What Makes A Winning Game?
From: Thomas John Bress
Date: Friday, November 07, 1997 11:00 PM
Subject: What makes a winning game?
What makes a winning game? That is a very good question. I believe that there
are many keys to excelling on Firetop Mountain.
You have to be flexible in your strategy. I remember my first exposure to
Firetop Mountain. I read the rules, looked at the spell list and saw that
if you could cast permanent amnesia on your opponent you could finish him
off at your leisure. I was convinced that no one had thought of this
before so I was determined to try it out in my first battle. I opened P S.
Might as well go for Permanancy right away, I figured. My opponent hit me
with amnesia on turn 3 and that was the end of that plan.
I like to think of gestures as beads on two strings. Each bead is part of
a pattern and hopefully is part of overlapping spells and threats of
spells. The mage with the better pattern should be the winner. Breaking
the pattern should not be done lightly. This theory explains some of my
opinions on good strategy:
- Stabbing frequently is bad strategy, it disrupts your patterns.
- The short mind control spells should be used frequently (they break your
opponent's patterns and can be incorporated into your own patterns).
- Monsters are effective because they put your opponent into a defensive
pattern, not because of the damage they cause. Think about it, how much
damage do your monsters usually do to your opponent? Probably not much,
but you can prepare some nasty offensive spells while your opponent is
worrying about your monster.
- The big damage spells (storms, fireball, lightning bolts) must be used
carefully because they are difficult to blend into your patterns. They
end in claps or repeated D's so you tend to lose connectivity and initiative
when you complete them.
- Invisibility and blindness are good because your pattern is hidden
from your opponent.
This list could be longer, but I just wanted to emphasize that you need to
take the long view when you play FM. It is a little like pool. Good
players can sink the balls in the pockets, great players also make sure
that the cue ball ends up in a position that lets them sink another ball
on the next shot. Connectivity and flexibility are key.
Spellcasting and Shadowcasting
FM has a strong element of bluffing, I like to call it shadow casting. A
big part of FM success is being able to predict what your opponent will
do. Usually you have perfect information, you see all of your opponent's
gestures and he can see yours. Outside of blindness and invisibility, the
only way to make it difficult for your opponent to guess your battle plan
is to cast shadows at him. "Shadowcasting" means you start a spell, try to
make your opponent commit to a defense, and switch in midspell to
something else. It can also mean threatening multiple targets with one or
more spells in a single turn. In either case you try to make your opponent
counter the shadow instead of the actual spell. A classic ploy is to use
one hand to cast DS. Your opponent reacts to the threat of Confusion and
you continue with DSP, continuing to anti spell. By switching spells and
leaving multiple threats and targets you can keep your opponent off
Here is an example from a game I played a while ago. In the first four
turns my opponent summoned an ogre and I hit him with anti spell. I
continued to SPFPSD. Now my opponent only had two hands so he could only
mount two defensive spells. But I now threatened to complete Permanancy on
myself, Charm Monster on the ogre, and Charm Person on my opponent. Three
spells with three targets, plus the attack I was mounting with my other
hand! There was no way my opponent could defend against all of them so he
was forced to guess my intentions. In another game I was summoning a
My opponent cast counter spell on me to prevent the summoning but I took a
chance and clapped and summoned an ice storm instead. My opponent's counter
spell protected me while he froze.
Shadowcasting can give you a chance at escaping FoD when all seems lost.
Here is a situation from a past game where my opponent really had my back
against the wall:
I had just cast counter spell on myself so I was not paralyzed. My
opponent saw that I was threatening Charm Person so decided to paralyze
himself to cancel it. I continued on with RH W, LH W and went invisible
one turn before the FoD could be completed. This plan had the added
benefit that if my opponent guessed what I was up to and paralyzed me
instead of himself the paralyzed hand would be P and I could still
surrender before the FoD was completed.
Momentum and Initiative
The great thing about FM is that each player submits his moves
simultaneously. This does no prevent initiative from being a key factor,
though. As a game unfolds one player or the other will build momentum and
will have the initiative. This allows him to be on the offense and puts
the other player on the defense. The defensive player MUST take back the
initiative if he wants to win the game. It is often worthwhile to allow
your opponent to damage you or summon a monster if you can use the
opportunity to grab the initiative. As mentioned above, damage spells end
in claps or two D's and so they tend to make you lose momentum. Monsters,
especially the big ones, can also make you lose initiative because you now
have to protect them from being charmed. If you have a troll on the board
and your opponent casts PSD you have to decide whether to protect yourself
from Charm Person or the troll from Charm Monster.
Style and Strategy
One of the things that I like about FM is that different players have
different styles. There are different ways you can approach this game,
here are a few samples:
Most players have a preferred style or styles (mine is a combination of
Trickery and The Wall), but you need to be able to defend against all of
them if you want to succeed on Firetop Mountain. Initiative and momentum
come into play here as well. A particular game will often switch between
styles as the momentum shifts between the opponents. The player who uses
their momentum to establish the game in the style they like best will
often be the winner.
- Maximum Carnage: Offense is key, you try to inflict maximum damage quickly
- Monster Mash: You try to summon lots of monsters to keep your opponent
occupied while you cook up a potent offense
- Trickery: You don't go for damage at all, you try to hit the opponent
with FoD, Disease, Poison, Permanent Amnesia or the like.
- Weather Wizardry: Build up resistance and go for storms and elementals
(This happens more often in Melees than in Duels).
- The Wall: Play defensively and wait for your opponent to leave you an
- Perpetual Paralysis: Basically one-handed play, both players end up
using one hand for perpetual paralysis.
- The Ninja: Player's main goal is to keep opponent off balance through
confusion, amnesia, fear, blindness, invisibility, etc. and attacks at
Have you noticed that there are some players you can beat consistently
while there are other players, perhaps with lower scores, that can beat
you most of the time? I believe that this is an issue of style as well as
of basic ability. If your opponent has a style that is similar to yours
then it will be a test of ability alone. But if his style happens to be
one that you are not adept at defending against then he will likely beat
you if he can establish the game in his style. For example, if you like
Trickery but detest monsters you will be in trouble if your opponent puts
you on the defensive with an ogre and a troll on the board. One of the
keys to being successful on Firetop Mountain is being flexible enough to
adapt your style of play to that of your opponent. You cannot go into a
game with a fixed style or fixed battle plan. Your opponent probably won't
behave exactly the way you would wish him to! Your goal should be to grab
the initiative as soon as you can and THEN try to establish the game in
your favorite style.
In summary, my answer to "What makes a winning game?" is that it takes
flexibility of style, continuity of gesture, a good sense of timing, and
the ability to cast shadows as well as spells. It may seem like a tall
order, but that is what keeps me coming back to Firetop Mountain.
Last modified: Sat Jun 20 21:55:59 CST 1998