(Note: this is written for Britannia I, but the principles apply to Britannia 2 (FFG))

 

Reading the Situation: How to Judge Who’s Winning in Britannia

David Yoon


Britannia is a game based on scoring points, so strategy might seem to be a simple matter of trying to score as many points as possible. It’s not that simple, though, because of the multi-player dynamic: victory depends not simply on scoring a lot of points but on scoring more points than the other players. Sometimes it is best to sacrifice a few points in order to prevent another player from scoring many.


Making such decisions depends, above all, on being able to predict which players, based on the current situation, have the best chance of winning. It is, obviously, counterproductive to sacrifice points to reduce the score of a player who has no chance of winning anyway. But simply looking at the current point totals is very misleading in this regard, because each of the four players has one or two nations that score a great many points at a particular stage of the game, and the timing differs. Therefore, a player can have the most points at a particular moment, and still be losing. This article provides some guidance for inexperienced Britannia players in making these decisions, by presenting some general guidelines for judging who is doing better or worse than average.


Before getting into the details, I should explain a few things about the assumptions this article is based on. First of all, this article is based on the Avalon Hill edition of the game. The Gibsons (British) rules differ in a number of small but significant ways that affect both strategy and expected point scoring, and the forthcoming second edition from Fantasy Flight Games will differ considerably more. Note also that the colors of the playing pieces differ: the Green player referred to here should be read as “Black” if using the Gibsons version of the game. Also, I have assumed a standard four-player game.


Second, I have assumed that the reader has a basic familiarity with the game. To get much out of this article it is necessary to have a basic grasp of the rules and some knowledge of the victory point cards. I have, however, attempted to explain things in enough detail to be comprehensible to someone who has only played the game a couple of times.


Third, there are various styles of play in Britannia. In a typical game of Britannia, the total final score for all players is generally a little over 400, meaning that the average for an individual player is slightly over 100. The point targets in this article are based on the assumption of a fairly close, low-scoring style of play, which happens most frequently when the players all know, in a general sort of way, what to expect of each other. In this situation the winner’s score is often between 110 and 120 points. In other situations, when players are not familiar with each others’ strategies and personalities, the game may be much more volatile, and consequently harder to predict, with more extreme variations in the scores.


Fourth, except in extreme situations, I consider position to be a better predictor of victory than score, up until the last few turns of the game (with Purple and Green, in particular, the score before turn 13 or 14 does not seem to predict at all whether the final total will turn out around 100 points or 120). That said, scores are much easier to compare objectively; assessing position—the number of armies and where they are placed—is difficult to do and even more difficult to explain clearly. So although this article relies heavily on simple measures such as score and number of armies, this is only a simplified substitute for a more complete assessment of the situation on the board.


I should also make clear what the guidelines described here mean. These are not “best possible” goals; they are the sort of “average” scores and armies that suggest a player is on track to an average final score of around 100 to 106 points —generally corresponding to a second-place or strong third-place finish, but also within reach of victory if the rest of the game goes well. If a player is doing much worse than the guideline, that player is not a strong contender for victory; on the other hand, if a player is doing much better, that player can be considered a strong threat to win the game.


These “average” scores are based on my experience of the game, and other people may have different opinions. In particular, different long-term strategies will yield different point-scoring rates. For example, I have assumed a “northern” strategy for Purple, in which the Romans and Romano-British sacrifice points in order to help establish the Scots. If Purple tries to maximize Roman and Romano-British points, then Purple may need a higher score on turns 5 and 9 compared to what I have suggested here, since the Scots may score fewer points later in the game, while Blue may not need as high a score. Similarly, I have assumed that the Jutes are better used as Saxon-killing raiders rather than attempting to score points with them.


Since both points scored and numbers of armies or territories are mentioned, there will be many occasions when a player is within the range for one criterion but not the other. Naturally, if one criterion is better than expected, the suggested range for the other should be adjusted down, and if one criterion is worse than expected, the suggested range for the other will need to be higher.


