Radio Review #98 – Stronghold

 

stronghold_cover

(2016 – Stronghold Games, Portal Games)

 

“Burrow down….and blow up the outside world…”

 

In 2009, designer Ignacy Trzewiczek and his company, Portal Games, released a new asymmetrical two-player game revolved around the siege of a castle, entitled Stronghold. Nominated for multiple awards, and winner of the 2010 International Gamers Award for Two-Player Strategy Game, Stronghold has held its ground as one of the top-rated games within the community over the last 7 years. Earlier this year, Portal Games teamed with Stronghold Games to produce a upgraded second edition of Stronghold which includes improved components, a new strategy card mechanic for each player, and overall streamlined gameplay.

Stronghold tells the story of an invading horde full of goblins, orcs, and trolls as they advance towards the castle wall’s defenses. One player takes the role of the Invader, while the other player will take the role of the Defender, controlling the castle itself. Stronghold is a true asymmetrical game, in which one player has a completely different set of rules and mechanics from the other. Though different from one another, the mechanics complement each other, allowing players to counter the strategies and moves made by the opposing player. If the Invading player is able to break through one of the castle walls within 7 turns, he has successfully breached the castle, and declared the winner. Otherwise, the Defender has kept the horde forces at bay.

 

 

 

Components:

– Stronghold game board

 

– Turn marker

 

– Invader Order tiles

 

– Invader Machine tiles (ballista, catapult, trebuchet, mantelet, and siege tower)

 

– Invader Equipment tiles (banner, bridge, ladder, poison, and sap)

 

– Invader Training tiles (quartermaster, saboteur, and trench master)

 

– Invader Ritual spells (blood, demon, gale, possession, and specter)

 

– Invader Machine cards

 

– Invader Action cards

 

– Invader Objective cards

 

– Invader Units (goblins, orcs, and trolls)

 

– Invader’s Wood resource tokens

 

– Defender Building tiles

 

– Defender Hourglass markers

 

– Defender Plan cards

 

– Defender Hit cards

 

– Defender’s Hero tokens

 

– Defender Cauldrons

 

– Defender Machine tokens

 

– Defender Trap tokens

 

– Defender Scout tokens (malfunction & spies)

 

– Defender Cathedral tokens (marksmen blessing & unearthly glare)

 

– Defender Ladder tokens

 

– Defender Plan cards

 

– Defender Wall sections

 

– Defender Units (marksmen, soldiers, and veterans)

 

 

 

Setup:

As Stronghold is an asymmetrical game with an opposing Invader and Defender, the setup steps for each of these players is quite different. The Defender will be in charge of defending the castle and will do much of his pre-game setup within those walls. The Invader on the other hand will handle a majority of his setup on the outer areas of the map, furthest away from the castle, referred to in the game as the “Foreground”. Let’s take a look at the Invader’s setup steps, followed by the Defender’s.

 

 

Invader

During the Invader’s turn, he will progress through six phases of actions. The Invader’s Action cards are tied to these phases, and during a particular phase, the present Action card for that phase will reference the abilities available to the player. These cards are randomly selected at the beginning of each game, therefore the Invader’s abilities will alter from game to game.

At the beginning of the game, the Invader will divide the Action cards, separating them amongst their corresponding phases. The phase 1 and 6 cards are placed face-up. After shuffling each of the other sets, three cards are drawn randomly from each of the phase 2, 3, 4, and 5 sets. The three phase 2 action cards and three phase 3 action cards are placed face-up along with the phase 1 and 6 action cards in numerical ascending order. The Invading player will resolve his actions according to these cards from left to right. Therefore, if cards of the same phase are present, he can choose which order they’ll go in. The remaining three phase 4 and three phase 5 action cards are placed face-down in an Action draw pile. All remaining unused phase cards are discarded back to the game box.

Each of the Action cards also reference all of the components and tokens that will be needed by the Invading player during this session of the game. Again, since the Action cards differ, not all components will be used every game. After placing out the Action cards according to phase, the player will acquire the needed components according to these cards and place them near his personal play area.

The Invading player will begin his advancement on the two Foreground areas on the upper left and right sections of the game board. Each of these areas can house a maximum of 10 invading units. 5 of these spaces are pre-colored, which represent the unit types that will be placed here during initial setup. Each Foreground area begins the game with three Orcs (green), a Goblin (white), and a Troll (red), placed in their corresponding spaces.

