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Alexander Newman

At last, with the No Man's Sky NEXT update, To Live Forever is mine: I have reached the centre of the galaxy on permadeath.

It turned out a bit easier than I thought, but the first few days were brutal, and now I'm going to start a normal character because I want much nicer planets. On permadeath every planet was ghastly and the pretty ones all had insane sentinels.

If you're interested in trying it, I'd encourage you to wait for this week's patch, which fixes a bunch of long-standing bugs and QoL things.

No Man's Sky Next

Holy shit. I just went to fire it up for a few minutes last night at about 11:30, and put it away a few minutes later... at nearly 4am.

It's not everyone's cup of tea, for sure, but if it's your jam, Next is pretty great. I enjoyed what there was on release, but they have not sat still, and two years later it's a lot like meeting even crazy people's expectations.

Also, although I haven't tried it (because I have no friends), multiplayer looks cool, and exploring worlds with a pal definitely looks easier and fun.


Posting with the emoji sanitized and a grammatical error fixed

Piercings............................. 0, used to be 2
Shot a Gun..........................yes
Quit a job ...........................yes, several times
Ever been on TV..................yes
Hit a
Fallen in love ........................yes
Watched someone die......... yes
Ridden in an ambulance.......yes
Ice skating............................yes. Most memorably on Christmas Eve on the St. Lawrence river.
Been surfing.........................yes, at Waikiki
Been on a Cruise..................yes, this year
Ridden a horse.....................a pony over 40y ago. I fell off.
Almost died..........................yes
Sang karaoke.......................yes
Stayed in a hospital..............yes
Favorite fruit.........................mangosteen
Favorite vegetable................cauliflower
Favorite dessert....................chocolate torte
Morning or night................... morning
Last friend to say thank you for lunch and confirm that I had had the Casablanca DVD sent to her, a film she confessed to having never seen in over 80 years
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The Mountain Witch is a good, neat game that lends itself to some sweet play.
One week to go before The Mountain Witch 2nd edition Kickstarter! Help me spread the word. I know everyone does Kickstarters these days, but this is my first, so I'm pretty nervous.

As a special incentive for the Kickstarter I'm going to be offering a deluxe boxed set of the game. Besides the instruction book and game cards, the boxed set will also include color coordinated dice and trust tokens, as well as reference & character sheets.

I'm super excited about this, like, irrationally so. There was a point where I was trying to make every copy of the game a boxed set. Sadly, it's probably too expensive to make it the only offering, so it'll be a tier above the basic book+cards.

#themountainwitchrpg #tmw #rpg #kickstarter
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My Own Kilauea

(not in a good way)

My second MP game of Dominions was as Abysia, the lava people. I should have had a better look at the topography of the map because my starring location is so terrible it's unviable and it would have made sense to say so at the start. By convention, we create maps that can at least be played.

Abysia is one of those nations that, unlike my plant zombie nation Asphodel, suffers if its capital is besieged, both because it desperately needs income and because its blood mages are all capital-only recruits. If you live until the late game, blood is a major strength. One of the weaknesses of my starting position is that I'm nowhere near a wealthy province, and my capital circle (the provinces adjacent to my capital that when conquered provide me with money and resources) are indefensible, poor and unnavigable.

At this point I'm not dead, but can't imagine why not, and am in such a bad position that it's almost not worth playing, except that the AI is predictable, it has no diplomacy and I have plenty of time, so I might as well keep struggling. My god is dead, along with all of my mages and mage priests and I only had one lab. The lab burnt down. Again, I can't believe nobody has obliterated me yet, because there's a danger that I might become reestablished. I'll never be a contender but I could become a necessary evil for negotiation. If I do get a foothold again, I think I can be a total pain.
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Adventures of a Plant Zombie

5: an aeon in the shade (turn 66)

The game is over and not only did I not win, but I never took a single Throne (Thrones of Ascension being how one wins); the victor needed six of twelve. I acquitted myself well, but in hindsight made a couple of strategic errors that were down to ignorance. Winning would have been hard: my initial position had its advantages, but I wasn't near a Throne, and those I came close to were either owned (which meant entering another war) or very difficult to take and hold, and thus out of my grasp while I had to keep fighting. I'm not at all bitter that I didn't win.

