Posted on 05/22/04 @ 12:00 AM (updated 06/19/04
Suspecting the king was angry with him, Varian wisely left Callista by the Sea before your arrival. As to his current whereabouts? There have been rumors that he has been sighted in the plains far to the East, directing caravans loaded with stone. The king desires to know what his brother is up to, and has sent you to investigate.
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To your surprise, you not only discover what Varian has been constructing, you find Varian himself! He has dressed up as a knight, and is running around calling everyone "My lord." Oh well, at least for once in his life he hasn't abandoned a project that he started! He doesn't really grasp what it takes to make a thriving community, however. And as the people are still hungry, you know the king would want you to stay and help feed them. Varian, for some reason, has insisted that the people be provided with a good supply of ale. Does he want them to stagger around the maze and get lost? Ah well, better keep an eye on the situation. Good luck!
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Kester - How do you come up with such interesting themes for your maps?
The story is quite funny as we continue to hear about the exploits of the King's idiot brother. And the gameplayer gets to fill the part of the brother's "keeper" and having to fix the messes that the brother makes. Very imaginative. Story - 4.
The map is intricate and beautiful. Must have taken you a long time to lay out the maze so symmetrically. The actual terrain itself is fairly standard but maze takes up nearly the entire area of the map. I like the occasional trees and water features within the map. Clever to make all the walls of reduced height. Not only does this allow the gameplayer to see more but, if you are tempted to destroy part of the maze to shorten paths to the stockpile or granary - you find an earthen barrier still blocking the way. Map - 4, Creativity - 5
I tried and tried on NORMAL but failed to come close to winning. I even tried a "cheat" by moving the stockpile but to no avail. Finally I switched to EASY and, with several restarts, I came fairly close to meeting all the objectives except the ale. The Maze structure, which makes the map so unique, is also a tremendous barrier to development taking up almost all the usable space and increasing the travel distance between points.
When wolves attacked it was hard to move archers fast enough to stop them
I did enjoy the challenge and the map was fun to play but also I found it rather frustrating. If there were slightly more room for development and if the goals were slightly lower the balance would be much improved. Playability - 4, Balance - 3.
Varian's Maze - Core of economic gameplay
A maze consists of many different routes and directions to path through. In the network of ways, there are not only forks (like in a one-way labyrinth), but also crossroads, deadlocks and loops. Centre of the pattern is a target place, decorated by a tree, a fountain or - a keep.
Stronghold economics consists of various chains, simple or longer branches. Anchor point of the game is popularity, and the dynamics to ensure its resilience is: balance.
While most eco scenarios are about certain goods, this mission is unique in bringing balance into focus.
In the middle of the map you begin with a keep, the Lord, an archer and a swordsman, the first peasants and quite a lot of wood. All around you, there is a maze of lowered walls, very huge and manifoldly shaped.
When building up the city, the main task is to hold, keep and refine balance. Many people will have long ways to go. How to make their jobs and the combination of them most effective? There are no bad things to push the people.
Everything becomes a matter of thought and provision. Had to meditate even old familiar processes and question my strategies. During the game, I followed the moves of many workers and counted most blanks of wood. (Needed a break from hearing the chopping sound of the wc hut video).
How many wood cutters at the start? Which trees to address first or to spare for spreading out?
Which farms, besides apple orchards, to start making food with? How to keep food supply growing at least as fast as the population? What a joy, when you manage to store ever more bread while you place ever more hovels.
When to start the hops chain? Ale supply both requires an already strong (safely balanced) economy and comsumes lots of farming space, wood, workers and gold. Ale is needed in a conclusive way to allow some reduction of food rations to get more loafs of bread stored while taxes stay up. What a great joy if you "feel the power" of serving double rations and full ale supply at the same time!
Which farms next, at the spots closer to the centre and outside the walls?
How to use the first and precious gold raised by taxes? It may be a strategy seldomly used in Stronghold 1 to buy wood. These investments proved to be quickly paying off, however. (More people, more taxes.)