End of Turn 5


The first five turns of the game are dominated, of course, by the Romans. In a normal game they will have wiped out the Belgae, forced the Brigantes into submission, and damaged the Picts. But other peoples appearing around the coasts will then have raided many Roman forts. The resulting point totals may vary widely, depending on luck: the Belgae, for example, without any variation in the moves made, might easily have scored as many as 12 points or as few as 2.


By the end of turn 5, as much as half of the Purple player’s final point total may have been scored already, while the other players have barely begun. This may give inexperienced players the misleading impression that Purple is winning; in fact, if Purple is not far ahead at this time then Purple will probably finish in fourth place. Most of the game’s scoring is still potential; thus, although expected point totals are mentioned here, the army sizes mentioned are much more important for predicting future scores.


Purple: 46–54 points and no more than 6 Picts

It is likely that the only points for Purple so far will have been scored by the Romans. They can normally expect to score somewhere between 44 and 58 points; paradoxically, a Roman score over 56 is no better than a score under 48. Obviously it is not the Roman point total that is important so much as the likelihood of future points from the Scots.


Green: 13–18 points and at least 10 Welsh

The Welsh never score a huge number of points at once, but they are ultimately the largest component of a winning Green score. It is absolutely essential that the Welsh be in good shape when the Romans leave, in preparation for conflict with the Irish and eventually the Saxons. If the Romans have forced the Welsh to submit, the score may be lower, but as long as there are at least 10 Welsh armies, Green still has some hope: fewer than that, however, and Red’s chances of victory are greatly increased, other things being equal (yes, that’s not a mistake—if Purple makes the Welsh submit, Red tends to win).


Red: 8–15 points and at least 4 Saxons and 6 armies of Brigantes and/or Irish

Red rarely scores many points during the first five turns. The Brigantes may or may not kill a Roman army or two before submitting; that is not as important as whether they still have enough pieces to survive the Angle onslaught for a while. The Irish and the Saxons score some points by raiding, but if they have suffered too many casualties doing so, their future impact on the game may be crippled. The Saxons are the main point-scoring nation for Red, so the most important criterion is how likely it is that the Saxons will establish their power, depending in part on whether the Brigantes and Irish are in a position to assist. A minor secondary consideration is how many Jutes remain at sea: if there are still four Jute raiders at sea, the Saxons can expect a steady hemorrhage of casualties for much of the game, so they may need an extra army at this stage. [Editor’s note: in Brit 1 raiders can stay at sea indefinitely, which is not the case in Brit 2.]


Blue: 12–26 points and at least 5 Picts

The most variable component here is the Belgae score. Either they roll sixes or they don’t, and since they are normally wiped out by turn 2, that is usually the only way they can score points. The Angles, on the other hand, are better placed than the Jutes and Saxons to profit from raiding, because they have the best access to forts that give the Romans few points (and thus are less likely to be protected by an army), and because they can afford to take more casualties in advance of their major invasion (since the Angles get 6 raiders plus a total of 12 reinforcements during the next three turns, but are only allowed 15 armies).

          Oddly, considering that historically the Picts disappeared as a distinct people during the period that corresponds to the middle turns of the game, their survival to the end of the game is generally essential for a Blue victory, largely because they can score so many more points on turn 16 than they can earlier. Submission to the Romans is sometimes necessary to avoid excessive casualties, but because they will usually face 7 Scots on turn 7, it is best if this can be arranged in such a way that more than four armies survive (since the Picts can only submit when reduced to two areas, this requires a retreat before submission and movement into an adjacent vacant area afterward).


End of Turn 9


Turns 6 to 9 see a major change in the “color” of the board. Major invasions by the Saxons, Angles, and Scots can determine the rest of the game, since all three are important point-scoring peoples for their respective players—especially the Saxons, who dominate a winning score for their player to a greater degree than any other nation in the game. The Angles, on the other hand, are confronted by the most complex choices: they may need to fight the Brigantes, the Saxons, or even the Scots (in order to relieve pressure on the Picts), in addition to the issue of whether to give the Welsh free passage for their excursion to York.


