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Sparrow's Extreme Challenges
My picks of the most difficult maps to play on very hard setting.

All Stronghold Challenges
#13   4/8/06    Treasure Island    by Duke of York   
#12   3/25/06    The Oracle of the Forest    by pmn3829   
#11   3/11/06    The Tortured Road: Act III - Return of That Thing!    by Andy Baz   
#10   2/25/06    Lord of the Rings: WeatherTop-Old to New    by Ring Wraith   
#9   2/11/06    Shadowmoon Fortress    by Hasit   
#8   1/28/06    Castaways - The Explorers    by Sir Prise   
#7   1/14/06    4 Unexpected Return    by Lord Arthus   
#6   12/31/05    Alwyne Valley    by Duke of York   
#5   12/17/05    Valley of the Wolves 4    by Duke of Wessex   
#4   12/3/05    Scottish Cattle Raid (1300)    by Tasluk   
#3   11/19/05    Star and Crescent    by Brave Sir Robyn   
#2   11/5/05    Beaumont Motte 1102 AD    by Jack ofallTrades   
#1   10/22/05    1121-Lord of Ludlow    by Alan Spencer   

Challenge #13   Apr 8, 2006:

Treasure Island by Duke of York

Map size: large 400x400     Uploaded: 2/10/03

This map has been one of the top ones on my list ever since I first played it. I always thought it was quite difficult.

From a distance the face may seem a bit rough in design, but upon opening the map and seeing it close up you'll see it has Duke of York's usual attention to detail and is a fine piece of terraining work.

It's a place-your-keep scenario and this will be one of your first big decisions. The various possible locations have trade-offs between resource gathering, food production and defense. Ultimately defense may be your overriding concern.

There are signposts on either side of the island, and you will probably see much use of both of them. There is the usual variety of scripted events you have come to expect from DoY, so things will definitely be interesting. For victory you will need to meet both military and economic goals.

Also this map has a rather unique combination of available defenses: wood walls, stone towers and gates, but no stone walls or stairs. Also, no trading, no moats, no killing pits or pitch ditches, but you can make use of boiling oil. And no crossbows in this one.

Good luck! The solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #12   Mar 25, 2006:

The Oracle of the Forest by pmn3829

Map size: small 200x200     Uploaded: 5/11/03

Presenting this one was always a given. The question was when, and I think you may be ready.

This map's not pretty and the play may not be to everyone's taste, but it's definitely a challenge and one you will remember Don't let its plainness put you off.

Most things are available here, but you won't get to use many of them because you have very little wood, very few trees, and a large wood victory requirement. This is all about lumber and tree management while trying to build up what economy you can, fending of bandit attacks, eliminating hostile archers in the highlands, and being able to grow and harvest enough wood in the space of 19 years.

You'll be overjoyed with each new sapling that sprouts and must keep your woodcutters from chopping them until fully grown. Can you meet the challenge and steward a large enough forest to produce the required wood?

I initially thought this couldn't be played on hard, let alone very hard, but playing at normal showed there was just a little more that could be harvested, and on attempting hard there was still a little left. Very hard was indeed doable, but you may need several attempts, maybe even a practice play at a lower difficulty.

This scenario is well worth a play, delightfully simple yet annoyingly difficult. It's plainness masks the fact that it's exceedingly well balanced. It'll be different from most maps you've encountered before. And it's not just economic. You'll be pressed to survive an archer attack right from the beginning. And then you have the archers in the highlands to deal with to enable completion in time, as well as bandit attacks. Additionally, fires can spoil the best laid plans. Save often.

Anyone who considers themselves a good, well-rounded player definitely should test their mettle against this map. Its completion earns you your degree in Stronghold forestry.

Good luck! The solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #11   Mar 11, 2006:

The Tortured Road: Act III - Return of That Thing! by Andy Baz

Map size: large 400x400     Uploaded: 11/6/04

This map has a very impractical, but lovely looking castle with stockpile and industries separated from it over to the edge. You can't build any walls or towers, only gatehouses, which means you're pretty much stuck with its beauty and its difficulty of defense.

