3-way Fourth Age Gunboat. Good or Bad?

A question for those of you that frequent the forums if you don’t mind - I’m trying to ascertain whether I am in a minority or if the powers that be have assessed things correctly.

I’m currently involved in starting up a new 4th Age Gunboat and I asked Clint if we could make it another 3 way struggle (neutrals being counted as an additional alignment). I’m playing in one such game and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Well most of it… having a capital trashed wasn’t that much fun…, but I digress! I have found the 3-way fight adds a whole new layer of complexity to pretty much everything, from location to set up to strategy and then tactics. Going back to just a standard 2-way slog seems relatively mundane now.

Clint’s reaction was “For GB no, I’d prefer not to do that again; it’s a disaster for around
1/3rd of the players in the game.”

This sort of upset me… there doesn’t appear to be any chance of repeating the scenario. Hence this request to you - does 3 way GB sound appealing, or would you really not want to play under that ruleset? (And this is a black/white question - I know there are a million shades of grey between where different circumstances come into play: I’m just looking for a gut-feeling answer to the basic question).

Many thanks if you choose to respond - either way!


Clint, by his own admission, is not a fan of Neutrals. In this case, Clint is rightly worried that the Neutral side (assumes 6 (2x3) of the 24 nations are Neutral with 3x3 on Evil and 3x3 on Good) will shift the balance of the game enough to make the team that doesn’t get Neutrals feel like it’s not a “fair” game and complain. I guess you could try a variant where one Neutral 1x3 has to join one side and the other Neutral 1x3 has to join the other? That’s probably the only fair way to do this?

I like the three sides tussle, but I don’t mind the two allegiance version. You get so much fun when there are three different armies on a hex trying to work out just who is going to attack who.

I think the point in this was not to have the neutrals able to switch.


From a most basic perspective it’s only potentially unbalanced due to the presence of the kingdoms. There’s no reason why there can’t just be a straight up 8 nations of each allegiance with no kingdoms. Neutrals joining one side or the other defeats the object of having a 3 way scrap! The question is would you favour the complexity of a 3 way scrap or the simplicity of a 2 way?

Oh! Ok. That makes more sense, @Gavken. Then let me share my experience with Game 45…

The five Neutrals stayed Neutral. They attacked the ten of us on the Good side and the Evil side mostly sat back and waited (some of this was due to distance to travel, but the answer to this depends on who you ask). This frustrated the Neutrals in that game as they were getting whittled down while fighting Good, and they had serious concerns that Evil would wait and attack after the Neutrals were weakened. Yes, we on the Good side were disappointed that the Neutral side picked Good to attack first, but I think if you were to ask the Neutrals in that game, they are still mad at the Evil team for their lack of action.

The Neutrals won, the Evil side (and some of the Good side) cried foul that the Neutrals were allowed to win based on those victory conditions, and there was a vote, which I understand to be that the Neutral side cannot win in 4th Age anymore with the strategic victory conditions.

We on Good left that game with a bad taste in our mouths, but I think the Neutral and Evil players are more worked up about that game than we were.

I wish more of you had joined Game 49, an all-Neutrals/no alliances variant aka “Kingdom Builder”. The winner is the last nation standing or the one with the most victory points after 52 turns. I think that’s how it will end. Sadly, only 10 or 11 signed up for that one. It would have been more fun with 20+.

Hey Raven,
I played 2 of the 5 neutrals in game 45. What happened is pretty much as you describe - the FP pretty much surrounded the neutrals (Kingdoms, Eriador, Enedwaith & Rohan) except that SK was bordered all across the south by DS. If we were to take a neutral team strategy, we were MUCH better off going at the FP first due to the geography of that game. So that’s what we did. Now we were indeed very disappointed that the DS did pretty much nothing against the FP while we did a lot. our five nations took out several of the FP nations (3 or 4? ) and a couple of the DS nations. But because the DS did nothing against the FP for ten turns, letting us duke it out with you while they built up huge cav armies (6000 hc in one army anyone?), the neutrals felt very little regret in going for the strategic site victory. I don’t see how/why the DS or FP should be upset as that’s always been in the rules and wasn’t listed as not-allowed for the game at all. It would have been easy to prevent if there had been effort to prevent it. (aside: I still think it’s wrong to not allow a strategic site victory in FA, especially if you change it slightly to have it not be possible until turn 25 or turn 30. By that point, it should be easy to prevent.)

