This is part 2 in a series of strategy articles brought to you by the game’s original designer, Grant Rodiek.
Welcome to the strategy guide for the Machine faction of Cry Havoc. The Machines are one of the most difficult factions to play in the game, but they are one of the most powerful and manipulative. The Machines are what I like to call “an inevitable Faction,” which means they will win…eventually. The Machines force the other Factions to move swiftly and decisively, because in the end, the Machines do not sleep, they do not eat, they do not have emotion. They have a goal and they will work without ceasing until they accomplish it.
The Machines are all about Building and Activating their Structures, of which they have more than every other Faction. They can pop a lone Human anywhere in the world, and mow down a pile of Trogs, then churn out factory fresh reinforcements. It’s time to oil the chains and begin a tutorial on the ways of the Machine.
The Original Inspiration
The Machines were not always Machines. If you recall, Cry Havoc used to be Battle for York, a civil war in a Napoleonic-like era. The Machines were inspired mostly by the highly disciplined Prussian infantry of Frederick the Great (at least early in the Seven Years War) or the professional British Regulars. They were defensive in nature with strong fortresses and even stronger artillery. When other Factions would flee or retreat, the British, err, Machines, would stand firm, glaring, without blinking, in a staring contest that ended in pulverized foes.
When Portal Games signed Battle for York, there was only one structure at the time — the Fort. We knew we wanted to add more structures as we expanded the premise of the game. Little did we know at that time that the Machines would become our busy little builders. But, Build they did.
When Cry Havoc became a science fiction game, I began writing some stories and conducting some world-building exercises to give them a sense of place in the universe. Portal has a history with Machines, or Moloch as they call them in Neuroshima Hex, and we wanted to continue creating a super powerful faction.
In a lot of science fiction, you have inevitable, all powerful races against whom you can merely stall the inevitable defeat. In Old Man’s War, one of my favorite books, there’s a race whose name I forget who are almost godlike in their power. Nobody fully understands them, and their patterns are unpredictable. In Warhammer 40k, I believe it’s either the Orcs or Necrons who will ultimately win…and until then, you can only fight hard to hold on as long as possible.
These are the Machines. Our story for them had something to do with an AI driven human probe sent to explore space. Humans lose contact with the probe, as we do with our actual satellites, but because it’s AI driven, it continues to evolve, and think. Eventually it begins using the resources on the planets it finds, and the Mars Rover becomes the Mars destroyer. The Machines re-emerge at the same time the planet is found, potentially foreshadowing a much more dangerous conflict. Losing to the Machines on this planet? Not the end of the world. Losing to them on Earth? Literally, the end of the world…
The Strengths of the Machines
The Machines have the best Structures in the game and are the most capable faction of defending Territory once they take it. The Machines inflict a rigid tax on aggressors, because it should be expected that if you move into a Machine territory with 3 Units to create a battle, you will lose 1 or 2 of them before the battle actually occurs.
Although it’s very expensive at 3 Wrenches, the Bunker is an amazing threat deterrent, and is the most effective method of Recruitment in the game. Be sure to leave at least one Unit behind, obviously, so that the Region becomes a battle region when invaded. Enemies who do not move in on a Bunker will find that Moving City will propel it forward to protect the new frontier, or will be Transformed into 3 Units who can then invade as need be.
Factory may seem ineffective at first, but in the words of Ignacy, if you have 3 of them, Machines will “breed like Rabbits.” It’s also an intensely efficient action. For a single Wrench, you a.) Recruit in b.) a Forward position. Typically, that would cost two Actions (Recruit + Move) and multiple cards.
The Machines do not have a great deal of default Movement, so an early Ocean draw is not a bad play, as a few big moves early in the game are needed for Machines to begin building their Structures. Afterwards, Machines should focus on Mountains to gain the Wrenches for huge Structure rampages, as well as a Desert or two to cycle your deck in a better manner.
There will be times when you have so many wrenches, but not enough Structures, and this is where the Matrix comes into play. The Matrix is not really a strong first choice Structure, but it’s amazing as a “wrench dump” to help you with future battles. If you have two structures you need, and a Matrix, you can drop a single mountain to Shred, Factory, and then get a card while you’re there. Think about your strategy holistically and plan for the excess.
It’s key, however, to devote some time to both the Orbital Sniper and Shred Drones. These are the nastiest offensive structures in the game and fundamental to the Machine mission. Remember, the Machines need the game to last five rounds, which is where the Orbital Sniper comes into play. For example, use it to pop a lone Pilgrim to entice a Human or Trog to move in. If the territory is unoccupied, moving in won’t count as a Battle, which nullifies the Pilgrim Power Orb use. Don’t forget that a red crystal is worth 5 VP for a Human, but only 3 VP for a Trog, so “clearing the path” for Trogs to move in is a better long term value than letting the Humans get further ahead. It seems like we’re picking on the poor Pilgrims, but the Orbital Sniper can also clear the way for the Pilgrims to Teleport into naked Regions and strike at the very heart of the Trog interior.
Simply put, the Orbital Sniper is a Machiavellian scalpel. It exists to upset the balance of power around the table, and you should use it to threaten and cajole favors from your opponents.
