That’s a key strategic decision that players of Solium Infernum will need to make. The normal sized map is 14 by 12 hexes in dimensions. That translates into 168 Cantons up for grabs but the real number is much lower because many terrain types do not allow a player to claim the hex. Rivers, Lakes of Fire, Volcanoes and Chasms are pure barriers that can neither be claimed nor entered (unless there is a bridge in the river hex of course). Mountains, Swamps and Lava Fields can not be claimed but some legions with a special ability can enter them. So after you take into account the terrain you probably have 120 or so Cantons up for grabs. During the initial land grab you will want to stake out your claim on nearby Places of Power. The driving factor for this is the prestige that each Place of Power grants to you every turn. Places of Power provide a nice steady stream of prestige that can add up over the course of the game. They are crucial to victory. Beyond staking out your claim to Places of Power you will need to decide on how much additional land you want to claim and in what directions. Here are some things to consider:
1. The more land that you grab the more Victory Points you get at the end of the game. You get 1 Victory Point for each Canton that you control when the final Conclave Token is drawn and the Infernal Conclave convenes.
2. There is an event card that can be played called “Infernal Census” during the game. It immediately gives every player a prestige bonus of 1 point for each Canton that they control when the event is played.
3. There is a secret objective card that you can draw and keep that gives you a prestige bonus of 20 points if you have the most Cantons at the end of the game. However if you do not you lose the 20 points.
4. Claiming choke points like bridges or mountain passes can allow for good defensive postures on some fronts. Since legions can support each other by being adjacent, this can work in your favor if the opponent has to file an attacking force through a narrow approach.
5. Claiming too much land can stretch you too thin. This is often true because the map wraps around in all directions. You are likely to have opponents in all four compass directions. The more you expand the more neighbors you get. Exacerbating this is the fact that you will never have an unlimited supply of legions. I first ran into the fun concept of Command Rating (CR) in MOO 2 and it’s really a gem of an idea. Basically it lets me influence player behavior by limiting the number of legions a player can control to the board. The limiting effect is not really as important as the fact that I force players to make certain choices if they want to increase their CR. In this case they normally have to expend resources on leveling up their “Martial Skill” attribute which in turn unlocks +2 CR abilities in their “Wrath” discipline. Players will normally control between 4 to 8 legions so there will usually never be enough to guard all your borders.
6. Claiming a lot of land can create a buffer. This can be both an asset and a liability. Unlike may war games you can be exposed on a section of your front but not fear a spear thrust to your heart which knocks you out of the game. It would be as if the Wehrmacht broke through the Ardennes but then called a halt to their advance because their honor had been satisfied and the Geneva Protocols specified that they must halt. Vendetta dynamics can have this type of effect. The length of the conflict is turn limited as are the objectives. That means you can loose a bunch of territory but not the game. The more buffer you have the more ground you can give until you can shift resources to face the new threat. Conversely though all this land is a liability. Your opponent gains prestige for succeeding in his claim of Vendetta. Waltzing in and taking 5 Cantons unopposed while you get organized is going to push your opponent ahead. Like any good equilibrium system the more your opponent grabs the more he has to start worrying about these issues as well.
So the design goal was to come up with a system where expansion had obvious benefits but also included a negative feed back element that regulated expansion. The design envisioned players jostling for important places of power as well as trying to build buffers around their base stronghold and newly acquired places of power. As a player expands at the expense of his neighbors some negative feed back begins to kick in. How artful the player is in managing those forces will be a big factor in how the player fares in the game.
Here is a screen shot from the early part of a game:
The active player sees all his icons in red. His border markings are in red as well. All opponents icons and markings appear in black. In this case I’ve secured a nice area of land around my stronghold that borders on the River Styx (running east/west) which is only passable at the bridge. To my west I have secured a pass bordered by mountains. To the east I have secured a bridge on the river Acheron which runs north/south. I have also capture a Place of Power known as the Great Bronze Pyramid. At this point I have a large open area to the north where eventually I run into a neighboring Archfiend who is moving south towards me. You can actually see that we have made contact already to the south over the bridge across the Styx. He has captured a Place of Power that sits just south of the bridge. I need to decide how much land I want/can claim towards the north before we bump into each other there.
Complicating this is the fact that the player in the land bordering my bridge over the Acheron is the same player I encounter traveling west through the mountain/river pass.
That’s the nature of a closed universe. I’m certain that this will cause some players no end of pain, consternation and disorientation. All I can say is “Welcome to Hell!”