Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Game 430: Stronghold (1993)

United States
Stormfront Studios (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS, 1994 for FM Towns and PC-98
Date Started: 10 August 2021
Stronghold is a weird fusion between city simulators like SimCity, role-playing games, and strategy games. The basic setup is that you're a classic Dungeons & Dragons hero, retired from dungeon crawling, building your first castle. Accompanied by up to four named vassals with their own keeps, you slowly build your society--and come into conflict with monsters and other kingdoms in the area. While the leaders of your kingdom cannot level up (they're just names; you never seen them), the units who join your society can, either through training or combat. You win the game by either wiping out the other strongholds on the map, achieving the title of "emperor," or both, depending on your alignment.
There are definitely RPG elements to it. It technically meets all three of my criteria. The units you recruit can gain levels, and they have a full set of inventory, the quality of which is determined by the facilities you've built and upgraded. Attributes and statistics definitely make a difference in combat. Of course, when I said that an RPG must have "leveling," I meant more for individual, personal characters. When I said it must have inventories, I meant the type where you can find, equip, wield, use, and drop specific items. I could make the definition more explicit that way, but I think I'll wait and see if it becomes a problem (as in, there are a lot of games like this) first. In the meantime, I had fun with Stronghold regardless.
A successful stronghold has many types of buildings and land parcels.
When you fire up Stronghold, you have several options for a new game. "First City" starts you with a civilization in progress, your keeps already constructed and your heroes already selected. I tried it but I found it more confusing than starting from scratch. Beyond that, there are five pre-constructed world maps to choose and a "random" map. For each one, you get to set a "hostility level." In a "peaceful" game, you're the only stronghold. There are monsters on the map, but no other kingdoms, and the game is much more about building than fighting. "Aggressive" and "hostile" maps have other strongholds to defeat, including one ruled by an evil warlord named Mindark.
The main character has a history with Mindark.
As the game begins, you have to set the location of your stronghold. You have a large map to choose from. Choosing the right location is an art. I didn't play enough games to become an artist, but I think I understand the basic considerations. While the main stronghold is the center point of your kingdom, each of your heroes' keeps serves as the central point of its "neighborhood." You want to establish the stronghold in a place with enough room to space out your keeps and for each of them to grow, and yet also a place that offers some natural defense, including obvious places for walls and towers. You want as much flatland as possible for buildings, avoiding deserts and swamps. Rocks (which may have mines) and trees should be prized. More experienced fans might have other suggestions.
Once you've selected the location of your fortress, you create your main character. He has the standard set of D&D attributes (strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, charisma), which you can re-roll as many times as you want. These attributes don't matter so much for the leader himself, but the people he attracts will have the same attributes, and they're the ones that do the building and fighting and such. You then select a "class" from fighter, mage, cleric, thief, dwarf, elf, and halfling options. Again, the class matters because the hero will attract followers of the same class. Not only do the options have the traditional strengths and weaknesses in combat, but the selection matters for kingdom-building, too. Dwarves get more out of mines, elves more out of trees. Thieves are excellent scouts, and halflings make great farmers.
A main "character" at the beginning of the game.
Name, sex, and alignment are the final selections. Characters can be lawful, neutral, or chaotic. I don't think alignment makes any difference for the four sub-heroes, but for the main character, it determines the game's victory conditions. A lawful character has to rise to the rank of emperor to win; a chaotic character needs to defeat all the other strongholds; and a neutral character has to do both.
After the main character, you can create and place your four other heroes in quick succession. The creation process is the same for each of them. I think for a game that's going to focus on city-building, you probably want more of the racial classes, while for a game that's going to have a lot of combat, you want the vocational classes. 
My leaders selected (lower right), the peasants get to work building things.
Once you "place" them, peons begin building their keeps, and the heroes simultaneously begin recruiting other units of the same class and training units already recruited. (You can adjust the proportion of time spent on each task.) From this point, the game becomes a never-ending process of clicking around the map until it's over. Fortunately, you can pause the game so that if you get lost or confused, things aren't happening in real time. It still doesn't take long to get a bit lost.
The map is organized into rectangles. At the beginning, you only control the rectangles on which the keeps are situated. But as new units get recruited and fan outward from the central keeps, those rectangles fall under your control. Each rectangle has four quadrants, and something can be built in each quadrant (some buildings take up more than one quadrant). If there are trees already there, you can clear them or "claim" them; in the latter case, they remain, but you get food and income from them. If there are rocks in a quadrant, again you can clear them or "excavate" them, which might establish a mine on-site. If there are swamps in the quadrants, you can fill them in.
A blank parcel. What shall I build?
There are lots of types of buildings, including housing, farmland, granaries, foresters' camps, marketplaces, bazaars, towers, vaults, toymakers, fletchers, gemcutters, inns, and arenas. You can build bridges across water, walls across land, and gates within the walls. Each building has a cost for initial building and upgrading, and an associated impact on population size, income, food, and inventories. It's tough to juggle all the variables, but your recruits often comment on what is needed at a particular time. My general impression is that you want to keep population, housing, food production, and income around the same numbers. This is hard because they change seasonally. 
Summary reports like this one give you a sense of your entire kingdom.
As new units get recruited, they are initially "unassigned," meaning you can move them wherever you need them to go and start building there. The problem is that if you don't notice they've been recruited, they'll wander off on their own, establish themselves in an unclaimed rectangle, and make it their "home," so they're no longer unassigned. I sometimes didn't notice this happening, and thus didn't realize until late in the game that I had failed to build on some claimed rectangles, sometimes right next to the initial keeps. Other times, I would manually move a unit to an unclaimed rectangle and start building, but for some reason the unit wouldn't recognize it as "home" and would go wandering off elsewhere, leaving the buildings half-finished. (You can set "home" manually, but I often forgot.) As far as I can tell, there's no way to get a quick map of places that have units but no production, which I see as a major weakness of the game. Maybe there's a color differentiation between "built" squares and empty ones that I'm not seeing.