Bandar Log (the monkeys) were crushed although still just alive at the close of play, and the human had given up the game and switched to an AI several turns ago. I'm sad that I didn't get to utterly obliterate them, but it was going to happen. It would have happened already if it weren't for Pangaea which remained a deeply annoying hindrance all along. There was no chance he could defeat me, but he was able to make sure that I was sufficiently harassed that I found it hard to make any progress.

If I had faced either nation alone, I could have beaten them, but dealing with both was beyond me, especially after a couple of turns two years ago where I made a grave strategic error and screwed myself. Still, live and learn; not too shabby for my very first multiplayer Dominions game. Strategically if BL and Pangaea had concertedly gone for me in a big way, they might have put me out of the game. Instead, they made sure that none of us three could win.

One player was disappointing; he started off with Abysia (the lava people) and I was worried about him. I really shouldn't have been worried: He was obliterated by someone else later. In Abysia's dying throes he took on Phlegra (man-eating slaver giants) from someone who'd played well and was in a good position. Phlegra then made a lot of bad choices and ended up handing the game to the victor. It felt like he was barely paying the game any attention and it suffered for it. Amongst the poor choices was his attack on me. Attacking me is often a good idea, but in this case he was up against the undead in a cave with slave crossbowmen. Caves are dark, so you suffer a penalty to fighting, unless you can see in the dark... like my undead. All of my mages, a valuable resource, are able to make themselves particularly resistant to piercing attacks like crossbow bolts. Finally slaves have low morale (unless they're mindless or something) and I was using poison a lot. Troops don't like being poisoned, and it causes damage repeatedly. The game makes each unit check its morale when it takes damage, so if an enemy has a lot of low morale troops it's not that hard to make them rout. Those of his troops that I didn't just kill tried to run away, but failed and died, and I took no losses with my smaller force. This is an occasion where the game is operating at a player level. If I'm in a game with this player and we're neighbours, he's made himself an early target, whatever nation he is.

The first player to fall was Ulm, though, who had tried to start an anti-undead alliance. However he didn't follow through at all, and attacked a living nation. That was both weird and an error on several counts. He cemented the alliance between me and the eventual victor, who was the other undead nation. Ulm also failed to galvanise any support for a general anti-undead alliance (although Pangaea and BL effectively had one against me), and finally he made himself a target by being an aggressor. His behaviour led others to help out the nation he'd attacked and then gang up on him, to his ultimate demise.

In retrospect I made two big strategic errors. First, I didn't realise that Oceania was able to create a spell fort in a forest like me. Forts normally take four turns and neighbours get ample warning, which is what I was expecting. Instead, he immediately threw up a fort between turns and that kept me out of three forest provinces. My major military strength is from forests, and I should have driven towards those forests more aggressively. I thought he was strongest only underwater, instead of being less strong in both underwater provinces and forests.

Second, on two successive turns, I tried to halt Pangaea's advance towards my capital, in each case losing and suffering troop losses in the battles. Normally, if a nation's capital is besieged, that's a Bad Thing, but Asphodel is different. Sure, there's some gem income loss, but loss of capital gold income and capital-only troops is essentially irrelevant. What I should have done is preserve my forces, spawned more for free, and then faced him with a much larger army three turns later. I'd have been in a much stronger position, instead of needing help to liberate my capital and wasting time thereafter. The help, incidentally, was the right thing for the victor to do, both to aid me, but also to further his own interests. It put him in a good position geographically, and kept three nations out of contention by ensuring that I wasn't eliminated.

Lastly, I'll be adjusting my god design a bit, although I don't think this is a flat-out error. My dominion was luck-neutral. I figured that it would be better for me and I was wrong. It would have been better to go with Misfortune 3 and spent the points gained therefrom, because my heroes just didn't show up until almost the end of the game, and I never saw the good one (a plant zombie ettin), and shitty events kept happening to me anyway. My opinion may differ when I try it with MF3, but at this point I'd agree with the prevailing meta for Dominions 5.

All in all, it was a good, entertaining game. Any temptation towards autopilot was a grave error.
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Flamers are fun. Boiling meat in its metal case is entertaining.

Running out of ammo for flamers, not so much.