During the game, the Invading player will advance his units from these Foreground staging areas to Rampart areas. These Ramparts are where the player will be able to build various machines and train his units, before advancing them further to the castle walls. Between two of these Rampart areas is a red arrow space that house Marauders. These are Invading units that will join the battle if the Invading player meets certain conditions (which we’ll discuss later). At the beginning of the game, a Goblin (white) and an Orc (green) are placed here.

While the Invading player’s ultimate goal is to breach at least one castle wall before then end of his 7th turn, he’ll also have a couple of Objectives, which if completed will grant him additional bonuses throughout the game. At the beginning of the game, the player will shuffle these Objective cards, draw three of them, then choose to keep two. These are the two possible Objectives he’ll have an opportunity to complete during the game.

Finally, the rest of the Invading units not placed on the game board are added to the Invader’s draw bag. The player will also receive 5 Wood tokens. The rest of these Wood tokens as well as the Invader Machine cards and Order tiles are placed nearby his play area. This completes the Invading player’s initial setup.

 

 

Defender

The castle contains nine different areas of the Wall in which the invading forces can attempt to break through. If they are able to break through any of these nine sections before the end of the 7th turn, the Invading player wins the game.

At the beginning of the game, the Defender will place the Wall components and station some of his Units at each of these Wall areas. As with the setup for the Invading forces in the Foreground area, each Wall area contains colored-spaces to reference which Units will be placed here during initial setup.

Next, the Defender will arrange his 8 Board tiles in the central area within the castle walls. These Board tiles represent the different locations of the castle, and include the Barracks, the Cathedral, the Courtyard, the Forge, the Guardhouse, the Hospital, the Scout Training Grounds, and the Workshop. Some of these locations (such as the Guardhouse and Barracks) begin with Units at the location, while others (such as the Scout Training Grounds and Cathedral) begin will tiles and components related to the location. The Defender will place all needed Units and Components at these locations during setup.

While the Defender has Marksmen, Soldier, and Veteran Units at his disposal to help guard the walls of the castle, he’ll also have two Heroes (an Officer and a Warrior). Unlike Units, Heroes can not be killed and can issue Heroic Orders to help maneuver various Units around the spaces of the castle. At the beginning of the game, these two Hero markers are placed on their corresponding spaces within the castle, and the three Heroic Order tiles are placed in the Defender’s personal play area.

Whereas the Invading player has Objective cards that he can use to his advantage, the Defending player will have Defense Plan cards. Setup for these at the beginning of the game works the same way that the Invading player selected his Objective cards. All Defense Plan cards are shuffled together, the Defender randomly draws three, then chooses to keep two of them. These are the two Defense Plan cards he’ll have at his disposal during the game. The rest of these cards are removed from play.

Many of the actions that the Defender will be able to perform from these different locations will require accumulated time. “Time” is represented in the game by Hourglass tokens that the Defender will need to build up in order to take the specific action. The Defender will receive two Hourglass tokens every turn after the Invader has taken his 1st action. He can also receive Hourglass tokens when the Invader spends Units in order to complete certain actions. For every Unit the Invader spends, the Defender receives an Hourglass token. Some Invading actions may result in additional Hourglass tokens awarded to the Defender. At the beginning of the game however, the Defender starts with 4 Hourglass tokens. The rest are kept in a supply near the game board.

All remaining Defender components including Cauldrons, Traps, Machines, and Ladders are placed in his personal play area. Finally the Turn marker is placed on the 1st space along the Turn Track. After setup is complete for both sides, the play areas should look something like this:

 

 

 

Gameplay:

A game of Stronghold consists of 7 turns. During each turn, the Invading player will resolve his Action cards in order from left to right. He can choose to skip over some or all of his Action cards, choosing not to resolve them, however once he skips a card, he can not return back to it. The Defending player will be able to perform an action immediately after each Invader Action card is resolved. In this way, each turn will consist of the Invading player resolving an Action card, followed by the Defending player performing an action of his own. If you’ll remember, the Defender receives 2 Hourglass tokens after the Invader resolves the 1st action of his turn, as well as additional Hourglass tokens based on how many Units the Invader spent during his action. When it becomes the Defender’s turn to perform an action, he must spend all accumulated Hourglass tokens. Once spent, the Invading player continues his next action.

For instance, the Invader has performed an action to build a bridge along one of the paths from the Ramparts to the Castle Wall. Building a bridge on a path will keep the Defender from being able to lay a Trap there. To build a bridge, the Invader will have to spend 1 Wood and either 1 Orc or 2 Goblins (goblins are weaker and less intelligent than the orcs, therefore it will take more of them to build a bridge).

