The Jutland Option,


"W(h)ither, Scotland?"

Eric N. Coffey


This article will focus on some of the early debates between myself and Andy Schwarz, creator of Hundred, over the placement of Scotland as a neutral SC. I will also touch on the actual use of the SC as seen in some Hundred games and finally present the idea that the Scottish SC should be replaced by a new center on the eastern edge of the map, Jutland.

Design Issues

Back when the Hundred variant was being discussed and playtested, Andy and I had a debate over the placement of neutral SCs. The thought had been that each country should have access to two relatively close neutrals, but that there should be potential tension and conflict over each of them.

For two of these centers, this tension exists. Brittany is a constant war zone for England and France; likewise with Cantons for France and Burgundy. Scotland, however, does not fulfill this role. In games finished to date, Scotland has not provided a battleground, but has been more of an extra center for those countries (mainly Burgundy) who choose to take it. The Scottish question appears not to be, "When will I go for it?" but rather, "Should I bother?"

As I recall, at the outset there was concern that England would be the powerhouse in Hundred. The English player would be insulated by water provinces, whereas the French would constantly be between two powers and the Burgundians would be small and cramped, an unlikely threat.

Therefore, Scotland was set up so that it would not overly-assist in England's growth. It would be far enough from England so that the English player could not easily grab it, but it would also serve as a staging ground for enemy armies if either France (unlikely) or Burgundy took it. In this last case, Scotland would contribute to giving England a two-front war.

Scotland in Practice

The great thing about playtesting is that sometimes all your assumptions about how things will work go flying out the window!

Even a cursory glance at Charlie Eldred's stats compiled from the first dozen Hundred games shows that some of the assumptions regarding how Scotland would be used (or not) were off the mark.

Scotland is the least-taken SC on the board, and one of the least visited provinces on the map, for that matter. Scotland's "empty percentage," measuring the amount of time the province remains unoccupied, is 89.3% -- compare that to the next SC on the list, Devon, at 72.8%.

More telling, though, is the fact that Scotland has remained uncaptured at the end of three games (or 25% of the sample) so far! Hardly a statistic to support Scotland being a dynamic, tension-inducing SC.

It is true that the "battle" for Scotland is between England and Burgundy (it would be monumental to see France first build a fleet and then get it all the way up there), but, based on its low occupancy percentage, it would be a stretch to assume that the balance of a war between these two countries hangs on this one little-used SC.

It would seem also, based on victory trends to date, that fears that England would be a powerhouse were also unfounded -- as the English have only won two games so far. Perhaps placing Scotland *not* within easy English reach (three moves from either London or Devon) has done more to hinder England than has been needed.

The Jutland Option

So what to do with a mostly unused SC at the top of the world? How can Hundred be modified to make the neutral SC within the English and Burgundian spheres of influence more playable?

My original argument had been that Scotland was too much of an add-on, peripheral center to be truly contentious. Similar to Portugal in regular Dip, Scotland wasn't as dynamic an SC as it could be.

Originally, I had thought that the game's third neutral ought to be within easy reach of both England and Burgundy, to balance the potential tension caused by Brittany and Cantons. Therefore, it should lie between these two countries, north of Burgundy. Looking at a map, the Jutland Peninsula seemed the natural choice for another province. My thoughts for Jutland had nothing to do with historical reasons (Andy's the historian here), but simply with playability, utility and game balance.

Jutland would touch The Wash, the North Sea and Friesland. It would improve playability because it would provide England and Burgundy much more reason to be at each other's throats. Burgundy would go for it because it's so close, and England would do the same to prevent Burgundy from having such an easy catch.

While Jutland would remain three spaces away from London (the same as Scotland), taking Jutland would be a much greater offensive threat for England against Burgundy than the Scottish center currently.

For England to go for Scotland, and the one SC it represents, he must either build a dedicated fleet for the purpose and send it north, or he must abandon his "sea wall" defense (the usual fleet placement in the English Channel and the Strait of Dover) to get there.

By taking Jutland, the English player has a better chance of "turning a corner" on Burgundy, and giving him a two-front war. Seeing how well Burgundy has done to date, it would seem that this potential weakening of Burgundy might be needed for game balance.

