As you can see on the main map, the Ebbott Marsh, the territory at the three o’ clock position, is shot through with rivers. But does that mean anything?
After the jump, a river runs through it.
The strategic map is mostly the same every time you start a game of Massive Chalice. The Pale Sea and the Augurs are to the north and the Salt Stacks are to the south. Look west from the stronghold in the center and you’ll see the Cinderlands. Look east and you’ll see Ebbott Marsh. Each of these places consists of an outer territory and an inner territory. Every game features these same ten territories in the same places.
Attacks work their way from the outside in, so the inner territories are safer. But every time you start a game, each of the outer territories gets a randomized bonus that encourages you to build there. For instance, in my current game, the outer territory in the Cinderlands gives a research bonus. So that’s where I build my Sagewright’s Guild. As you can guess from the name, this is where sagewrights go. Sagewrights can research new weapons and armor, build new buildings, and even search the kingdom for new recruits. They preside over efficient upgrades and expansion. But because I’ve put them in an outer territory, they’ll be on thin ice. It’s already slightly dire. In less than 50 years, the Cinderlands have been attacked twice. They’ve accumulated two points of corruption. Any territory that gets a third point of corruption sinks into the sea. That’s the bad news. The good news is that whenever you successfully defend a territory, it loses a point of corruption. So if the Cinderlands are attacked again and I defend them, they’ll drop down to a single point of corruption.
For most of the game, any attack hits two territories at once, and you have to choose which one to defend. Your choice will depend on where you need to reduce corruption, and which territory has the most valuable building. Oddly enough, it’s a waste of your efforts to defend a territory that has no corruption; you won’t benefit from the corruption reduction if it’s already at zero. In order to survive the 300 years until the end of the game, you’ll want every battle to not only prevent a point of corruption, but to also remove one. This is the long-term math that also goes into decisions about where to battle.
My latest battle is in Ebbott Marsh. But it’s so early in the game that my noble houses are just getting underway. Their regents have barely had time to get down to business. And by “business”, I mean making babies. The business is underway, but the payoff takes fifteen years. Once a baby is born, it takes fifteen years to grow into a partially leveled-up and battle-ready hero. I’ve got an exciting list of up-and-coming young boomstrikers at House Flink in the Pale Sea, blastcappers at House Grimaldi in the Salt Sinks, and hunters at House Gaffney in the Augur. This will be quite the fighting force in another decade or so. But for now, they’re mostly a bunch of kids taking classes, running drills, and accumulating personality modifiers. Some of them are actually babies in cribs. Fat lot of good that’s going to do me in a battle.
So I’ll defend Ebbott Marsh with my leftover house-less heroes. I only have three of them. I have to fight a battle, which is something you normally do with five heroes, with three heroes. My orders of battle are two caberjacks, one hunter, and two empty spots. It doesn’t look good for Ebbott Marsh.
Except that this is Ebbott Marsh. Each of the five territories has a distinct type of map and unique features. The burst berries of the Cinderlands, the geysers of the Pale Sea, the shatterock eggs in the Salt Stacks. Ebbot Marsh has a mess of rivers dividing the map into chunks. Since there is no flying or swimming in Massive Chalice, you can only get across a river on a bridge. And when I’m dropped into Ebbott Marsh, my three heroes and two empty slots find themselves surrounded on three sides by a river, like so:
Perfect. After clearing some too-close-for-comfort monsters, I see some ruptures on the other side of the river. Ruptures don’t have ranged attacks. So my hunter begins picking them off with impunity. She’s nervous. Literally. That’s one of her traits. Nervous characters have a penalty to accuracy, so she misses more than I would like. But because I’m defended by an impassable river, she can take her sweet time lining up shots and racking up kills. My caberjacks wait patiently. They’re not eager to rush to attack ruptures anyway, because ruptures are named after their habit of erupting into splashes of acid that inflict damage and reduce armor values. They’re content to let the hunter do her thing.
My hunter also spots a few bulwarks and lapses, each of which have ranged attacks. But she takes advantage of Ebbott Marsh’s foliage, which gives anyone standing in it a bonus to evasion. The word “obscured” pops up whenever someone steps into the foliage. If you want to know what that means in gameplay terms, just check the status on the details screen. And if you want to know more specifically what that means, just check the stats screen to see the bonus listed next to evasion. Massive Chalice is nothing if not transparent when it comes to gameplay mechanics.
My three heroes eventually advance out from behind the river to find the rest of the monsters. Unlike XCOM, which kind of cheats by spawning enemies as you expose the map, the monsters in Massive Chalice are already out there. In the later stages of a game, I can try to find them with flares and heroes with sensitive hearing. Normally, I’d use my hunter’s stealth ability to scout ahead, but one of the features of Ebbott Marsh is a shortage of hiding places until you’re among the trees. So for now, my caberjacks advance to spot for the hunter, and then fall back as soon as they spot one of them. I’m playing it super cautiously because I’m playing with two fewer heroes than normal. So when it’s all over, the victory screen looks like this:
The Ebbott Marsh is safe from corruption for today, and hunter Miyabi Yama earns two levels. It’s a shame about her low fertility. Otherwise, I might consider building her a keep to start a noble house. It’s even more of a shame about her nervousness, because I could put her in charge at the Standard, a training academy that provides a global experience point bonus to everyone under fifteen. Unfortunately, the students tend to pick up their teachers traits. Do I really want a generation of possibly nervous heroes with reduced accuracy? Is it worth it for the extra experience points and therefore levels when a hero is fifteen?
Eventually, the answer is yes. Miyabi Yama fights a few more battles, earning the nickname “Dazzle” in the process. She becomes my highest level character, thanks in part to the fact that she has the trait quick study, meaning she earns extra experience points. But as she gets older, as her dexterity drops a little with age and therefore reduces the damage she does, as my up-and-coming boomstrikers, blastcappers, and hunters come of age and vie for a place among the five slots available for a battle, I retire Miyabi to the Standard. She adds 131 experience points a year to all of the kingdom’s trainees. She holds that position for 21 years, dying peacefully at the age of 71.