September 19, 2011

All Black

"All Black" is the name of a soccer team from New Zealand. I'm not clear on whether the name comes from their uniforms or from the people on the team.

But "all black" is also the Master of Magic starting strategy I've gotten hooked on. If you go with 11 spell books, you get all the first level spells, two second level spells, and one third level spell, and a 40% discount on casting cost. With 11 black books, you take Black Prayer, Shadow Demons, and Wraiths. Shadow Demons and Wraiths are overwhelming in the early stages of the game. A single stack of Shadow Demons can take a blue node as long as there isn't anything besides Phantom Warriors, Phantom Beasts, or Nagas.

A stack of Shadow Demons and a stack of Wraiths can even handle up to three air elementals.

Two stacks of Shadow Demons and one stack of Wraiths can handle almost anything you'll find in any color node or any lair on Arcanus if you're playing at "Normal" difficulty. Really tough stuff is beyond them, but you don't really run into those on Arcanus. (Myrror is a different matter.)

Meanwhile, a single unit of Wraiths can take over almost any brown village it sees. Or any enemy village which is defended by infantry, even up to pikemen, or any kind of normal cavalry.

What's even better is that a large number of those killed by the Wraith will rise from the dead, and you get an instant garrison to protect the place -- and they don't consume mana, gold or food. Instant totally-free army.

When you play 11 black books, you get out fast and scout widely, because the sooner you find an enemy wizard, the less built up they are and the easier they are to take out. I usually end up with two wraiths out exploring the world -- and taking over anything they find.

And it's all the easier if you play High Elves as your race. They develop slowly, but they also produce more mana than anyone else, and especially in the early game, an extra five or ten mana per term is a huge difference.

I decided I was getting bored with black and tried switching to 11 red books instead. That's when I realized how spoiled I had become. There isn't any world-beater I can summon in the early going with red. I did some experimenting with a hell-hound horde, and it works pretty good. But they die rather easily, and even though they only cost 24 mana per stack a full army of nine stacks is still 216 mana to summon and 9 per turn to maintain. And it can take two attacks with such a stack just to clear out a blue node containing only Phantom warriors and maybe one Phantom Beast. Against most other nodes, they're useless. They can't even handle bears and sprites in a green node, which are dead meat for shadow demons and wraiths.

And once the hell-hound horde is gone it can take 30 turns or more to raise enough mana and do all the summon spells to create a new one.

I tried one game of 11 blue a while back and didn't even finish it. I felt utterly crippled. There really wasn't anything that would help me in early stages. And in fact that's how it feels with all the other colors: you have to bide your time and do your best until you make a breakthrough and get one of the top summons: hydra or great drake for red, behemoth or great wyrm or colossus for green, sky drake for blue, Torin for white.

"Incarnation" is level 3, so with 11 white books you can start with that one. But it would cost 300 mana to summon Torin (counting the 40% discount for having 11 books). That's actually what Wraiths cost, so it isn't really out of reach. The problem is that Torin doesn't begin all that powerful; he doesn't become a world-beater for a long time.

If I was really going to be serious in an 11-blue book game, I think I'd probably pick Invisibility, Flight, and Air Elemental. Use one guy who is invisible and flying to explore and scout out lairs, and summon Air Elementals to do the fighting. But that won't work in green or red nodes, and I'm not sure it would really do very well even in a blue node. And that's a very mana-expensive way to go -- and you just don't have very much in the early game.

With 11 red books, I picked Flame Blade, Chimera, and Chaos Rift. Doom Bolt and/or Warp Lightning are tempting, but even if you have them, you can't use them until your skill gets high enough so choosing them as starting spells is a waste.

With 11 white, I think I'd probably go with Unicorns, True Sight, and Incarnation, but I might go with Prayer instead of True Sight. And then summon Torin as early as I could, and let him spend 50 turns aging in my capital until he was strong enough to really make a difference.

