys. Using the Ottomans he also did piracy. The Hapsburgs were rich (had many cards), and were good at colonising and conquering, but the challenge for them was fighting multi-front wars. The French (Han) harassed them at the French-Spanish border and along the French-German-Belgian borders. After the Ottomans (Han) defeated Austria-Hungary, the Hapsburgs automatically intervened and had to fight that front too to protect their second capital Vienna. All-in-all, the Hapsburgs were kept rather busy.

The Ottomans are the only power which can build corsairs and can conduct piracy.

A big battle in south eastern France between the French and the Hapsburgs. Units in silhouettes are mercenaries. They are cheaper to recruit, but many event cards affect them, so it is more risky to use them.

The Papacy (Allen) spent time building St Peter's Basilica, and was particularly fond of initiating theological debates with me. I, as the Protestants, could not ignore the challenge and initiated some debates myself. Debates were risky business and the rewards were often not much, unless the victory was so overwhelming that the Catholic debater burned the Protestant debater as a heretic, or the Protestant debater disgraced the Catholic debater into retirement. Then the victor would earn VP. In the early game the Protestant debaters were overall smarter, and only in the later game the Papacy gained more debaters and the two sides became more equally matched. In total Allen managed to burn 3 of my debaters, leveraging his advantage that his Catholic debaters were multi-lingual, whereas my Protestant debaters were split into 3 language groups - German, French and English. I only managed to disgrace one Catholic debater. The Papacy could raise armies, but did not do much militarily. Allen focused on the religious battle against me.

The Ottomans (Han) were militaristic and this suited Han's style well. The Hapsburgs' (Allen) committed defense of Vienna halted his advance, so he switched his efforts to piracy in the Mediterranean and sending Suleiman (his Sultan and an exceptional general) to battle in Spain and Italy. The Ottomans even managed to conquer Barcelona, a key. The French under Han's control turned out to be less civilised than their historical version, never building any art galleries and instead went about fighting wars, expanding their borders. They conquered Genoa (a minor power), and even invaded Italy. The Papacy (Allen) did not excommunicate the French king. I think Allen just forgot, since he was so busy with his Hapsburgs. But he did remember to excommunicate my English King Henry VIII, the moment that London converted to Protestanism. Grumble grumble. I guess to the Papacy the religious war was more important than lowly earthly wars.

Enemy at the gates. Sultan Suleiman of the Ottomans is knocking at Vienna's door, but Charles V of the Hapsburgs have come to its defense.

The French (blue) invaded Italy to grab some of the keys (Milan and Florence).

The diplomatic status display. So many wars in progress now. The numbers in the table are ops points costs to declare war, which depend on who the two parties are. E.g. it is very costly for the Papacy and the Hapsburgs to declare war on each other because they have a close relationship.

The Ottomans have conquered Barcelona, and are now attacking Seville. The French are also advancing into Spain from the north.

By game turn 6, the Protestants approached 25VP, which was one of the winning criteria. With the English (me) performing conversion in English speaking cities, while the Protestants (also me) did conversion in French and German speaking cities, I was able to push beyond 25VP, so that even if the Papacy managed to Counter-Reform some of the cities, at worst I would fall back to 25VP at the end of this game turn. The other faction approaching victory was the Ottomans, but it was a different victory condition that Han was shooting for. If he could conquer just one more key, he would achieve an instant military victory. That last key he needed was Rome itself, the capital of the Papacy! It all came down to one final dice throw... and boom! Rome fell to Sultan Suleiman, a much more impressive victory than capturing Vienna, which in history the Ottomans tried but failed.

Protestanism has spread in England and eastern France. The Ottoman army was beaten back from Spain, but they still had a token force holding Barcelona. The main Ottoman army is now invading Italy. The French have conquered Genoa (pink square now with a blue square marker on it). A Hapsburg army is now attacking the weakly defended Protestant cities in Germany. Edinburgh in Scotland has been conquered by the English.

The Papacy has taken Florence and driven out the French, but the Ottomans have landed in Ravenna, and conquered it from the Papacy.

The Ottomans preparing to attack Rome.

Rome falls to the Ottomans.

The VP chart when the game ended. Hapsburgs 14, Papacy 16, English 21, French 22, Ottomans 23, Protestants 25.

The Thoughts

Here I Stand is a very engrossing game. It is an ambitious design, and its scope is wide. It takes much time investment, not just in playing the game, but also in reading the rules beforehand. I don't think this is a game that you can teach someone else. Whoever wants to play must read the rules himself. There are many rules, but none is very complicated. It's just that there are so many rules you shouldn't expect to remember all. Just keep the rulebook handy when you play. The player aids are not just helpful reminders. They are necessities. One good tip to learn the game and to gain a clear overview is to read the 20-minutes overview article which can be found at www.boardgamegeek.com.