Adventures of a Plant Zombie

4 - War is Exhausting

It's now turn 37, and I've been at war with both Pangaea and Bandar Log (the monkeys) for over two years, with Abysia causing trouble as well. I suspect they thought I was on the ropes and they'd crush me quickly. Instead, I've used what cunning and resources I have to inflict heavy losses on them, stayed alive, and I'm on the point of fighting back.

It's classic: they've effectively made sure they can't win by attacking me and ensuring that I will destroy them utterly, no matter what. Their demise is by now more of a game goal for me than actual victory (although that would be nice, too).

A lot has happened in the last year or so, including Battletech, which latter is responsible for my quiet. I made a big mistake and my god got killed, but Milk Moustache was back very soon, I hope sooner than anyone expected. The monkeys launched a big assault against me, and besieged one of my forts. I was confident I could beat them, because I've focused on magical research to the point where I have access to spells that are lethal to him while I am immune (foul vapors). That was when my real-life bad luck (rather than the game's luck scale) bit me hard.

It is to my advantage to manipulate my opponents perspective. If I want to kill the monkey prophet, for example, then it's good to draw him out and kill him when he's besieging me; in this case, I want to appear weaker than I am. To that end, I wanted to get to the point where he could storm my castle and then kill him and his army too (and if he had a little dog, I'd get that). I was ready to move a substantial force to reinforce the fort at the right moment and put the monkeys in a vice. However, as a sign of their confidence they took two neighbouring provinces and a random event made the third flip out of my control to independents: movement is more costly through foreign lands and that meant that I couldn't reinforce the fort at all, I'd have to let him storm it.

That turn was a potential game ender for me. If I'd lost that fort, it would have been extremely difficult to fight effectively because it's strategically essential. When you're storming a castle, though, the topography of the battle space changes. The enemy has breached the walls and has to come through a narrow central gap to reach your high value troops. If you can get enough chaff in the gap as a defender, you can slow their advance enough that gradual battlefield effects like, say, foul vapors, have full effect. This changes, of course, if your enemy flies or uses lightning bolts and thunder strikes, but the monkeys do not. With negligible troops and only my mages, however, that's what I did. The bramble castle is still littered with dead monkeys.

Another bit of manipulation I've done is using a war effigy - a magical item that increases the apparent size of your army by 50. Normally, I wouldn't make one because its resource cost is too high for its marginal utility. This one came to me from a random event or killing some indies, so I didn't pay for it in gems and a made turn. I've used it to make a fort appear much better staffed than it is (the fort had almost no troops), and in doing so prevented a whole avenue of attack. The mountain passes seemed too costly a route to take. In a defensive position (and I have been on the defensive for a good year) the effigy has been useful and now I make sure it's always somewhere. An attack I don't have to fight means I get more free troops and get stronger.

Abysia, the lava people that I was nervous of fighting, are now in a war with two others and I'll be able to take my province, and his fort that I have always thought of as mine-in-waiting. I have to move quickly, though, to make sure I get the fort and nobody else does, because Abysia is definitely going down and I don't want anyone else getting my spoils.

Either Pangaea or Bandar Log killed my prophet, I forget which, and that death might have been a blow, but wasn't. First, at the same time I killed their prophet (I've killed both, at least twice each now), so that was good. Second, I'd cast twiceborn on my prophet so he'd be reborn as a Carrion Lord if he was killed. Death is just another stepping stone to unlife. I didn't know if he'd retain his prophet status through death, but the carrion lord is more powerful anyway, and I wanted to find out. He did, so Let's try this again is still my prophet and is now a carrion lord, which I consider a win.

Pangaea has another large army that is moving to invade my territory again. I'm going to make him suffer, both by killing many satyrs, but also using the effect that he and the monkeys were so afraid of: my population killing dominion. It's now turn 37, and he has to move his large army through a territory that I've had dominion over since year 0. His army will face me starving, because almost all the population has died out, which has severe negative effects in combat. Added to that, his troops all go berserk when wounded. Since I will be casting foul vapors, they'll all go berserk eventually. When they do, their attack stats increase (but they're starving) and crucially they never rout. If I win, then I will have to have killed them all. I think I can, but it's never certain.