If the Invader chose to spend the 2 Goblins, the Defender would receive 2 Hourglass tokens. However, since he’s chosen to spend the Orc, he will only receive 1 Hourglass token.

The Defender will then need to spend this Hourglass token on his turn, placing it on one of his castle locations. If he’s filled all Hourglass spaces required on a location, that location can be activated. Then the turn continues with the Invader’s next resolved action.

 

 

 

The Invader

Each Invader Action card is divided into a number of phases, listed on the card from 1-6. As mentioned before, these cards are placed in numerical order during the Invader’s setup each turn, however if the Invader has two Action cards from the same phase, he can order them how he wishes. Each phase accounts for particular types of actions:

– Phase 1: Supplies
– Phase 2: Machines
– Phase 3: Equipment
– Phase 4: Training
– Phase 5: Rituals
– Phase 6: Maneuvers & Orders

 

 

While different Action cards will provide different specific actions during its associated phase, let’s briefly take a look at each of the phases and what may be available to the player during their resolution. Remember, after each Action card is completed, the Defending player will take his own turn. I’ll cover the various actions available to the Defending player after this.

 

 

 

Phase I: Supplies

Though the cards from Phase 2, 3, 4, and 5 are randomly placed during setup, both of the Phase 1 cards are always available each game (as well as the Phase 6 card). During this initial phase, the Invading player will receive additional wood and army units that he’ll add to his supply. Wood and Units will allow the player to perform many of the actions listed on the Actions cards during phases 2 through 6. Note that Units added during the Supply Phase are not added to the game board just yet, only to the Invader’s supply.

– The Briefing card (seen left) provides 14 units randomly drawn from the Draw bag, and 5 Wood tokens to the player’s supply. The Invader can then pay one Hourglass token to the Defender in order to exchange any number of his current phase 2-5 action cards with those from the supply.

– The Resource card (seen right) allows the Invader to discard a Unit for Wood according to the exchange rate listed on the card. He can discard 1 Goblin (white) for 1 Wood, or 1 Orc (green) for 2 Wood, or 1 Troll (red) for 3 Wood. He can only choose to discard a single unit when resolving this card.

 

 

 

Phase II: Machines

During the next phase, the Invader will have an opportunity to build certain types of machines according to the Action card available. There are five types of machines the Invading player could build; a Ballista, a Catapult, a Mantelet, a Siege Tower, and a Trebuchet. When built, Ballistas, Catapults, and Matelets can be added to sections of the Rampart area where the machine icons are listed, whereas Siege Towers and Trebuchets can be added to sections of the Foreground area. Furthermore, Ballistas, Catapults, and Trebuchets are considered “barrage” machines, meaning that they are those that can directly attack the walls of the castle. There can never be more than four barrage machines on the game board at any one time. When the Invader builds one of these barrage machine, he will construct a deck of 6 Machine cards (2 Hit and 4 Miss cards), shuffling them and placing them face down next to this newly built machine.

For example, he Invading player has the Catapult card available to him and decides to take the phase 2 action to build a Catapult. This cost the player 5 Wood resource tokens and either 1 Troll (red) or 2 Goblin (white) units. If he uses a Troll, he’ll need to give 1 Hourglass token to the Defending player, however if he chooses to use the 2 Goblins, he’ll need to give him 2.

After building the Catapult he’ll choose to place it on one of the empty Rampart sections that contains a machine icon. Once placed there he’ll create a machine card deck that includes 2 Hit cards and 4 Miss cards, placing this deck beside it.

Catapults have the ability of hitting any of the castle wall sections that are connected by paths leading from where the Catapult has been placed. During combat, the Invading player can activate the Catapult by drawing the top card from the machine deck. If it is a Miss card, the Catapult’s barrage misses the castle wall and the Miss card is removed from the game. However, if it is one of the two Hit cards, the Catapult first destroys one of the wall’s outer components. If all wall components have been previously destroyed, then the Catapult will destroy the wall’s cauldron. If no cauldron is present, the Catapult destroys a canon, bay window, or pole in an adjacent tower. The Hit card is then shuffled back into the machine deck. Note that during phase 2, only the building of the machines take place. Activating these machines are done during a different part of a turn, which we’ll take a look at later.