My tendency was to leave units on their home rectangles permanently. If you don't, the buildings start to decay and require repairs. This strategy often slowed the growth of my civilization, as there were times that recruitment slowed to almost nothing for entire seasons. I wonder if some players hustle units around from rectangle to rectangle, increasing the speed at which they can grow the civilization but having to do a lot of micro-managing otherwise.
An NPC expresses an opinion.
I wasted a lot of time in my first games trying to create logical layouts for my civilization. I think I had SimCity on my mind. I haven't played a lot of it, but I remember that you have to balance economic resources across the city, minimize traffic problems, and centralize key resources like hospitals. I tried to lay out my Stronghold like a sensible city, with zoned areas for agriculture and commerce, saving space for a university later, and so forth. None of this is necessary. It's much easier in hindsight to just let the units establish themselves where they want, and then build there whatever the kingdom most needs at that time. You also don't need to waste a lot of time ensuring that each new block is next to a previous block. Even with all the enemy factions on the map, there's plenty of land. It may make sense to send units to distant locations and start new neighborhoods, setting up guard towers to watch for incursions of hostile forces.
In the mini-map in the upper right, every white dot represents a unit stationed in a particular rectangle.
Eventually, your income rises so much that you begin improving previously-built structures rather than building new ones. The costs escalate fast. A new farm plot costs 10 gold pieces. Upgrading it to a full farm costs 400 or 500; upgrading it to a plantation costs 2000-3000. But the returns are worth it, and there are times you're just looking for anything to spend money on, since the amount of cash you can hold at any given time is capped by the number of vaults you've built.
It will cost 500 gold to upgrade this plot to a farm, but it will start producing more food and income.
Combat occurs when one of your units meets another faction's unit on the same rectangle. This usually occurs when you're scouting at range or when your kingdom starts to expand into the territory of another. I found that enemies usually left me alone unless I attacked first or built so close to their territory that they couldn't avoid me. You have no options in combat except which units to bring to the battle and how many (and even that can be difficult, as below). The game fights for you automatically. Given that, it's impressive how many special attacks and spell effects they programmed into it. Mages get up to 12 spells, starting with "Charm Person," "Magic Missile," and "Sleep" on Level 1, and eventually acquiring such mainstays as "Fireball," "Flesh to Stone," and "Mass Charm." Clerics mostly have healing spells, which they use effectively to heal other characters, but they'll also turn undead and use "Hold Person."
The crazy combat screen. I'll recount this battle next time.
A unit's success in combat is determined by its level and equipment, which you can tweak by adjusting the amount of time spent on training; by building facilities that increase the rate of training, such as universities for mages and arenas for fighters; and by building locations that produce weapons, armor, and magic items. 
I survey my units after a few hours of gameplay. I don't know what you'd have to do to get them up to Level 36.
The difficulty is getting the right units, or any units, into combat. You can't "group" units into armies. You can't even assign them to move individually. All you can do is specify a destination rectangle and then use the "magnets" associated with each of your heroes to try to draw unassigned units to that location. There are a lot of difficulties associated with this, starting with the fact that you never have many unassigned units because units are in the habit of assigning themselves shortly after they spawn. Even when I was sending them to war, they would frequently decide to stop and plant stakes at some random square along the way
Your more experienced units will probably be the ones created early in the game, since they've been spending a certain amount of time training the entire time. But swapping them out for new units is not an easy process, since you can't direct a specific unit to a specific rectangle. I'm probably not explaining why very well, but it's one of those things that has to be experienced. It's a horrible control system no matter how you look at it.
All the red dots in the southeast represent enemy units. I have set all of my units to march to the yellow rectangle to the southeast of them so that they'll cleave a path through the bulk of the enemy's forces. You "draw" the units by adjusting the bar beneath the pyramid. I have it set all the way to the right, to draw all available units.
The best approach I could think of was to consciously decide to build an army, usually when I identified the first enemy kingdom. I chose a blank rectangle somewhere between my civilization and theirs, sat on it for a while, and adjusted all the "magnets" to maximum. Every time a new unit spawned, I was there to grab it and draw it to the chosen rectangle before it had a chance to put down its own roots somewhere. (Even then, I'd often have to go back to the kingdom and unassign units that I missed.) Once I had 20 or 30 units of different types in one place, I could start sending them against enemies.
Overall, though, the mechanics of combat are so annoying that I would understand if some players chose "lawful" and "peaceful" every time and just focused on city-building. 
My character is promoted for managing his city well. I love how D&D has a system of royalty, but it's apparently a meritocracy.
You get promoted at certain milestones from baron (your initial title) to viscount, count, marquis, duke, archduke, prince, king, and ultimately emperor. (There are female versions of these titles.) Promotions happen when you've reached certain milestones in terms of kingdom size and population satisfaction, and when you've reached certain martial milestones, such as defeating your first enemy of a particular class. It's entirely possible to win a "lawful" game without fighting a single foe, just by building yourself to emperor level.
After a brief attempt with the "New City" scenario, I started playing a "Peaceful" game with a fighter baron. I played for about an hour just to get a sense for how the game worked. At that point, I started a third game on a random map set to "Aggressive" (the medium difficulty level) with a "lawful" elf baron and fighter, thief, mage, and cleric vassals. Ironically, I won that one without fighting a single combat. I could see enemies on certain parts of the world map, but I never got anywhere near them. It probably didn't help that I set my kingdom on an isthmus in the south of the map.
Emperor Chester achieves his objective.
I then tried a "Hostile" game on World 3, setting my kingdom in the center of the map with a halfling hero and a "neutral" alignment. I gave him cleric, fighter, dwarf, and mage allies. That one took bloody forever. It turns out that clearing a map of enemies takes a long time, making a winning game much more difficult for non-lawful characters. I feel like the "chaotic" option is a joke. You only have to clear the map of other factions, but I suspect it's impossible not to become an emperor during this process anyway.
I get on the leaderboard having killed no one.
I'll recount my experiences with the second campaign next time, but I've already finished the game, so please let loose freely with spoilers. What are your tips for getting the most out of Stronghold? What enemies do you find most difficult to defeat?
Time so far: 9 hours


