This is a disaster.
Quinns is sweeping in from the east, making alarming progress into Sponge’s territory. In one more turn he’ll have cut me off from Sponge totally, meaning that if I declare a vendetta it’ll have to be single combat or nothing.
I don’t want to do single combat because somebody played an event that resurrected one dead praetor for every player, and so Sponge might have gotten his fucking frog-man back. Sponge, I think, knows this, which is why he’s just sitting back and letting Quinns do his thing. I have no choice but to drop my claim to vendetta.
As for the other events, prestige scores are invisible for the next five turns, and I start drawing Secret Objectives. These are specific goals you have to fulfil by the end of the game which net you certain amount of prestige if you do. However, unlike the Public Objectives (Lust, Gluttony etc.) if you don’t manage it then that amount of prestige is deducted from your score. The Secret Objectives I draw end up being an albatross around my neck; the first is to control five legions at the end of the game. That’s fine. I can do that; all it’ll need is a one point upgrade in my Martial attribute, and so it’s a fairly easy fifteen points. Buoyed by this I try my luck again; this time I draw two “Take a PoP” objectives. I can choose which one I keep, but since both the PoPs in question (the Vaults of Avarice and the Tree of Woe) are on the other side of the map I’m blatantly never going to manage either of them. The penalty for not doing so is twenty prestige points. The end result is that in a best case scenario I’ve just taken five points off my score, and if for whatever reason I don’t get the five legions that penalty mushrooms to thirty-five points.
Two turns later something very strange happens. Sponge makes a demand of me. He’s cut off from me. It’s not even possible for him to engage in a land war. He must want to try his luck with single combat; by this point I have a guy with four Infernal Bursts which, while insufficient for Speedo’s uberdemon, is more than enough to murderise anything Sponge can possibly come up with, so I tell him what he can go do with himself. However, it’s always nice to make sure, so as a precaution I steal the only decent praetor he’s got on the board.
Boom. Now he’s left with the crap one stuck to the Darkwing Legion plus whatever he’s got in his vault. What do you say to that, Sponge?
This comes completely out of left field. Back then I had no idea of the requirements for Blood Vassal so it didn’t even occur to me that the vendetta between Quinns and Sponge might have been entirely manufactured to allow this to happen. Even after it’s happened I’m still pretty confused; now that he’s slave to Quinns, what happens to our vendetta? Is it still on? Is Quinns now at war with me too? The game isn’t clear about this at all.
I treat this emerging partnership cautiously until KG explains to me exactly what it means: Sponge no longer exists as a player. I can no longer carry out my plan of beating him up. Even worse, fully half of his prestige has been added to Quinns’ score, which puts him out in the lead some way ahead of Speedo Demon. Prompt action needs to be taken now in order to stop him running away with the game. I start preparing for a war with the both of them. I have four legions to their six in theatre, but most of Quinns’ stuff is gash cannon fodder. Not to say that mine aren’t, of course, but I’ve still got the Slaves and my Throne of Skulls, plus my secret weapon and a lot of stockpiled Hellfire, which will allow heavy use of Destruction rituals. I’ll need all of it, but I reckon that if everything goes right I can probably wipe out three or four of those opposing legions for little loss to myself.
Meanwhile KG is making efforts on the diplomatic side of things. He sends out an email to myself, Zah’hak and Speedo, making it clear that we need to work together in order to have any chance of taking on this new power bloc. Does this herald a new age of peace and cooperation and other people not screwing me over? Does it fuck.
Zah’hak. ZAH’HAK! That insidious bounder! That inveterate meddler! That bashi-bazouk! He’s constructed a machine that knocks two points off the Wickedness attributes of every other archfiend; not only does this depower the Destruction rituals I was relying on to blunt the advance of this massive enemy host, but since my Wickedness stat is now less than four it deprives me of an order slot into the bargain. I was actually fairly confident I could win against the combined forces of Sponge and Quinns; now I’ll be lucky if I can fight them to a stalemate. Then, then, then he has the fucking gall to send me this message:
No. No, I don’t think I will. My attitude towards Zah’hak was not exactly charitable after Praetorgate, but this pushes me over the edge; whereas before I was merely angry I am now incandescently furious with him. I see him as nothing but a horrible stinking stain of effluent polluting my eastern border whose only notable achievements in the game so far have been to make my life a living hell. I’m so beside myself with rage that I actually start hassling him about it and calling him names in a non-game capacity; there exists on the web a forum (unconnected to any of this) where I vent about this by denouncing him in the most vile terms possible. I am, in short, Not Amused.
You may recall in the last update I came up with a plan that would hopefully result in my eventual victory. Upon the formation of the Quinns/Sponge tag-team, that plan was rewritten to:
1) Don’t let Sponge beat me in the final rankings. (This means, essentially, either supporting Speedo in his drive for victory via single combats or killing Quinns. I was going for option two.)
However, Zah’hak has just caused me to add a secondary objective to this plan:
2) Find some way of wiping Zah’hak off the map. Not just place higher than him, not just humiliate him in a vendetta; I am, somehow, going to destroy him utterly.
Anyway, as for Speedo he remains silent, apparently content to continue raking in the duelling prestige without rocking the boat. KG is the only other player who sees this threat for what it is; the seed of mutual trust that was planted by me not grinding his face into the dust a couple of dozen turns ago has blossomed into this strange, malformed flower of a not-quite-alliance and he and I start collaborating extensively on figuring out ways to fuck this new superpower over. It’s beautiful when you think about it, really.
I sent off a demand to Quinns before the Machine was deployed; I’ll be going for a less ambitious war now that I’ve lost one of my most potent weapons but some elements of the battle plan remain intact. Before I even receive a reply to the demand, the first blow is struck when this happens to one of Sponge’s legions:
This is my secret weapon, the Capricious Wrath event. It cost some resources to play, but it completely destroys one non-bodyguard legion of the arch-fiend you fire it off at. This means that, sadly, Sponge’s Infernal Crusade veterans are immune, but I get the next best result as it ends up incinerating the Darkwing Legion featured in the last update instead. One down, five to go.
During the next few turns KG manages to get another legion with Destruction rituals. The superpower isn’t looking quite so super any more in terms of strength, but while we’re doing a fair whack of physical damage we’re not actually doing anything to erode Quinns’ prestige lead.
Oh good, it’s the God Squad.
They immediately land next to Quinns and, much to my chagrin, take out his shittest and cheapest legion rather than his still-powerful bodyguard unit. The way I think the angels work is that they kill one legion for every player in descending order of power. I was under the impression that “power” meant “prestige score”. This proves to be incorrect, as we shall eventually see.
Next turn, I finally manage to achieve something useful when I take the Pillars of Malebolge from Quinns. This wins me the vendetta, and all it cost me was one praetor stolen. Not a bad result. Meanwhile Speedo’s super-praetor is starting to chew his way through the Champions of Pandemonium; I’m not entirely sure how this works either but as far as I know he has to work his way through two or three powerful AI praetors in sequence. If he kills them all, he gets a big prestige bonus. His public victory over the Butcher allows me to get a look at Haagenti’s stats and they are absolutely sickening: he has thirty-one attack skulls. Thirty-one. When you buy a praetor from the Bazaar you’re lucky if he has eight skulls; thirty-one is ridiculous. I think it’s actually more skulls than it’s possible to play in a round of combat.
The bad news is that despite the battering he’s taken Quinns is still in the lead. I try to give Speedo a helping hand by playing the Great Games of Pandemonium event, but it’s honestly looking pretty bleak in terms of my own personal victory at this point.
That is, until I get an email from KG. There’s still a way for us to win this war.