Virgin Queen – A Disappointing Start

January 2, 2013

I never thought I would play a game of Virgin Queen even though I’m a big fan of Here I Stand. Our group hardly ever gets HIS to the table due to the number of people who really know the game well enough to play plus the time commitment. So why learn another game that would never get played? But with John now owning a copy the likelihood of playing it had increased dramatically. So when the opportunity for a PBEM game with John and a few others I had played HIS with before arose I jumped. Here’s how the first game of VQ went.

Virgin Queen
Campaign Scenario
July 3, 2012 to January 3, 2013

Ottoman: John!
Spain: WB
England: SB
France: DN
HRE: Me!
Protestant: AU

After I got my power assignment I took a look at the rules. Fortunately a big chunk (army movements, battles, etc.) are identical to the HIS rules. The new stuff looks really interesting and how it will work in the game. I decide my goal for the game is to score higher than John.

Turn 1
5 / Patron of Arts & Sciences: I’ll use this for the event.
2 / Morisco Revolt: Sell to the Ottomans!?
4 / City State Rebels: There’s a familiar card! I might save this to use on Metz next turn. A treasure would be handy to use with this.
5 / Foreign Volunteers: Instant Army.
3 / Ruler Falls Ill: This card is the VQ version of Haley’s Comet, but less powerful.

I initially thought that a good way to rack up VP would be to get the ruler of Central Europe, but after taking a look at the map I quickly dismissed that and instead allied with John’s Ottomans. I also allied with Spain and tried to marry away a daughter. I’m not sure if it was the best idea to do so, but it’s early in the game. I also gave away 3 Mercs to Spain for a card draw and 1 to France for free for hopes of sweetening a deal for next turn.

Card Draw:
3 / Nostradamus’ Prophecies: I think I’ll use this just to get a look at more cards.

Spring Deployment:
Nobody moves. This turn will be used to build armies and try to get some early bonus VP from artists and scientists so I keep my Patron home card. I also decide to pick Catholic as my religious preference. I had no idea what to pick but picking a side has a higher risk/reward so I went with one.

Action Rounds:
I use my first impulse to take a look at some more cards with Nostradamus:
2 / Taxis Family Couriers: I have mercs each turn to use for diplomacy and this is low CP so I ditch this one and keep the other:
5 / Holy League: 5 cp will be useful. And if the Ottomans can get a couple of VP I’ll use the event to try to get Venice on my side for some more boats.

Then I go for the for the miscellaneous VP that – while risky – can’t be taken away from me. So I patronize an artist and a scientist. I also add some influence into Venice as it looks like the Ottomans will make it to 14VP for me to use Holy League. I build up my army through Foreign Volunteers and some CP in case things sour between the Otts and I.

Meanwhile France is able to fight off the English in Edinburgh and then is able to ally Rome through a Papal Bull. This puts him dangerously close to an auto-win! Fortunatly I have Holy League and score Venice and its powerful fleet. The turn ends with some failed marriages – costing me a card – but I manage to score some VP and the Ravelin to defend my keys. I’m looking forward to Turn 2 and some more excitement.

Turn 2
5 / Holy Roman Intercession: I’ll use this for the event (see the diplomacy phase)
2 / Morisco Revolt: Held over from last turn.
5 / Holy League: Again… I’m glad France doesn’t have this.
3 / Ruler Falls Ill: Again… Did anyone shuffle?
4 / Rising in the North: I’m not sure the board will allow the event to even be attempted so another good CP card.

I again agree to ally with the Ottomans, but then Spain has a proposition. Go to war with the Ottomans and he’ll attack in conjunction. I also give my 4 Mercs to him (which I find out no one else wants) and I’ll get a treasure in return. I figure it’s as good a chance now with all my CP to put up a good fight. The treasure should help get my army in place as well so I agree. Plus this way I get to attack John!

Spring Deployment:
I move my troops into Pressburg waiting to pounce.

Action Rounds:
The rounds starts with the Otts scoring some more VP and then before I even get to take my first impulse in which I will unleash my powerful HRE horde on Buda the game ends. France plays Eloquent Ambassador and realigns Venice. The French get an auto-win before it really begins. And even worse John’s Ottomans have 17VP to my 13VP (with my religious preference).