  1. Clearly a general strategy game.

    1. I don't understand how that was someone's first reaction when I spent most of this entry explaining its city simulation elements and that you can win without even fighting a single battle.

    2. Also why does it matter? It is RPG adjacent at least from running the AD&D rules and is a nice break from the other recent games. It’s also interesting reading this from the point of view of a CRPGAddict who would have been at least part of the target audience (otherwise why base it strongly on an RPG?).

    3. Why does this keep coming up on a free blog? What injustice are we suffering? The hypocrisy is imagined, it's such a waste of time to keep harping on this.

  2. Well, yes the game is short and even at max difficulty it is easy. Enemy civilizations just don't scale fast enough.

    To spice it a bit, I forced myself to play without vassals, neutral and with enemy respawn (the respawn will have Mindark).
    I seem to remember that rogue is the hardest - and most interesting - class, but you can get in difficult situation if you have only mages against some enemies.

    Of course, you are never protected against spawning next to dragons, which makes the game significantly harder.

  3. I never played this game. I had it completely confused with Fantasy Empires, another D&D RPG/Strategy hybrid. A swordofaragonlike, if you will. It's a 1993 game too, but I don't see it on the list, it probably should be.

    1. No one has tagged Fantasy Empires as an RPG, and no one has suggested here that it meets my three elements.

    2. Fantasy Empires is a bit like Risk with Hero units and action combat. Like Stronghold, you create a D&D leader, but he is not involved directly but his attribute bonuses count for his troops (or at least the hero units). You can also cast spells, but I'm not sure if those come directly from your leader.

      Hero units level up and can go on (automatically computed) quests where they can gain items. Combat is based on attributes. So I think technically it qualifies. If you want to eliminate it, the hero units are not technically necessary to win the game.

    3. I suspect the confusion between Stronghold Kingdoms and Fantasy Empires is reasonably common as both were part of one (or more) AD&D bundles in the late 90s. The one I had also included Darksun 1, Dungeon Hack and Unlimited Adventures

    4. Which is a bit weird, as it seems that Stronghold is one of the rare games that is based on non-advanced D&D.

    5. I have the SSI Fantasy Fest! bundle, which contains the games mentioned but not Dark Sun. Its cover describes Fantasy Empires and Stronghold as "Dungeons&Dragons" computer games, and UA/Dungeon Hack as "AD&D 2nd Edition".

      I tried to Google it but I'm just getting images of a Key West festival with scantily clad men.

    6. Ah, so they did differentiate them.

    7. Fantasy Empires is set in Mystara, the “Red Box” Basic D&D world.

  4. Ah, also :
    - It is nice visually to start at the bottom of the map, since when you are in a rectangle you see the other rectangles behind your rectangle. It is show the enemy fortresses and whatnot in the distance for instance - nice foreshadowing,
    - Enemy civilization sometimes have some unique buildings. It was nice to exploit them. Most are worse than your own buildings, a few are better or "different".
    - There is a bug you can exploit in combat with enemy spell-caster. As you know, battles happen automatically if you are looking somewhere else, and automatically but "in front of view" if you focus on them. If you change focus before an enemy / spell projectile hit your guys, it is "cancelled". Great trick to kill dragons if you want to exploit it,
    - I don't think I ever managed to pass level 15 or 16 with fighters, and maybe level 13 or 14 with mages,

    1. I'm interested in your second point. I don't think I noticed that enemy civilizations had any buildings at all other than their strongholds.

      I don't think I passed Level 6 with anybody. I originally wrote that was the cap.