For 11 green? I suspect I'd go with Pathfinding, Change Terrain, and Gorgons, but maybe Earth Elemental would be better than Gorgons. And I could be convinced to go with Nature's Cures instead of Change Terrain.

As good at Gorgons are, they're not world beaters either. And they'd cost 360 mana to summon and 15 mana per turn, so you aren't going to have very many of them.

Compared to starting with Shadow Demons and Wraiths, though, all of those are second rate.

UPDATE: I just tried that idea with all white, and found out that Torin requires 12 mana a turn. Which is out of the question in the early game.

And the all-blue strategy also doesn't work in the early game. Air Elementals cost 50 to summon, and it takes a long time to get your casting skill up that high. Also, Invisibility and Air Elemental are both third level spells, so you can't start with them both. You could do Invisibility, Flight, and Phantom Beast -- but even that is problematic. Invisibility costs 10 mana a turn, and it costs 35 to summon a Phantom Beast.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Gaming at 08:39 PM | Comments (21) | Add Comment
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1 (The All Blacks got their name from their uniforms, by the way.)

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 19, 2011 10:01 PM (o45Mg)

2 Isn't it New Zealands rugby team that's called the All-Blacks? That's a very different sport to Soccer (actually, I think the Soccer team actually wears white).

Posted by: DiGiKerot at September 19, 2011 10:03 PM (4G28J)

3 You're probably right.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 19, 2011 10:04 PM (+rSRq)

4 All this good MoM color discussion, and the comments are all about the throw away lead in bit? Sheesh.

For early striking power all black books certainly has a big edge. But you do give up a lot of other possibilities to get it, including Myrran and any retorts. And you still have to push hard on mana to support the early summons, if not as much as other colors would require for less effect.

It certainly makes a nice change from my usual slow-but-unstoppable expansion pattern.

Posted by: haphazard1 at September 20, 2011 03:40 PM (9yBYR)

5 Tell me about it. That's what it was always like for USS Clueless, too: I'd write some major article making some huge important point, and I'd get a scad of email all of which nitpicked unimportant details.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 20, 2011 04:46 PM (+rSRq)

6 Have you tried any book-light builds?  Or do those feel too much like a game of Civ?

Posted by: BigD at September 20, 2011 05:05 PM (u0/7E)

7 Isn't it natural though? If you are right, you're right; the ankle-biters are unable to pick up a fight with the thesis. Especially if it was expressed with unmistakable clarity. Ergo, nitpicking.

There is a more charitable version of it in programming, called "bikeshedding". It comes from a comparison of someone posting a project of a nuclear reactor and a bike shed. The critics see that they are not expects in reactors, and refrain from making fools of themselves, but they savage the bike shed project. Somehow the term itself turned to mean the nitpicking in the common use, perhaps because it's more common.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at September 20, 2011 06:14 PM (9KseV)

8 I don't play MoM, but I knew the answer to the "All Blacks" thing.  Sorry to derail.

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 20, 2011 06:16 PM (o45Mg)

9 All Black is certainly potent, as I recall, but its not *that* quick to get the game breaker summons.  While the AI may not be sufficiently aggressive for this to be a problem, I wouldn't necessarily want to play against a competent White or Green opponent who mixes logistics buffs with anti-Black spells.

Posted by: metaphysician at September 20, 2011 06:25 PM (3GCAl)

10 Eleven-books-plus-elementals (or phantom critters) is harsh on the mana supply, since casting combat spells far from your fortress tower costs triple. (Unless you're lucky and find the Channeler retort, which removes that penalty.)

All-black with wraiths is definitely the easiest and fastest win in the game.

All-white does ok with Stream of Life (no unrest & double growth rate; set your tax rate to 4gold/population and alchemize all the mana you need while you spend all your magic points to raise skill so you can spam heroism and holy armor on your army.) You have to fight with those normal units though, so this is a relatively slow strategy. You'll get steamrolled on higher "skill" (i.e. computer cheating) levels.

