I really enjoy High Command as a competitive two-player game, and I’m writing this with the goal of helping people see the depth this game has. I’ve played a wide variety of card games and enjoyed most of them. But High Command sticks with me because it has interesting deck building, challenging in-game decisions, and I find luck is rarely an overwhelming factor in who wins a game between skilled players. These are relatively simple points, but the importance of them is worth mentioning because they are the foundation that is critical for a great card game.
A game of High Command between two competent players feels like two organized armies working like a well oiled machines, and the victor was more efficient with their calculated risks. It is very easy for strategy games to end up feeling too complicated, like you are barely able to deal with the chaos while keeping the fight going. Others are too simple, and you just don’t have interesting choices to make. High Command exists in the perfect middle ground between too simple and too chaotic. The key is to figure out what you want your machine to do; from there, you need to break down how you are going to achieve victory.
How to Win a Game of High Command
Anyone can read the basic rules and understand that the player with more Victory Points at the end of the game is the victor. I want to break down the routes you can take to get Victory Points because I see many players try to focus on a single way, when each turn should weighing the different routes against each other to determine the premiere choice.
The Easiest Route: Purchasing cards that are worth Victory Points is the simplest and easiest way to obtain Victory Points. When High Command was in its infancy it was very common to see decks designed around buying cards, with a side goal of slowing their opponent’s ability to capture locations. The game has evolved past these simple strategies, but it’s still important to recognize when your best option in a particular turn is to just buy as many Victory Points that you can.
The Best Route: Capturing locations is the best way to add victory points to your deck. But the act of capturing is going to depend on you creating a situation that your opponent either can’t stop you, or it isn’t worth the effort that it would require to stall the capture. All competitive decks should have a goal of capturing locations. My average game yields 3-6 captures between my opponent and myself, but occasionally I have really tight games that only allow a single capture or no captures at all. It is necessary to keep the undependability of capturing in mind when formulating your strategy.
The Misunderstood Route: I think the game sometimes lacks a clear intuitive intent. It feels like the game is designed to have players purchase cards and then deploy them. This may or may not be true, but it often feels that way for players trying to learn the game. Think of deployment as something you do with cards that you Rushed, were destroyed, and now have drawn again. Think of purchasing Warjacks, Warbeasts, and Warriors as something you do for their resource values, or because you have no other good options and you want to pick up some Victory Points.
The Most Efficient Route: Your primary goal should be Rushing cards that are worth Victory Points to locations; it’s simply the most efficient route. This strategy allows you to increase your VP total every turn while putting pressure on your opponent to stop you from capturing. This means that you’ll be building up your VPs even if you have a game that only yields one or zero captures. You can plan out your turn during your opponent’s turn too, because you know your hand and can see your reserves.
The First Step Towards Winning
If you want to win games against a strong player with a strong deck, you’ll need to fight with them over locations. In many situations, the winner ends up being the player that captured more overall. The key to generating captures is to “Threaten Captures.” This is a term I use for ending my turn with at least two cards more than my opponent at a location; this forces them to either deal with my cards or allow a capture. One really powerful card at a location is not going to threaten a capture, and it allows your opponent to play their turn out whichever way is best for them. If I end my turn and I have two cards at a location, it is like telling my opponent “Check” in a game of Chess. This leads me to the primary focus of competitive play: end your turn with at least two of the strongest cards you can in as many turns as possible. It’s a very easy concept to lose sight of. Sometimes that impressive Colossal or Gargantuan may have your eye, but it is often more important to get two slightly weaker cards to that location than a single strong card.
Whenever I build a deck I look at which pairs of cards will I be able to consistently Rush in the same turn. If the Warrior that I want to Rush is going to cost 4, 5 or 6 that means I can generally pair it with a Warbeast or Warjack that Rushes for 7 or 8. Add the two Rush costs together and consider the likeliness of doing both in the same turn. If the total is 11-12 it’s probably very consistent, even in the early game. If it is 13-14 it may not be dependable in the early game, but will be in the mid game as your deck improves. If the total is 15+ it means the combination will not be realistic in the early game, although it’s reasonable in the mid game, and is likely dependable in the late game, as long as you improve the efficiency of your deck.
Keep in mind that this is only a rough guide. The best way to know how consistently you can Rush a particular pair of cards is to play the deck and ask yourself questions. How often was I able to Rush two cards on the turns that I wanted to? Were the two cards strong enough that my opponent couldn’t just easily remove them? Think about these things when building or adjusting your deck. Depending on the resources in your deck, you may be able to adjust the aim to maximize how many resources you have each turn.
Resources and Thinning Your Army Deck
The higher your resources count per hand, the stronger the cards you can move to locations. Your goal throughout each game should be to improve your draws by buying cards that have resource values higher than the cards that your Army Deck starts with, and removing those original cards from the Army Deck so you are more likely to draw the superior cards.
Resources: Every faction has access to Resource cards that they can buy to improve the economy of the deck. Some factions have cards that can substitute as resource purchases, like many of the Warbeasts in Trollbloods. Mulg the Ancient, Dire Troll Mauler, and the Dire Troll Blitzer are all cards that can be discarded for three War if they are in your hand. While higher resource values are very important, you will also want to look for cards that are more versatile when discarded for resources. The Feral Warpwolf is a great example, because it can be discarded for two Command or two War. That may not increase the amount of resources in your hand, but it can help make sure you have the right balance of War and Command. If you are a Khador player, the Behemoth card can be discarded for three Command or three War, and it’s great Warjack to begin with.