    2. So clearly there would still be a lot of things to discover if I continued playing!

    3. Only "High intelligence" enemies (as per the manual) can have buildings beyond their stronghold - with some exceptions here and there (dragon's can't, I remember Minotaurs do).
      You can reach a very high level with no or only 1 vassal, an arena (and other training buildings whose name I forget), and fighting dangerous enemies.
      Usually, I group all my spare people on the arena as they get generated, and lock them as they arrive. Then, when I need to wage war, I unlock and unleash them. Soldiers at the arena will quickly outexp people left behind, even "earlier" ones ; though of course you cannot have the arena from the very beginning.

    4. have to put people ON the arena to benefit from it? I thought just having one helped improve training levels throughout the kingdom.

      Man, I don't understand half this game.

    5. I tried to double-check in the manual [my memory is clear, but I could have been mistaken back then] but I could not find the reference card with all building in English - only in the French one I owned ; could it be possible that the French manual was more complete than the English one ?

      In any case, the manual specifies "applies for all sectors" for the racial training building [eg : Elf Garden, Rogue Guild, ...] but not from the Arena. The exegete in me understands it as meaning you need the soldiers to wait at the arena.

      You can find the French manual with the building stats & info here :

    6. The Arena effect is global, you can have only one and there is no need to send anyone there. It actually boosts the effect of all other training buildings - which, as Narwhal read in the manual, do not require units in location (more on my separate post)

    7. Excellent. Thanks for clarifying.

    8. In the combat screenshot with the Goblins (high intelligence) you can see two enemy buildings, the huts to the right and left of the stronghold. I think you can take them over if no enemy units are left of the screen. You might have to do this before destroying the stronghold, but I'm not sure.

    9. @Buck

      The enemy buildings follow the same rule of decay as yours. You can demolish the enemy stronghold and return to claim ownership of their huts and buildings.

  5. I think genre-mixing only starts in earnest on PCs quite a few years in the future (regarding your timeline). After Dragon Quest, it was immediate on the Japanese console space.

    But light RPG elements will trigger the RPG tag on both Wikipedia and Mobygames, so you will meet most of these games. There are also tons of fantasy games that were classified as RPGs by the media and through them some of those people who upload information on these sites.

    I would never classify Stronghold as an RPG, and based on the marketing, neither did SSI or the developers. But it made for an interesting article, so I don't think it's a problem. There could be an RPG-adjacent category for games like this.

    Also, the PC-9801 version's cover art is fantastic:

    1. I wouldn't classify it as an RPG, either. It technically meets my definitions, but obviously that's not what it is. I didn't mind playing it as a one-off. I'll tighten my definitions if too many more like it becomes a problem.

      Mobygames does have a "RPG elements" tag that's different from the genre classification. I didn't include those on my list.

    2. For my Strategy RPG blog I had to deal with a lot of games of this nature that I didn't want to play, so to exclude them I made a rule that there has to be a developing storyline rather than just a frame narrative or a freeform end goal like "conquer China". On the computer side this would include something like Heroes of Might and Magic but not this game.

      On the other hand that wouldn't work as an overall rule for you because you've played a lot of early RPGs that have no story.

    3. Definitions designed to put things in buckets such as ‘RPG’ will always be fuzzy at the edges. I think Chet’s approach of ‘doing by feel’ until such point he finds he actually needs an additional rule is sensible.

      In the case of Stronghold: Documenting a few examples of the way the original RPG franchise seeped into other genres seems legit to me!

    4. The definition fo "RPG" belongs to the Gödel's incompleteness theorems.

  6. I tried this game briefly, and on my play list I just wrote "too chaotic". A frustrating game; many good ideas, but too many design flaws to make me want too spend too much time on it.

    1. Honestly, there was an initial draft of this entry in which I spent a couple of paragraphs complaining how much it sucked. Persistence was important with this one.

    2. I can't tell you how excited I was for this game. It promised two of my favorite things at the time - city builders and D&D. I was expecting SimCity style city planning with Gold Box combat. God, I was disappointed. I remember trying to persevere, but giving up when it became clear that there was no meaningful city planning and no strategic combat. I skipped Dark Sun when it came out because I felt so burned by SSI.

      ...I did like the season changes though.

    3. I too found this game chaotic. The idea is nice, quite original blend of strategy and RPG, but yeah probably needs more patience than I had.

  7. I played this originally and remember loving the gender art of the classes. I recall much difficulty staging free units nearby and having them attack adjacent squares en masse.

  8. For a second there I thought you were gonna talk about Stronghold by Firefly Studios, released in 2001 and explicitely a pure strategy game.

    1. I always wondered if these were somehow related, as in the Firefly one taken its inspiration from the older, ut I don't think that's the case now.

    2. Complete coincidence. Stronghold wasn't a big hit and when Firefly made their castle builder, they probably weren't aware of the older game by the same title. If anything, Stronghold 2001 has more in common with the Castles games from the early 90s than with Stronghold 1993.

  9. I liked to play this game, but it took me and my brother some time before we started to understand, how to play this game and how the things works here. We had to explore everything ourselves, because we didn´t have manual.
    If I remember well, one of the worst enemies for us was cockatrice, because it was able to turn to stone even the best fighters and so kill them like this. So - again, if my memories are correct - was quite good to have cleric on reasonably high level to fight with them.
    I am glad that Chet played that and wrote about it on this blog, even if it is hybrid RPG game.

  10. I love the lo-fi look of the unshaded polygon terrain in this game. It almost looks as though you should be able to dynamically manipulate the topography in real-time, like in Populous. Maybe if this game had received a sequel that might have been a feature.

