Turning War Into Gold

Waging war in Illyriad is expensive. That’s probably the main reason why people rarely march to war. In conventional browser-based wargames, attacking other players is a way to get rich (and so build more troops, and so attack more players…). Illyriad is neither conventional nor specifically a wargame, and attacking other players is expensive.

Think about the numbers. Most decent sized cities – the sorts of places with resources worth stealing – will have a Ward of Destruction in place, or will be able to cast one very swiftly if menaced. If you Raid or Attack a city with a Ward of Destruction up, you can expect to lose 250 troops. Even the cheapest troops to recruit cost 200 gold each in equipment: look at the market prices for spears and beer (required for the cheapest Orc unit) for example. That means that before you even engage the enemy defenders, you are out of pocket at least 50,000 gold. And if the city has a decent Wall then you will probably lose more troops than the target in an even fight. And because troop movement takes some time in Illyriad a clever defender can hide away anything worth pillaging anyway.

Even without considering any political ramifications, is it worth spending 50,000 gold just to start with? Generally not.

But what if all that you risked was, say, 5,000 gold? Or 500 gold? That might make sense.

And that’s where Blockades come in.

Consider this:

  • A Blockade can be just ten troops, or just one, with a level 1 Commander
  • The Commander’s Resurrection costs (remember to only use Level 1 Commanders) will be a mere 100 gold, and the troops could be worth just 200 gold each
  • The average value of a successful caravan capture might be, say, half a million gold (a full compliment of ‘vans laden with stone will be worth that – a delivery of saddles could be worth much more)
  • If your Blockades have 10 inexpensive soldiers each. And
  • If your Blockades keep getting destroyed (so all Blockading troops are lost)….

Then if less than just 1 percent (1 in 100) of your Blockades capture ‘vans, you have still doubled your money. (500,000/2,100=238. I.e. one in 238 is break-even.)

Starting Blockades against peaceful players in peaceful times would be a bad move, politically. But in war time, Blockades give you a way to make a profit – turning war into gold.

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Blockade Swarms

Scale usually gives the advantage in Illyriad. An attack with 10,000 troops will crush a defence with 1,000, regardless of terrain and tactics and similar subtleties. However, Blockades can favour the small as much as the big.

A Blockade of just 1 Commander and 10 Soldiers seems to have the same chance to capture 70 Caravans as a Blockade with 10 Commanders and 10,000 soldiers. For a low risk, the same reward is attainable.

Moreover, Caravans seem to have to dodge each Blockade in turn. They have a percentage chance to dodge each. First the longest-established (first to be set up) Blockade has a chance to grab the ‘vans, then the second longest established has a chance, and so on. If there are 8 Blockades, the Caravans have to dodge all 8 to get through. So, if you have one big Blockade, you have a much lower chance of capturing Caravans than if you encircle the target city with 8 tiny Blockades.

Hitting a target settlement with a swarm of little Blockades also has another advantage: it is quite confusing for players and their allies. Especially if the player is on-line only infrequently, it is hard to keep track of the Blockades and reliably eliminate all of them. (“Oi, wasn’t someone going to crush that Blockade at Bob’s City?” – “Yeah, I did that yesterday” – “No, it’s still there” –  “Hang on, that’s on a different square” – “Right, I’ve sent troops again” – “Wait a minute, there are two more Blockades there now!” – etc.)

So, that’s Blockade Swarms. The Attack tactic may favour the biggest players. But the Blockade tactic is just as useful to small, tenacious players.

[This post is the second of a series on the Blockade in Illyriad. The full list of posts is here.]

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The Black Skull Feint

In their recent war against LWO, Black Skull Horde found themselves facing an enemy several days distant. They needed to confuse their enemy, launching fake attacks, but the usual way to do this – to order armies to Feint – seemed wasteful.

The Feint order, researched as a military technology on the Illyriad research tree, is pretty simple. When you order your troops to Attack an enemy city, you check a box marked Feint before you click to Send the Attack. The enemy gets a report in his city that there is an army of unknown size approaching, and a count-down to its arrival. What the enemy doesn’t know is that the army probably only has one Commander and one soldier, and that, because Feint was selected, when it arrives at its target city it will not actually fight, it will just turn around and go home. A Feint attack is a fake. It worries your enemy, but neither endangers your own troops nor actually bloodies his. Sending a couple of real Attacks and a bunch of Feints is a simple, effective tactic to disguise the true target(s) of your assaults.

But, BSH found, it has downsides. It ties up valuable military Commanders for some time – if the target city is a week’s march away, then it will take two weeks for the Feint to march there and come back. It also, actually, gains nothing beyond causing some confusion.