Andy Baz did a terrific job constructing this castle, exquisite palistone work, incredible bridges, a real feast for the eyes. There's a lovely river in front of the castle with two bridges, each leading to a signpost. There's a third signpost in the rear and for me the AI did a good job of fanning out invading troops around the castle to attack on all sides.

The detached stockpile area makes it much slower in getting peasants to work but has the advantage of mostly being left alone by the invading armies.

There are economic goals of gold, population and percent of ale coverage to help keep the interest up. I'd probably rate this moderately extreme, but very unique and loads of fun. How difficult it is for you may depend on how industrious you get. And to get you in the mood Andy starts you out with nice fire.

Good luck! The solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #10   Feb 25, 2006:

Lord of the Rings: WeatherTop-Old to New by Ring Wraith

Map size: large 400x400     Uploaded: 5/1/02

Ready to design your own fortifications and defend against some serious invasions? This map will put you to the test, demanding some good castle building skills to come up with an adequate defense. You'll need to think "outside the hovel" to succeed.

I had forgotten that LOTR was part of its title. Don't let that put you off. It's not a typical LOTR siege. This is a bare bones, iron fisted invasion map and is one of the hardest I've ever played. Figuring out how to set up your food and weapons production and defense may take some real thought and experimentation. But maybe you'll get lucky and breeze right through it, who knows?

It lasts approximately 13 years and has two signposts, a somewhat simple map, but you'll probably need to use all the cunning, experience, and tricks at your disposal to get through it.

It's not big on events so don't look for any fairs, but it means you won't have to worry about plagues, fires, crop blights and the like either. However, you may not notice because you'll be very busy preparing for and fighting off some big, challenging invasions, including a lot of armor and siege engines. Be prepared for a lot of hard fighting from the walls.

In order to get some of the best challenges you have to sometimes be willing to forgive an imperfection or two if it doesn't impact the game play. This map is one example, and since we're all experienced players I think we can overlook a few shortcomings for the sake of a great challenge.

So be warned, this one doesn't have a lose event. But that's ok because if you get overrun you'll know it, you won't need the game to tell you. A few other minor glitches are: you can grow hops but you can't use or sell them, you have ballistae available but no square or round towers on which to mount them, and one of the pre-placed woodcutter's huts has no access to the keep.

Good luck! The solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #9   Feb 11, 2006:

Shadowmoon Fortress by Hasit

Map size: large 400x400     Uploaded: 9/25/03

This may not be the hardest map I've presented but I always thought it was great fun. You start in a half destroyed castle part way through a battle, chaos all around, fires, and your troops are scattered. A small group of fresh forces is in the southwest corner but blocked by stationed enemy troops. In fact, there are small and large pockets of enemy all around, almost every place you look. They're stationery, but constantly a thorn in your side, making it difficult to move around and blocking the erection of new buildings for your economy. Plus there's a fresh invasion that will be upon you almost immediately.

There are quite a few economic goals, plus a percentage of ale coverage, fear factor, and a nearby enemy lord to dispatch before victory can be yours. The good thing is there is no time limit to accomplish all this. There are fires and plagues to annoy you, but they are on the mild side and not too hard to deal with.

The challenge is in taking immediate control, finishing up the current battle, regrouping your forces, trying to get your fresh forces to the keep, rearranging defenses, and rebuilding your demolished economy, basically all at the same time. And those forces scattered around will do everything they can to thwart your rebuilding and expansion.

Part of the fun is in working out the logistics to accomplish all these things, build up a strong defense to fend off the constant invasions, clear out enemy positions, work on the economic goals, and march on the lord in the northwest. Everything is cleverly designed to be difficult to do.

Good luck! The solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #8   Jan 28, 2006:

Castaways - The Explorers by Sir Prise

Map size: medium 300x300     Uploaded: 6/21/04

High Time for an economic mission I think. Castaways - The Explorers by Sir Prise is one of the best and caused quite a stir in the forums when it was released. Many of the veterans may have played this before, but I'll bet not on very hard. Newer players will be in for quite a treat.

It has an abundance of wildlife: prey, predator and pest. Wolves that won't quit, bears, and relentless bandits must all be overcome in this remote settlement.