  11. It's interesting that this game works the way it does. Early D&D had rules for conquering and running a territory, with the assumption being that once your party got to a high enough level they might want to start conquering and doing wargame stuff rather than just explorations. It's something that seems to have gone away fairly quickly, but that's part of how Gygax thought the games would go, originally.

    1. One Matthew Colville talks a lot about playing this way. He has a series of videos called “The History of D&D One Fighter at a Time” that are entertaining and informative.

      CRPGAddict: It doesn’t fit your definition of RPG, but this entry had me wonder if you intend to play “Majesty” at some point.

    2. Same here. Never played this game, but it sounds as if Majesty was pretty much its evolution.

    3. Agreed, 'Majesty' is a nice little game where (for the uninitiated) you place bounties on dungeons, keeps and individual foes to entice your different minions to go after them; to attract your high level champions to the scene you need to offer an adequate reward. The magnetism of gold, if you will...

      Try it, I say ;)

    4. I liked Majesty myself, but it seemed to me that all levels were the same? You play it once, little point of playing more?

    5. I cannot disagree with your assessment, but the game scratches an itch some people have, I guess. Look at Candy Crush, or Tetris. The fun is in the increasing challenge as the player progresses to new levels. Even playing the same level, trying different strategies to get a higher score, is attractive.

      I like the graphics, and especially the descriptions of each building, which includes a bit of lore to develop the game world. The music is nice, but gets repetitive.

    6. Technically there's two types of scenarios in Majesty (kill all the monsters/boss/other king and build your economy/kingdom), it is still very charming though, and pretty fast paced and fun. It's barely an RPG though, yeah your heroes have their won experience and inventories, but they do what they want (sort of, every class race has it's preferences, rogues like money, rangers like exploration bounties, etc...) The actual gameplay is more about optimizing your economy since every action costs gold.

  12. One of the few CRPGs that used basic d&d instead of AD&D (demi-humans as class, 3 alignments). I wonder what drove that choice and what their agreement with TSR was like.

    1. Oops I said RPG which I don't consider this one of.

    2. TSR went through a phase in the mid-90s trying to re-brand and push basic D&D, probably as a gateway to the harder stuff. Not sure if the mandate made its way into the videogames, but all the Mystara set games came out in a four year band.

      If Chet wants to do another console entry, Westwood's Order of the Phoenix would make a good candidate, if only to see how they translated the Goldbox engine into a 16ish bit platform.

    3. Both Warriors of the Eternal Sun and Order of the Griffon would make for interesting blog entries, if maybe only as BRIEFs (and possibly combined together). Chet could thematically tie them into his coverage of Throne of Chaos and/or Assault on Myth Drannor. (I think after that, he's done with Westwood until 1997-ish.)

      Ah, but enough of my programming notes. I have to say I'm enjoying this current spate of strategic sim/RPG hybrids, and people talking about Master of Magic and Birthright (two of my apparently-not-so-obscure favorites) with some regularity.

    4. Warriors of the Eternal Sun is unquestionably an RPG. I'm not sure why it would only warrant a brief. Because it was on Genesis?

    5. Order of the Griffon has an attempt at pseudo Goldbox combat, which makes it interesting to look at if nothing else.

    6. "One of the few CRPGs that used basic d&d instead of AD&D." I was going to say something like that, but every time I venture an opinion about what ruleset a game uses, I turn out to be wrong. "This game ACTUALLY uses the Special Simplfied Edition Part A of 1988, not OD&D."

    7. No, Basic D&D is correct, but it’s BECMI instead of B/X or Holmes. We know this because mass combat rules were introduced in the “C” of BECMI.

      I am intrigued by, and agree with, the notion this game was supposed to replicate the play experience of “name level” characters. You start out as a “baron”. In the very first D&D “player’s guide” (“Men and Magic”), the descriptive text for a fighter...sorry...”fighting-man” is: “ Top-level fighters (Lords and above) who build castles are considered “Barons,” and as such they may invest in their holdings in order to increase their income (see the INVESTMENTS section of Book III). Base income for a Baron is a tax rate of 10 Gold Pieces/inhabitant of the barony/game year.”

    8. Cavalier973: Do you know if the BECMI mass combat rules were a re-implementation of Chainmail? Or were they a wholly new system?

    9. Cavalier I thought Stronghold just used regular d&d combat systems, not the mass combat rules?

    10. I was joking. I haven’t played Stronghold (this version), so I don’t know what I am talking about.

    11. My understanding is that the “War Machine” mass combat rules were invented by Frank Mentzer, but it is possible he used the Chainmail rules as a guide.

    12. The BECMI mass combat rules, called "War Machine" as cavalier973 points out, were a new system introduced by Mentzer in the Companion set along with domain management rules. War Machine was an abstract system (meaning no miniatures). WM basically compared quantity / quality of army units combined with a general strategy (charge, withdraw, trick, etc.) and some dice rolls to determine outcomes.

      There was a separate system "BattleSystem" in AD&D which was a more direct descendant of Chainmail.

      It's doesn't look to me that Stronghold uses any of these rules systems, but rather came up with their own original implementations of kingdom management and mass combat.

    13. It's taken about an hour to conduct a cursory comparison of the 1993 Stronghold game manual to the 1991 Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia.

      These elements cited in the Stronghold manual match those in the Cyclopedia:

      Race types.

