Wednesday, February 3, 2010

solium infernum AAR

It all started December 8th.

Game Parameters:
Map Size: Normal
Map Type: Great Rivers
Places of Power: Uncommon
Game Length: Normal

1. Severian (Host)
2. Meatball
3. Carnivean
4. Belshirash
5. Scratch

As host, I hoped to finish a game within one month, conducting 2-3 turns per day.  Theoretically, this should have worked but was certainly overly optimistic.  Turns sometimes ground to a slow pace (1/day or less), and several of us were forced to take a break over the holidays.  We finished February 3rd - nearly a 2 month journey through hell.

I'll put the precis up front for those who just want the meat of the matter:  after 12 conclave tokens had been drawn (around Turn 50), Meatball conquered Pandemonium with a range-heavy legion.  The rest of us had 5 turns to destroy his Stronghold or re-take Pandemonium.  We failed.

I don't plan to rehash the entire history of our game, since there were far too many machinations, plans, plans within plans, thrilling victories, abject failures, and catastrophic events to summarize in one blog entry.  RPS recently published a wonderful diary of an entire game and I encourage you to read it as well, if you're interested in a more detailed turn-by-turn analysis from several players' perspectives.  This blog will just summarize some of my thoughts on the game, as well as the major events from my personal viewpoint.  Necessarily, this will be a very biased and self-centered view since so much information (regarding other players' builds, strategies, and orders) is unknown to me.

The Early Game   ...when two sloths reveal themselves while three hares scurry for prestige...and Scratch falls victim to his own hubris...

I chose this build, which in 20/20 hindsight was relatively poor.  I almost certainly should have started with Charisma 3; the difference between 2 and 3 is vast.  I could have sacrificed either Paranoid or Bully, but my original plan was to try and push a Praetor strategy if possible.  As such, I was worried (paranoid, if you will) about a high Deceit build eventually stealing away my strongest card.  Bully was going to garner me prestige once people started capitulating to my demands, fearful of single-combat vendetta.

We started this game prior to the 1.5 patch, which meant that taking a high rank was vital.  If I remember correctly, 3 of us chose Duke, 1 was a Marquis, and 1 was a Prince.  As such, my starting legion was relatively strong (high ranged attack) - but so were the bodyguards of everyone else.  In the early game, I spent a great deal of my resources on acquiring both a solid praetor (Zuul) and a useful artifact (Siege Engine).

The Siege Engine, in particular, allowed me to capture 2 early POP's which started garnering me +3 prestige/turn.  Meatball and Scratch also rushed to conquer POP's and seemed poised to battle over the Garden of Infernal Delights for the remainder of the game.

Interestingly, neither Carnivean nor Belshirash were doing anything.  It actually took me a couple turns to realize that the movement rate of their starting legions were 1, indicating that they had taken the "Slothful" perk.  I had not encountered Turtlers like this in my AI games and I was worried at my ignorance.  How powerful was this strategy?  It certainly suggested that they were accumulating resources and increasing their attributes while the 3 of us were spending order slots on moves and attacks.

Scratch quickly took the prestige lead by acquiring some solid POP's.  Unfortunately, this made him a target when players first began flinging demands and vendettas at one another.  Scratch refused to capitulate to a demand from Belshirash relatively early in the game - I doubt any of us would have - and a turn later, Scatch's bodyguards were gone.  Wiped clean from the slate of hell.  And Belshirash's legion had not even moved.

This was probably the defining moment of the early game for us all, since Scratch had no other legions at this point and losing your bodyguard is a major blow.   Both Belshirash and Carnivean revealed themselves to be clever and dangerous foes.  Belshirash was packing heat:  he was likely already a Destruction 3 or 4, possibly with 2 ritual slots, and was to be avoided.  Carnivean immediately cast Infernal Negotiations, predicting a rash of diplomatic actions in the next few turns.  Several players made demands of Scratch, I cast an insult, and Carnivean cleaned up some nice prestige from this timely ritual.  He also revealed himself as a Prophecy build, which I found curious.  I wasn't sure as to the power of Prophecy (few had spoken well of it on the Cryptic Comet forums) but perhaps he knew how to play it well.

In a sense, I feel for Scratch.  He spent much of the remainder of the game dealing with demands, invasions, vendettas and insults.  To his credit, he maintained his prestige lead into the middle game - and in the end, played a major role in how our game panned out.