 

 

 

Phase III: Equipment

Each wall section area of the castle contains a machine space designated for Siege Towers. Though Siege Towers are originally placed on the Foreground area away from the castle, they’ll move along with other units towards the castle, eventually ending up on one of these spaces beside the castle walls. Each wall section area of the castle all contains two spaces for Equipment. Using the 3rd phase Action cards, the Invading player can create different types of equipment for his units to use, including Banners, Ladders, Poison, and Sap. He can also create Bridges, which are placed along the various paths, preventing the Defending player from being able to lay a Trap on that particular path. Each type of equipment provides a different ability when present.

For instance, the Invading player has an opportunity to build a Ladder by using the Action card seen above. To do this, he will need to spend 2 Wood resources, and either 1 Orc (green) or 2 Goblins (white). If he chooses to use the Orc, the Defending player will receive 1 Hourglass token. However, if he chooses to use the 2 Goblins, the player will receive 2 tokens. After building the Ladder, he will need to place it on one of the empty equipment spaces next to a castle wall section.

You’ll notice that each castle wall section normally contains 5 spaces for Invading units to occupy when attacking that section of the castle’s wall. However, when a Ladder is present, an additional space is added, allowing an additional unit to invade here.

 

 

 

Phase IV: Training

The Invading player will now have the opportunity to train his units. There are 5 different types of training, and each one essentially helps to manipulate certain aspects on the game board. Some of these Training types include tokens that will be placed in the Rampart areas of the game board. Much like the castle Wall sections, each Rampart section includes two of these spaces. Training types include the Artilleryman, the Quartermaster, the Saboteur, the Trainer, and the Trenchmaster.

For instance, the Invading player will need to spend 1 Orc (green) and provide 1 Hourglass token to the Defending player in order to train a Trenchmaster. He will then place the Trenchmaster token on any available Rampart space. Once the Trenchmaster has been placed here, all canon attacks issued from the Defender to this section of the Rampart, will miss.

 

 

 

Phase V: Rituals

While all resource supplies, machines, equipment, and training markers are ongoing once placed on the board (unless destroyed by the Defender), Rituals are temporary spells that the Invading player can cast, and only last for the current turn. Afterwards, the Ritual spell is removed from the board and placed back into the supply. When a Rituals are cast, the Defending player is aware of the spell, but doesn’t have exact knowledge as to its location. Because of this, when casting a Ritual spell, the Invading player will place three tokens of that spell face-down on its corresponding location on the board. Two of these spells are considered “bluffs” and are fake, while one of them is the true spell.

When an action at a location that contains a Ritual spell token is taken, the Ritual spell token is flipped up to see if it is a bluff, or the real spell. If it’s a bluff, it is discarded to the supply. If it is the real spell, the spell triggers and the token is left on the board until the end of the turn. There are 5 types of Ritual spells; Bloodstones, Demon, Gale, Possession, and Specter. Each spell is tied to a particular location on the board.

For instance, the Invading player decides to cast a Demon ritual spell by spending 1 Wood, 1 Goblin (white), and providing 1 Hourglass token to the Defender. Demon ritual spells occur inside the castle walls at the various castle locations. The Invading player will place a Demon ritual spell token on three different building locations. Remember that only one of these tokens is the true spell, the others are bluffs. Since they are face-down however, the Defending player has no knowledge of which is which.

When the Defender activates a building with a Demon ritual spell on it, if it turns out to be the real spell, one of the Defender’s units in the castle courtyard is killed. This spell will remain active at this location until the end of the turn.

 

 

 

Phase VI: Maneuvers & Orders

While actions from phases 2, 3, 4, and 5 may vary, the Invading player will always have the same phase 6 actions to perform. This consist of maneuvering units and ordering units. The main difference between the two is that maneuvers are movement actions for units heading towards the castle walls, and orders are actions for units already at the castle walls. The Invading player will perform all maneuvers and orders before the Defender is awarding any hourglass tokens. Let’s take a look at each of these phase 6 action types:

 

 

Maneuvers:

Maneuvers are made up of minor and major maneuvers. The Invader is allowed to perform either type of maneuver or both during this phase of his turn if he chooses, though he can not perform the same type of maneuver twice. There is a small area on one side of the game board where the “marauders” (1 goblin & 1 orc) reside. During the Invader’s maneuvers, if he moves any unit to the final Rampart area connected to these marauders, they will join the army, adding them to this Rampart area as well.