So my first play of VQ didn’t go as I expected. First off, the game lasted 5 months for essentially what was one turn. Between holidays, conventions and other issues the game seemed to drag on. I can’t fault VQ for this it just was bad timing for this particular PBEM. As far as gameplay… well I don’t really think I got far enough into a game to really experience what makes this game different than HIS. The religious struggle, spying and other intricacies of diplomacy were basically never given a chance. I’d like to try this again to get a more in-depth play.

As the HRE I felt like I was playing a minor power – which I basically was since it is a minor power when less people play the game. The HRE just don’t seem powerful enough to actually fight off a determined Ottoman force. So they are forced to get their VP through the end of the turn art and science rolls. I also thought the game added complexity where there it wasn’t needed. Activating the minor powers gave the impression of many people having the chance at gaining an ally, but basically with +3 or +4 influence added before a die roll the chances were slim. I think the HIS version of activation would have sufficed.

But it’s not all bad. I think the diplomacy phase in this game has more options. The marriages and my 4 Mercenaries to give away certainly gave the powers leverage to negotiate instead of relying on the luck of the card draw. HIS and VQ really shine when good diplomacy occurs and all the powers can scheme against and with each other. Having more power and options to do this is definitely a good thing. I also like the treasures – although I really wished I could have used mine.

So I guess I’d give HIS the edge, but I’ll need a few more plays to really make a decision. What do you like better?

Inside the Box: Here I Stand, Second Printing

July 16, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Here I Stand (HIS) was originally released in in 2006 by GMT Games. Four years later, the second printing came out, and recently I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy and have been largely impressed by the value of the contents. It currently retails for $85, but can be purchased for much less through the usual channels. HIS, like its sequel, Virgin Queen, is a card-driven game of war, diplomacy, discovery, and religion.

As with all GMT games put out in the last few years, the 3 inch deep box is incredibly sturdy and heavy. Upon opening it, I realized I was getting a lot of material! 4 counter sheets,  a rule book, a scenario book, a fully mounted game board, two decks of cards, dice, two player’s aid sheets, two sheets for sequence of play, and six power cards. 

Wow, that’s a lot of gaming stuff!

Of course, I am able to compare it against the first printing on my game shelf, and I am impressed by the choices GMT made. The most visually appealing elements are the new mounted board and the thicker counters. There is a lot of text on the board, but it is all easily readable. Also, there are several charts that are fit on the board, which means less supplementary charts lying around like in Virgin Queen. No more putting plexiglass over this gorgeous game–you can just setup and enjoy. I also appreciate the thicker counters. I remember punching the counters in the first printing and having some tear at the corners–no problems this time around.  

I am also very happy to have a completely updated rulebook in my hands. Unfortunately, GMT decided not to go to a color copy, but it’s not that big of a deal. The scenario book also has rules for how to play the two-player variant, which originally came out in C3i magazine some years ago and had to be purchased separately. The two-player diplomacy deck has also been included right out of the box, which is a huge bonus. I feel like I’m getting a lot of goodies for just a modest increase in pricing.

An example of a card from the two-player diplomatic deck.

Another excellent addition is the turn sequence sheets. There are two of these (full color), and they include a multiplayer side and a two player side. No matter what version of the game you use, you’ll find them helpful, as they provide a convenient chart on which to lay out the various cards and game pieces that are added to the game turn by turn. This was one of the biggest hassles of the first printing–separating out the deck and pieces and trying to figure out what came in when. Now you can just lay it all out on a side table and refer to it once you wrap up a turn. Simple and effective. This is another case of GMT listening to its customers, as I think they figured out everyone was downloading turn sequence aides on Board Game Geek anyway.

The new turn sequence sheet.

Here I Stand, second printing, is a great example of how GMT’s production values have improved over the years. They’ve also included enough new material to make this worth picking up for people who own the first edition. With a mounted map, thicker counters, and a useful turn sequence aide, the game is pleasing to the eye and a blast to play. And now…with a nice looking board, people will definitely be eyeing this from across convention halls all over the world.

Inside the Box: Virgin Queen

July 9, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Virgin Queen (VQ) was released in May by GMT Games. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy recently and have been largely impressed by the value of the contents. It retails for $89, but can be purchased for much less through the usual channels. VQ is a card-driven game of war, diplomacy, science, discovery, and religion. It is a monster like its predecessor, Here I Stand (HIS), both in terms of complexity and playing time.