The Middle Game   ...when Severian feels the brief winds of victory and is just as quickly cast into mediocrity... Belshirash's fires burn... and Carnivean's general threatens all from afar

My greatest failing in this game was not building up my attributes high enough, quickly enough.  It took me far too long to even get to Charisma 3.  I originally had planned to achieve 3 move orders (via Destruction 4) by Turn 25, but I was spending too many resources on Praetors and Artifacts and I went through a long drought of Hellfire.  I picked up the Throne of Skulls, which is truly excellent (multiplying a Praetor's effectiveness x3), but never had the chance to actually use it.  It remained in my vault for the entirety of the game.

I was also keeping Zuul in my vault to protect her from rituals and had won a single-combat vendetta vs. Meatball, allowing her to level up.  My luckiest moment came when I drew the "In Dreadful Deeds" event card, which granted my praetor an extraordinary promotion. 

I was also able to declare a vendetta vs. Scratch and march through his territory to the City of Dis:  the most powerful POP on the map, not yet conquered.  With a praetor and the Siege Engine attached, I took it and completed my vendetta (capturing cantons) in the same turn.  I felt confident and bold.

My plan was to sit next to the City of Dis for, possibly, the remainder of the game and fling demands at my opponents with Zuul as my ace-in-the-hole.  Eventually, I lulled Carnivean into a single-combat vendetta.  I played my event after our vendetta was declared, hoping that he would be unprepared for the upgraded power of Zuul.

Unfortunately, I underestimated his shrewdness.  Carnivean had won an auction for a relic (Goblet of the Traitor) which allowed for the "Annointed of Ash" ritual, another means of upgrading your praetor for single combat.  So his Praetor, Bune, was well matched for Zuul.  We walked into battle near equals... except for his advantage in luck.  Bune's upgrade had granted him a Luck of 4, which time and time again in our single combat gave Bune a powerful advantage over Zuul.  It went two rounds and Zuul would have pulled it off except that her Infernal Attacks fizzled when they should have sizzled.

For me, this was the turning point of the game.  I had briefly gained command of the lead - but my loss to Carnivean cost me not only prestige but also my strongest play.  He vaulted into first place and from that point on used his praetor to make incessant demands, win periodic vendettas, and earn a great deal of prestige.  In other words, do what I wanted to do.  This was, of course, infuriating.  The praetor strategy is very powerful if you can pull it off.  Once you've developed a show-horse, you can throw out demands at anybody without concern for invasion of your own territory.  The only consolation I, and my colleagues, received (and it was sweet) was when Bune was defeated by the Butcher in the tournament of champions.  However, he simply annointed another Praetor and kept up the harassment.  Overall, Carnivean played an excellent, well-thought out game and most likely would have won if Meatball hadn't gone for the jugular.

The Late Game   ... when Carnivean distances himself from the slavering fiends... and Meatball positions himself for a shocking usurpation of the throne...

I felt castrated.  In addition to losing Zuul in single combat, Belshirash had successfully banished my two other praetors in a single turn.  I had very little going for me:  the City of Dis, the Chosen of Severian, and my two artifacts.  I had not yet achieved 3 move orders and I was still struggling with resources.  To add insult to injury, Scratch surprised me by hiring the Sons of Typhon and using his Dimensional Cube to teleport them into the City of Dis.  So now, I had nothing.

I decided to position myself to attack Meatball, since he was in last place and seemed vulnerable to a well-timed attack on his POP's.  It was desperate but I felt I needed to be aggressive with my legion.  I successfully positioned myself, made a demand, and... we all received word that Meatball had taken Pandemonium.

His legion was indeed powerful, with a ranged stat of over 22 and the artifact which granted "sulfurous burns" (double damage from ranged attacks).  Most importantly, his stronghold was only 2 cantons away; in other words, he could defend both Pandemonium and his homebase at the same time.  Carnivean and I immediately began to position ourselves closer to his stronghold.  I was somewhat pleased by this turn of events for 2 reasons:
  • I did not believe that Meatball would succeed.  I felt (incorrectly, it turns out) that he was relatively weak and this was a desperate attempt at a win by someone who was in last place and didn't know what else to do.  
  • I was in the best position to take advantage of the situation.  I could immediately invade his territory and conquer 2 of his POP's.  I also had a strong enough legion to potentially take down his stronghold.  This would have the added benefit of fulfilling my Public Objective, Wrath.
The Beast was in the bazaar.  He was probably our best chance at taking out Meatball's legion, since he forced Ranged attacks to occur last in combat.  Scratch, surprisingly, was the player to pick him up.  This was somewhat fortuitous since Scratch's stronghold (where the Beast would emerge) was close to Pandemonium and Meatball's stronghold.  I still believe that Scratch could have prevented Meatball from winning if he had directly attacked Meatball's stronghold when he had the chance.  Instead, he chose to wait because he hoped to create a situation where all of us would weaken ourselves against Meatball and he would come out ahead.  I cannot blame him for thinking along these lines, as he had served as the communal kicking boy for well over a month of play.

