By Rob Gaul.
So you’ve decided to take on your first game of MEPBM, and visit the thrashing on the enemy that they so richly deserve. But hang on, what is that 124 page monstrosity with all too few trendy pictures in it? A Rulebook? Arrrrrgggghhhh!!!!! Maybe it wont be so easy afterall?
No one can decide the hows and whats for you to survive and win your first game, however the following is a treatise on elements of the game that will help you survive that most confusing of openings, the game startup. For this is the moment where you customize your nation to fulfill the goals you have for the length of the game. Get it wrong and you will waste much valuable time and resources in replacing characters etc to fit your purposes (if indeed you can do it at all).
Growing an Economy
What your economy means to you/the turn sequence
A little should be said firstly about the operation of your economy. If in any given turn you cannot meet your maintenance bills, AND a computer enforced tax rise of up to 100% can’t cover your turn’s debts, THEN YOU ARE ELIMINATED (or in less technical terms – your nation is terminated, your allies weep, and your enemies put on a barby and a slab down by the beach). Each turn in your turn report there is a subsection in the miscellaneous report section that bears your expected revenue for next turn. This is what you need to cover. However an added consideration is – if you lose a population centre to combat, or production is halted by siege (failed attack on fortifications or siege order but not THREATS or INFLUENCE by enemy emissary) – this happens before maintenance and so must be taken into account by you in your final figures. Changes in the game season also will affect the gold produced in your populations depending on the time of year. (see the production multiple in the rulebook).
If you haven’t met your maintenance bill for the turn, the computer will automatically upgrade your tax rate accordingly, however the loyalty penalty to all of your populations will be greater if the change is enforced as opposed to increased by the ChTaxRt order.
Small economic nations such as most DS nations have very little latitude with enforced changes. IF YOU ARE RELYING ON YOUR ALLIES TO TRANSFER GOLD FOR YOUR MAINTENANCE you must keep a track of your maintenance bills 2 turns ahead of the current turn. The larger freep economies have a lot more latitude with enforced tax rises if necessary due to the size and number of their populations allowing a greater gain on each rise.
The turn sequence.
Maintenance comes AFTER:- NatSells (selling your stores to the market), so if you are meeting your own expenses, you can do so from turn to turn.
*** Very important note, there are limits on sells of stores to the market. Only so many sales will be accepted before the market refuses further sales of a store type. As a general rule Food sales at 1gp will allow you substantial sales, however at 2gp you might not get any sales off. If a store is at rock bottom prices you have more chance of selling than if it is at a premium price. The lesser stores such as food and leather will allow greater sales than the premium stores such as Mithril. This is important if you are relying on that sale to survive. When prices are high it is better to hedge your requirements by selling additional stores types.
Maintenance is calculated BEFORE all of the following: Combat, Threats by armies, Influences by Emissaries, Disbanding of armies, Transfers of gold/stores from your allies, Retiring of Characters.
Combat happens after Maintenance is calculated, but before it is paid. So the results of combat cannot effect the amount which must be paid. It can, however effect the income you recieve, as population centres that are seiged, captured or destroyed will not give you any income, and you will lose their stores from any 325 (sell) orders you issue to raise gold.
Basically you will receive your production from a population that turn regardless that it is threatened or influenced. You will not receive production for your captured/destroyed or sieged population. You will also not receive any production for any enemy populations you capture, threaten or influence that turn.
Hence, if you are requiring aid to meet your maintenance, then the need for your economic game to be 2 turns ahead of the military one. If you get your results then realise you need to disband your armies in order to survive the coming turn, then you are already dead. Also if you leave your requests for gold from your allies till the turn you need it, it is too late and you will be dead because transfers come after maintenance.
Getting the turn sequence straight in your head is vital. I have played in several “Experts?” Games and witnessed several of the players eliminated in exactly this manner. Didn’t ask for help until the turn they needed it to be in their accounts (if they asked at all)
An important note – If you are relying on Gold steals to make your ends meet, then you will get eliminated sooner or later once you try at a nation that is broke. Therefore treat your gold steals as an extra bonus, not to be counted on as a given.