As with all GMT games put out in the past two years, the box is sturdy and colorful. The cover paintings, an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth I atop The Decisive Action with the Armada off Gravelines, catches the eye, as does the subtitle: The Wars of Religion.

Opening up the weighty box, you’ll find…well, a lot. Five full sheets of counters, 134 playing cards, a sturdy game board, six half sheet ruler cards, two 8.5 x 11 reference cards, four 8.5 x 11 supplementary sheets with various trackers on them, a rule book, scenario book, and ten dice. Whew. I’m familiar with HIS, but this game has got a lot more moving parts. It’s going to take me a while to figure out how to even bag and store this thing. 

A huge amount of game stuff.

All together, I would say the components are a big step up from GMT games before 2010. The mounted map is gorgeous, the cards are thick and glossy, and even the cardboard counters are thicker than they used to be (by about 33%).

Left: Counters from the first edition of HIS. Right: An equal number of counters from VQ.

One new addition in VQ is royals, who you can marry off to each other in the diplomacy phase (frankly, this is awesome and hysterical). I was interested to learn each royal has its own card instead of a cardboard chit. The front side includes game information and a portrait, while the back tells you their historical fate.

Be still, my beating heart.

Each player also gets a nice power card which explains all the actions he or she can engage in. I wish these had been a little thicker (perhaps as thick as the board?). However, they have a clean layout considering how complicated the game is.

Again, a lot going on.

I have only found three minor things to complain about with regards to the components of the game. First, there is a lot of dark text on the game board, which makes some of it hard to read. I would have preferred white text on the board instead. Second, there are a few cards in the main deck that have some pretty poor art on them. If every card was as bad, maybe it wouldn’t be so noticeable, but look at the English home card v.s. Scurvy:

Beautiful card…

…and clip art.

Last, the number of supplementary charts that you need to lay out around the game board is rather annoying. In Here I Stand, they managed to fit the turn track, VP track, New World map, New World riches table, diplomacy chart, and the Henry’s Wives table all on the main board. Almost nothing gets on the Virgin Queen main board, which leads to the marked increase in supplemental charts. You’ll need a monster of a table to fit it all on the table, that’s for sure.

The rulebook and scenario book are definitely as good at the Here I Stand ones, and again Ed Beach gets the rules right by making them procedural. For such a complex game, the rules are remarkably easy to understand. A big bonus is that both the rulebook and scenario book are in full color, which makes the examples much easier to read.

All in all, I would say this is a success in terms of its production. When this hits the table in my Church History class in March, my students are definitely going to be wandering over to check it out.

Virgin Queen Sneak Peek: Mechanics Evolution

December 1, 2009

I am currently knee-deep in the playtest of Ed Beach’s latest game, Virgin Queen. In previous posts, I revealed the earliest design themes and some pictures. Having digested the most recent rules documents and seeing a few phases of a four-player scenario play out, it’s time to reveal some of the updated mechanics:

Margot flirting.

Marriages: These have been integrated rather seamlessly into Here I Stand‘s diplomacy mechanics. In order to make diplomacy more interesting and easier to learn, a marriage sub-mechanic has been introduced. Each European power has a number of unmarried royal persons, each with his or her own “eligibility” rating. By offering them in marriage to other powers, you both get the chance at earning victory points and cards. In a recent playtest, I cemented an alliance with Spain as the French. To seal the deal, Margot Valois married Philip II. We placed their two pieces in an “engagement” box on the board, and at the end of the turn, we will see how successful the marriage was. Rolling dice and adding eligibility ratings, we can go all the way from “Husband murdered” to “Founds a new dynasty.” Clever!

Activating Minor and Inactive Major Powers: One of the common gripes about Here I Stand these days is how players can start phony wars. For instance, the Hapsburgs often agree to go to war with Venice so that the Papacy can intervene, get the Venetian key, and thus another card to fight the Protestant player. Now players can spend the CP value of cards to get bumped up on an influence track for a particular minor or inactive major power. When a card is played which requires you to “resolve the power’s status,” each player with influence with that power rolls a die and adds his influence rating. The highest roller gets to activate that power. In my current game, for instance, the French player starts with one influence in the Holy Roman Empire (an inactive major power in the four-player scenario). If the mandatory event German Intervention gets played, I’ll get to roll a die and add my influence. If I am the highest roller, then I get access to a small hand of Holy Roman Empire cards, can move those armies, build fleets, etc. This elegant way of fixing the “dummy war” problem is well-integrated, and doesn’t add complexity to the game.

