Greetings fellow Strongholders. I've been away for quite some time, and I'm not sure if there's anyone here who would remember me, or even who the "new guard" is around these parts, but I'm glad to be back. I made this map several years ago but for various reasons never released it--until now. It was inspired by the real life Stafford Castle, though it's not a brick-by-brick remake.
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I don't want to spoil the story for you (or the accompanying "letter"), but I will say you may not look at the Wolf quite the same way again. Call him a hopeless romantic.
As always, play smart and have fun.
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Due to the design of the map, there isn't a lot of space for the invading armies to roam around freely. "Funnelling" is present in this map - the AI's nature is to take to shortest route possible to the keep. So, enemies always travel through the ford where the wooden walls aren't connected together. They're a real easy target for archers and xbows, considering their path is restricted to the point where they can't even cross the river to the left side of the castle. This funnelling also allows the player to easily notice where the enemy tend to walk. And that's where pitch ditches come in: many of the invading troops are lightly armoured.
There's also another thing that affects the playability slightly. One granary building only supports 250 food. As one of the objectives is 400 bread, the player needs at least 2 granary buildings in order to support the bread required. However, the preplaced granary is built in an area which cannot support another adjacent granary building. This means the player would have to delete the existing granary and place it somewhere else - as said before, this doesn't affect the playability much, but can be frustrating for players who have just discovered this problem (even more so when they're almost done).
But other than those few negative points, I felt the map was very enjoyable. The economic conditions weren't ridiculously hard (unless, of course, the map is played on Very Hard!!) but also, they definitely aren't for the faint of heart. The map could use a time limit in which the goods must be gathered, but I feel that doesn't fit in with the story, as the mission is about thwarting the Wolf's plans. Very well done on the design of the castle, very functional (and obviously creative) and not impenetrably defensive.
The tactic I used was to focus solely on food production and taxes. I used a lot of pitch to damage the enemy invasions, then destroyed them with a bunch of melee units I grouped together. A few stone towers and wooden walls were able to give my xbows a lot more range. In the last invasion with all those catapults, I was able to shoot down many engineers before they managed to reach their tents, from a few towers constructed on the inaccessible side of the river. After the invasions I was free to work my way to the objectives.
It took one or two attempts to figure out a strategy I liked. So, the map is not hard but allows for a great deal of thinking and planning.
Between SH1 and SHC, Crusader is the one which allows mapmakers to design freely. In SH1, mapmakers must take into account the difficulty levels which can drastically change the balance of the map. For example, if a map is considered a tough but beatable mission on Easy, then it is in no way close to being balanced at all. In short, the difficulty setting the map is played on should reflect the actual difficulty of the map itself.
Stafford Castle is an excellent example of a well-balanced map. For some, normal may be challenging; for others, VH might be a piece of cake. But the difficulty settings don't lie - most players will get the challenge they ask for.
I still view the Wolf as cruel and cunning, but now he's been humiliated twice. First, a crushing defeat and [near] death, and now, he's been hopelessly rejected!
Map design, story, and gameplay, all join up to create a romantically depressing scenario that's sure not to disappoint! (Well, maybe the Wolf.)
Map Design: 5.0/5.0
Although not quite the real Stafford Castle, the surrounding landscape looks just as welcoming. I don't know if those "pebble boundaries" are pathways (blame it on my lack of medieval knowledge), but they serve as a restriction on farm placement AS WELL as a cosmetic effect. Well done.
Story and Instructions: 3.5/5.0
I don't know what else to say, except that the story was BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN, AND FUNNY too! Only, it was too short and there weren't really any instructions. But seriously, you have the kind of writing skills to elicit laughs from everybody. I also enjoyed how the story is told from the perspectives of both Duc Volpe and the player's bride to be. Overall, no errors in the text; the story and instructions just need more.
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The Wolf has now been revealed as a really bad poet, thanks to the genius of Captain Diablo.