I said it's exhausting, and there were definitely some days when it was. The fact that I've been at war constantly because other nations have been the aggressors has been wearing. I suspect it will be different when the shoe is on the other foot and I'm on the offensive at last. I have some hobnailed, steel-toecapped boots just waiting.
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Adventures of a Plant Zombie

3 - Abysia, Oceania, Uruk, Monkeys and War

I'm fortunate: the Abysia player stuck to our agreement, he vacated the transit province and left no defense there. He reasoned, I'm sure, that he can always take the province later. The rich one he did take is rendered much less useful: he can't erect either a lab or a temple there, so its utility is greatly reduced. The transit province has good defense, too, not great, but usable, especially to make it hurt for him (it is a him) the longer he waits. In fact the longer he waits, if I can get my research going well, the more it will hurt and I may be able to retain the province. Right now it's turn 24 and I won't be able to look at it for a few more hours, so I don't know if he's attacked, and I don't know if I was victorious if he did, so he remains passive towards me for another year, which is only to my advantage.

I think I said earlier that I was heading for some forests to my SE, and I was. Forests are my bread and butter, and I have a huge advantage there. Not so much in battle, but in all other ways, so I sent my bull to the clump of four forest provinces. When I moved into the forest on my side of a river with three provinces on the other, I found that our one underwater nation, Oceania, had already taken them. This surprised me quite a lot. What I didn't know then is that Oceania has a similar, but slightly inferior on land, version of my own spell to create a fort in a forest. At the time, I was thinking I might take that and the other two forests, which would have been powerful indeed, but potentially going to war with the fish centaurs. He put up a fort faster than I could attack him, which told me about the spell, and I decided to prioritise peace with him and expand into the prairies next to the forests.

Doing so, I bumped Uruk, crushing the tail end of his expansion army to the man and maiden (his sacred units are the Maidens of the Moon). He's reasonable and friendly, and I have a big soft spot for Uruk, which I've tried in SP to mediocre effect. It turns out he's had a very unlucky expansion and lost his prophet (which I knew) and his god (which I did not). He's weak and a nice bloke, and that makes the strategic decision easy: I'm not going to go after him while he's weak and crush him now. Telling someone your god has died is an invitation to get attacked, but I also know that Uruk is very good at recalling their god, so it's could be a trap. He's since taken the two provinces from me, but I'm not that fussed: they're not valuable to me strategically and I'm busy. I don't want to open yet another front of conflict.

I say conflict, because to the north of Uruk are Bandar Log, the monkeys. One of their sacred units is the _tiger rider, _ and the player has gone with a big bless that is particularly dangerous to the undead, like most of my troops. If he's offensive, that's going to be a problem, and indeed he goes on the offensive against me. He's got a big stack of tiger riders and it worries me a lot.

If you can initiate a battle with someone, you get to see the whole of their army, their troop placement and how they are scripting. This can be a huge tactical advantage; it allows a player to develop a counter to whatever they've got planned, can allow you to see what their bless is (if you don't already know), and whether their prophet or god is in play. The latter bring some big battle advantages at the cost of risk: very important units are exposed to potential death if the battle goes badly. When it comes to it, I allow the monkeys in a province to see his army and then attack the next turn. It works to my expectations, not better but certainly not worse, and I kill quite a lot of tiger riders, his best unit, with very few significant losses on my part.

This is something many of my opponents don't get. Almost all of my army is free and replaces itself. They have to kill my mages to hurt me. By and large they have not done so for two game years and it may be too late. From our first encounter, I'm as friendly as ever, and I certainly don't feel any ill will towards the player, but I've remained at war with the monkeys.

At the same time, Pangaea, who I later become certain is in league with the monkeys, started harassing me with a large army of satyrs. Satyrs can be a pain; my starting default army is all satyrs and I finally got the last one killed this turn; they're living, so they cost money for upkeep, and they're rubbish. The worst thing about them is they have terrible morale. Troops can be scared into running away, and if they start with low morale, that's not hard. Kill a few of them and they cheese it. Make enough of an army rout, and you win the battle, something that can happen without you killing anything. Six turns ago, I managed to cut his 300-strong army off from retreat, kill and rout his satyrs and therefore army, and kill his prophet, all with about a dozen of my berserk centaurs and some plant zombies to get in the way of any satyrs trying to kill my commander. It was very satisfying.