      Prime requisites for each race type.

      Raise prime requisite +1 multiple times by reducing other ability -2, no score may be lowered below 9.

      Mage spells (Stronghold does not use all spells, but those present are in the Cyclopedia).

      Cleric spells (Stronghold does not use all spells, but those present are in the Cyclopedia).

      Monsters (Stronghold does not use all monsters, but those present are in the Cyclopedia, except Statues are called Golems and Mandark does not appear in the Cyclopedia).

      These few lines of description took about an hour to compare point by point, spell by spell, and monster by monster. It's by no means exhaustive, but based on this relatively cursory overview, it seems plausible to suppose that Stronghold is based upon the D&D version represented in the Rules Cyclopedia.

    14. Also, maximum levels match the Cyclopedia:
      Humans max @ 36th
      Dwarves and Elves max @ 12th
      Halflings max @ 8th

      I draw these conclusions based on the Stronghold information bar for each race's training center. In actuality, none of my units have risen beyond 8th level yet.

      I vaguely one of my Stronghold training centers alleging training to a max level of 110, but this could be a bogus recollection.

      Will keep you posted

    15. Stronghold time:

      The passage of time can be important in Stronghold. For the unprepared, Winter is the starving time.

      Week: A Stronghold week is five days long, and each week is a production cycle: gold and food harvests are tallied every five days. With the game paused, five presses of the space bar equal one week.

      Season: There are 45 weeks in each 225-day Stronghold season.

      Year: The four seasons -- Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter -- make up the 180-week, 900-day Stronghold year.

    16. Rangerous, I fear that we're losing you.

    17. Sad but true. Is there still a real world out there? :)

  13. Personally, my experience with this game was playing it for 5 minutes, not getting what was going on, and dropping it so I could move onto a different D&D game, although I don't remember which. I wanna say it was Baldur's Gate though.

  14. I wrote a strategy guide for this game a long time ago. I'll post the link here in case you (or anyone else) find the tips inside useful.

    1. I linked it in my post, but I guess I should have made it a little more prominent. It’s the word “here”.

  15. I really enjoyed this one back then. Very creative use of the D&D license, and while there are interface problems (the magnet thing is miserable), there are lots of different enemies, economy is quite balanced, and figuring out how small details actually work in medias res is quite fun. Also, building a kickass army and watching them decimate high level enemies is extremely satisfying.

    You grabbed most aspects of the game already, but here goes:

    . Autobuilding homes can be disabled, you didn´t mention it but probably saw the 'autobuild' option for the main ruler and each of the (4) additional leaders. "Why would I do that and also have to worry about building homes manually?" - well, INNS happen to be quite overpowered, actually better to use them instead of housing. Expensive, so you cannot build them from the start, but they accomodate lots of people AND generate income. High cost pays itself off quite quickly.

    . You can switch buildings between party members. When an unit is in a square with a building owned by another leader, clicking the building will offer a 'new owner' option. This can help balancing out leaders with few resources - a very obvious strategy is use a dwarf unit to excavate rocks, then after building the mine transfer it to a leader lacking money.

    . The only thing that is speed up by having units in specific locations is building speed. Dragging 5 units + setting pyramid to 100% build in the respective square usually does it quite quickly (I suppose you found out that space bar triggers a 'single turn' speed up?). experience from training halls, food, items: everything else is distributed evenly among units that belong to the buildings leader, wherever they are, during turns. More buildings distribute faster.

    . Outposts are limited by Rank, but they bring extra units. Build them near combat areas whenever possible (that is, whenever rank progression allows).

    . To move units around not-so-annoyingly, the game offers an extremely hard to find drag-to-select option: switch main game window to overhead view; click small leader pyramid; set it by clicking/moving the dot; click the SMALL pyramid from same leader again. Then game will tell you to drag over the map to select units. After dragging you can press R to let all of them ready then send them somewhere with the magnet. Far from exciting but that´s as close as you get to ordering an army into a stronghold. Must be done for each leader, tho.

    . Your remaining gameplay will likely be combat oriented, so focus on getting units to high levels. This requires their respective training halls to be built. Around 5-6 (per leader) should be enough for the high levels to start showing up. An arena boosts experience gained a lot for the whole realm - build it as soon as possible.

    . If you come across medusas, the halflings glassworks is strongly recommended - mirrors will be produced and distributed among all units, lowering chances of petrifying gaze. Range is clearly considered in combat, tho, so ranged attacks may minimize it.

    . Elves kick serious ass in combat - mages with bows. You can take down beat pretty much any stronghold with a big high level elven army + some clerics to heal them. Seeing a more diverse army working is quite nice, tho.

    . Red dragons have a short attack range, but blue dragons breath electricity which is way more annoying. Cockatrices and vampires are also quite a PITA.

    1. I appreciate all the supplemental info. I cover a few things here in the second entry, but I still missed a lot.

      I disabled autobuilding early in the game because I wanted to control what got built and where. By the time I wrote this, I forgot it existed.

  16. A few years later, SSI would make a similar game called Birthright, a mix of Strategy and RPG with a few more RPG details, like your King being able to recruit allied lieges to go on EoB-style dungeon romps to get magic artifacts to help defeat a Gorgon (the foozle of the game).

    Shame that game was so buggy, the idea was fantastic.

