Type: Card Driven War Game

Time to play: 180-240 minutes (Teaching: 20-30 minutes)

Best played with: 2 Player (2 Player Review Only)

Here I Stand is a far bigger game than the one I am about to talk about, so just to be clear from the start – this is the two player game ONLY!

I am, however, writing this because it is a FASCINATING two player game. Your typical war game is often a simple battle for military supremacy across a complex map and with the biggest asymmetry to be found between being the attacker and the defender. In Here I Stand all this is turned on its head with a battle of religion and political control, constraining the militaristic game to a small part of the epic battle.

So it’s c. 3 hrs of flipping territory from one religion to another, from one politic to another and occasionally occupying it with a tiny force. That sounds simple… well it’s not. Taking this game at pace is almost impossible, but there is great detail and great tension in every move.

Each turn, you will take a handful of cards (like many other GMT games) and you will pick to play them either for points or for the event. The events here are extremely detailed and depict an amazing history of religious struggle between Catholics and Protestants. The operations costs allows you to mobilize what few forces you have and to cause religious disruption throughout the land.

If you are playing as the protestants, you will start the game with absolutely nothing – in fact you will start with an event that gives you a base of operation. From this base in the Hapsburg empire, you will desperately and gradually expand through religious conversion. Eventually, you will hit a card called the  Schmalkaldic League (or your opponent will!) and that event will turn you from a solely religious power to a military power. If this comes to early, you will need to use the military force to conquer locaitons quickly before your enemy can reinforce and slow your gains. If this comes late, you will have most of Germany under your control and now must turn your attention to the conversion of the bible into new languages, and the battle for England and France.

If you are the Catholics, you will need to build a military base in Italy from which you can press North. The path to religious re-conversion is not available to you. That’s not to say you won’t spend time early game containing the expansion, but the historical shift to protestant is unavoidable in this game. You will find a balance between containment and the need for military strength to allow you to draw more cards. If the game goes your way, you will end up getting more cards each turn than the protestant. If you fail to gain early ground the protestant will overrun you in the mid game.

How to win then? For the papal player, build a military base and contain the expansion. For the protestant, take Germany early and push into England and France opportunistically. Neither player will dominate unless they receive fortunate benefits in the debates, but with conversion of France (or all other territories) as the marginal condition you will edge past the 25 victory points required or lead the game at the end of the day.

This then is a brutal game. Edge your way to a challenging victory condition or to the survival through a game that can take 4hrs+ as tiredness and analysis paralysis sets in. The early game will offer the papal player the dominant position but with hard work to actually destroy the protestant. The mid-game is the one point in the game where the protestant can win – switching to a national force and advancing the spread of the religion quicker. However, as the game turns to the late stage the advantage shifts back to the papal player and containment will become simpler.

Adding to the complexity is the debates. A tricky situation where both players combine luck and tactics for the opportunity to make break through conversions in the war on religion. The added benefit of these is a clear chance to gain a victory points if you compete against a weak opponent – who may be burned at the stake for his failure.

Now, I haven’t spent too much time on the mechanics above, but I hope I have given a feeling for the game. This is the ebb and flow of a sprouting religion across Europe. The mechanics are a battle though. This is a complex game at the full version, but as you step down to the smaller game the added deck that runs diplomacy for you and the complex rule adjustments will make this a difficult game to learn and run.

The diplomacy deck is fascinating, a deck that switches allegiances and delivers both sides invasion forces by which to run a true offensive on the ground against the opponent. These forces are instrumental for the papal player seeking to regain an electorate or for the protestant to hold back the papal player. The French, the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans will all contribute to the game through this process.

However, it’s the side rules that are the most frustrating. Building only in home spaces (as per the normal game), not using spring deployment or religious conversion outside of specific map areas – tough rules to focus on and to ensure they are followed.

Aside from that and a lot of admin though, this is an immense game with emergent strategy, variability and luck but without randomness.

Last notes,

  • If you like a complex two player battle, and want something different this is an engaging and historically rich game
  • If you hate complexity in rules and tidying up at the end of the round, then watch out for the small footnotes in this one!
  • If you win, try again as the other side – it will be tricky!