The next turn or so, I did a similar thing to the monkeys, after I made a bad mistake. They had one of my forts under siege, and I had set a commander therein to break siege, while instructing my god to join in and destroy the monkeys, but I screwed up. My god went straight to the fort with his troops and didn't fight, and the army within got slaughtered alone. The monkeys then talked to me about a potential peace but "after this turn" because I'd been successfully raiding his territory. His tone was that of someone expecting to win, probably because he'd scored such a major victory over me, it seemed. I was suspicious, because I was sure he thought he was in a strong position, allied to Pangaea, and that they'd carved my territory up between them speculatively after defeating me utterly. As a result he broke the army that was besieging into three and took two other provinces while trying to maintain the siege. If his tactic had been successful, I would have been devastating indeed. It was not. I destroyed the siege as I expected and killed his prophet as a bonus. In subsequent turns, I've mopped up the monkeys in my territory, killing more tigers, often without losses. I'm still happy I wiped the smirk off that monkey's face.

Meanwhile, my magical research is going great guns, and I'm ahead on many fronts. Typically, you can only see your own progress, but can learn more if you have spy units (I don't) or cast The Eyes of God (I can't and won't), and this game is no different, but you can infer information from your own position in the score graphs. I can see that I'm leading some, but not see by how much. I know, in other words, that I'm stronger than others, but again not by how much, and I can't tell the relative strength of my opponents. It's to my advantage that others think I appear weaker than I am. If I can lure a whole army in and then destroy it utterly with no retreat, the forests approve.

I also created a new prophet at last, and remembered to rename him. Let's try this again the panic apostate is bringing the good, if lethal, word.

That, then, is where I was at around turn 18: at war with two nations, Pangaea and Bandar Log, that have no other wars going; afraid that the fiery Abysia will attack and stomp me; and a bit stronger than anyone realises.
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Adventures of a Plant Zombie

2 - Hello, skellingtons, hello monkeys, hello untimely death! The first year-ish.

As I had planned, I got my slow-to-recruit, expensive panic apostate, made him a prophet of Milk Moustache, my bull god and started to expand with him. My god had been taking provinces merrily every turn, and I was fortunate that I could keep him in his dominion while invading independents, because then he stays blessed automatically, and his bless is instrumental to his survival. The prophet could take on the riskier provinces, because losing a super combatant god is far worse than losing a prophet. I made a bit of a faux pas with my prophet: I forgot to rename him to something amusing, as is customary. Fortunately, so did everyone else because we're all new.

In turn 4, then, he'd expanded twice fine but there we met Ermor, the other undead, popkill nation. They're way worse than me mechanically for killing their population, and care about them even less. Between us was a river and I wanted to expand into a province on my side of the river that was farmland with heavy cavalry. Next to that, at the head of the river is a cave province that often has money sites like gem mines or magical gem sites, but I was certain that Ermor would want that. Fortunately the guy playing Ermor is decent, reasonable and a nice guy (which means we're not at war yet, 15 turns later). One of the other players of the human nation of Ulm (dislike magic, very heavy armour, good smiths) had been agitating for the living to gang up on the undead and Ulm seemed to be in a good position to do that. Since we were neighbours that made life simple. We each stand a far better chance of survival if we don't fight each other; the potential pact amongst the living made that certain. So I expanded into the delicious rich pastureland with a plan for where to go next.

Turn 5 came and I eagerly read the battle report, to discover that my prophet had been killed. I was shocked and horrified, rushing to watch the replay, and slightly confused because the report said that I'd won. My confusion was because forces rout when they have no commander (except the undead just dissolve): if my prophet was dead, and he's the only commander how did I win? More significantly, how did I lose, because the death of a prophet that soon is a blow. Many spells have a range and I'd positioned him towards the end of a line so that he'd be more likely to cast something where I wanted it. Too close to the end, because a couple of the enemy heavy cavalry sailed through a gap in my lines and introduced him to the pointy end of their lances. Meanwhile, my centaurs had not only killed the enemy commanders, but gone berserk. Initially, I'd thought the enemy ran away faster, but I was wrong: berserk troops don't rout. They keep going until they're dead or the enemy is gone, so they stayed, carried the day and then found their leader was dead.

That province is great because it borders Ermor and our dominions clash there. The result is that, while mine holds sway (I think it's stronger), it's not very much stronger; a couple of candles not the eight that are in my capital now. So the populus die more slowly and pay me healthy taxes for longer. This is ideal, and a good reason for me not to preach there nor put up a temple, which would both increase my dominion and kill the people faster.