Also, although the neutrals can wish all day long that the DS did more than they did, their play was strategic and smart - by letting us weaken ourselves while they built up stronger and stronger, they clearly had the upper hand, and the game was looking very sad at the point of the strategic site victory (did I mention 6000 HC armies rolling over pop centers?)

So I don’t have any hard feeling about the game at all. I think we neutrals played within the rules. The DS played within the rules. The FP were unlucky that a) they were congregated in the pitiful production north, and b) that the neutrals decided to try a neutral team game, pretty much deciding it for us that we needed to attack FP first (geography again). And finally, that game map was atrocious. The DS had ALL of the south. ALL of it. Only 2 FP nations anywhere close to the south were S & N Mordor.

What I really hate is this trend toward “military only” games. pft. That is missing a huge amount of the richness of MEPBM - character actions. It’s just not very interesting.

Finally to the OP - is a 3-way GB game possible / desirable? - My opinion of GB has come down to this: if the players are all seasoned relatively competent FA players, it might work. But the last GB I was in, my nearest enemies were experienced and well-coordinated (somehow), where my nearest allies were not experienced and didn’t help/coordinate at all. Imagine how that turned out… :slight_smile: So if everyone could be experienced and understand the value of helping front-line nations, then it might work and be quite enjoyable. I can see how for GB, you would NOT want to have strategic site victory enabled in a 3-way game. The neutrals would have too much advantage on that victory condition.


I agree. There’s practically no way to do balanced military only games in anything else but FA. I also don’t think the army combat model of mepbm really gives much to shine for a purist game. It’s a character based game of military and economy, if it doesn’t please you, there are other games that are more or completely driven by other aspects.
As a personal note I find the comment offensive, since NOTHING in the computer games gave the mepbm experience. SW Rebellion came close but it was a terrible game.
OTOH if you can get enough players with big enough wallets, Clint will do whatever scenario you want.

Hi mur72 - sorry if I said something offensive. wasn’t trying to offend. cheers mate

Hey hey, not you. I meant the “military only” thing offending me.

Going back to the origin of this thread, I LOVED the two 3-allegiance gunboat games I’ve been in. One of them is ongoing so won’t talk about it. The first one I was FP and we pulled out a win though it was IMO a hard-fought game, though as I recall all three allegiances were fully engaged. The three-cornered element of it made it all the more exciting and challenging.

I think that Clint’s concern is that after these games, people aren’t saying “hey let’s do that again” and signing up for more FA games. For some players, it’s a shock to have your homeland torn out and one of your nations destroyed, and not an experience you want to risk repeating.

FA for many of us is the most fun scenario because it is fully flexible. But the downside is that it gives no basic default structure to your nations, and for some players that seems to be a challenge, to come up with a nation that makes sense given the region layout.

This is why I started the thread on nation setups – it seems to me that many players just don’t set up well. I’m guessing that they think “I want to be a naval nation” or “an agent nation” and don’t take into account that the region layout dictates fighting a land war, or that the destruction of their homeland is inevitable so they should take a hidden major town and go with a character nation Or they just haven’t figured out how to optimize their setups and especially be able to see both vulnerability and opportunity that need to be taken into account.

All that said, I would love another 3-way gunboat game, and I only wish that the player base was 5 time as big so the game could just have the gamers that are ready for that kind of conflagration!

Lastly, on a different note, I like the military game! I was very disappointed when game 48 ended so soon, though the region layout had dictated that two neutrals were going to determine who won. I’ve been in too many games where by turn 20 it hasn’t become a well-rounded game but agents simply cut through armies and nations which are helpless against the onslought. This has been a major flaw in FA and we have attacked it in different ways: NKA, LAS and the military only game, a variant of NKA. I admit that there feels something missing in those games, but I have really come to detest the way agents dominate the game because there are no remedies. Even high-ranking guards are totally ineffective against agents of a certain rank, agents rarely show up on pcs, you have to rely on nation messages to get a hint of who is killing you and no way to determine who the company commander is or who is in the company, and no amount of stealth on your character will hide them from a good scout. It becomes a hot knife cutting through butter. If they only had coders, I would suggest once and for all modifying the game to add these remedies, which I believe is what is truly missing.