This is my turn’s check-list basically (I’m always financially unviable and looking for cash)
- Find the expected Revenue figure on your turn report.
- Subtract the gold value of any popn you expect to lose or have sieged in the coming turn. (nothing so embarrassing as losing production to a couple of sieges and getting eliminated when the enemy couldn’t even take the population)
- Add the value of any troops you intend to recruit (you don’t pay maintenance on recruited troops till the turn after you’ve hired them)
- Subtract the value of troops you will lose this turn in combat.
This gives you the basic value of your maintenance bill for 2 turns hence. And that is how far you need to be ahead of the game to stave off economic ruin.
The turn following is far simpler. You just have to realise you still have to pay maintenance on troops even though they will be killed in combat on the turn. Recapping then, any population you lose will not supply you with gold. Any population you gain will likewise not supply you with gold. Great setup hey.
In most cases startup nations possess only very basic economies, and therefore have to be worked at in order that greater forces may be afforded in both military and character pools. The Emissary is the chief tool in camp placement (commanders can also be used, however they do not receive skill rank rises for successfully placed camps, and the cost is 4000 gold as opposed to 2000 gold for an Emissary, making their camps both more expensive, and lower loyalty/harder to upgrade/vulnerable to attack/threat).
Unless your nation has a super economy at startup (eg Gondors, Harad etc) I would suggest 2 x 30 point emissaries as a good start. If your nation doesn’t have E30’s at game start then it’s advisable to pay the 10,000 gold to do order 725 Name Character to get one. Normally the population limit passes on about turns 10-12 after which new populations can be placed ONLY if old ones are destroyed. However for a couple of turns before that the difficulty of placing camps increases so that for the most part only the more experienced emissaries will succeed. Any more emissaries before turn 6 may leave you vulnerable in other areas. The DS usually feel this when they leave their commander pools weak against the fast attacking freep. Stronger nations or those in vulnerable positions such as the WK may do better with only one such emissary till turn 6 so they can field extra commanders to avoid losing that which they already own.
Strategic v’s Economic camp placement
There are 2 basic types of camps to place, economic and strategic. Strategic camps are camps whose placement are vital to your nation’s security interests. Such places where a camp with a tower are useful are areas where the enemy’s army movement can be broken up, eg astride roads, in mountain passes etc (note – populations with fortifications halt forces with neutral or lower relations on either side, unfortified populations do not). The camp is situated in order that it’s mere presence can buy you time as any enemy army will be forced to lose a turn’s march moving through it. Strategically placed camps also include those placed in a specific area intended for later upgrade and use as a recruiting base. eg any BS or DS Easterling player who places their camps near their respective capitals will face many turns march before they get to the front. Instead they can locate their camps further north or west near the fighting and recruit from there. So you also need to consider where you intend to be fighting in the next 10 turns, and where you will be in the next 20 turns etc. Those without a plan will be left behind.
Economic camps are those that are intended to provide stores for use/sale or for upgrading to provide gold. They’re usually situated in ‘safe’ areas. Camps placed in mountains will normally produce gold in the form of stores (however the camp will often be in a weather category 1 or 2 levels lower than the surrounding countryside so the stores produced will suffer accordingly). Camps in hills/rough also have a reasonable chance of producing gold. Gold producing hexes in other hex types are uncommon but not unknown.
Your tax rate starts off at 40%. Changing tax rates will raise or lower the loyalties of all populations owned according to the size of the rate change. eg a rise of 13% will cause loyalty losses of 0-13 loyalty points. A rise from the startup 40 to 60% will entail a loss of 0-20 loyalty points on ALL populations. Camps start with loyalty of 30. I usually go for a 55% tax rate initially, that way you will get a look at the loyalty damage to your camps without risking losing them due to loyalty loss (15 or lower loyalty may degrade populations, see below).