Unfortunately, Meatball was more powerful than perhaps any of us had anticipated.  His Destruction skill was formidable.  He lost his legion but successfully banished the Beast via three successive Infernal Affliction rituals (I only know this because he told us after the game).  His stronghold was exposed but Carnivean's Darkwing legion was blocking my path.  I attempted to maneuver around him, setting myself up for an attack in 2 turns.  I still felt, at this point, that we had a good chance to stop Meatball.  I thought Carnivean had a praetor or artifact up his sleeve that would allow his Darkwing legion to take out the stronghold.  If that failed, I would be in position with my Siege Engine to attack in a couple more turns.  We still had time.

That's when a chasm opened under my feet and cast the Chosen of Severian into the abyss.

I assumed Meatball had held onto this Event ("A Great Fissure"), just in case, and realized my legion was a threat to his stronghold.  As it turns out, he did not play this event - Scratch did.  And I can only imagine his spiteful self-satisfaction as this played out.  Regardless, I have since been informed by Meatball that he had several powerful Destruction rituals lined up against me if necessary, so I suspect that I would not have been able to take his stronghold as readily as I imagined.  Carnivean's Darkwings also succumbed to the fiery power of Meatball.

Meatball was also cranking out Demonic Premonitions every turn after taking Pandemonium to protect against ritual attacks.  Carnivean was a ritual powerhouse at this point in the game, but his multitude of spells bounced off Meatball like "water off his back".  Meatball's conquest of Pandemonium was not a desperate act by a drowning man but a calculated, strategic powerplay that succeeded because his enemies failed in coordination and communication.

This is perhaps an appropriate time to comment on the nature of communication within Solium Infernum.  Our play group decided to use the "in-game" mechanism for communicating with each other, which had a built in delay (identical to that used for diplomatic actions).  You send a message - the next turn, it is read - the next turn, you might receive a response.  We did not allow for emails/communications outside of this designed format.  And I think it is to the benefit of the game.  If the four of us had emailed each other immediately after Meatball took Pandemonium, I suspect we could have generated a full-proof plan to take him down.  But because we did not coordinate well, Meatball was able to pick us off one at a time.

Final Thoughts

Even though I'm bitter I lost (since I still think I had a chance), I'm glad that Meatball was able to pull off a victory from being in last place.  It says a lot about the design quality of Solium Infernum, that a player is never truly out of a game and that there really are multiple paths to victory.

Furthermore, while I consider my starting build to be relatively weak and flawed, I also believe that Soilum is won in the game, not at the Edit Avatar screen.  There's perhaps too much worry on the Cryptic Comet forums over imbalanced builds, the value of Charisma vs. other attributes, and the usefulness/cost of certain perks.  In the end, I think a player can win with most builds (maybe not Charisma 0 or 1) if they play smart and adapt to changing circumstances.  At the end of the game, I was still using only 2 orders and I had a single legion.  My Bully perk had maybe garnered me 15 prestige throughout the entire game, and I don't think Paranoid ever came into play.  But I think I played well, overall, had been careful and calculated with my attacks and feints, and was within 60 prestige of Carnivean.  In another couple turns, I was planning on asking Belshirash if he wanted to be my Blood Vassal.  If he had agreed, it is possible that I could have pulled off a victory with our combined power and prestige.

Enough said.  Congrats to Meatball.  It took two months and pushed my cortisol levels to their limit but it was a hell of a lot of fun.


  1. Even more than a win, I craved a rematch with the butcher.

  2. Thanks for the excellent write-up! Working on my own right now, although there are quite a few conclave tokens to go before its finished :)

  3. Hey thanks. SI's a great game. Let me know when your game/AAR is finished, would love to see it.