So, what some of them started to do was to send small forces to Blockade, instead of Feint. The Blockades may only have had one Commander and one soldier, or maybe a couple of dozen troops at most, so they would seem fairly petty, but they actually had several advantages.

  • When the Blockade has set up, it can be expected that the enemy will immediately crush it. They won’t want that city to be unable to trade reliably. As soon as they do so, the Blockading Commander is killed and can be Resurrected back at his home city. Instead of a week long walk home, the Commander will be available again almost immediately.  At its simplest, a Blockade used in this way, is a feint that gets your commanders back sooner.
  • It also creates more confusion for the enemy than a simple Feint. As well as being alarmed by an incoming attack, they then have to worry that their trade might be imperilled.
  • The Blockade used in this way also has the potential to gather useful intelligence. If the Blockade isn’t attacked, maybe that means the target city’s player isn’t actively playing? If the Blockaded city keeps trading – if the Blockader gets notifications that caravans have attempted to get out – but doesn’t attack, then maybe the player is actively playing, but has no troops? Etc.
  • And lastly, the Blockades just might capture something before they are destroyed. A Feint will never get you anything. Using a Blockade instead is a gamble, but it might have a payout.

So, there you have it. The Black Skull Feint: a Blockade used as a superior form of feint.

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Blockade: Illyriad’s Most Underrated Tactic

Undoubtedly the Blockade tactic is under-used in Illyriad. Just looking at the stats on the Herald page, Sieges are more than twice as popular. In part that is because Illyriad has been so peaceful in the last year or so. Blockades are only useful in player-versus-player combat, which is rare, whereas Sieges are the standard tool to take over or just clear away abandoned cities, which is common. But also, many players, accustomed to less devious strategy games, simply look at the rules’ descriptions of tactics, without wondering how these could be used with a little cunning. Illyriad rewards cunning. Blockade is a prime example.

Over the last couple of weeks, the Lords of Frost have been involved with an unofficial mini-tournament of competitive blockading, the second such that we’ve participated in. And I’ve been swapping in-game messages with a few other folks who have used the tactic. So over the next couple of weeks I’ll be making a series of posts on the subject of how to use Blockades effectively.

The posts will be (titles will turn to hyperlinks when I post them):

  • The Black Skull Feint. Why Blockade is better than Feint.
  • Swarm Tactics. Why many little Blockades are better than one big one.
  • Turning War Into Gold. How to use the Blockade tactic to make warfare profitable.
  • Becoming a Bandit. How the Blockade tactic allows players to be bandits in Illyriad.
  • The Wolgast Feint. Cause confusion, disrupt trade, and lure your enemy onto unfavourable ground, all with the humble Blockade.
  • Blockade City Builds. What would a blockade-specialist city look like?
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Animal Movement In Illyriad: Look Deeper

A couple of weeks ago, the way that animals behaved on the map of Illyria changed. Instead of just popping up, animal groups started to move around, and grow and divide, like they are migrating and breeding.

It’s tempting to say “oh that’s a cute little detail”, and move on. But look deeper….

I compared notes with a couple of other players as to what animals were doing in their parts of the world. One said that her area, with few players and all of them peaceful, was thick with big animal groups, with nothing smaller than a Horde in evidence, and that the animals seemed to have started attacking each other. Another said that his areas was almost barren of animals, with just a couple of tiny populations – though he then said that his neighbours (it’s a Black Skull Horde area) were annoyed that they couldn’t find more animals to hunt: the BSH players had hunted their local populations to extinction, it seems.

I doubt that the GMs have done this just as a cute detail. There’s obviously a logic here – there is a reason why they are letting the players over-hunt animals. Three options leap to mind:

  1. If the GMs intend animals to become more important in some way, then having large local populations will be an asset. Perhaps in the future players who can preserve local populations will benefit in some way. Presumably this would lead to players deciding whether to go for XP (hunting animals for Commander Experience), or the animals’ own benefits, whatever they may be.
  2. This may just be about XP farming. If animal groups are reproducing based on a percentage (I haven’t measured this), then the most effective strategy for gaining XP through attacking them will be to let the groups grow really large, and then Raid them at a rate which keeps the populations large but stable; meanwhile, less disciplined players will keep Attacking the populations and wiping them out, thus gaining fewer XP. So this could just be a way to reward players for being clever and disciplined.
  3. This change may also, intentionally or unintentionally, increase conflict and tension between players. If some players are benefiting from large populations (e.g. through Raiding for XP), and other benefit from destroying these (e.g. Attacking for the XP), then this could lead to clashes and diplomatic disputes. Players already recognise that attacking cities and counter-claiming Sovereignty are hostile acts. Might we get to a point where people feel ownership of animal groups, and see attacks on these groups as hostile acts, too?