Therefore it is preferable to alter your tax rate to the highest desired rate as soon as possible after game start in order to minimize loyalty damage to your vulnerable soon to be placed camps. Some players opt for a 79% tax rate on turn 1 before placing camps and subsequently lowering the tax rate to 60% giving all their camps a loyalty rise. I have tried this and was not too successful. Firstly the commander must be extremely good to affect such a high rise. Mine did not do so well, so I was still struggling to get to 79% when the time came to knock the rate back to 60%. As a consequence many of my populations got heavy loyalty penalties and the financial bonuses were not really worth the loss. Care would need to be taken to avoid losses of camps due to turn based loyalty penalties, so the tax rate would need to be lowered within a couple turns of placing the first camps.
Tax rates as they affect loyalty. Tax rates can have a positive or negative effect on all your population loyalties from turn to turn. Here are some rates that have been tried by several players. It’s best to use the highest rate in the subsection as the loyalty penalty will be the same as lower rates, but you will get more gold, ie 39%, 60% or 79%. 60% is the best rate for healthy economies as you will have a fairly stable loyalty across the board.
39% – Loyalty of all populations increase 0 to 2 points/turn
40 – 60 – Loyalty of all populations changes -1 to +1/turn
79% – Loyalty of all populations decreases -1 to -3/turn
60% seems to be the highest tax rate possible to enjoy neutral loyalty penalties/bonuses, and therefore the most popular for most nations with an economic capability. Many of the DS nations opt for 39% tax as this gives a good loyalty bonus each turn, and having a 100% tax would not really improve their income significantly due to their poor population base.
Your new camp receives a loyalty rank half of the skill ranks of the emissary (or commander) rounded down. So a 30 point Emissary will create a 15 loyalty camp. If an unfortified population’s loyalty reaches lower than 16, it is almost certain that the population will degrade one level/turn if it is greater than a camp, and a strong chance it will disband if it is a camp (having a character present will stop this effect). So a camp laid by any emissary of less than 30 skill stands a strong chance of degrading and disbanding each turn, from the moment it is laid until such time as it’s loyalty is raised, it is fortified or a character takes up residence. The population’s loyalty will also affect the difficulty to upgrade the population to the next level.
Loyalty can be adversely affected by some events. For example the loss of a Major Town to combat (not threat or influence) will cause a loss in all population’s of that nation of about 0-15% of existing loyalty, while loss of a city incurs 0-20% losses. The loss of the nation’s capital also incurs an additional 0-20 loss of existing loyalties. The loss of a town has also been known to suffer loyalty penalties which seems to be more common now. Up to 4 per population seems to be fairly standard.
Eventually you will want to upgrade your populations for whatever reason. Only one level can be upgraded per turn at any individual population centre. The order is of average difficulty, therefore an E50 or better has a fair chance of successfully passing the order’s difficulty level. The combined sum of the population’s loyalty and the Emissary’s skill ranks will also affect the order’s chances of success. The following is a list of combined totals that will give a fair chance of success. (Emmy skill plus loyalty)
Camp to Village 70
Village to Town 90
Town to MT 110
MT to City 130
Population size as regards to recruiting troops. The larger the population, the more troops you can recruit. Recruiting at 2 cities gives you the same troop raising capacity as recruiting at 5 villages. You can relieve much of the strain on your character pool by building a good strong recruiting base. The following is a table on population size and recruiting potential.
Camp 100 troops/turn
Village 200 troops/turn
Town 300 troops/turn
Major Town 400 troops/turn
City 500 troops/turn
Given that at the very best your character limit will be 21, it is obvious that some work needs to be put into your population centres to better stream line your operation to best take advantage of your character assets.
Further Camp Placement considerations.
There are further game circumstances to consider when placing your camps.
DS – After turn 5 the dragons will start to appear in the Misty mountains hexes. Any dragons in your camps will appear in your population reports on your turn results. If there are no camps there you wont know where they are. Dragons have up to a 45,000 combat strength bonus to your armies (they kill several thousand enemy HI at a go) and go a long way to evening the disparity between DS and Freep army strengths. So care should be taken at game start to make sure camps are placed in recruiting hexes.