    1. It's based on one of the second edition AD&D settings released in the big setting expansion of the mid-90's. One of the sporadic attempts to exploit the oft-neglected domain-building phase of the traditional D&D campaign structure.

    2. I like Birthright, but that game has a LOT of cut corners, weird design decisions, and bugs. And I'd hardly classify what they passed off as an adventure module as EoB-like. It was more Quake-like, really, but poorly implemented.

  17. I always found this game reasonably fun to play for a few days, but not much longer. The simulation elements aren't deep enough, there is too much micromanagement (especially in assigning the units and setting the triangles), and the enemies aren't that much of a challenge.

    Since I'm mostly interested in the city management aspect, I usually play lawful with one enemy of each tier. I place the keeps as far away from the main castle as possible to have more space. I focus on green areas with some water (which increases food production), but try to place dwarves not too far away from some mountains.

    I never bothered building any walls, since enemies weren't that much of a threat and they usually just block my own progress. Might be different if you play with many high intelligence enemies.

    I kept manually swapping my experienced "home" units with new units, a process that is slow and very annoying.

  18. Oh man, I remember this game. I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved building and building until my city covered several screens. Seeing other sections of my city in the distance was pretty cool; it felt like I was right down in one of my settlements in Civilization. Then my guys would wander into an enemy lair, get eaten, and I moved on to other games.

  19. Sure is a lot of clicking for quite limited gain. A shame it barely recognizes the existence of a keyboard. And not through inaccessible complexity, either: There's not that much to do...

  20. As I've mentioned here before, I played Stronghold every day for probably two years. I absolutely love this game for reasons I cannot quite articulate.

    Units can be set to 'Home', 'Unassigned', or 'Ready'. Units set to 'Ready' will blink white/grey on the map and respond to your orders to move before Unassigned units will. As a kid I got into the habit of catching unassigned units as they wandered out of the castles and switching them to 'Ready' so that I could better send them where I wanted.

    Building towers lets you "see" farther, but towers built on hills (light tan) or mountains (dark brown) can see farther, respectively. You are also more likely to find more valuable mines in the hills and mountains compared to the grasslands, but farms don't do well in the hills and mountains.

    Also, if you beeline for the enemy stronghold and demolish it the remaining enemies for that stronghold will move along the Y axis until they're lined up, then they'll proceed along the X axis, flattening everything in the way.

    I usually just used the Might & Magic lawnmower strategy to whittle the enemy's field forces down to a manageable size before assaulting the stronghold.

  21. To add to my previous comment: Setting the pyramid to 'Recruit' does not generate new units on the map. That's a function of available housing.

    Instead, 'Recruit' builds up the strength of an individual unit. At the beginning a 'Fighter' is a 'Unit of 1', maybe with 7-8 HP. If you set him to 'Recruit' he'll become a unit of 2,3,4, etc. So you have a little band of fighters, each with 7-8 HP.

    Therefore, there is a bit of a balance between training to get increased levels and recruitment to get increased resiliency. I usually set a district to 50% Recruit, 50% Training once there was nothing left to build there.

    I do not remember if increased unit count consumes more food though, I'll have to test that out at some point.

  22. Every time I see it, Mindark brings to mind Mandark of Dexter's lab, eroding gravitas just a bit :)

    I've encountered the dreaded "Give Cathryn BOTH numbers" bug, crashing the game in a manner that cannot be resumed. This is especially discouraging when most enemies have been defeated and a win seems just within my grasp!

  23. There are a lot of pretty modest shortcomings that drain away my enjoyment of the game...
    One example is how the Pyramids are managed. I don't remember this on my last game, but (since Cathryn's crash) when I shift focus to a new rectangle, the focus does not shift to the owner's pyramid. Instead, it remains on whosever pyramid I was last adjusting. This is just one more oversight that adds to the clickfest needed to accomplish virtually anything at a useful scale.

    1. Pyramids allow you to choose how units residing within each area will focus their efforts among building, recruiting, and training. Hot keys allow rapid setting of 100% to Building (B), Recruiting (R), and Training (T). However, after building is complete, it may be desirable to evenly split priority between Recruiting and Training, and there is no hot key for such an apportionment. Mousing this setting, for each of 5 troop types, within each square, is just too much of a chore. Keyboard is king for oft-repeated actions, and here it's sufficiently challenging that it pretty much forces a 100% focus by square. Either you are growing troop size, OR you are growing troop skill, but not both, easily.

  24. I want to like it and I want to complete a game, but gosh darn it, annother "Error 27 restarting" and haven't saved in a while...

  25. After I began saving much more often, I was able to finish despite the odd Cathryn bug or Error 29.

    The "STRONGHOLD BUILDING CARD for IBM & Compatibles" was not well organized. Punching this information into a spreadsheet and sorting greatly clarified design choices and priorities, although it still wasn't ALWAYS clear when duplicating a particular building would increase the desired effect, and when it was just a one-time effect.

    Vaguely like Risk, one troop remains in each developed square. These troops are generally sufficient to provide on-call reserves for unforeseen local defense needs.

    As you noted, throughout the game, troops just decide they've had enough and suddenly settle down in an undeveloped square along the way, often when responding to an urgent call for reinforcements. This leads to yet another onerous chore of manual "garbage collection" to re-form the slackers into actionable troops.

    Too bad magic rings of protection are only for mages.