The flip side of this argument, of course, is that Burgundy could use its fleet to quickly grab Jutland, in shorter time than it would take to reach Scotland -- giving the Burgundians one more center, that much quicker.

However, seeing as the third neutral has gone to Burgundy most of the time so far anyway, this seems to be a non-issue. Jutland would appear to only help England's chances for victory, which have been fairly slim to date.

Creator's Rebuttal

I couldn't let this go without adding my lengthy two cents, since Eric and I have been debating this for over a year now:

  1. Currently, in the early stages of the game, especially right before the first moves, England and Burgundy spend a lot of time arguing over who is going to get Scotland. Killing Scotland (which is equidistant by fleet from both powers) and replacing it with a Jutland closer to Burgundy than England will almost ensure a rapid capture with the Burgundian fleet, thus ending the diplomacy Scotland currently allows. Because of its scale, the Hundred game has very few avenues for real pre-game negotiation, so I fear any change, such as killing Scotland, which would limit the opportunities for discussion even more.
  2. The ability for the English to build armies in Jutland would be an addition, but taking away the ability of the Burgundians to build armies in Scotland (one year by army from Devon) would be as dramatic a reduction. And that move is starting to gain in popularity, which I think accounts for some of the current trend toward Burgundian success. We ought to let the players design defenses for this, rather than redesign the board.
  3. I really do expect to see a French capture of Scotland once play matures and French players learn to use their early builds for fleets. Jutland would be out of the question, since the land route is well guarded and the sea route effectively impossible. Scotland, on the other hand, is not as far from France as it seems. In the game lancast, France just tried a convoy to Wales. Had it succeeded, France would have guaranteed a win the following year by marching through Northumbria to Scotland. You can't do that with a Danish SC.
  4. The high Scottish vacancy rate is a feature, not a bug! Seriously, while it was not explicitly intended, the ability to outflank and make a run for Scotland adds a dynamic element to the game. In some games, Scotland has changed hands after its initial capture, mostly because it seems so safe way up there that leaving it unguarded seems reasonable. The continent is really dense and calls for a slog it out approach; having a fluid Highlands adds a nice complement.

The real issue is how set in stone should the Hundred variant be. Design stability is a good thing, but if the game still has flaws, we ought to improve it. From Charlie's work and my observation, there is an easily defended, land-only stalemate line from Calais to Savoy, and a weaker one from Calais to Cantons. Fleets can turn the tide, but France will be lucky to ever have more than two fleets, and one or zero is more likely.

Thus games like troyes� and lancast,� where France reaches eight SCs but cannot find a way to get to nine are likely to continue. I'm not sure an unbreakable stalemate in a three person game is very desirable. So a little non-SC province tucked in among Par/Dij/Dau (leaving them still all adjacent), perhaps the county of Charolais, is probably a needed thing to keep end-games more dynamic.

So, if I do that, there's the opportunity to toy a little more. Maybe we add Jutland but keep Scotland. In effect, it would likely guarantee Scotland for England and Jutland for Burgundy, which might be less than desirable. Then to keep an odd number of SCs, we give France a freebie, maybe making Savoy an SC. Then there are 19 SCs and it takes 10 to win. But, then we have a France/England fight for neutral Brittany and a France/Burgundy fight for neutral Cantons, but no equivalent England/Burgundy fight for anything. We can't just add a 20th SC, since that allows two-way draws. So then maybe we have to add a 20th SC in Castile [The real Hundred Years' War did spill over into Castile in the 14th century] and another for 21, in, say, Norway (make it equidistant from Scotland & Jutland), though that is getting a bit far afield.

Having mapped all that out, I don't want to rush into any changes just yet. For one thing, the JKs, especially Nick Fitzpatrick, might execute me. For another, I'm less convinced that Scotland is a failure than you are. In fact, if it weren't for my desire to zap the defense line in Lotharingia by adding a Charolais, I'm not sure I'd be pondering the other changes.

And then I have this idea for an Irish SC...


Eric Asks:

So what do you Hundred enthusiasts think of this proposal? If there is enough interest in trying a Jutland variant, we could code up a version and playtest it. I'd be curious to see if my line of reasoning would actually work in practice.

Let me know your comments, questions, criticism, etc., at [email protected].

Back to Andy Schwarz's Hundred Variant article