 

Minor vs. Major Maneuvers

When performing a minor maneuver, the Invading player can move up to 5 army units from the Rampart areas to the castle wall areas, move up to 5 army units from the Foreground areas to the Rampart areas, and add up to 5 army units onto each of the Foreground areas (there are two areas total) from the supply. When moving, units must follow the adjacent paths on the game board from one area to the next. Major Maneuvers work exactly the same as Minor Maneuvers, except that 7 army units can be used for each movement/deployment type instead of 5. Maneuvers will always resolve with units moving to the Walls first, then units moving to the Ramparts, followed by units added to the Foreground areas.

 

 

Orders:

At the beginning of the game, the Invading player received a set of four Order tiles. After performing any maneuvers, the player can issue orders to his units that are in combat at the castle walls, using these Order tiles. The Invading player can either place his Order tiles out face-up at no cost (considered Open Orders), or he can place them face-down for a cost of 1 hourglass token to the Defender (considered Classified Orders).

During phase 6 of each turn, the Invading player will have to choose whether to play all of his orders face-up or pay the hourglass cost to play them all face-down. Only one Order tile can be assigned to a single castle wall area. Though the Order tiles are placed on the board at this point, these Order tiles will not resolve until the Defender has resolved the final actions of his turn. The an Assault takes place which resolves combat. I’ll discuss how Assaults work in just a bit.

One of these Orders is called Orc Detonation. If the Invading player is resolving this Order, he will choose a castle wall section. At least one of his Orcs present at this section will detonate. He can choose any number of Orcs to remove. For each Orc removed, one of the wall components at this section is destroyed. So in the example above, if he used the Orc Detonation order on this castle section, he could choose to remove all 3 Orcs present, thus destroying 3 components of the castle wall section here.

 

 

 

The Defender

As mentioned before, the Defender will be allowed to spend all of his hourglass tokens after the Invader has taken an action, in order to move his units around the Stronghold and take various actions. The Defender’s goal is to get through 7 turns without allowing the Invader to break into his Stronghold.

As with the Invader, the Defender has three different types of units of his own; Marksmen (white) with a strength of 1, Soldiers (green) with a strength of 2, and Veterans (red) with a strength of 3. The Defender also has two heroes a his disposal; a Warrior (green) with a strength of 2, and an Officer (red) with a strength of 3.

At any point during the game, the Defender can choose to play one of his Defense Plan cards. These cards have an immediate benefit that is provided to the Defender, but have an ongoing negative effect that will impact him for the remainder of the game. For instance, the Reassignments card will allow him to reclaim any number of hourglass tokens from unfinished actions on the building tiles. This is a huge advantage that can allow him to perform multiple actions in a row, if he has enough hourglass tokens. However, going forward he will receive 1 less hourglass token at the beginning of each turn. If you’ll remember, normally he would receive 2. The Defender will need to account for when it is best and most advantageous for him to play a particular Defense Plan card. In this case, it may be better for him to wait until the later turns to perform Reassignments as he’ll probably have more hourglass tokens available on his buildings at this point, and he won’t have as many remaining turns where the negative effect would impact him much.

These Defense Plan cards can be played at any point in the game. The Defender’s turn specifically will compose of movement and actions. Let’s first look at how movement works for the Defender’s units and heroes, then we’ll take a look at the actions available to him from his buildings:

 

 

Movement:

Each movement cost 1 hourglass token for the Defender. Therefore if he spent 2 hourglass tokens, he could move twice in a row. There are four main areas in which the Defender’s units can occupy; a castle wall section, a tower space, on one of the various buildings within the Stronghold, or in the inner courtyard. The Defender’s heroes can only occupy the castle wall sections and the inner courtyard area. While most of these areas are limited to how many units/heroes can occupy each, the inner courtyard can hold any number of units and heroes. The inner courtyard is essentially a staging area for units/heroes to occupy while waiting to move to other areas. When spending an hourglass token, the Defender can move one of his units or heroes in the following ways:

– Move a unit/hero from a castle wall section or tower space to an adjacent castle wall section or tower space.


– Move a unit/hero from a castle wall section or tower space to any building tile or to the inner courtyard.

 

– Move a unit/hero from a building tile or from the inner courtyard to any defender space on the board.

 

Instead of moving, the Defender can swap units with each other as long as they are to and from adjacent spaces. Heroes can be swapped with each other in the same way. Swapping as opposed to moving will still cost the Defender 1 hourglass per swap. In addition to these movement options, each of the Defender’s heroes can perform an action (at no hourglass cost) called an Heroic Order. There are three different types of Heroic Orders and only one of these can be used per turn. Therefore if the Warrior performed the 1st Heroic Order, the Officer would need to choose between the other two:

– Move a unit from the inner courtyard to a castle wall section where a hero is located.