With my prophet dead, I was forced to use a second choice commander to expand, but it all went well and unremarkably. Like many games, there's a great advantage in taking as many provinces as you can, as early as you can. There is an obvious reason for this: some provinces are rich and some have lots of resources which can be gathered by a neighbouring fort, like that in your capital. The less obvious reason is that all provinces, especially apparently worthless ones, have the potential to have up to 8 magic sites. These often give you magic gems, a crucial resource for forging and spell-casting, but may also allow you to recruit particular units or give you money each turn or be negative like those that spread disease or cause unrest. The ones with negative effects have the negative whether you've found them or not. To receive the positive effects, you have to search and find the site. I suspect this aspect of provinces is undervalued, making apparently worthless ones more valuable then they appear.

My scouts are awesome, and by this time I've twigged to how cool they are, so I have a policy of not speaking to someone until they can see me, but saying hi to everyone anyway, for two reasons. First, I'm generally sociable and want to keep things friendly. It's a game where we're trying to eliminate the opposition, but that doesn't mean I dislike any of the players; in fact I've found them genial. Second, it's harder to punch a nice guy; the more open, honest and friendly I come across, the longer I am likely to survive in the game. I never lie in the game, but I'm sure as hell not telling everyone all that I learn, and while I go out of my way to be friendly with people I'm at war with, I intend to crush them utterly and wring the last drop of blood from their desiccated corpses to feed my forests and then reanimate the husk of their body to kill someone else. Mercy is not how you win this game, and my goal is to win, or put up a good fight trying.

A few turns later, I know where a lot of nations are, and who my neighbours are, and a turn or so after that, the nearby nation of Bandar Log meets me, so I say hello. Bandar Log is peopled by sentient Buddhist(ish? I don't know much about them) monkeys that fling sticks and stones (probably a euphemism for poo), shoot arrows, have giant war elephants and worst, ride tigers. At this point I know nothing about his pretender god, his prophet or his bless: how he enhances sacred troops like the tiger riders. A god's bless is one of the significant ways you can affect the game and strategy comes in to it. There are tradeoffs aplenty between your bless, what kind of pretender you have, what your nation is like (its scales) and so on. Generally, I think the monkey troops are weak, but the tiger riders and war elephants can be trouble, especially if he's scripting well. Besides, I do not want to fight anyone at this stage, if I can help it. Not contesting thrones helps with that, and I have also recognised that not going to war is of higher value to me than any given province except, perhaps, a forest. At this point the monkeys seem reasonable, and I'm glad. I run into Pangaea, but they don't know where I am yet, unless they're spying, which they should be, but I'd rather not make it obvious that I am, so I wait.

Of most concern, though is that I run in to Abysia to my North. This is a nation of lava people, and their great heat gives them a big advantage over me. Plants and fire do not mix well. They're my immediate neighbour and that of Pangaea, and he could easily trounce us both. The other living nations would probably be glad if he came after me. At this stage in the game, I have very few, if any, counters to his basic presence. He could put me out of the game. When he takes a rich village province that I was planning to move in to, he does so over a frozen river. However, he's hot, his scales are hot and so are mine. This is bad for me, the heat is one of the negatives I took to pay for my own god's design. Worse, it melts the river so he can't just go back the way he came, he must traverse through my province to use the bridge there. I've already told him that I'm OK with him taking the farm province, because I really don't want to fight him. The next turn he tells me he has to move his troops back through my land. The only way to do that in the game is to take control of the province.

That gives me a quandary: do I trust him or not, and what can I do about it if he screws me, because I've said he can move his troops away, but I'll be taking the transit province back and he's agreed. Strategically this places the rich province he took in a garbage position but in his control. He gets the money from it, but can't assemble a significant army there and there's almost no way for him to get to it. He could move a commander there (say, to build a lab and temple) but only with a magic item that takes a water mage to forge, and he has no native water mages. To make matters worse, my transit province also has reasonable province defense, so I can recruit some heavy cavalry and as long as I retain control of the province, and until the population gets too low, they are always there.

For him to keep the province is an ideal fight to have and he's the ideal person to fight me and win.
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