A faster win can be had with invulnerable guardian spirits. (Yeah, guardian spirits.) Add endurance and they move 4 squares everywhere, and they hit hard in melee. Stick to foes with a 6-or-fewer swords/bows/fireballs rating, and drop the occasional healing spell. Use Prayer against tougher critters once you've got the skill for it, and bless if you're fighting chaos/death summons where the extra crosses matter.

All-green reeks. If you're lucky you can get somewhere with basilisks or gorgons.

All-red reeks. If you're lucky you can get somewhere with chaos spawn or chimeras.

All-blue is all about the invisible (flying) ranged attackers. Another slow start, but high elf longbowmen or anyone-who-makes-warships is good.

Posted by: Mikeski at September 20, 2011 07:27 PM (GbSQF)


metaphysician, Wraiths are a game-breaker summon, and if you have 11 books you can start with that spell.

With the casting discount, they cost 300 to summon and 8/turn for maintenance, and one stack of wraiths is very potent. They can usually clean out a red node without taking any damage.

I've found that it doesn't take long before I have enough mana income to have a couple of wraiths and a couple of shadow demons. First priority is clearing out all the nodes and lairs on my home land mass, of course, but once that's done I dismiss the shadow demons and then use the wraiths to explore and look for enemy wizards and/or brown towns.

You take one town from an enemy, put your summoning circle there, and summon a couple of shadow demons and then kick butt. Not absolutely unstoppable but damned close to it; the highest scoring game I've had (at "Hard" level) used this strategy and I ended the game fast by taking out all four enemies.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 20, 2011 07:34 PM (+rSRq)

12 Invulnerable guardian spirits is an interesting idea. Wasn't one I had considered. Maybe I'll give that one a try.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 20, 2011 07:36 PM (+rSRq)


Isn't it natural though? If you are right, you're right; the ankle-biters are unable to pick up a fight with the thesis. Especially if it was expressed with unmistakable clarity. Ergo, nitpicking.

Pete, that assumes that the only reason to comment is to criticize. That was the attitude that I hated most.

Mikeski, I just tried beginning a game with all white and created an invulnerable guardian spirit. I lost it the first time in a green node to a basilisk, and after recovering from a save game I lost it again in a blue node to a phantom beast -- and that with it also having endurance and true sight.

I don't think those are as useful as wraiths -- but I think wraiths are unbalanced.

I wonder how invulnerable unicorns would go?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 20, 2011 07:52 PM (+rSRq)

I just tried beginning a game with all white and created an invulnerable guardian spirit. I lost it the first time in a green node to a basilisk, and after recovering from a save game I lost it again in a blue node to a phantom beast -- and that with it also having endurance and true sight.
Yeah, thus my "6 attack rating or less" caveat. Invulnerability just makes you defend as though you had 10 shields, so enemies who attack with 10-or-more swords will still tear you up. You use the Invulnerable Guardian Spirits to roll over all the sprites/ghouls/hellhounds/phantom warriors/halberdiers/etc. quickly, and you use your now-bigger powerbase to throw out some heroic holyarmored/invulnerable holyweaponed blessed halberdiers or whatever to mop up the bigger guys.

I wonder how invulnerable unicorns would go?
Not much better, though a multi-unit stack takes less damage due to the way damage is dealt in the game.

Each attacker has a 30% chance of doing 1 point of damage per sword (or bow or fireball) in its attack. (10% more for each "+1 to hit" they have). So a 20-sword, +2-to-hit critter averages doing 10 damage. Your 10-shields-due-to-invulnerability unit averages absorbing 3 of that (shields are also 30% effective). So that single hit does 7 damage to an invulnerable guardian spirit.

If it's against a multi-unit group, and the damage kills the first unit, the second unit gets to use its shields as well... so that same 10-damage hit, against Invulnerable spearmen, will only do 2 damage on average: 3 absorbed by the first spearman's shields; 7 gets through, and 1 damage kills the first spearman; 6 passes on to the second spearman, and 3 more is absorbed by the second spearman's shields; 3 gets through and kills the second spearman; the remaining 2 are absorbed by the third spearman's shields.