Deck Thinning: There are only so ways to remove cards from your deck. In High Command it is called ‘moving cards to your Occupying Forces.’ Menoth can do this through the Forging the Faithful card. Battling at the Menite Temple (from the Invasion of Sul expansion) can help prevent low resource cards from being put back into your deck; but for the most part everyone relies on the ability to remove one card each time you have to shuffle your Army Deck. This will always happen on turn two, but your decisions throughout the game will determine how often you can re-shuffle.
Aggressive Cycling: This is a strategy I have been practicing, with the goal of shuffling my deck more often than my opponent. It works by only buying one card between the first two turns and banking a card at the end of turn 2. After you move one card to the occupied forces pile you will have 11 cards to shuffle. Then you draw 6, and leave 5 in your deck. This means you will need to shuffle your discard pile at the end of turn 3 to draw a 6th card. If you only put 7 or less cards into your discard pile during turn 3 you can shuffle again during turn 4. Trying to do that every turn is unrealistic; but the more you can do it, the less of the original cards will be in your Army deck. This strategy means you can often “cycle” more cards during the first two turns. Cycling is a quick way of saying that I’m going to discard a card from my hand to move one of the cards in my reserves to the bottom of my deck and reveal a new card from my reinforcements deck. This allows you to have greater control over your reserves, and you’ll be more likely to have the best mix of cards going into turn 3 when you can start Rushing cards. For more information on this strategy you can see the article I wrote explain it in detail.
Fighting the Good Fight
There will be many times during a game where your opponent is threatening a capture. The simplest way I can explain is just when your opponent has two cards at a location and you have zero at the start of your turn. If you’ve ever played Chess, it’s not that dissimilar from putting your opponent in “check.” But in High Command it is a little different. You aren’t just moving or blocking their path to your King. You essentially have 4 options: Yield, Contest, Escalate, or Reverse. These are not terms in the High Command rules. They are just the way that I look at my options. I try to evaluate these four options at the start of every turn that your opponent is on the verge of capturing.
Yield: Sometimes you just have to let your opponent capture. It may be that you absolutely cannot stop the capture. It may be that you can stall, but it would only get worse. Or it may just be that you could get more value out of fighting over another location. Know when to yield and let your opponent capture. I have lost a few games because I didn’t recognize that the protracted fight would end poorly for me and dragged it on for way too long. It most games you are going to let your opponent capture at least twice. Your job is to figure out the best time to yield.
Contest: You cannot let your opponent capture every time they threaten, or you will lose. There will be turns when you just Rush a Warlock or a single Warjack, and you just want to stall the capture for a turn. It may be to hope the next turn has a better draw, or you really want to buy a resource this turn. Learning when to “contest” a location is very important. I estimate that you will need to take this route at least 4-6 times per game on average.
Escalate: I use this term for when the battle is taking more and more commitment, but neither side is destroying all of the opponent’s cards. I have seen a location eventually escalate until it was 8 cards to 5 cards. It’s critical to recognize when escalating battle will not go well for you. If two players fight over the same location for 5 turns that may be the only capture the whole game. Which may mean the person who captured wins the game. It may be better to Yield and move on to a new location.
Reverse: This is when my opponent ends their turn threatening a capture, but by the end of my battle step I’ve destroyed all of their cards and I’m threatening a capture on them. This is generally accomplished by Rushing a Warcaster or Warlock. Being able to accomplish a key reverse is often the deciding factor of game. Accomplishing this twice in a game can be devastating for an opponent.
Executing a Reverse
I want to talk about this move in a bit more detail to make sure you understand how this happens. Every faction has cards that can help them pull this off, and you will need to recognize these tricks both when building your deck, and when your opponent may be in a position to reverse on you.
Defensive Feats: There are multiple Warcasters and Warlocks that reduce the power of all enemy cards to zero at a location (Sorscha, Witch Coven, Cassius, Kaelyssa etc.). These are some of the best cards for pulling this off. A very common tactic with Circle is to Rush a Warbeast, a Warrior, and Cassius to destroy both of the cards at the location. Cassius protects both cards from retaliation during the battle, so the Circle player ends their turn threatening a capture. This is a perfect example of a reverse.
Movement Feats: I really like Sturgis to pull one card away from the location and divide up my opponent’s force. In some situations I will Rush Sturgis to a different location, move one card from the location where my opponent is threatening a capture, and if it is 3 Health or less Sturgis can destroy that card by himself. Now my opponent may only have one card left, and it doesn’t have the power to destroy either of the two cards I am about to Rush. This can also be done by using Warlocks like Grissel, by moving your cards to another location after you destroy just enough that they won’t be in a position to capture at the start of their turn.
Shield Guard/Ranked Attacks: Troll players will often put a Troll Bouncer at a location to protect the Warriors. If you don’t have the power to destroy the Bouncer (which has 5 Health), you may not destroy anything at all, thus allowing the Troll player to pull off a reverse.
Superior Range/Stealth: It can be quite devastating when a Legion player Rushes an Archangel and a card with Superior Range. If you don’t have the power to destroy the 7 Health Archangel then you can’t destroy the card with Superior Range, which can allow for a reverse.
There are many ways to pull this off, and you’ll need to know which cards are capable of setting this situation up if you want to play High Command competitively. You should find the cards in your faction and make sure you have some of these options in your deck. This strategy is key in my mind when it comes to playing competitive High Command.
I have heard some of Decked Out’s listeners refer to this as “The Way of Omnus” or the “Omnus-style of High Command,” but I just see it as the natural direction of competitive High Command players trying to win a game. I have talked about it on the podcast and hinted at many of these things in other articles. But I didn’t think that was enough. I hope that this article explains my strategy in a such a way that you can understand it and start to utilize the ideas. Because I want to have a great game with you when we play at Lock and Load 2016.
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