By turn 9, the results of these invasions should have become clear. The Angles and Saxons will have occupied most of England; one important thing to note is whether Red or Blue is getting the Bretwalda points. In general Red has a strong advantage in this, unless either the Brigantes have been forced to submit or the Saxons have taken heavy casualties. The other big variable is how well the Scots have established themselves. If the Picts have been wiped out, the outlook is grim for Blue, whereas if the Scots are outnumbered by the Picts, Purple will have difficulty achieving a high score.


Purple: 58–67 points and at least 4 Scots

Too many nations get points for killing Romano-British to expect them to survive for long after Arthur and the cavalry are gone, and they will rarely score more than 2 to 4 points before they are wiped out. The Scots, on the other hand, are the second most important point-scoring nation for Purple, after the Romans. The major invasion on turn 7 is the one effective chance the Scots have to try to make Pictland into Scotland. Fergus’ +1 to the die roll and ability to move through mountains must be used to best advantage. If the Romans and Romano-British have inflicted enough casualties on the Picts, the Scots should have a chance to occupy three or four areas by the end of turn 7.


Green: 33–37 points and at least 9 Welsh

Whether the Welsh got the 6 points for visiting York is as good a measure as any of how well Green is doing—not just because 6 points are often enough to make the difference in the game, but because if the Welsh can’t get them it is usually because they are taking too severe a beating from Red. Maintaining a steady attrition against the Saxons by the use of Jute raiders can also be very helpful, both for relieving pressure on the Welsh and to keep the Saxons below maximum population in preparation for the Danes.


Red: 35–44 points and at least 14 Saxons and 2 armies of unsubmitted Brigantes and/or Irish (including raiders)

The Saxons are almost always powerful at this stage in the game, but for Red to win, they must be dominant. It is difficult for Red to win with less than 70 points total for the Saxons, and difficult even to avoid fourth place with less than 60 points. They mainly score points between turns 4 and 13, so by turn 9 one can judge how well they are doing. If they have taken too many casualties, they may have difficulty scoring enough points before the Danes and Normans decimate them. At the same time, the Irish should be scoring raider points—and possibly even some points for controlling territory if they are lucky—and the Brigantes can be useful either by scoring points or by keeping the Angles busy enough that the Saxons can prosper.


Blue: 36–42 points and at least 3 Pict armies controlling at least 2 areas and no more than 16 unsubmitted Red pieces in England or 43–50 points and at least 2 Pict armies and no more than 17 unsubmitted Red pieces in England

Blue is the most difficult to predict overall; scores over quite a wide range in the middle part of the game can end up the same at the end. Although the Angles should be the largest point-scoring nation for Blue, the points scored on the last two turns by the Normans and Picts can also be a major component of the final Blue score. As a result, Blue might score only 40 more points after turn 9—or might score 90 more. As important as they are for scoring points, the Angles are just as important for keeping Red from doing too well, partly simply so that Red doesn’t run away with the game, but also so that the Norman invasion isn’t stopped at the beaches by a solid Saxon shieldwall.


End of Turn 11


Turn 11 marks the end of the period dominated by the Angles and Saxons, with the arrival of the Vikings. The Danes are essential for Green, and the Norsemen are often the second-highest scorers for Red, albeit a very distant second. The situation at the end of turn 11 is important for predicting how well the various Viking invasions will go.


Purple: 61–71 points and at least 4 Scots and either 12 or more Angles or 15 or more Saxons

The complexity of a multi-player game with multiple nations for each player may be apparent from this guideline. Purple wants the Danes to clear a lot of Angle and Saxon armies out of the middle of England, but also wants the Danes to take a lot of casualties, so they will not be able to fight off the Dubliners and Norwegians effectively. This depends on either the Angles or the Saxons being in a position to fight back, but preferably not both so that the Danes are not simply destroyed at once. The Scots, of course, can’t affect the Danish invasion much apart from making sure to be out of its path. So for turns 11 and 12 Purple is mainly just a very interested spectator with little influence on events.


