Stronghold: War and Treason in the Middle Ages

It was in 1981 that the editorial staff of the famous Jeux & Stratégie magazine awarded the Pion d´Or to Philippe Moucheboeuf for his game, which would become a classic, Fief. In Fief, you will take in hand the destiny of a noble family in the Middle Ages, you will have to build fortresses, raise armies, forge alliances with your neighbors or wage war against them. You have only one goal: Glory at the expense of other players!

The early 1980s was the golden age of austere strategy game that reproduced historical military engagements with pinpoint precision. We can no longer count the simulations of Waterloo, Rocroi or Marignan, always on a hexagon map, always with hundreds of pawns where the illustration is faithful to the color of the cufflinks of the old guard of the Emperor but drowned in a flood of information ranging from the combat capacity of a Spanish Tercio in an aqueous environment on a clear day, to the reloading time of a 6 pound gun depending on the number of servants. In short, these are exciting games, but the details and complexity leave to an audience of specialists.

Fief contrasts with this tradition. Thanks to a strong theme, smart rules and great interaction between players, Fief opens the doors to a wider audience, even family! A first edition saw the light of day in 1984 with the Italians of the International Team, then a second revised edition in 1989 at Eurogames (a company of the French publisher Descartes) and finally a new version completely revised in 2011.

A strong but imprecise historical context

The action takes place in the Middle Ages somewhere between the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century. There is no other indication of the period, other than what can be deduced from the illustrations. The game board represents an unknown region with fields, rivers, roads, villages and towns with names that reflect the Middle Ages like Beaujeu, Villeneuve, Les Essarts, Châteauneuf or Belleville. This map is divided into six potential strongholds and four bishoprics. Players will be able to build castles, mills, raise troops and build siege engines. The armies are commanded by nobles (man or woman) themselves with the surnames of the times. Your incarnations on the game board are then called Jean, Charles, Henri or Eleanor, Guenièvre and Marie for these Ladies. These few elements added to a system of rules which is intended to be close to a certain historical reality create an atmosphere around the table that has nothing to envy that of the Cursed Kings!

The feudal system put to the test of the board game

Each player begins the game with an untitled nobleman, his retinue of a few sergeants and knights and a single village. The game is designed for three to six players, but here too the more participants the more exciting the games will be. To claim victory, you must have 3 victory points individually, or 4 by entering into a matrimonial alliance, at the end of a game turn. Victory points are obtained in three different ways: 1 point per established Fiefdom (Barony , Counties, Duchies), 1 point if a member of the player's family is named Pope, 1 point for the one who has been elected King.

To obtain these points, you will have to fight hard! At first all players will rush to the mills, available in limited numbers, to ensure a comfortable income. Once the stock of mills is exhausted, it will become necessary to protect them from the greed of other players and expand its territory. For this, you will recruit troops and why not (if you are in the category of aggressive players) siege engines. Once your Ost is formed, you will be able to conquer and consolidate your lands and thus claim the title (actually buy it!). To obtain a title, you must occupy all the villages in the Fiefdom you want and buy the title in question. So here you are Baron or Duke. A titled nobleman brings certain advantages, he can raise the waist, participate in elections with additional weight and claim the Throne!

The vagaries of the weather

So far, it doesn't seem too complicated, but you can imagine that your opponents will do everything to curb your ambitions, especially since they share them! At the start of each game turn, you will draw cards that will allow you to add nobles to increase your family, but also to rain calamities on the heads of your competitors. There are cards like the underground which favors your troops during sieges but also natural disasters. It hits the game board at random, Storms can cripple troops, Famine can strike your lands and ruin you, peasants can revolt against their lords and worse still, the Plague can decimate troops and destroy your nobles! For each calamity, there is a card that will deliver you from it (except the Plague of course!), So… don't panic!

Elections, alliance and betrayal!

In Fief, we often vote. We vote to elect a Bishop, we vote for the Pope and for the King! The voting system is quite realistic. Each player can present a candidate and vote, for this he has three tokens representing a white ball for a favorable vote, a black ball for an unfavorable vote and a token representing the two balls for a draw vote. Since a player can only vote once, this is where composing becomes essential to get the support you need to succeed. The game is worth the candle: a Bishop can take Dime, become Cardinal (a super Bishop in terms of the game) and crown a King. The Pope earns a victory point, can appoint cardinals and pronounce excommunications. The King is worth a victory point, can use it directly in the royal treasury and reward his family and allies with titles.

Election is always a good time to enter into an alliance or embark on the path of betrayal. To facilitate this, each player has three "embassy" tokens at the start of the game, which gives them the opportunity to isolate themselves for a three-minute one-on-one with another player. An alliance can be materialized by support during a vote, military support or even a marriage! Marriage is the great novelty of this edition, now it is possible to unite two nobles (man and woman of course!) And accumulate points for a common victory at four points! A marriage can only be annulled by the Pope ... or the disappearance of one of the two spouses! We can easily imagine that the danger represented by such an alliance will make it the target of all plots!

In conclusion, Fief is a game with certainly thick rules, but still easy to begin with. The system is so rich that it guarantees renewal and offers possibilities that are bounded only by your deceit! Isn't it delicious to get elected Pope and call off the marriage between you and another player to achieve victory on your own?

For further

- The publisher's website

- The author's blog

Video: Stronghold 2 - Chapter 8. The Hawks Nest. Military Campaign 1080pHD (January 2022).