Playing Here I Stand made me think of a number of things. Do I play games for the fun experience or for the intellectual competition? How much luck is acceptable in a complex game? How much luck is tolerable in a 9-hour long game? In Here I Stand there is luck in the card draw (e.g. the Unsanitary Camp that Allen unleashed on Han and I turn after turn) and there is luck in die rolls. Many important events and battles hinge on drawing the right card or getting the required die roll. There are many events throughout the game so you can say that the luck in both card draws and die rolls evens out eventually, but I still feel that despite your best preparations, there is always a luck factor that you are dependent on. To my own surprise, I still enjoyed the game immensely, despite the diarrhea my soldiers suffered. There are still many decisions you need to make, and there is much you can do to work towards victory and to improve your chances of success. There is a Chinese saying, that it is for man to plan, but for heavens to grant success (谋事在人,成事在天).

We did a 3-player game, but I can see that the 6-player game would be the most interesting, because there would be more negotiations and interactions among players, and there won't be pairs of factions automatically being allied to each other. The English would have a dilemma when converting to Protestanism, because by doing so they would be helping the Protestants. In our game we intentionally avoided some actions which would not make sense thematically, although not forbidden by the rules, e.g. the French making an attack for the sake of helping the Ottomans on their next turn. However the 6-player game will likely take longer because of the increased negotiations, especially if players want to make secret discussions away from the table, which the rules allow.

Here I Stand is immersive and rewarding. Due to the width it is trying to cover, not all aspects can be presented in detail and some are more abstracted than others, e.g. the exploration, colonisation and conquest aspect. Some aspects are abstracted into a single event card, e.g. a revolt in Egypt. This means sometimes the outcome of an event comes down to a die roll. This is something you need to be ready to accept, knowing that in the wider scheme of things, a few bad rolls will not completely kill you, and there is still the multiplayer diplomacy aspect that you need to use to your advantage, e.g. allying with others to get your enemy off your back. In this sense multiplayer games are self-balancing. Everyone can try to work together to drag down an obvious leader.

The exploration, colonisation and conquests in the new world are more abstracted. The English (red) has explored the Mississippi River. The Hapsburgs (yellow) have explored St. Lawrence River and conquered the Inca. The French (blue) has circumnavigated the globe.

The Revolt in Egypt card is an abstraction of an off-board event impacting the Ottoman. The Ottomans are forced to commit soldiers to this card until the revolt is put down.

The CDG system works very well here. When you get your hand of cards, how do you make the most of the event cards, and how do you make the most of the ops points that you get. Do you use the event or the ops points? You have plenty of choices and also plenty of hard decisions. Even declaring war is no simple matter. It costs ops points, and you can only do it during a diplomacy phase, not any time you like. No sneaky betrayals.

I am reminded of a PC game that I used to play, Europa Universalis II. The PC games covers an even longer period, and also has events which make the game very rich in historical detail. Now I am tempted to boot up this old game again.


Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).


10 comments:

Jason said...

Certainly looks like its not for the timid! Sometimes I wish I had the time and right gaming group to try this one out. Always fascinated by this period of history. Oh, well... Excellent write-up!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thanks. Indeed Here I Stand requires at least 3 dedicated players who are able to spend the time to read the rules and to set aside 8-10 hours for the first game. It is still not as good as 6 players, but plays well enough.

Afif Ter said...

still need to finish a game

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Afif, when was the previous time that you played? How many game turns did you guys manage to do and in how much time?

kostas said...

You mention that your 3P game lasted 9 hours. How do you estimate a 3P to last after some plays?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hard to say since I've only ever played one game, and it's 2 years ago. But I'm guessing it probably will still take at least 6hrs.

kostas said...

This is really pity. I would love to play this game, we could easily make it 6P on the table, but the time limit is absolutely discouraging. Do you have any suggestions, for multiplayer diplomacy/wargame(last weeks we enjoy the 2nd edition of GoT plus we LOVE Maria)?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Successors is not bad. I have written about it and you can search for it at my blog.

If you love Maria, you have probably heard of Frederich, by the same designer.

I would still encourage you to try Here I Stand. On BGG there are some useful rule summaries and overviews. None of the rules are very complex. It's just that there are so many aspects to the game. If everyone reads the rules beforehand, it will help. Having one person teach the game to the rest will take a lot of time. It's just a one day activity, so if you plan it around a public holiday it should be manageable. When I played, I was very engaged throughout the game and I barely felt the time pass. It is a very immersive and satisfying experience.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a regular group play in Peru, SA. Lasta game lasted for 10 hours straight (no lunch time break) and the game finished at the end of turn 7.

The papacy won that game due to a luck set of cards (which allowed to ally with both >Venice and Genoa) and change boats for cards with the Hapsburg allied.

It is indeed a great game and my group is still learning and improving so we can also play Virgin Queen.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hello Peru! Glad to hear from a fellow gamer from the other side of the globe. Good to know you had a great time with the game. I still have not played Here I Stand for a second time. Maybe something I should plan for. My friend has bought Virgin Queen too, but it's still sitting on his shelf.