Reformation and Counter Reformation: Another common complaint with Here I Stand is that resolving the religious game takes far too long. Ed Beach has developed a new way of resolving Reformation and Counter-Reformation attempts that both reflects the changes in the religious game in this new era, and moves the game along more quickly. The English, Spanish, French, and Protestant players can all either “preach sermons” or “suppress heretics” (think “publish treatise” or “burn books”). Spending 2 CP gets you four attempts. You first look at the map and determine whether any spaces are eligible for “automatic conversion.” If you wish, you can immediately flip these, which means no more rolling seven dice, knowing you’ll probably get your “six” result anyway. Once this is done, each remaining attempt equals a die. You roll those dice, and each “five” or “six” result means you flip an eligible space, while each “one” result means you place unrest on an eligible space.

The religious game is further enhanced by a special action only the Protestant player can take. This is a “rebellion.” Spending one CP, a player can start two rebellions. Choosing a space which is currently under Protestant religious influence, but French or Spanish (actually Dutch) political control, the Protestant player just flips them to his political control (assuming no enemy units in the space). Those planning on playing the Catholic powers will quake in their boots–if this space is fortified, a Protestant army pops up on that same space! This is why I’m currently rushing my French forces to unoccupied fortresses that are seething with discontent…

These are just three system that have clearly evolved in a positive fashion since Here I Stand. Stay tuned for more updates as the playtesting process continues, including systems that don’t seem to gel quite yet.

Virgin Queen Sneak Peak Pictures

August 23, 2009

Ed Beach, the designer of Here I Stand and Virgin Queen, was kind enough to forward these pictures onto us. They are from his forthcoming game, Virgin Queen:

The map is a cartogram, which allows more space in countries like France. Note the prevailing wind markers in the New World.

The map is a cartogram, which allows more space in countries like France. Note the prevailing wind markers in the New World.

This is a mockup for the Elizabeth card. The number on the left is her eligibility rating, which declines as she ages.

This is a mockup for the Elizabeth card. The number on the left is her eligibility rating, which declines as she ages.

Here's another "princess card" to be using in diplomacy.

Here's another "princess card" to be using in diplomacy.


Virgin Queen Sneak Peek

August 13, 2009
Queen Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

Queen Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

Last Friday, Russ and I had the unique opportunity to attend a seminar at the World Boardgaming Championships, entitled “Snapshot of a Card-Driven Game Under Development.” The presenter was Ed Beach, and the game was the forthcoming Virgin Queen, a card-driven game about Queen Elizabeth and her era. You probably already know we are huge fans of Here I Stand, Ed’s 2006 game about the Protestant Reformation. Virgin Queen follows right on the heels of that game, picking up where it left off. I’d say about 30-40 people attended the talk. Ed highlighted four major topics, and I’ll take each in turn:

What will stay: Looking back at Here I Stand, it seems that several elements will remain the same in Virgin Queen. The new game will retain the card-driven element, the same basic combat system, and the same basic feel. One of the huge successes of Here I Stand is that each player can gain victory points in slightly different ways: for instance, the French get points for military conquests, New World exploration, and building chateaus. Virgin Queen will have similar “unique VP” mechanics.

What will be tweaked: Ed highlighted a handful of elements that will be improved in Virgin Queen. The first is the religious subsystem. Right now, it sounds like players flipping spaces to Catholic or Protestant will be rolling one die with modifiers, not multiple dice. One common complaint about the older game is that the religious side bogs play down quite a bit. Another tweak will change diplomacy. Ed expressed frustration with diplomacy in the old game, especially in new players being unwilling or unable to wheel and deal effectively. To get new players into diplomacy right away, Virgin Queen will feature a “diplomatic marriages” sub-system. Some players will begin the game with a number of princes/princesses they will be able to marry off to other players in exchange for diplomatic benefits. Essentially, you match up a prince with a princess and end up rolling dice and adding modifiers to see how successful their marriage is. They could divorce, have no children, or found a new and powerful dynasty. The last major tweak is the addition of a two-player tutorial to introduce new players to the game. Right now, it looks like a scenario pitting the Turks against the Spanish in the Mediterranean Sea. This will introduce some basic mechanics.

The map is similar in style to History of the World.

The map is similar in style to History of the World.