Green: 47–52 points, at least 8 Welsh, at least 5 Danes, and less than 12 Angles

For most of the game, Green accumulates points slowly and quietly. Turn 12 is different: the Danish major invasion, if it goes well, can sweep through much of England for 20 to 26 points. How well it goes, though, depends a great deal on a few factors. The most important is how strong the opposition is: if the Angles and Saxons have been at peace, they may both have strong armies that cannot easily be swept aside, and may defend their territories strongly enough that the Danes suffer heavy casualties for a moderate score. Another is the Danish strength: if the Danes have lost too many of their turn 11 raiders, the invasion will lack force. However, if the Angles are not close to maximum strength, they may instead try to move out of the way, leaving many areas open in the hope that they can survive and regroup after the Danish invasion, in which case the Danes can score many points easily as they move through vacant areas. In that situation the Green player should think about how well the Danes end up positioned to survive until turn 14. If the Jutes and Welsh have the armies, they can assist the Danes considerably by weakening their opponents (while staying out of areas that the Danes want to score points for).


Red: 57–67 points and either 6 Norsemen or Norsemen controlling Hebrides and/or Orkneys

The biggest question is whether the Norsemen have already landed or whether they have chosen to wait for assistance from the raiders. In the former case, there is more total point-scoring potential, but more luck is needed as well. At the same time, the Saxons should be the dominant power in England by this time. If they are not, they may suffer too much damage from the Danish onslaughts in turns 12 and 14 to score many more points.


Blue: 50–65 points and at least 2 Picts and 9 Angles

The biggest variable for Blue over the next few turns is the effect of the Danes on both the Saxons and the Angles. Survival of the Angles is obviously of value, both for the points and for the ability to intervene where needed during the last turns. Perhaps less obvious to the inexperienced player is that if the Saxons are too strong on turn 15, they may be able to prevent the Normans from scoring many points. However, the areas that the Danes score the most points for are mostly in northern England, so there is little hope that the Danes will concentrate their efforts on the Saxons. The Angles do have the option, during their move on turn 11, of choosing where they will fight the Danes, based on their current strength and the positions available.


End of Turn 14


The preceding few turns have seen the incursions of the Norsemen, Danes, Dubliners, and then the Danes again, with possible counterattacks by the Saxons and others. Turn 15 will see the arrival of the Norwegians and the Normans, completing the game’s roster. By this time in the game, Red and Green have scored most of their points, while Purple and especially Blue still have large scoring opportunities. It should now be possible to calculate roughly what the final score for each player should be, given certain assumptions about how well the major invasions will go. Strategy should accordingly be based on calculation of each opponent’s likely final score.


Purple: 72–82 points, at least 4 Dubliners or 5 Scots, and less than 8 Danes

The Dubliners get points for controlling some of the areas that the Norwegians move through. Assuming that the Danes can be kept out of them, a complex series of maneuvers is normally used to ensure that the Dubliners are moved out of the way on turn 15 but to places where they can move back in on turn 16 (either in the Pennines or else Lindsey and Galloway). The Norwegians are constrained by being able to land only from the North Sea, and if the Dubliners are in the Pennines the options are even more limited. Thus, if the Danes are strong they can block the Norwegians well enough to limit their turn 15 score considerably, though potentially at the cost of sacrificing much of their army, especially if they are not strong enough to have secure areas to retreat to.


Green: 88–94 points and at least 8 Welsh and 4 Danes

Unless the Danes are strong enough to block the Norwegian invasion, Green will score only about 8 to 15 points at the end of the game. Doing so depends mainly on the Welsh being strong enough to hold most or all of Wales, plus maybe an area or two along the borders, and the Danes being able to hold a few out-of-the-way areas when the dust settles from the major invasions.


