The foyer of the Rosethorn Hotel is deserted. A crisp white letter addressed to "Mm. Iron" sits on the front desk. There are no other signs of life.
Morning-Glory hands her a rulebook.
"Set up your initial scouting force, we're in the exploration phase at the start of the game where you investigate my politics and try to discover my Scheme cards. I pick them at the start of the game before you scout and so this is a game where you try to uncover my Schemes and I try to get the Name of your initial agent. After I get your agent's name I make them spill their guts and the War starts. Depending on how many of my Schemes you've uncovered, you're in a better or worse starting position for the war."
She runs a hand through her hair. "Sorry, it's a bit complicated, isn't it? I'm Morning-Glory by the way." She offers her hand to shake.
"I'm Iron. Pleasure to meet you."
She shakes her hand firmly.
"As for the complexity, I confess I'm just more confused about what this is all modelling, rather than anything around how complex it is overall. If I was able to get enough cultural knowledge to know that names were a danger, I would simply strive to ensure that I sent in Agents without names or some such thing. But taking the game as is..."
She closes her eyes to think briefly.
"Is seeing more of your scheme cards a purely informational advantage? Could I simply decide to skip the information gathering phase and attempt to overwhelm you before you can implement any conversions, instead of playing the espionage game?"
"The exploration phase represents the period before you know that I have name magic. You're investigating the world as a potential and trying to uncover what's going on. As soon as you know I have name magic - represented by my third Scheme Card, which is the same in all games - the war starts. If you uncovered it before I got your agent's name you're in an advantageous position, if you didn't you're in a disadvantageous position. The first and second Scheme cards, Species and Sin, tell you what kinds of units I'll be using against you in the war and therefore let you prepare for that when you're selecting units to bring. So it's mostly informational advantage that you're playing for in the early game. There is a variation, Conquering Consortium, where you come in blind and attack without even knowing name magic exists on Cthonica, but that one is actually weighted slightly towards Cthonica balance-wise because you don't have the Security Measures deck in play until something's been majorly subverted."
She nods slightly.
"I suppose that makes sense - Does that mean that I can only initiate the war once I get the Sin Card I need to justify it organizationally, or some such thing? The blind game seems rather harsh - One would hope that in hostile territory one would aim for compartmentalization and mental defenses irregardless of the knowledge of some specific threat."
"You need a Sin card to start the war and you can only introduce the Security Measures deck when you get my Name Magic card. There's another variation, Cautious Consortium, where you introduce the Security Measures deck at the start of the game instead of having it be introduced when Name Magic exists, but that skews balance towards the Consortium. You might want to play with it, actually, since I'm experienced and you're new."
"That sounds reasonable. I can't say I'm experienced in this genre in general, either, so a 'handicap' would be appreciated. Are there any other variant rules you'd like to play with, or should that be all?"
She idly assembles the decks she needs to play.
"No, I think it's complicated enough on its own for a first-timer. Make sure to read the rulebook thoroughly."
She pages through it, absorbing it throughly.
Her early strategy appears to be to do probing cyberattacks, looking for the basic information she needs to more confidently play the rest of the game. She's quick to make an effort to disentangle, disengage, and wait for a chance to get the cards comboing before exposing herself.
Soon Morning-Glory's species card is revealed: Gremlin. A species built around manipulating technology and systems, the natural counter to a cyberwar strategy.
Morning-glory reveals a Honeypot card because a cyberattack was played last turn and draws four. "Let's see if this can get you."
She doesn't pull the Name card with her search effects, but she does discard most of Iron's combo. "Drat."
"Good combo - but I think that I've adequately exhausted that angle now so..."
She plays a Listening Stone and Spy card, and looks for her first Scheme Card, though clearly her hand is now a little thin.
"Oh, nice backup strategy. That'll flip my Sin - it's Pride. Do you want to start the War phase?"
"You seem pretty well set up for this phase and there's no reason to indulge your Pride, so I might as well. The war is begun."
She starts off with playing a Crippled Communications card and Fearsome Strike to try to impede her response.
Morning-Glory shrugs off the Fearsome Strike with Stubborn Pride, and plays a Gremlin Network to deal with the Crippled Communications. She places Asteria Academy, a Pride Edifice that produces Mages each turn, then passes.
She plays Song of War, Phantom Soldiers and Bardic Campaign, chaining generating Forgotten Song-wielding soldiers to keep a continuous stream of assaults on her infrastructure after an initial spike, then passes her turn.
Well shit. She needs that Name, damn it. Hacking Campaign, Take Them Alive, Sadistic Tortures. She will get a name this turn or else she'll lose.
Does Iron turn over any Name cards?
She gets two - one of the earlier spies, and a low level commander of a teleporting troop squad. Not ideal, but....
Stolen Equipment targeting Song of War through the low level commander of the teleporting troop squad to hold off the soldiers using her mages from Asteria Academy. Double Agent on the spy to dig for more and higher-level names. Pass.
She plays her Compartmentalization card - mostly rebuffing the ability to get higher level names, though there's still a good number more soldiers and assets gained. She unveils her Stealthed Mine card, debuffing Asteria academy and somewhat crippling the ability for the mages to respond. Still, she's on the defensive.
Gremlin Reverse-Engineering targeting a captured OTC Beacon. Offworld Attack. Hostage-Slaves.
She lets out a small tense sigh as she discards a few cards.
Emergency Summon to get Divine Wrath, and she plays Elemental Storm - Lightning across the centers of commerce.
Divine Wrath is a problem, she has no defense except her hostages. But because she has offworld presence, she can play Public Knowledge, revealing the name of a public figure - one of the Directors or a Deity. She rolls; Sunaira. And with her Hostage-Slaves card...
"I hold the Rose Bowers and everything within it hostage. That's a win, pretty sure. Unless you have a counter?"
"I'm suprised that's in the game, to be honest. I would expect any deity or director to be able to hold at least a planet hostage but..."
plays Trickster's Artifice then thinks.
"I think you rolled badly, for that - Sunaira's realm is enchanted to provide safety for the guest through an elaborate domain miracle, as best I understand the relevant magic. It's possible that enslaving her would allow you to radically overhaul the expression of her divine nature, and she could probably eventually break it, but perhaps trickster's artifice could activate some evacuation contingency through that, or it would simply not work at scale...?"
"I'll have to consult the rulebook on that one..."
She looks through.
"- Oh, you can use Trickster's Artifice to search for Goddess' Grace, an un-enslave effect, and use that to free Sunaira. If you have Goddess' Grace in your deck you win. Do you?"
She rifles through.
"It seems I do. Good game."
She holds out her hand to shake.
Morning-Glory shakes Iron's hand.
"Well played. So, what are you doing here, hm?"