I would like a 3 nation gb game including neutrals with no possibility to win through strategic pop centres. With 3x3 nations Good and Evil and 7 neutrals probably 1x3 and the other Kingdom and another. Although the neutrals would be strong they lose a lot of artifacts. They would also have one less nation.

I dont see what that would be a disaster for a 1/3 of the players but I would be interested to know why this may be the case.

I’ve resisted commenting on FA 45, but I’ll dive in here as someone on the DS team. Gives the flavor of one 3-way FA game.

We DS did indeed start with the entire south, excluding North and South Mordor, which shocked us. Never seen a setup like this. Our other allies were in N/S Mirkwood, Lorien and Rhudaur. They were surrounded by FP and took a serious pounding as it was very hard for us to get troops up to help them in time. In fact, in the early game the FP had us absolutely beat. They did a great job blitzing our northern allies. If the neutrals had split 3 & 2 we still would have lost. I think this was one of the thoughts that prompted the Neuts to stay neutral. And as Dave has mentioned, they were pretty set up to attack the FP.

So, we struck a 10 turn truce with the Neuts. In that time we focused on our character game and trying to keep our allies in the north alive. Instead of “doing nothing” what we did was kill off the FP agent force in S Mordor and strip all its agent artifacts. This was tough because he also had 2 hidden popcens we had to find and dig out. Then we did the same to the Rhun agent force while building up our own artifact game which was badly lagging.

By the time the truce ended we extended it because the FP were still the strongest allegiance. That was probably a mistake. It’s hard in a 3-way game to know where the balance of power lies and adjust accordingly. It’s also hard to stop fighting someone once you start. Both the DS and Neuts overshot by extending the truce in my opinion.

By this point our Rhudaur nation had been eliminated, but we’d kept our Mirkwood and Lorien allies alive (shipping 40k gold per turn!), bottled up Rhun, and fought hard in Rhovanion though we fell short at 3612. We changed tactics recruited up massive HC armies before the truce ended and our northern allies collapsed. Multiple of us started recruiting 1000HC per turn. We also came to really dominate the agent game by then which was a complete turn about. We’d researched the entire artifact list and held 16 out of the 26 agent/stealth artifacts in the game. With seven or eight 160 point scouts and extremely detailed tracking, we were killing with impunity. In fact we assassinated the entire North Mordor Weakness squad in one turn. Turn 26 we nailed 13 characters.

When the truce did end SK blitzed S Mirkwood and took him out. Our northern guys were ready to throw in the towel by then anyway having played 20 turns as punching bags. I can’t blame them. They fought a good fight. By then we’d fought our way north with 20k HC which we marched up to 3612. At that point we just took the FP popcen and burned the bridges instead of marching across to take out the FP. Why? Because it was a 3-way game and we felt the Neuts were the bigger threat by then. So we changed course and came at SK instead. My guess is that’s when the Neuts figured they were in trouble and decided to go for the Strategic Site victory. It was a rational move. Probably the only way to win at that point, but maybe if the Neuts had allied with the FP they could have stuck it to us. Not sure. As I said, it’s hard to change gears in a war.

Regardless, we were about to run riot across Gondor with our 20k HC when the Neuts transferred some popcens around, swiped Minas Ithil from us with emmys and won the game. Honestly we should have seen it coming. It was a cheap win, but legal, and entirely rational given the circumstances. I don’t have any hard feelings. We laughed at ourselves for not preventing it.

One thing I have noticed from a number 3-way games though is they often involve some kind of temporary alliance or non-aggression pact that often ends in acrimony. It’s actually very hard in my experience to avoid misunderstandings and hard feelings from these kind of relationships.

So, I think the 3-way games are best for Gunboat where it’s so much harder to even start that kind of agreement. Otherwise, in my opinion it’s best to just fight it out, win or lose.

Also, I think the above commentator is right - 3 allegiances of 8 players each, w/o kingdoms is better than 9 vs 9 vs 7 neuts. I played that once in Ernie’s 3-way FA Gunboat and the neutral team was underpowered. One reason is the FA Gunboat games go long, and that puts more emphasis on the character war so being 42 character slots short is a major deficit.