– Move a unit to any building location (except for the Barracks and Guardhouse) and add an hourglass token to the building’s tile.

– Move a unit from a castle wall section that is on the same side of the Stronghold as the hero, to the inner courtyard.

 

 

 

Actions:

As the Defender accumulates hourglass tokens, he’ll be able to place them on his various building locations within the Stronghold. Each location provides multiple actions and each action has an hourglass track assigned to it. When the track has been completed, the Defender can perform the assigned action.

You’ll notice that each hourglass track begin with a red space. If the Invader has placed a Saboteur token at that particular location, the Defender will need to place an hourglass token on the red space in order to complete it. Otherwise, he can ignore this space when filling the hourglass track. Guards from the Guardhouse location can be used to remove these Saboteurs.

There are 8 locations in total, but only 6 of which the Defender can place hourglass tokens on. The Courtyard location is simply used as a staging area, as mentioned before, while units that are wounded in battle are placed on the Hospital location. At the end of the turn, the Defender can choose two units from the Hospital and move them back to the Courtyard. They have recovered and are ready to go back to the castle walls to help defend the Stronghold. Any remaining units that were at the Hospital have died and are placed back into the supply. Let’s briefly take a look at the other locations and what actions they can provide:

 

 

The Barracks – The Barracks is used for training units in order to upgrade them to stronger units. The Defender will need to first move units onto the Barracks location. By filling the upper track, the Defender can replace a Marksmen (white) unit here with a Soldier (green) unit. By filling the lower track, he can replace a Solider (green) unit with a Veteran (red) unit. He can then move these new units back into battle at the castle walls.

 

 

 

The Guardhouse – The Guardhouse is used to remove all Saboteurs from the Stronghold, though a Marksman (white unit) will need to be put on watch to do so. After having placed a Marksmen at the Guardhouse, and after filling the hourglass track, the player can discard the Marksmen to remove any and all Saboteur markers from the Stronghold.

 

 

 

The Forge – The Forge is used to build Cannons and Cauldrons. Cannons can be placed in a Tower area at the castle walls and will be used during the “ranged combat” phase of the Assault. Cauldrons are placed between the wall components of a castle wall section, and will resolve during the “melee combat” phase of the Assault.

 

Cauldrons are color-coordinated to which Invading units they will effect. Essentially, when a white cauldron resolves, it will wipe out all goblin (white) units attacking that section of the castle wall.

 

 

 

The Cathedral – The Cathedral can provide special blessings and abilities for the Defender. For instance, by completing the Sharpshooter action, the Defender can remove any one Invading unit from the board.

 

By completing Unearthly Glare, he can choose one of his castle wall section, and place the corresponding marker beside it to show that the attack on this castle wall section from the Invader will not resolve during the upcoming Assault.

 

 

 

The Scout Training Grounds – This location is used to train Scouts, which are used to sabotage the Invading player’s pathways, machines, and units depending on which hourglass track is completed.

 

For instance, when completing the Malfunction action track, the Defender can place a Malfunction token next to one of the Invader’s Ballista, Catapult, or Trebuchet. This particular machine will fail to trigger during the upcoming Assault.

 

 

 

The Workshop – The Workshop is used to construct Poles and Bay Windows for the Tower spaces (only one Cannon, Pole, or Bay Window may be present on each Tower space). Poles can provide additional attacks to the Invading units at on of the castle walls adjacent to the Tower during the Melee Combat phase of the Assault, while Bay Windows can provide additional strength to the Defending units of both adjacent wall sections on either side of the Tower. The Workshop can also be used to construct ladders at the castle walls (which allow or an extra Defending unit to be placed there), as well as rebuilding sections of the castle walls themselves.

 

 

 

 

The Assault:

At the end of each turn, after the Invading player has completed all of his chosen phase actions and the Defender has completed all of his actions, the Assault begins. An Assault is divided into two combat phases. Ranged Combat triggers first, followed by Melee Combat. Each combat phase contains a number of stages that will resolve in order.

 

 

Ranged Combat:

 

Stage I: Cannons – At the beginning of ranged combat, the Defending player will select a Rampart or Foreground section for each of his cannons to fire upon. If you’ll remember, cannons can be built at the Forge and are located on Towers. He will then draw a Hit card for each cannon and refer to the “cannon” section of the card. This will state which type of enemy unit can be removed by firing the cannon.

