Stronghold: The Misplaying

Jon-boy and I tried out Stronghold, 2nd Ed. Saturday night.  Overall, the game is fantastic.  I loved the asymmetrical play, and we both discovered more and more depth to the play styles of each side and the game itself as the game progressed.  Unfortunately, there were a TON of mis-plays and even more rules lookups.  I think the game took us a total of 4 hours play time including set-up.  We used Watch it Played’s video to aid with set-up, and that did help inform me about a lot of rules beforehand, but that didn’t stop us from misplaying a TON over the course of the game, including the win conditions themselves.

After being slaughtered by arrows and cannons, and being consistently malfunctioned on my siege machines, I did eventually mount a double-maneuver phase, attacking both far flank sections as well as the two front sections on the attacker’s left in a final push.  I used all of my orders, though one of them was nuked by Jon’s defender action, but it was fun watching him outguess me, as he knew I’d be trying to blow up his walls with my orcs and goblin fury through his defences somewhere in the midst of my four fronts.  He ended up choosing incorrectly, and my goblins (including some marauders brought in from the woods) were able to punch a hole and win.

Now, the misplays:

I think I’ve cleared all of these up after visiting a bunch, checking the FAQ, rematching Watch It Played, and re-reading the 1.3 rulebook (I think mine is 1.2 despite my copy being brand new.)

The biggest misplay/misunderstanding was in the victory condition.  I somehow read it as being that the attacker needed Advantage of a number higher than the defending strength (not just units), when now I see that it is MUCH easier than that for the attacker to breach, needing only ANY advantage over the strength of defending UNITS ALONE (not including wall pieces or heroes).  I’m also still miffed that the victory conditions are not called out clearly and plainly at the beginning of the manual and are reduced to a footnote sized sentence at the end of the assault phase.)  It also seems from the example in the rulebook that if the defender is unable to reduce the attacker advantage to zero through casualties, that the attackers win.  This seems to be the crux of the issue here.

Here is how it seems to work:  In the case of advantage, the opposite side must absorb eligible casualties in the amount of the advantage until the advantage is brought to zero.  If it is an attacker advantage being resolved, and the defender is unable to absorb the advantage in casualties because he does not have enough strength in units (NOT because he has units too strong to be killed by the remainder), the attacker wins.  Wow, even that sounds fiddly.  But at least it’s understandable.  Honestly, it would be much simpler with a battle board of some sort, or a simple cardboard track that moves from one contested wall section to the next during strength resolution.  At any rate, this is a VERY simple rule that was completely garbled by bad rules writing.    I’m also super-pissed that this isn’t called out at the very beginning of the rules but is rather hidden in small letters in the assault section.

Wall pieces cannot be removed by a melee attack.  I’m not sure if we actually played that wrong or if I just didn’t understand it.  I don’t think it would have come up except in the last turn anyway.

Objective cards are kept face up.  (Defender plans are kept face down.)

Marauders are added to the rampart on the appropriate section, not the wall as I had thought.  Also, I now see that it is ONLY the farthest rampart that gets these, though they can get them twice in a turn if two sets of units are moved in separate maneuvers from the previous rampart.

Orders are not contingent upon having the number of the type of units indicated on their tokens.  That was confusing but cleared up by the FAQ.

Bridge tokens are placed on the corresponding unoccupied trap space on the path.  I’d still like clarification/confirmation of this, but I’ll go with it for now.

Killed/spent attacker units are removed from the game.  (rectified after first turn)

Only four siege machines are allowed in play.  I had built five before realizing this.  We played it out with five.  (Why are their more hit and miss cards given in the game?)

Marksmen only are allowed in towers, no other units.

Adjacency is a mess in the rulebook.  It now appears that marksmen consider the towers on either side of their wall section adjacent, as well as the wall sections immediately after those towers.  Soldiers consider the next wall section over adjacent.  Heroes consider the next hero space over as adjacent.  The “castle gate” breaks adjacency for all units, requiring units to return to the courtyard in order to move to the other side of the stronghold.

It’s still unclear to me whether two equipment tokens of the same type (for example, two banners) are allowed in the same wall section, but it seems now that they are not, and the two equipment tokens must be of different types.

At least one maneuver must me carried out each turn.  This didn’t affect our game, as I maneuvered every turn, but I think this should have been called out more clearly.

It was very difficult to tell from where attacker units assigned to action cards should be taken, but after some hunting I was able to confirm that we played correctly in taking them from the supply on-hand and not the bag.

Barracks Train Troops action can be used multiple times per turn, clearing out hourglasses after each use.

Defender chooses the attacker casualty from the effects of the Ballista.  (Corrected in the FAQ.)

A lot of these could have been very easily called out in side-bars or bolded text in the rulebook.  I find it interesting now how I typically dismiss claims of crappy rulebooks and just wade in waist deep even though some of the people making the claims (like the Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast, for example) have serious cred.  It’s also a little depressing to me that I don’t have a mind of rules nor the time to consume and internalize them that I once did, but I’m okay with that, as that’s the price of having awesome kids.

Still, even with the horribly unclear rules, the game was a winner and definitely has the “let’s play once more factor.”  I honestly have been craving to just set up and throw down solo (kawa wookiee), but I doubt I’ll find the time any time soon.  So Jon and I will rematch as soon as we can.

The game has some excellent tactical play, very little randomness to my mind, and certainly feels like a fantasy castle siege.  The mechanics themselves are fairly elegant, though as I mentioned, the rules do not belie that fact.  But Jon and I both felt extremely tense the entire game, and that is a very very good thing.  I like that there are plenty more action cards to try and that both sides have a “want to do all of this but only have enough resources to do half of it” factor.  I hope that analysis paralysis does not become a major problem once we have the rules down, but I’m not too worried.

Overall, great game, and I’m only disappointed that it will take time away from Space Hulk, Hammer of the Scots, BattleLore, Dungeon Twister, Twilight Struggle, and any other 2 player strategy games I can’t think of, as this will likely only come out when Jon and I play without the rest of the group.  Still, I’ll bet I can coax Alex into a game at some point, maybe M or Steve the Blonde on the rare occasions we play 2-player only.

Now, when is that Undead expansion coming out…



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