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Guys, whilst it is interesting to read this, particularly from all sides, it’s a bit off topic. The problems occurred here because there was uncertainty and the ruleset didn’t support it properly. Would the game have had the same outcome if you’d known from the start that it was a 3 way struggle? That the neutrals were their own alignment and were never going to ally beyond what furthered their own agenda? And of course the strategic pop centre route would never have been open - it can’t be in a true 3-way fight unless the kingdoms are dis-established or fundamentally rewritten. Lastly, although it wasn’t obvious, my most recent experience has been within a gunboat scenario and that was what I was leaning towards - hence mass diplomacy and coordinated actions simply aren’t a realistic option.


You’ll find no disagreement from me - or many other players - that the agent game is unpleasant and irritating after a while. I don’t think military only games is the answer however - the agents need to be watered down, not removed: the game becomes very 2 dimensional without its full range of character interactions. There have been lots of conversations about how to do that but there seems to be little appetite from Clint and co to try scenarios where that is the case (aside from withdrawing the +20 Kidnap/Assassinate SNA from some FA games - something that should be made permanent, but that’s just my opinion!).


Yes, I agree. Make guards EFFECTIVE – they are supposed to be effective against agents twice their rank, I read somewhere in the rules I thought, but that’s pitifully far from the truth. Make it harder to take out characters the higher their rank is. And give some magical way to find the name of who holds a hostage, or commands a company.

As for the three-way gunboat game, I say again, I really like that format, and I like having the Kingdoms! It’s just that it needs a really great region layout, one that intermixes all three allegiances, the way the first one did (game 42). And the right set of players.

I have to admit, In that one, eventually one of my nations was forced out by agents, and it sucked not being able to do a damn thing about it. I can only imagine that players with poor setups or vulnerable regions might feel the same when caught up in forces they can’t overcome.

But it does spark the imagination and call forth the creative juices to come up with solutions, which is why the 3-region 3-nation gunboat is so much fun!


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I agree with pretty most of what is said here. Agents need a little waterng down in all scenarios and the three way gunboat game is fun. The mix of regions though is crucial for the success of the format.


One idea I just had that might help a lot, is to restrict each trio of nations, collectively, to a single agent-related SNA. So the trio can take A40, scout 2x,… but not have two nations involved.

I’m looking forward to the just-started 2-allegiance 3-nation FAS gunboat, but I really like the 3-allegiance. And it just occurred to me, just as they did with the 2-allegiance, which is pre-grouping the regions rather than each player submit choices, perhaps it is possible to come up with pre-assigned regions in a 3-allegiance game that would have the game be balanced and fun. Certainly in the ongling game 47, some players got a rougher deal with the regions they got. I’m going to work on it a bit, maybe come up with something. If anyone else is interesting in puttering about on this with me, we can work on Discord together…


I’ve been trying to think of practical ways of changing this particular scenario for the better into a game I’d want to play even more (note: personal opinions follow!):

  • Obviously the 3 way alignment split I’ve mentioned for the added strategic and tactical complexity. This removes the kingdoms entirely and all 3 sides have equal numbers of nations and a balanced geographical set up (easier said than done, but it is doable).
  • Remove any method of learning curses. It’s busted and very unfun. Keep the lesser ones however (weakness etc) - if you can work up and position your mages you deserve some return.
  • Boost combat spells to make them have a more significant impact. Doubling the values might be a good start.
  • Remove the +20 kidnap/assassinate SNA. For ever. It will not be missed.
  • Speaking of SNAs: have lots more. The current choices are pretty narrow and tend to lead to ‘cookie-cutter’ nations. There have been a ton of excellent suggestions on this very forum: use them.
  • Boost Agents’ guarding strengths so they have a chance to actually do what the rules say they should (guard against threats from agents up to double their strength). Add an SNA to potentially boost this further.
  • Give fortifications an automatic scout area/recon ability. Higher strength gives better/more accurate results. Or perhaps add a cheaper SNA that gives this ability.
  • Improve the possibility that enemy characters within a pop centre are reported on.
  • Make road building an order available to all nations.
  • Add an order allowing major rivers to be effectively extended for navigation and/or defensive purposes (call it canal building…)

Anyway, before I get too carried away with my wish list I think my basic preferences come through and shouldn’t be too difficult to implement. OK, well aside from my canals anyway… As soon as I hit ‘post’ I’m fairly sure I’ll think of about 10 more…

Could we get enough players together to want a game with an amended ruleset? So we could go to Clint and say, make this and we’ll play it?


I didn’t think you could learn curses in 4th Age.