Freep – The DS agents will start becoming powerful from about turn 10 onwards (and vile from about turn 18). So it is a good point to have your recruiting base off DS maps as soon as possible after that to avoid losing your vulnerable recruiting commanders. Setting up a good recruiting base just outside of DS visible maps is always a good strategic move. Allows you access to the front, whilst also affording you some protection from the DS cut throats.
Relations (Nation to Nation)
At game start all members of the 2 allegiances start with “Tolerated” relations to all their allies, and “Disliked” relations to all opposition nations. This effectively means the nation can attack any enemy nation’s armies and population centres, and may pass through a hex containing an allied army or fortified population, but cannot draw supply from an allied population, or form a company of characters with their allies.
Relations to Neutral Nations
The relations situation with regards to Neutral Nations is entirely different, and a matter of concern for all allegiance nations as well as the neutrals themselves. Relations for neutrals to ALL other nations is “Neutral” and vice versa. This means that they cannot attack nor be attacked by any other nation until such time as the respective relations are downgraded to “Disliked” by the attacking party.
A favourite trick of the Neutral nation is to entreat with their intended victims holding out the hope of allegiance while all the time downgrading their relations and preparing for war. They then execute a surprise attack against their target hoping he hasn’t downgraded the relations and oft times managing to cripple their target while he races to downgrade relations and reduce the damage (As if it’s not enough trying to counter his armies, only to find your armies can’t do anything but watch them burn you to the ground). What this means essentially in game terms is that the Neutral nation having “Disliked” relations to his enemy may attack, whilst the target nation having “Neutral” relations to the aggressor can’t do anything until he downgrades his own relations. The Neutral’s armies can be halted a turn in their movement if they encounter an army or fortified population of their victim, but nothing else. So the Neutral may move from under the opposing force without recourse to combat (subject to stand and defend orders) instead saving his strength to conquer the enemy’s populations. At best for the victim, the attacker will get a turn of surprise action before he can react and downgrade. This can be enough to destroy a nation if carefully executed however. It can be worse if the victim needs to return commanders to his capital or fails the order.
To further the potential damage that a neutral can inflict on an unprepared nation, his emissaries may influence the victim’s populations regardless of whether there is an army there or not (* Having an army of the home nation present prevents all nation’s emissaries to whom the owner has disliked or hated relations from influencing the population away). This can be particularly painful later in the game if the Neutral nation has quite a few emissaries. They can remove your populations including your capital in rapid order.
However in counter to this, the Neutral nation is also vulnerable to the victim’s allies in exactly the same way and to a greater extent. If the Neutral has not had the chance to downgrade relations with all opposition nations prior to his aggressive moves, then every one of those nations has the ability to inflict the same damage as indicated above. A prime example of this is a DS Rhudaur. He has 6 freep nations with direct access to his realm, with all 6 able to conduct the same maneuvers as described above regardless (and in fact totally heedless) of any defending armies.
Of course it isn’t always possible to effect these relations changes, particularly since the game start is when most opposing nations are at their weakest. But care should be taken by the neutral nation to downgrade their enemies at earliest opportunity. But beware, downgrading relations can be detected by your victim if he has a divine relations spell ruining your surprise and perhaps leaving you open to one of your own.
Nations intending to work closely with an allied game start/neutral should also upgrade relations and vice versa to allow freedom of movement through each other’s armies and fortified territories or risk continual movement disruptions. Remember you will be halted in movement when encountering and army or population fortification if that army/fortification’s controlling nation and your nation don’t have tolerated or friendly relations towards each other.
There are many other instances where relations come into play for example in character assassinations and combat stats, however we’ll only touch on the life and death matters as they effect your nation. All others can be survived unchanged or altered at any time during the course of the game.
Commander required for relations changes
In order to effect a relations change, a Commander of 40 rank has a fair chance of success. So saying I have succeeded quite a few times with characters as low as C20, and failed with C40’s many times before. If you are relying on the order’s success though, try at least a C40.