What’s new: Several elements have either substantially changed from Here I Stand, or are completely new. What excites me the most is the map itself. The map designer has drawn the map as a cartogram. Ed has described it as “the world according to Philip II.” This allows many more spaces in the Netherlands to simulate the Dutch Revolt, while keeping some areas (like the New World) small. It’s a truly beautiful map, and I think it will draw the eye at conventions and the like. Another major element is the New World. Unlike Here I Stand, players will be interacting with it a little more. For instance, you’ll be able to send raiders there to harass enemy colonies a la Sir Francis Drake. Also, prevailing wind markers will allow you to move more quickly or take attrition depending on which direction your pirates are headed in. The New World also includes the Philippines, China, and India this time around. Last, Virgin Queen will feature a robust espionage sub-system to simulate assassinations, sabotage attempts, etc. (Jesuit agents infiltrating England? You bet!) The Pope is also reduced to a sub-system. Interested players can pay cards to gain Papal influence. The new game will also feature a patronage sub-system, where you can gain victory points for hiring important artists, writers, and scientists to create lasting works.

Current progress: I was surprised to learn that Ed has been working on this game since Here I Stand came out. Right now he’s reporting that the two-player tutorial, New World, Papal influence, and diplomatic marriage mechanics are all working very well. The patronage and religious systems need a bit of tweaking, as does the mid- to late- game feel. It also sounds like the powers are up in the air. The current powers include England, Spain, France, New Protestants (with separate Huguenot and Dutch counter mixes), Turks, and Austrians/Holy Roman Empire, but there are some balance issues with the Austrians as of this writing.

Throughout the presentation, I was able to spot a few specific elements. These included two cards, Paris is Worth a Mass and Iconoclastic Fury. I also spotted a “Jilted by Elizabeth Table.” Playtesting will begin in earnest this September, with various people around the world trying out the two-player tutorial via email. Stay tuned for updates: Russ and I are both on the playtest list. While it looks like there’s a lot of work to be done on this game, I am excited to see it in print in the next few years!

WBC, Day 5 continued: John’s Perspective

August 7, 2009

Well, it is 11:00 and I am sitting on the bed in our hotel room, chomping on a few Wheat Thins and looking back over the day. It was great fun! After Here I Stand, I bought the guys from my semifinals game a round of beer (oh, I will miss Yuengling back in MN), and then some of us settled in for a quick demo/pickup game of Conquest of Paradise. The designer, Kevin McPartland, came over and introduced us all to it, which was gracious of him. He has an immense enthusiasm for what the Polynesian people have done throughout history. This is a two to four-player game. It’s published by GMT, which is odd; it feels like a civilization-building type game, which is very out of character for them. After one play, I am impressed by the marriage of theme and mechanics, though the game feels a bit too short to me. Just as you are done exploring and are busy building up an army, it ends!

After we wrapped up, I got in a three-player game of Small World with Ted from the Here I Stand semi-finals and Tim, a random guy we met in the open gaming room. This was followed by another game with Russ and Noah. And this is when I snapped my eleven game losing streak! I don’t care if Russ had never played the game before and if Noah was ten years old. It doesn’t matter. I won.

I also managed to get in a demo of Dominion: Intrigue, a nifty little card game that feels collectible, but isn’t. It’s a fun brain-puzzler sort of game. You have to purchase cards and build a deck to amass victory points.

Later in the afternoon, Russ and I headed over to a conference room for a one-hour look at Virgin Queen, the “sequel” to Here I Stand. I’ll have a whole post on this in the near future, but suffice to say that it looks like it’s coming along nicely and will (once again) set a new standard for what can be done with card-driven games.

In the evening, we met up with Dennis from the Here I Stand tournament and Battlestar Galactica demo and created a team for the Wits & Wagers game show. I’d guess about 60+ people showed up, and there was a lot of good-natured heckling. I appreciated the chance to blow off a little steam and learn insane bits of trivia like…how many US states allow marriage between first cousins. (That’s sixteen, by the way. Land of the free and home of the…shrinking gene pool?) That got out around 9:30 PM, so we headed to open gaming for one! last! game! It ended up being…Small World. It’s a fun, light little game that doesn’t take a lot of brainpower. And after 12 hours of gaming, you’re no good for anything else.

Today went so well that we decided to essentially end on a high note. We’re sleeping in tomorrow, and will be taking one last lap around the vendors’ hall before heading out. More reflections on the WBC as a whole later on.