When you have just learned a shiny new board game, especially one which is a bit longer and more complex than others, it’s nice to have some strategic direction. That’s what I aim to provide with my series Three Basic Tips – strategy advice for beginner and intermediate players that is easy to remember and yet gets you places. So far, I’ve covered Twilight Struggle, Prussia in Friedrich, and the Hapsburgs in Here I Stand. Today, it’s Here I Stand (Ed Beach, GMT Games) again – with three basic tips for the Papacy, a notoriously tough power to play (and win). I think that the Papacy is lots of fun, though, and here’s how to play the early game, how to win debates, and what do in diplomacy to succeed!
Renaissance Papacy: War and Pomp
Let’s be blunt: The early popes suck. Both Leo X and Clement VII lose ties in counter-reformation attempts. Thus, until Paul III takes over, skip the counter reformation. Sure, the Protestants will run wild with all their treatises and scripture translations, but you will not be able to stop them early anyway. And your command points are better used elsewhere than in fruitless attempts to burn books.
So, what to do instead? – The first answer is to conquer Florence. You should spend most of your first turn efforts on that. There are several reasons why that’s a good idea: Florence is an independent key, so if you don’t take it, the French or the Hapsburgs will, but both of them are likely too busy elsewhere in the first turn. Florence will give you two precious VP, and once you get another key (likely Venice, maybe Genoa or even Milan) by card play or (less likely) conquest, you’ll also get one more card per turn.
Once Florence has been conquered, the Papacy can spend most of their command points in the early game either on building St. Peter’s (a steady source of VP) or, possibly even more exciting, hiring mercenaries. “What does the pope need mercenaries for?”, you ask. “It’s not like the Papacy is going on a conquering spree.” True, but a sizable army has two advantages: First, it shows the French and Ottoman players (and maybe even the Hapsburgs) that you’re no pushover and discourages them from attacking you. Spending a few CP on mercenaries can save you a lot of trouble in the long run. And mercenaries are currency to be spent in the diplomacy phase – more on that wheeling and dealing later.
However, you don’t have to neglect religion altogether in the early game: Debates (which are no counter-reformation attempts) offer some good chances to pick up conversions, and more importantly, VP from burned Protestant debaters. The next tip will show you how you win them.
Turning Up the Heat: Winning Debates
To win as the Papacy, you’ll need a lot of victory points. (Technically, you could also achieve a military auto-win, but that’s a lot tougher given that you barely ever command military forces strong enough for an offensive against another major power.) I’ll outline the VP math (in italics) in this section, but if you’re not that interested, just skip that part and believe me when I say that you need at least a few VPs from burning Protestants in debates to cross the victory threshold.
How to get 25 VP as the Papacy? – As laid out above, you should be able to gain four keys (8VP). Depending on your religious success (at least from turn ~4 on), you should have 6-10VP from the amount of Protestant spaces. If you max out St. Peter’s, you’ll get another 5VP. Summed up, that’s 19-23VP. Maybe you’ll get some more VP from another key or card events, but in all likelihood, the path to victory runs through a heretic’s stake.
So, how do you win these debates? – You want to pit a lot of Papal dice against very few Protestant dice. Your best weapon for that is your Home Card Leipzig Debate which allows you to choose your own debater or exclude a Protestant debater – usually, choosing Eck is your best option (debater rating of 3 + plus 3 dice when attacking + plus 1 for his bonus = 7 dice!). Now you only need a weak opponent. Should the Protestant be so foolish as to commit a weak debater (rating of 1 or 2) first, you can immediately pounce on this sole committed debater which will only have 2 or three dice (debater rating plus 1 die as a committed defender) for good chances to burn him. Otherwise, you can often manufacture such a setup: Tyndale (rating of 2) is the sole English debater for at least two turns. You can attack him with a regular debate to commit him and then follow up with Leipzig Debate and Eck the turn after. In the French language zone, Calvin is the only strong debater (rating of 4), so you can excommunicate him via Papal Bull, start a debate in the same language zone to commit a debater, and then next turn play Leipzig Debate on the committed debaters.
To Cajole and to Bully: Papal Diplomacy
Historically, the pope has been an important power broker in western Christendom. You need to embrace this role in the game and conduct active and creative diplomacy. After all, the Papacy has the largest arsenal of diplomatic threats and promises at their disposal: In addition to all the usual means of forging alliances, giving or receiving card draws or mercenaries (see above), promising to play specific cards for the event, etc., the pope can also excommunicate Catholic rulers who have misbehaved and grant a divorce to Henry VIII of England.
I counsel that in diplomacy you try to see things from the perspective of your interlocutor. What would help (or hurt) them? A card event like “Treachery!” might not be very useful to you, but for a power which wants to go on the offensive (especially against a foe with numerically superior forces), it could be crucial. You could offer such a card play even if you don’t know what you’d like in return. Maybe the other player has ideas of their own how they could reward you – a campaign against the Protestants, playing nice pro-Papal cards for the event, etc.
This focus on your interlocutor’s perspective will also prevent you from selling too cheap. Let’s have a look at the likely biggest diplomatic deal, granting Henry VIII a divorce. Doing so does not cost the pope much (they are only barred from allying with the Hapsburgs for the turn), but it helps England immensely (they save their Home Card with all its amazing abilities and would receive 5VP if a male heir is born). So, if you grant the divorce, make the English pay through the nose!
Which strategies do you use to win as the Papacy? Let me know in the comments!