Posted by: Mikeski at September 20, 2011 08:33 PM (GbSQF)

15 Similar to invulnerability, Magic Immunity acts like a 50-shield defense.  So if you buff the heck out of a strong blaster hero like the warlock (to, say, +7 to hit and 40+ fireballs), you can actually shoot down Sky Drakes in 2 shots.  Which is immensely satisfying.

Posted by: Mikeski at September 20, 2011 08:44 PM (GbSQF)


The invulnerable guardian spirits are pretty good. Add Lionheart, however, and then they're really incredible.

However... I've got one lair left on my home landmass which contains a single gorgon, and for the time being there isn't anything I can do about out.

I cleared out nearly everything else using two stacks of unicorns, which were invulnerable, blessed, and had true sight. They did really well -- except that they got slaughtered by the gorgon.

At the time I didn't have lionheart or prayer. If I use more unicorns, and add those two spells to the mix, that may do it. If not, I'll just have to put up with them until I can summon Torin. Or an archangel. Or something like that.

The biggest pain about white magic is that except for Star Fires, it has absolutely no offensive magic.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 20, 2011 09:19 PM (+rSRq)

17 Lionheart is ok on a single-unit creature like a guardian spirit, but it really shines on 6- or 8-stack units, due to the way damage works (as above).  Lionhearted slingers are scary.  Lionhearted hammerhands are ridiculous.  (Assuming lionheart is the three-swords-and-three-hearts buff... if not, make this comment be about that spell instead.)

Posted by: Mikeski at September 20, 2011 09:37 PM (GbSQF)


Yeah, that's the one.

As to a low-book start? That's an interesting idea. Try this:

2 green, 2 blue, 2 red
Alchemy, Warlord, Conjurer, Node Mastery

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 20, 2011 10:02 PM (+rSRq)

19 I tried a 4 book start - all green, with Alchemy, Warlord, Myrran, and Archmage.  Myrran was a mistake -- all the nodes are too tough. Now that opponents have developed and are eating me with spells I can't counter. .

Posted by: ubu at September 20, 2011 10:59 PM (GfCSm)

20 The "Bikeshedding" is kinda like Usenet Nod Syndrome.  People rarely comment on things they agree with or have nothing to add to.  They just nod and go on to the next thing until they find something that outrages them and they feel compelled to comment.

For example, I only posted this comment because I wanted to bring up Usenet Nod Syndrome....

Posted by: Mauser at September 21, 2011 03:05 AM (cZPoz)

21 Wow.

I just beat Impossible in Year 1410 with All-Black--and that included having to hunt down S'Srra at the end.

A single wraith is terribly, horribly broken against massed low-level living units.  OTOH, they are insanely expensive (same mana cost as summoning a hero, *after* the 11-book discount) in the early game, and there are certain high-level units that eat them for breakfast, *and* at the harder levels, every node is guarded by hordes of basilisks and the like.  So, I wound up only melding a handful of nodes, and sacking every town in sight.  I used the massive undead armies the wraiths left behind to garrison the snot out of my towns so that I could safely jack the tax rate almost to the top.  I was soon raking in hundreds of gold per turn and converting them at the lame 50% exchange rate, all to fuel more summons.

I hardly researched any spells at all, and I don't think I really used anything other than Black Prayer, the sleeping spell, and summon wraith/shadow demon (the latter was fairly lackluster, but was terribly useful for securing a Myrran town to move the summon portal to).

Was it fun?  Sure, the first time.  There's some *serious* curb-stomping to be had early on.  But, the whole thing is very hit-and-miss.  You're basically running around with 1 wraith for a long time, either winning easily or getting wiped out... and the latter means you're hosed for possibly dozens of turns early on.  I can see where that all-or-nothing would get a little old after a while--it's more fun when you have to (and can!) overcome adversity than when you have to play with a zero-mistakes mentality.

Still... pretty neat.  Something I'd never done before.

Posted by: BigD at September 22, 2011 10:01 PM (u0/7E)

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