For instance, the Defender’s chosen to fire a cannon on the pictured Rampart area. The Hit card drawn shows that a Orc unit can be removed when firing the cannon. Therefore the Defender will destroy one of the Orc units from this Rampart.

 

 

Stage II: Barrage Machines – After all cannons have been fired, the Invading player can activate each of his Barrage Machines (ballista, catapult, trebuchet), by selecting which castle wall area each one will fire upon. If you’ll remember, when each of these machines were built, a deck of hit and miss Machine cards was constructed to go with them. The Invading player will then draw the top Machine card for each, which will tell the player if his machine has either hit the wall or missed. If it is a hit, the machine resolves its specific attack. If it is a miss, nothing happens. All Machine cards that were misses are then discard from the game, while all cards that were hits are reshuffled back into their corresponding decks.

For instance, the Invader has a Catapult in a Rampart area which he will fire during this stage of ranged combat. He chooses a castle wall section connected to this Rampart area and attempts to fire. By drawing a “hit” from the top of the Machine deck, his Catapult has connected, destroying one of the wall components of this castle wall section. The Defender can eventually use the Workshop to repair this wall component.

 

 

Stage III: Marksmen – Marksmen (white units) located in Towers and those at castle wall areas that are not currently in melee combat (no Invading units at their section of the wall), can perform a volley attack at Invading units located at the Rampart areas. Marksmen at a Tower can fire upon the Rampart area opposite of them, while Marksmen at the castle wall section can fire upon either of the Ramparts connected to them by a path. Each Rampart area is checked to see if there is a legal volley against it. When a volley occurs, all Marksmen involved in the volley will combine their total strength. Each Marksmen is worth +1 strength, therefore 3 Marksmen involved in a volley would emit a volley strength of 3 (as seen below). The total strength determines which Invading units the Defender can kill. For instance, with a volley strength of 3, the Defender can choose to either kill a troll (3 strength), an orc and a goblin (2 strength and 1 strength), or 3 goblins (1 strength each).

 

 

 

Melee Combat:

 

Stage I: Cauldrons – After ranged combat is complete, melee combat ensues. The first stage of melee combat involves the Defender activating his cauldrons at the castle walls. As mentioned before, cauldrons when activated will destroy all Invading units of the color matching the cauldron at that wall section. Cauldrons can be destroyed by catapults and trebuchets as long as the two wall components have already been destroyed. Otherwise they stay active from one Assault to the next.

For instance, a white cauldron was previously built by the Defender at this castle wall section. During the Assault, the cauldron activates and is poured upon the enemy units below. Since the cauldron was white, only the goblins (white units) are effected by its contents and both are destroyed.

 

 

Stage II: Poles – If you’ll remember, Poles can be built and added to the Tower spaces amongst the castle walls. During this stage of combat, each pole can be used to attack the Invading units at either castle wall section to the left or right of the Tower (but not both). A card from the Hit deck is drawn and the “Pole” section of the card will state whether the pole attack was a hit or miss. If it was a hit, 1 invading unit of the lowest strength at the castle wall is destroyed and removed from play. The Hit deck is then reshuffled after all Pole attacks have been resolved.

 

 

Stage III: Orders – If the Invading player had chosen to place his Order tiles face-down during phase 6 of the turn, he would flip them over and resolve them at this point, one at a time, before continuing to the next stage.

 

 

Stage IV: Resolving Strength – Finally, we will determine if the Invading forces are strong enough to breach the castle walls. If they are, the Invading player immediately wins the game. If they aren’t, then play will continue to the next turn. If it is the final turn of the game and the Invading player has failed to breach one of the walls, the Defender wins. In order to determine a breach, each player will total their overall strength at a castle wall section in the following way:

 

 

 

Invader’s Overall Strength

– +1 for each goblin (white) unit present (+3 if the Goblin’s Fury Order was issued).
– +2 for each orc (green) unit present
– +3 for each troll (red) unit present
– +1 if a banner is present

For instance, (as seen below) if the Invading forces at this castle wall consisted of a troll, two orcs, a goblins, and a banner, the total Invading strength would be 9.

 

 

 

Defender’s Overall Strength

– +1 for each marksmen (white) unit present
– +2 for each soldier (green) unit present
– +3 for each veteran (red) unit present
– +2 for the warrior (green) hero present
– +3 for the officer (red) hero present
– +1 for each adjacent tower that contains a bay window with a marksmen present
– +1 for each wall component

For instance, in the example above, if the Defending forces at this castle wall consisted of a marksman, a soldier, the warrior, a bay window in an adjacent tower with a marksman, and two wall components, the total defending strength would be 8.