Or, of course, the GMs might have other cunning pans afoot. More suggestions welcome. But one way or another, this is not an insignificant or cosmetic change.

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The Tournament Lasts a Month?!

The current tournament is deceptively simple.

The idea is to hold squares on the map. So, maybe what you want to do is to pile a load of troops on to the square – just bundle on as many soldiers as your alliance can muster, and eventually the biggest alliances will win the squares… right?

No, clearly not.

Success, in the short term, requires careful consideration of what troops are best suited to each terrain type, which should be sent to Occupy, and which should be used to attack (or raid) and then immediately retreat. Further, it requires consideration of whether an alliance should concentrate their efforts over short periods of time, or attempt to constantly dominate, and also judgements on when to raid and when to attack. And beyond this, there are questions of coordination between alliance mates, which may require accurate-to-the-second troop dispatches. So, there are lots of tactical options.

But after a few days, when it became apparent how much planning is required to excel in this tournament, I had people asking “this tournament lasts a month?! Why?!” What would have intrigued them for a few days or a week, looked like becoming a hard slog over several weeks.

So why did the GMs set up a tournament that lasts so long – why ask people to run a marathon, when many might have preferred a short sprint?

The answer is that Illyriad is not just about tactics. It’s also about strategy. Success over a short sprint is a question of sheer weight of numbers – how many troops an alliance can deploy – and also of tactical planning. But long term success is about strategy – it’s about how an alliance’s cities are constructed.

This is all about the replacement rate of troops. As the tournament wears on, people will lose their entire armies. So, what is vital, is how fast they can rebuild (replace) those losses. This is about resource production, sharing resources within an alliance, and especially getting boosts to troop production speed.

Production and recruitment bonuses both come down to Sovereignty. So, there were players who, in the first days of the tournament, completely reworked their Sovereignty – abandoning structures, building new structures, claiming new squares. No doubt there were also those who demolished and built buildings, changing their entire build strategy to improve their replacement rate. And there were plenty of alliances who pooled resources, so that expensively-crafted arms and armour were made available to alliance-mates rather than traded on the markets.

This is the beauty of Illyriad. What looks like a simple weight-of-numbers, pile-in contest, turns out to have two complex levels of hidden depths – both the tactical (what troops to deploy, how and when), and strategic (Sovereignty, city buildings).

But yes, to get all the depth that Illyriad has to offer, the tournament has to last a month.

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Was It Really Inevitable?

When the current Tournament was announced, someone asked me who would win. Like most Illyriad-watchers, I gave the answer “Harmless will win”… but I then added, “80% likely”.

Harmless? [H?] are Illyriad’s dominant alliance. To my knowledge they have only ever once not won a Tournament – and they subsequently decapitated the Alliance who beat them. They are the largest Alliance. And as far as I can tell they are the best organised.

So, was there a 20% chance that someone would beat them? Well, there were three ways that I can see that they could be beaten.

When Valar beat H? in a previous Tournament, they did so by being absurdly committed. Members who were on-line 12 hours a day, sending out armies as soon as they returned, were not the committed ones – they were the normal ones. The committed ones were constantly swapping information, sitting each others’ accounts as the account holders slept, and setting their alarms to get up in the middle of the night to log in: it was a very grinding Tournament, and Valar ground! It is conceivable, though highly unlikely, that one of the top ten alliances might become so hyper-committed and organised that they could repeat Valar’s success.

A “super-alliance” might theoretically have formed in the first day or so, with huge, active players temporarily leaving their alliance to join one entity. This would have been logical, but hard to organise. And emotionally people would not want to abandon their allies to fight under a banner that wasn’t “theirs”.

A better chance would have been for a group of Alliances to get together, right at the start of the tournament and say “if we fight amongst ourselves none of us will win. But, if we join forces, one of us can!” As the most obvious example, the network of Crows alliances outnumber Harmless, and some of them are very well organised. They could have divided up their efforts, saying that one would aim to hold squares (constantly shifting their focus, so that Harmless couldn’t target them), while all pooled their intelligence gathering, and the other alliances focused entirely on attacking Harmless’s squares and disrupting Harmless’s plans. Harmless would still have been tighter knit, but the Crows would have had the size advantage. That would have been an even fight – and a very interesting one.

So, it was possible that someone would beat Harmless? … but it was never likely.

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