Allied Relations:- Character Companies
In order to create character parties with your allies, you have to have friendly relations with all those allies who intend to have characters in the party. Therefore you have to upgrade your relations one level with each of your applicable allies, or 2 levels with an allied game start neutral nation.
Enemy Relations:- Combat/Character orders
I wont go into the details of a downgrade to “hated” relations with your enemies. Suffice it to say that many orders such as assassinations are affected by the relations experienced between the nations. Combat stats are also affected by the relations. If you have the spare command orders it’s worth doing, but not in preference to tax changes, naming characters or most activities. It’s not vital to your survival, just a helpful advantage.
Neutral Relations:- Influencing populations and combat.
We have already gone into the dangers posed by neutral nations declared in opposition regarding their emissaries influencing your populations out from under you, or their armies taking them off you.
So if a particular neutral has joined the enemy, it is always a good policy if you are within a couple movement zones (24 hexes) to downgrade your relations immediately to avoid any embarrassing losses.
Your character naming program is your single most important matter of choice in the early turns. From here you have to decide what type of game you wish to play. The choices of characters made here can be vital to your survival. For instance, if you are playing a front line nation vulnerable to enemy assault and you choose to name characters other than commanders in substantial numbers, you could find yourself losing swiftly in the field and unable to recruit effectively. I myself am an unrepentant war gamer, where as most MEPBM players are character orientated in their gaming. So my preference for commanders as you will see below needs to be tempered by your own game preference.
There are 4 types of classes. Each has it’s own strengths. To ignore any of the classes is to cut off an important piece of your arsenal. However some are more important to your play than others and so should have a greater representation in your character pool. I wont go into any great detail here as to the uses of the individual classes, instead I’ll concentrate on some of the idiosyncracies of the game that should be taken into account when deciding what is needed. I will give a little more detail in the case of Commanders as a lack of such characters has lead to many a nation’s downfall in the past.
Commanders are your military leaders. No other class can recruit or lead your armies. When your last commander has died, your nation is eliminated. So in effect this is the most important of the character classes because you can live without any of the others. A commander in a pinch can use the 725 NamChar order to name a character of any of the other classes. However no other class can issue this order.
I tend to a strong representation in commanders from game start for several reasons. Of particular concern to the freep nations is that the DS can quite conceivably assassinate 3 or 4 of your commanders in a turn (particularly if you have backup commanders with your forces). If your commander recruiting has been neglected particularly at game start, you might find yourself in the position where you only have one or two left and thus are effectively out of the fighting for quite a few turns. I have seen this often enough particularly with nations whose character bonuses are with other classes such as the Woodies and Northmen. In one turn such nations can cease to have any military force on the map. Compounding this problem is the fact that the DS can deny you the use of your capital through the use of an assassin party (the buggers kill your characters, then they just sit there and wait for you to come back). You might not be able to name characters for some time.
Many players are concerned at naming too many commanders as this will interfere with your ability to name the other classes. A good compromise is to use the NamChar order for a multi classed character and give your character 10 points of command ability. That way he can recruit in a pinch, but use his primary skill in any of the other classes. The down side to this is that multi skilled characters cost 10,000 gold instead of 5,000. And it hurts accordingly when they get killed. Mages and Emissaries are particularly good for this as they are not at much risk at other times. Agents tend to get killed fairly often particularly when they’re freep.
Your emissary is at a basic level, a banker/politician. Your emissary places camps in vacant hexes (hexes with no pre existing population) or ruins. You then receive production from that population.
Emissaries can influence away other nation’s population centres **As long as no army of that nation is present during the influence phase (see also relations above for special cases)**. There is much conjecture on the rank required for a fair chance of success here, but E50 for a camp seems to be good (I have had a lot of success with E40’s v’s nil fortifications), whilst E70’s can readily fail on the larger and better fortified populations.
Agents in the early stages of the game are used for stealing the enemy’s gold. The DS are economically weak and therefore rely on freep gold to survive. The freep often attempt to make life hard for the DS by stealing it back (cheeky swine) or making themselves broke (vicious swine). An A40 will usually be successful against a camp/village. I like to use A50’s against the larger populations. A60’s v’s national capitals at the very least. The maximum you can steal is the population’s production base. At the capital however you can completely drain the treasury. So be careful about hording too much gold.