After overall strength is totaled, the player with the highest amount of strength is determined the victor at that particular castle wall. The victor will is rewarded what’s called an Advantage. The amount of the Advantage is equal to the difference in strength between the two sides. In the example used above, the Invading player would receive an Advantage of 1 (9-8). The player that has lost the battle will lose units equal in strength to the numbered Advantage. In this case, the Defender will lose one of his marksmen (strength of 1) to make up for the Invader’s Advantage of 1. That marksman is then placed in the Hospital.

Only units can make up for the numbered Advantage. While castle wall components, heroes, banners, and marksmen in bay windows are included in the overall strength, they can not absorb the damage from an Advantage. After removing units to account for the Invader’s Advantage, if there is still remaining Advantage left over, the Invader has breached the castle wall and won the game.

Going back to the example we used, since the Defender was able to remove a marksman with a strength of 1 to account for the Advantage of 1 from the Invader, a breach would not occur. He is now left with a soldier unit at the wall. Though he also has the Warrior present, heroes can not be killed, therefore they can not absorb any amount of the Advantage difference. Neither can the marksmen in the adjacent bay window of the tower. Therefore, if the Defender adds no units to this wall before the end of the next turn, and the Invader receive a strength Advantage of 3, the lone soldier’s strength of 2 will not make up for the total, thus the Invader will win the game.

 

 

 

End of a Turn:

If a castle wall was not breached, and the current turn was not the 7th and final turn, all tokens relative to that turn only are removed, such as the Invading player’s Order tiles and Rituals. The Invader will also remove all units he used to pay for his phase action cards from the game, while placing any wood tokens he used as payment in the general supply. The Defender will remove all hourglass tokens from his buildings, though he may keep two of them in hand to use after the Invading player resolves his first action of the upcoming turn. As mentioned before, at the end of the turn, all but two of the units present (if any) in the Defender’s hospital are removed from the game. The two units that have been healed are added to the Courtyard area. Finally, the turn marker is moved to the next turn space on the board, and the Invading player will begin with his phase 1 action.

 

 

 

Thoughts:

As a huge fan of asymmetrical games, Stronghold’s become one of my go-to favorites. Asymmetrical games at their core create a different game experience depending on which side one chooses to play. For example (in my opinion, the one game to rule them all), War of the Ring invokes a completely different set of strategies and gameplay for the Free people’s than it does for the player controlling the Shadow armies. In a way, this genre of strategy games is a distorted version of chess. A game where you can’t necessarily move your pieces the same way as your opponent, but you’ll need to know all the ways he can move in order to maximize the effectiveness of your own.

Stronghold is similar in that it’s imperative that the Defender know the tools and strategies available to the Invader in order to be efficiently successfully at defending the castle. At the same time the Invader will need to know all of the buildings and what they can provide the Defender, while being careful not to provide him with too many hourglass tokens at inopportune times. As the Invader, you may want to build that extra Catapult, but in doing so may provide the hourglass the Defender needs to block it. At the same time, providing an hourglass to build a ritual spell may be worth it if you’re able to place those spells on the buildings themselves, forcing the Invader to guess which one is the true token.

The pace of play is really dependent on how many actions the Invading player chooses to take. There’s definitely a risk/reward, pull & tug aspect to this decision. The more actions he chooses to take, the faster he can progress and build up his horde army as he advances to the wall. However, the more actions he takes rewards the Defending player with the hourglass tokens required for him to take his own actions. The game is full of these pull and tug, back and forth choices. In many games, a player’s overall strategy will become highly dependent upon the actions taken by his opposing player. This creates an excellent counter-strategy aspect to the game.

If you’re not familiar with Stronghold and are interested in trying out an asymmetrical game that’s fairly easy to pick up and play, this is a great time to do so. For those that own the original edition, Stronghold Games’ 2nd edition of Stronghold (say Stronghold’s Stronghold three times fast, do it!) definitely has some improvements that bare an upgrade. One of the most gorgeous items of the game is the board itself. The 2nd edition includes a much larger board than it’s older brother, as well as upgraded components as well. The major addition however has been the Objective cards for the Invader and the Defense Plan cards for the Defender. These certainly add another level of interesting gameplay for both sides. With an down-pouring of game releases the industry has seen recently, it’s great to see a game such as Stronghold get the love and attention it has to warrant an upgraded 2nd edition. A unique asymmetrical game that stands on its own, as strong built as those castle walls.

 

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