Maintaining food, popularity, supply lines, and fending off bandits and wolves will be no easy task. Many supply lines are long and in constant jeopardy, and to collect enough iron you must get started as early as possible.

One of its delights is the clever little secrets you must solve and unlock to succeed. It will be quite tough on very hard. It's timed, giving you 30 years maximum, most of which you'll need. Enjoy the problems you must solve. They can be frustrating, but you will be very pleased with yourself in solving them.

One rule on this map to keep the challenge level up: no short cutting the route to the iron. I think Sir Prise intended you to use the full route to it, even though a shortcut is possible. This mission is do-able on very hard without resorting to that.

In short, a gorgeous map with lots to explore and lots to give you trouble.

Good luck! The solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #7   Jan 14, 2006:

4 Unexpected Return by Lord Arthus

Map size: large 400x400     Uploaded: 6/3/04

I'm sure Lord Arthus will be quite surprised by this pick, one of his early works. He is now half of the outstanding WarLord Designs map designing team.

This is not an eyecandy showpiece, but a pleasant enough map with an unusually shaped castle that provides a fun challenge. Like not being able to build additional gatehouses, for one. The existing one is far off on one end and not particularly useful, plus there's a small inner one.

This is a short map this time, only four and a half years plus however long it takes you to defeat the last invasion, but I found it quite fun. The terrain can end up working for or against you so study it carefully. You need as many crossbows as you can produce in the short time you have so plan your layout carefully. Efficiency is crucial.

Two signposts provide anxious moments as you wait to see which side of the castle needs the bulk of your missile troops. It'll be wise to think about adding better placed towers, sealing up holes, and reinforcing the walls where appropriate. You'll also probably need to exploit AI behavior to some degree to even up the odds a little on very hard.

Good luck! The solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #6   Dec 31, 2005:

Alwyne Valley by Duke of York

Map size: large 400x400     Uploaded: 10/11/03

A rugged, yet picturesque valley that appears quite peaceful for now. You have your choice of keep sites and a modest, but adequate supply of starting goods and weapons. This is a typical top quality map that we have come to take for granted from Duke of York.

It's a 30 year timed map with eco goals of food, weapons and gold. A very heavily scripted scenario with every event possible, both good and bad helps to keep things jumping. There are no repeating events. Everything is scripted in individually.

There are three signposts, integrated well into the map's interesting and unique layout, which is heavily influenced by the river and streams that run through it. Level keep sites are provided, and there are trade-offs in choosing to use each.

The goals are doubled, of course, playing on very hard, but are doable. Only one site for the keep made sense to me when I originally played this and I did split off the stockpile away from the keep so I could get more production buildings around it. Perhaps other sites can be used for the keep on very hard, and I think I'll try it this time without relocating the stockpile. Who knows?

Good luck! The solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #5   Dec 17, 2005:

Valley of the Wolves 4 by Duke of Wessex

Map size: large 400x400     Uploaded: 12/26/02

Don't miss this one. It's a good old fashioned castle defender.

A gruelling duel between you and the Pig, who seems to have a limitless supply of fresh troops to throw against your large sprawling castle. Lots of scripted events, most of which mean hardships for you, and...oh yes, wolves.

Your starting economy is very spread out, so could use a complete reorganization. And the castle, while fairly strong, really needs some beefing up if you're to withstand all that is to come. And why can't somebody do something about the food thieves? Are the guards asleep?

The good news? There's only one fire event. The bad news? There's a 498 man invasion ready to greet you upon opening the map. Oh wait...that's for normal players, so I guess you'll be seeing just shy of 1,000. If only you had a moat, or at least some shovels. Better strengthen those walls and hope they hold. You do have oil engineers and pitch though, so maybe today's menu will include roast pig.

I always thought this map was a lot of fun. It keeps you very busy building your economy, dealing with problems, training troops and trying to adequately man all those walls.

There's two signposts south of the river, so there will be some variation in the invasions. And just because they attack from the south doesn't mean they won't harrass the back side of the castle, too. This one certainly taxes the sprite limit and probably goes over a lot. Try and keep your army to a reasonable size and give the Pig a fighting chance.

