The first day of WBC West, and I'm smiling all the way out to Sunriver in the car. Kind of a carwash on the drive, but not much traffic and that always makes for a more pleasant drive.
I arrive an hour before Chuck and Mike, and spend most of the time loading in and getting Here I Stand set up (HiS). I was getting pretty close when Mike and Chuck showed up. We had pre-determined that I would be the English/Protestants, Mike the Haps and Paps, and Chuck the King Louis XVI Ottoman furniture store. Mike had played a long time ago, and for all practical purposes hadn't played other than to understand the very basic concepts. Chuck and I had played a little more, and I'd refreshed the rules, but that didn't stop us from making several major errors early in the game (placing control markers on fortified spaces without sieging, for example). However, we plunged through and had what I considered a satisfying game.
I've tried to enjoy HiS in the past, but since every game has been a learning game (and with very slow play, not that our game was speedy) it's been hard for me to decide how I feel about the game. One of the biggest issues I've had has been that you can't retreat an army into a fortified space unless you have four or fewer units, making it hard to defend said space. This time, I figured out that they still have to siege, even with no units in the fort, so that gives the guy running away a chance to come back in and save the city. I can't tell you what a big deal this was for me, and it's improved my sense of the game immensely.
The game started out normal enough. France and England allied to keep the Hapsburgs down, and the Protestants got out to a strong start, taking 10 spaces in Germany. I had Schmalkaldic League, but never quite got to the 12 to play it early, and I'm not sure that it was a great idea that early anyway. The Ottomans advanced up through Hungary, the Hapsburgs fought the French for the most part and left England alone, and the Papacy started out it's series of theological debates by having their weak debater disgraced.
The second turn saw a huge change to my fortures. Schmalkaldic came out again, but in the discard pile, and I was tempted to grab and play it, but in the end decided I wanted more Protestant spaces, and that was a good idea. However, my hot die rolling in the first turn went totally cold, and I ended up losing ground in Germany. Plus I lost one of my best debater on a fluke roll (3 points to the Papacy!) On the bright side, Henry asked for a divorce (through card play) and started down the road to a healthy son, which happened finally with Anne of Cleves (after both Anne Bolynn and Jane Seymour turned out to be horn dogs, although that did move my Marital Status along).
By the end of the fourth turn, things were looking good for the Protestants and English. The Prots had taken the bulk of Germany when the Schmalkaldic League got played by default, although I was missing two Electorates. Unfortunately, I was thinking there were five Electorates, so I thought I only had three and didn't take my extra Prot card. King Hank had his male heir (and healthy), and pretty much all of England was Protestant. By the end of turn five, the scores were tightly clustered in the low 20s, so everyone had a shot at taking the prize. Sadly, I was in such a position that I either needed Edward to come out or a really awesome Prot turn, but it wasn't to be. I held my own but it wasn't enough. The French managed to hold off the Papacy in a free-for-all in Italy (including the Ottomans, the Hapsburgs, everyone but me!) and the end result was the French hitting 25 right at the end of the turn, giving Chuck the win.
I really found the challenge of building up from a weak position (both the Prots and British) and came close to winning. Oddly, neither Chuck nor Mike was nearly as enthusiastic as I was, but perhaps I'm more interested in the overall arc of how the game develops rather than in finding interesting things to do. I hear that the six player game is good, but my experience has been with people learning the game and it goes *slow*. Even our game took about 90-120 minutes per turn, and it really didn't need to - I was ready to go with my play on both sides a good 60% of the time, and I would imagine that 45-60 minutes for a turn is doable.
For me, an excellent start to the festivities.