Red: 88–96 points and at least 11 Saxons

There will normally be some Norsemen still able to score points, and perhaps even some remaining Brigantes or Saxons, but most of Red’s remaining point-scoring potential is with the Saxons. Since the Saxons are normally directly in the path of the Norman invasion, and may be targeted to some degree by the Norwegians as well, the Saxons are most likely to be able to score points at the end of the game if they are strong enough to block the Normans, or at least exact enough casualties that the Normans do not achieve much. The number of armies needed to hinder the Normans depends on the length of coastline the Saxons possess, but usually at least 12 or 13 armies are necessary at the end of Saxon turn 15.


Blue: 58–70 points, less than 12 Saxons, and at least 3 Picts or 4 Angles

Having the two peoples that move last in each game turn is very useful at the end of the game; particularly on the last turn, the Angles and Normans can make their moves knowing that nobody but the dice can interfere. The most important question is whether the Normans can make a successful invasion: if so, they can often score more than 30 points, while an unsuccessful invasion may score less than 10. This will mainly be determined by the strength of the defending forces, likely to be mostly Saxons and probably some Danes or other Green armies. At the same time, the Picts will want to make the best use of their one opportunity to get a large number of points for controlling areas, if the opposition (Scots, Norsemen, possibly Caledonians and Brigantes) is not too strong.


Appendix: The Evidence


This article is based partly on general experience of playing the game against competent opponents, many of them better at the game than myself, and also partly on a sample of score sheets representing a number of games in which I participated. A total of twelve games were used, but to reduce bias, the main reliance was placed on eight of them, representing two games won by each color. Since I have not played the game by e-mail, I have records only of the scores, not of the complete games including numbers of armies and which areas they controlled.


The sample is small, and as mentioned before, it is based on a limited range of strategic choices. While I think the guidelines presented here are generally reasonable, a larger and more complete body of evidence might provide a more accurate and comprehensive, if not necessarily clearer, basis for prediction.


Average Scores in the 12 Game Sample

Color

Final Score

Turn 5

Turn 9

Turn 11

Turn 14

Purple

>109 (n=2)

53.3 +/- 1.1

65.3 +/- 0.4

71.8 +/- 1.1

85.5 +/- 2.8

 

98-109 (n=6)

51.1 +/- 3.8

61.1 +/- 4.7

66.6 +/- 4.6

77.8 +/- 4.4

 

<98 (n=4)

52.3 +/- 5.3

59.8 +/- 4.0

65.3 +/- 3.1

72.4 +/- 3.6

Green

>109 (n=5)

18.7 +/- 2.8

37.4 +/- 2.2

53.2 +/- 2.0

97.8 +/- 2.7

 

98-109 (n=3)

16.3 +/- 3.5

35.7 +/- 2.3

50.7 +/- 2.1

89.5 +/- 4.8

 

<98 (n=4)

16.0 +/- 2.3

31.3 +/- 4.9

44.8 +/- 5.2

79.0 +/- 4.0

Red

>109 (n=3)

13.3 +/- 4.9

40.3 +/- 6.0

67.5 +/- 7.8

94.5 +/- 6.6

 

98-109 (n=3)

10.7 +/- 2.5

40.3 +/- 3.5

60.7 +/- 5.1

87.3 +/- 1.9

 

<98 (n=6)

11.0 +/- 8.3

35.9 +/- 9.2

56.3 +/- 8.9

70.7 +/- 8.0

Blue

>109 (n=3)

20.7 +/- 5.5

44.3 +/- 4.5

61.7 +/- 7.0

72.7 +/- 8.1

 

98-109 (n=5)

20.4 +/- 7.1

41.2 +/- 7.0

57.8 +/- 6.7

64.6 +/- 7.9

 

<98 (n=4)

22.5 +/- 4.4

43.3 +/- 2.2

59.8 +/- 5.5

64.0 +/- 7.8