    I found I especially needed those weapon enchantments when the Vampires showed up. Normal weapons couldn't hurt them, so each Vampire was able to mow huge swaths right through my non-magical troops. Their level drain didn't help either, although with Vampires' other effective attacks, troops that were level-drained often didn't enjoy the opportunity to regain those lost levels. Unlike most other monsters, they took the initiative and assaulted my strongholds before I attacked them, although typically only by ones and twos (thank goodness).

    I felt that the combat magic AI wasn't bad at all. Spellcasters made good use of immobilizing as well as damage attacks. Clerics healed in the nick of time, saving more than a few lives. Fireballs appeared to harm only enemies, thank goodness since time and distance management was not a strong point of the combatants. And, of course, things became much more exciting when facing enemy spellcasters.

    I suppose designers wanted to preserve the ability to send disparate troops to different locations, but clicking and typing become tiresome very quickly. Wouldn't it have been nice if you could have sent your ready troops to a single location with a single click? Instead, the player is constantly typing buttons 1 through 5 and mouse-clicking for each one, in order to independently direct troops from each Keep to the same location.

    In a similar vein, setting an auto-improve option on select structures could have saved a lot of clicks.

    I can appreciate the attraction of this sort of game. A lot of love went into it, a lot went right, and at times the promise has shown through, but I'm not sure if I'll be doing this one again. If only the interfaces had felt a little bit less like work.

  26. It's possible that the "Error 27, restarting" error may be triggered by an enemy unit becoming the sole occupant of one of the subordinate keeps, unopposed.

    Allegedly the only game-ending condition is loss of the main keep, so it's possible to have a relatively cavalier attitude toward defense of the outlying keeps. Once the game is flowing well and local superiority is guaranteed, it's a nuisance to organize a spirited defense against the odd red dot that is wandering toward your heartland. Before it reaches any keep, single enemy units will PROBABLY be defeated one-on-one by local units that are supporting each building in your developed areas, so organizing a spirited defense becomes an administrative chore that is almost always unnecessary and certainly unrewarding. Back-filling your own defeated units is seldom needed, but even when it is necessary, is much less of a chore than preemptively pulling a bunch together for a defense that is almost always unnecessary.

    The way in which the game allows you to organize units argues against multiple forces with some held in reserve, unless you choose to attack with only single type armies, which lack diversity and are more susceptible to defeat.

    There doesn't seem to be any way to organize forces except by unit type (e.g. all units associated with a particular keep, each made up of one specific race/class). This is a significant tactical shortcoming.

    It is in this context, then, that the odd red dot excites no enthusiasm for a spirited defense. It is easier to see what happens and opt for a vigorous response only after a random enemy unit has some successes. Allegedly, only the loss of the master keep is game ending, which seems to make this low-effort approach a viable strategy. However, any enemy unit can have a string of luck. The "Error 27, restarting" bug appears to demand a preemptive response to every single incursion, no matter how insignificant. Within the context of the limited game control structure and the consequent chore this creates in order to manage units for every single local defense, this is a real shame.

    An alternative that I haven't yet attempted is to build barrier defenses with multiple units homed in each boundary square. This strategy initially seemed unnecessary, but the "Error 27" problem appears to demand a change in strategy.

  27. Obviously I've been bitten by the bug. Normally I wouldn't comment like this, so thank you so much for letting us know that... "I'll recount my experiences with the second campaign next time, but I've already finished the game, so please let loose freely with spoilers."

    I need a few more play-throughs to continue experimenting with options such as building walls and with transferring ownership of buildings to deliver their effect to races who cannot build them.

  28. Walls worked well, but I'm not sure the expense is merited compared to placing multiple units in each border property.

    I'm still seeing some unexpected behavior in the training areas. Training areas seem to offer a mix of training to maximum levels of either 36 or 110. After clearing the map of all but one relatively unthreatening monster keep, I parked my ready units on their spawn point and called it a night. The next day, three of my keeps' training areas would train to level 110, while the other two would train to level 36. I think (but am not sure) that the passage of time is the factor that raises this limit.

    I'm beginning to think that I've exhausted most of the newness of this game. I think that transferring unique buildings was valuable. For example, the fighter built multiple armories and forges and transferred them to Mages and Elves. The Elves built multiple fletcheries and transferred one to Fighters. The Thief built multiple glasssworks and the Mage built multiple magic mills, transferring one to each of the other races/classes. Some of these efforts may have been questionable, because it's not clear which property effects can benefit other races. Establishing that level of detail would take more effort (at least at this point) than I'm willing to make.

    Each race/class property tab has been helpful in locating underdeveloped and not-yet-transferred buildings.

    This game has provided a few days of both frustration and absorbing interest. The game's simplicity offers a tractable scope, and the level of attention doesn't need to be high to be fairly successful.

    As ever, thanks for uncovering and exposing us to these old games. I hesitate to call this one a gem, but it was fun and interesting for a few days. The potential is obvious, and at times the game is very compelling. Sadly, in the end it evinces the sort of product that really could have benefited from a little more play testing.

    Thanks again, and as always, keep up the great work!

    1. I was on the road when most of this discussion was happening, so I didn't get a chance to respond in detail when it was fresh, but I do appreciate all your supplementation to my experience. You found a lot of things that I didn't. I'm glad you were interested enough in the game to check it out.


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