The Shred Drones act, then, as the lawn mower. They are a defensive tool to make reconquest very tough for your opponents. They move in, sure, but unless you’re foolish, they’ll lose 1-3 of their Units on the walk in. Furthermore, you can use the Shred Drones to support your Units. Remember, Machines won’t be doing a lot of Recruitment, and they don’t have a lot of Movement. Plus, their Mountains will be used more for Actions than for Tactics. The Shred Drones should be used to support infantry moving in to offset this weakness. Do not invade where you cannot shred. If you cannot shred, use Moving City to make it so.
Don’t forget, by the way, that you can use Moving City to move Shred Drones out of an occupied Region, where they cannot be used, and into a controlled Region, where they can. Sorry folks, you cannot move that already Built Bunker into a Battle Region. Nice try.
Some of the Machine Skills are true game changers. Firepower in 2-3 players especially is the Machines’ point generation power. It’s often said the Machines don’t have a way to easily generate points, like Occupation for the Humans, but that’s not true. Typically, it’s not worth it to press into the center Regions against the non-player Trogs, but with Firepower, you can show up and focus on Attrition to rack up major points.
The combo of Moving City and Transformation, as noted above, are basically just free Actions left and right. If these aren’t used on every round, you’re doing it wrong, and you’ll soon find yourself playing catch up to the Trogs and Humans especially.
Software Update is a better skill for more experienced players to wield, but it lets you turn default cards into Oceans early on, then turn Oceans into Mountains once your Regions are captured. You can also use it to grab a Jungle for a pinch recruit Action, or modify your cards for a key battle you need to win. Software Update requires a firm understanding of the game, but it’s very strong if you know how to use it. Effectively, Software Update will reduce the number of times you need to take the Draw Card Action in half.
Finally, Terrain Advantage is the cherry on top of your battle plan. If you’re using Shred Drones to soften up the enemy, you can then use Terrain Advantage to disable all remaining hope they have. Pay close attention to the cards they draw and be sure to disable those. Terrain Advantage is especially key at the end of the game when winning control of a 7 Crystal Region is the difference between victory or the blue screen of death.
Overall, the Machines’ greatest advantage is in their variety. They have so many tools in their box and so many ways to go about it. But, they are slow, and sometimes unwieldy, and those are the weaknesses we need to discuss.
The Weaknesses of the Machines
The Machines are slow. Like, really slow. True, they’re inevitable, but if the Humans rocket forward, or the Trogs take a lot of early prisoners and Enable Scoring, it will take time for the Machines to catch up. The Machines are also an unforgiving race. If you waste Actions, you won’t get them back, and when you could have been killing enemy Units all over the map, you’ll instead watch them move forward to conquest.
The Machine player needs to think several turns ahead. It takes time to turn the Titanic around. You need to know what cards to draw, when, where to build, and how to Activate. The Machines may tend to want to go later in turn order, so that they can activate their Bunker, or Shred Drones to react, or use Moving City to move a Building out of harm’s way or into the firing range.
But, this also means the Machines are sacrificing their ability to dictate policy to others. Going first means: this is how this round is playing out. Going last means: I’ll react to what you’ve told me. You must think ahead and work to mitigate these trade offs.
Where the Humans and Pilgrims have more obvious scoring paths with Occupation and Examination respectively, and the Trogs should have piles of Prisoners and huge early Territory grabs, the Machines don’t have this. They do have Firepower, yes, but otherwise, they don’t have a unique thing. What they do have, is that big final turn. A good Machine player will setup, and prepare, and plan, so that on the last round of the game, they move into Territories. That will be a 40 point swing: +20 for you, -20 for your opponents. This is crucial. If you’re playing against the Machines, plan for it. If you’re playing as the Machines? Plan for it!
When you ask what the Machine point strategy is? It’s Crystals, plain and simple.
Machines will need to effectively fight, but be friends, with everyone. You will need to upset all the players to keep everyone off balance. If you be nice to the Humans, they’ll catch up and spread out like locusts. If you leave the Trogs alone? They’ll move into your Regions to disable your buildings.
Speaking of that, an excellent way to deter the Machines is to turn off their buildings. It’s often worth losing a Unit, even one as a Prisoner, to move into several Machine regions to simply disable their use of Buildings. Yes, you’ll lose the Battle, but they won’t have the Factory or Orbital Snipers (for example) to wreak global havoc. It is good to pin the Machines, early and often, and if the Machines are going late in turn order, this is precisely what you can do before they even take a turn.
Machine Strategy Tips
- You cannot waste a single Action with the Machines! It is better to patiently delay an invasion, or stall to draw a card, in order to maximize a turn, than flail against the Humans or other races. They will always be faster, which means you need to be slower and better.
- Do not use the Shred Drones to eliminate battles! This is a common Machine mistake! Battles add Crystals and give you more opportunities for points (Territory Control is 2VP, Prisoners are 1VP per round, Attrition is 1VP or 2VP if you have Firepower). WEAKEN the enemy, do not remove the enemy.
- Machines want the game to last as long as possible, each following round they are stronger. Manipulate the other factions as need be throughout to ensure this happens.
- Machine Skills lead to wonderful combos. Incorporate them into your strategy as free Actions, not merely fancy parlor tricks. Move a Shred Drone, activate it, then Transform it to recruit. That’s hyper efficient.
- Choose your turn order very carefully. Is it more important you can use your Structures on Action 1? Or respond to what happens?
- Everyone is your enemy. Your job as the Machines is to preserve equilibrium until you’re able to dominate and capture significant amounts of territory.