Good luck! The solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #4   Dec 3, 2005:

Scottish Cattle Raid (1300) by Tasluk

Map size: medium 300x300     Uploaded: 4/14/02
My next offering is one of my great favorites, Scottish Cattle Raid by Tasluk. Set in a somewhat foreboding landscape that foreshadows the struggle to come, you must deal with the difficult topography and turn it to your advantage. There's lots of armoured invasions, including catapults, and you have no crossbows in this one, only archers. You can train swordsmen, so it's possible to put together a tough melee group.

To win you must eliminate all enemy, which includes a fortified settlement to the west. When you do, this will trigger a cede event which will move you into that fort to defend the new keep. This will shift focus to the new stockpile and granary as well, so you must consider well when to make the move. If you can do it early you can use the new castle's defenses and resources or you can defend you current keep and take the enemy fort toward the end. I've only tried one of these methods but I won't tell you yet which one.

There are scripted events that will make life difficult for you, especially fires. While you can look in the editor, note the triggers, and avoid some of them, I recommend not doing that. I encourage you to go flat out to meet your goals and build up a strong defense. While the fires are nasty, they can be handled, and actually it's good practice to learn to deal with them. As an extreme player you should be able to handle all situations.

Good luck, and enjoy! Solution will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #3   Nov 19, 2005:

Star and Crescent by Brave Sir Robyn

Map size: medium 300x300     Uploaded: 4/18/03
Up next is a more modest looking map, but offering unique terrain on which to set up an economy and try to defend. Brave Sir Robyn is one of the best designers out there and has produced many great maps. This is one of his earlier, and probably lesser known ones. The uniquness in Star and Crescent, and the challenge in completing it on very hard has always made it difficult to forget.

Your keep will be in the center of the star, which is raised up from the central marshes of the map. This creates some defensive advantages, but also limits easily accessed building space. Access to farmland is difficult, some below the cliffs and lots more quite a distance out and hard to get to.

Defending in this one is always fun, since the enemy can attack up any of the eight points of the star, and with a signpost in each corner it will always keep you guessing. At least the marshes will slow them down a little.

Trees are quite sparse so keeping a reign on your woodcutters is advisable, although you can buy wood at the market. If you need iron you'll have to brave the trip back and forth to the crescent.

Good luck! Solution hints will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #2   Nov 5, 2005:

Beaumont Motte 1102 AD by Jack ofallTrades

Map size: large     Uploaded: 2/18/03
Hope you all got warmed up with 1121-Lord of Ludlow. Now we'll get into some serious Stronghold play. Beaumont Motte 1102 AD. One of the all-time great motte and bailey maps. A real toughie to defend. No crossbows here, just archers and wooden defenses. But you do get moats...and you'll need them. Very tricky squeezing in all the necessary buildings for a nice little economy, but it can be done.

Bears, wolves, unfriendly neighbors to subdue, resources to gather, gold to earn, all the while fending off constant attacks, plus a time limit. What could be better?

This is a very well landscaped map with some tricky little forts to tackle and invasions that will really keep you occupied. Two signposts will help keep you guessing.

Good luck! Solution hints will be published with the next challenge.

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Challenge #1   Oct 22, 2005:

1121-Lord of Ludlow by Alan Spencer

Map size: medium     Uploaded: 3/7/02
This should be a good map to start with. Hard, but there'll be much harder ones to follow. I always liked Lord of Ludlow. It's a cede castle scenario with quite a few choices as to how to attack and a decent sized starting force to do it with. You only have to kill the lord to cede the castle so you have to figure if it's worth taking more casualties to spare enemy troops who will join you as the new lord or not.

Before you can settle in you'll have to turn around and defend against a pretty good sized invasion, probably the most difficult one on this map, since you're defending a large, lightly fortified castle with a modest amount of troops. The AI does quite well here, having the enemy swarm around it so it's quite difficult to defend early on.

While the remainder of the scenario will be slightly downhill and not up, there's a large castle to strengthen, a difficult economy to get running, and lots of large invasions to fend off, so things will not exactly be easy. Four sign posts, and they're all used. You'd better start making lots of weapons. Let up and you'll probably be overrun.

Good luck! Solution hints will be published with the next challenge.

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