Agent as a guard. I’ve seen many freep teams use their agents to guard. This is successful at game start, but soon the DS super agents such as Ji Indur start killing your characters regardless of the guards, and injuring/killing those as well. So guarding later in the game is not so successful for the freep.
Agents as assassins. Assassination is a difficult order. As such it is not advisable to try with less than an A70 unless you are desperate (or derive some kind of pleasure from killing your own characters, CL notwithstanding). An A70 will at times be successful against characters skill ranked at 40 or less, and A80’s will generally be successful against most targets. *** A side note that can cause accute indigestion, skill artifacts increase the target’s rank accordingly, so think seriously before you try to take out Elrond or Murazor ***.
Stealth. Stealth is a good debate point as to it’s real affect. I believe it adds approximately half the stealth rank to the agent rank for agent actions (and there is much conjecture here also). So an A60 St30 would operate similarly to an A75 (but would still be considered an A60 for challenge rank.
All round Character/Military Game
This is the game I would advise for most players. Gives you a fair blend of all the character types. Your military will be fulsome without being awesome, but you will also have a good support base in the emissary and agent fields. Given the lack of support from your allies that you will come to know and love, this gives you character options as well.
Freep character program
As mentioned above the freep nations are particularly vulnerable to the loss of their commanders to the DS assassins. Therefore you need a good strong commander pool. Each nation will often be active on several fronts. You need to decide how many and which populations you wish to be recruiting at, how many offensive armies you wish to field, then consider having replacement characters on hand.
This is particularly heavy in relation to the limit on character numbers, so what I find to be a good plan is to name 2 commanders at game start and remove 2 of your startup multi class comms from the front if necessary. Naming multi class comms allows you to use them as commanders in an emergency, but to employ them in another primary skill at other times. Thus it is easier on your character limits.
I consider the following to be a good formula for the 21 character limit for freep
3 Emissaries (2 at game start)
13 Commanders (multi class comms able to operate as other classes)
You of course will need to assess what your needs are. Some nations such as Northern Gondor with their huge military capacities are more suited to an almost exclusive commander presence. Some such as the Noldo who are well insulated in the NW can concentrate on their character game leaving the command of armies to their allies.
Some time ago I took on Northern Gondor naming 4 commanders at game start giving me 12 out of 12 for the first 5 turns, and a huge military punch against Mordor early on. Your character types should fit the circumstances.
The Freep’s great advantage lies in their great population base giving massed recruiting potential, and the ability to bare the cost, make use of the advantage because you are unlikely to ever win the character war.
DS character program
The DS are far weaker economically and so less able to afford the prohibitively expensive multi class characters. However most DS nations have few recruiting populations, and are not particularly prone to enemy assassinations, so they can afford not to have many commanders, and can instead concentrate on single class agents etc.
If in doubt as to what your nation is best suited to, have a careful look at your nation sheet, see how many enemy nations are on your doorstep, if that doesn’t look too bad, then see what your bonuses are. Normal characters start with a skill rank of 30. If your sheet indicates a rank of 40 or other such bonus then you are well advised to cater to that bonus insofar as you are able because the bonuses make your characters and armies superior in their fields to the average national attribute. If you intend to name a 40 skill character, you need to do it with another 40 skill character of the class or else the new character will have the skill rank of the naming character. eg a multi skilled C10/A40 of a nation capable of naming C40’s will only name a C10.
There is far more to the game than has been explained above. Tactics and Strategies are something you will have to develop (or persevere against) yourself. The above is merely a basic guide on how to set up your nation so as to better your chances of survival. So saying, I wish you all the best in your future games. Take what is offered here as you will, use what you like, disregard the rest. Feel free to improve upon any of the ideas and when you’re ready – come back to kick my butt. See you on the field (spread thin and jammy in all likelihood)