When to boost the income of the different food types requested? Hunters have the hardest job by this maze. Not only, their target is on the move. But if they shoot a deer across the walls the corpse will often have vanished until they can reach it. So, they are around "hunting" for a very long time. As usual, I placed the hunter's huts next to the granary. Later, I detected a better (and fourfold) spot to site them. Income of meat was significantly higher then.
Another alternative exists concerning the castle defences. The Lord and the two initial soldiers can deal with the packs of rabbits and the wolves already on the map. But shall one set up fletchers early and train a modest band of archers to fight the coming wolf attacks? Or just let wood cutters and hunters fight and die? If the forces are on their guard in time, they ensure people working undisturbedly. And a nice amount of bows can be sold until the end of the game.
Building inisde the maze was fun. With the total space I had no problem. Astonishingly many bakeries and breweries fit into corners or crossroads. Hunter's posts fill – but don't block - the thinner spaces There are plenty of larger spots for 6 inns.
Events do not happen frequently but in decisice ways. Fires break out with two points of origin. A theft from the granary tests the capabilities of the town late enough in the game to cause defeat.
It took me four attempts to gain victory on very hard! Finished the scenario with 176 pop (+16), 10 months earlier, 9.027 gold and an overall score of 17.692.
A 5, for three reasons. The scenario is right about balance. Wrong decisions have long term consequences. You may win if you find the balance, keep it up, refine and regulate it.
The feeling of the mission communicates to the player on every difficulty level. Of course, the map is hard (only the creator of the maze will find it normal). And with each level, difficulties will multiply.
Third, the combination of requests, trading (dis)abilities and events plus time limit rocks. Not just food is to store but three types of food, two of which are the less procutive. The population objective is moderate. The time limit is pretty scarce (10 years and 4 months). So, as all of Kesters eco scenarios, "Varians Maze" breathes an atmosphere both friendly and strict.
The maze, stunning and fascinating. I admire the patience with which it was invented and created.
The "round" setting for gameplay. The creative abilities of the players are brought out.
Map Design: 4.5
Who would not admire this maze? It is layed out completely symmetrically. There are lines, curves, crossings, clusters, openings, and enclosures. The big size makes the player find differences as well as redetect correspondences. The nice overall harmony may make you feel secure. Placing stairs at the sides of the edges evokes an impression of being imprisoned.
Varied plays of water and bushes enliven the atmosphere. Lowering the walls was a tasty choice. One can look across the walls and enjoy the outline and the homemade growing town in it. As Bismuth has mentioned, smashing the walls would be of (almost) no help. But in such a great installation it would anyway be a matter of honour to leave things as they are.
In a second thought, I'd like to see some single tiles added in the green plain for unconcious nuances. A stone, a tile of dirt, a slight nuance in the colour of the bushes.
Also, chapels are allowed, but one cannot buy stone at the market.
Story and instructions: 4
The story is short and funny. As part of the history of the HU campaign, the player has to clear up the matters of a mad prince. Fits well to the mission.
Within the maze on the map and the labyrinth of tasks, one will be grateful for the hints after some unfortunate attempts.
With some of the recommended strategies I have my troubles. They obviously apply for easy and normal level. As to their nature they easily read like a walkthrough or may be misunderstood as just-this-way instructions ("How to win").
On the harder levels, some advices cannot work. You will not "have more than enough bread". Food rations and taxes have to be high almost until the end of the game to achieve the amount of gold.
As for hops, I needed the ale effect on popularity at the latest in the middle of the game.
And better not "ignore the wolves".
On the other hand, a very wise strategy is to "frequently look at the goals to gauge whether to add more bakeries, cow farms, etc."
An intriguing economic map, wonderful on the surface and challenging in the gameplay. Great closure of the Herrick Uthensvar campaign. Among my top 5 eco maps ever.
A creation like that I have not seen before and feel especially endowed to know it. May many other players enjoy "Varian's Maze".
[Edited on 06/18/11 @ 02:51 PM]