Replay: Stronghold – Part Three

Posted by James (admin) on November 27th, 2009

[This is the final part of my three-part Stronghold Replay post (part one and part two) which is a more in-depth look at Stronghold and is a follow-up to my initial review.]

Please note that the Valley Games version of Stronghold (released March 2011) has massively updated rules to make them clear as the original rules were very confusing and had many conflicts.

The defender has two heroes who enhance the troops at a wall.  These are very useful, especially as they can not be killed.  One can increase the strength of the units on a wall, and the other adds some strength and can kill an invader unit before the assault.  Of course, both of these special effects cost hourglasses, but can make a big difference.

The reverse side of the phase cards works really well.  At the start of a turn, the invader can flip any of their phase cards over to use the options on the back which are different to the front. For example, rather than build siege weapons, the invader can draw two cards for one siege weapon’s shot.  However, once turned over, they can not be turned back again so it’s a one-way process.

When reading the rules, this seems okay but it becomes clear that they are actually a really nice game mechanic as the game progresses.  The reason for this is that some phase cards become much less useful over time, i.e. if you’ve built all the equipment allowed.  If these cards remained unchanged they would not be used in the later game.  So, this flipping keeps the 6 different phases alive, rather than dwindling down to just 2 or 3 useful ones.

Winning the game is not just about breaking into the stronghold.  Breeching the walls and entering the castle ends the game but the winner is decided on glory points.  The invader starts with 10 points and gives one to the defender each round.  So, for the invader, it is a race against time as the longer the defender holds out, the more glory they will get.  The invader earns 3 points if they break into the stronghold and can earn some extra points for other actions such as having 4 trolls on one wall section, sacrificing 12 goblins in rituals and a couple of others.  The defender is different as they start with 4 glory points and can give them up to get one-off benefits such as gaining a few more hourglasses (because they stall for time with shameful negotiations) or gain a couple of extra troops (by releasing their prisoners).

I would like to see the same system used to select phase cards for the extra glory points.  This would more variety to the scoring system so the objectives could be a bit different each time.  The ones that are there are good, but a bit more choice would be nice.  (I can imagine having secret objectives being very cool to so you would need to try and work out what your opponent might be up to.)

So far, it seems like a hard game for the invader to win and they can end up be fighting a battle that is already lost.  However, I think the game is more balanced than I have experienced due to a few rule errors we made and also learning what works well in combination.

There is a lot of replayability in Stronghold due to the set-up of the phases.  The one thing that could have given the game even more variety/longevity is if the board was double-sided and the rear had a different stronghold on it with a different configurement of walls, ramparts and paths.  Maybe even a small stronghold for a short game.  No new actions need be created for this – so the invader and defender would have the same options – just a different layout.  I’d love to have the option of a ‘quick’ game.

Of course, expansions could be released with new stronghold layouts.  (These could include new actions for invader and defender but could still work well purely by offering a different layout.)  I still want to see a Minas Tirith Stronghold… please.

I’m sure that new actions/options could be released with some more phase cards to match them.  Also, I mentioned that I’d love to see some more options for glory points too.  Plus, new heroes for the defender, heroes for the invader, and more.  But these things aren’t needed yet as Stronghold already has a lot of variety to offer.

I only have one main complaint about Stronghold which is that it’s a shame that the rules are not very clear in a lot of places and the diagrams in some examples do not match the text descriptions too which make it even more confusing.  However, there are lots of questions with answers on the forums so it is possible to work it out.  I found it took a play and a half to finally have them all sorted.

There is one other downside (but this is more my fault) which is that this is an epic game so it takes an epic amount of time to play it.  I don’t expect games to deliver an epic feel without them being deep and/or long – just like I don’t expect a 30 minute film to deliver a rich story, plot twists and character development.  If I was younger, myself and my friends would have more time on my hands and could play Stronghold  more often.  As it is, it is a game we will not to play as often as we would like (like War of the Ring, Arkham Horror, Twilight Struggle, and other such epics).  So, this isn’t really the game’s fault.

One last note I’d like to mention is that I think Stronghold executed a great pre-release campaign.  The designer posted 10 designer diary posts on BoardGameNews which really delved inside the design of the game and I think really raised awareness and interest with perfect timing for Spiel 09.

Well, that’s it for my three-part Stronghold replay thoughts.  Tomorrow, I’ll be back to reviewing other games as usual.


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