Praetor's brief in-game tutorial is more or less folded into the first battle--and that's about all the descriptions of game-play you're going to get. This page covers a lot more material about how Praetor works; some of it's maybe a little technical or too detailed, but that's what you get when a programmer writes the documentation.
If you've played or or any similar games, then you're already familiar with the collectible card game genre. Praetor's game play is based on a CCG mechanic: at the beginning of the game you have three cards in your deck--well, three pieces in your army. You'll use those three cards as weapons in a battle against opponent after opponent; as you win battles you'll gain new, stronger pieces to add to your army--preparing you to face harder opponents.
One of my favorite games is , which also uses a CCG-based game mechanic. Like Etherlords 2, Praetor layers a somewhat thin role-playing game on top of that basic mechanic, giving you a hero who represents you in the game and whose skills and powers increase over time.
In Praetor, your main character and your game pieces move, fight and perform powerful feats on a hexagonal game board. As each battle begins, the playing board opens with just your main character and your opponent on the board (usually). By drawing cards from your deck (er, pieces from your army) and playing them onto the board, you can summon creatures to help you, enact sorceries, equip your characters and prepare defenses. Each action you do requires some energy: at the beginning of each turn you'll get some amount of energy to use, and when you run out of energy your turn is over; if you survive until your next turn, you'll get more energy to do with as you wish.
Game Piece Types
The pieces in your army fall into lots of different categories--which sounds like Praetor's headed down the road of being too complex, but in practice it's actually pretty easy to manage. (My 5-year-old, who can't read well yet, plays Praetor frequently and is quite good at it.)
Creatures - pretty obvious. These are anything with hit points such that they can be attacked and eventually die. When you play a creature piece, you're summoning that creature from your army to join you on the game board. As with most CCGs, creatures typically can't move or attack on the same turn that they're summoned; this is often called "summoning sickness" while in Praetor it's just called "resting."
Enchantments - the adjectives of the game world, these kinds of pieces modify creatures--leaving them stronger or weaker, faster or paralyzed, invulnerable or poisoned. Importantly, when you play an enchantment it leaves a bit of itself around: a marker to show that the enchantment is still active. There are other pieces which can purge enchantments, returning the affected creature to the way it was before. The Whetstone is an example of enchantment, making your sword sharper and giving you a bonus to attack as long as the whetstone enchantment remains in play.
Sorceries - very similar to enchantments, but they don't leave anything around: they just do their deed then go away. Once a sorcery is done there's nothing left to purge, so you can't reverse its effects just by somehow removing the sorcery--it's too late. The Javelin is an example of a sorcery: you throw it at a nearby opponent where it does two damage, and then it's done and gone--but the damage remains.
Emplacements - like your trusty old campfire. Internally these are called "tile enchantments" and that's pretty much how they behave: they're like enchantments that affect a tile of the game board instead of a creature. Careful use of defensive emplacements is often the key to victory--and in the second Praetor episode you'll find offensive emplacements just as important.
Equipment - these are effectively permanent enchantments that affect your leader. If you add any equipment to your army (deck), then when you start a battle they're played automatically (this doesn't even cost any energy) and they can't be dispelled. Your Darkroot Armor and Short Bow are great examples of equipment.
Allies - a special kind of Creature. When you add an Ally to your army, that creature will appear on the playing board with your Praetor as soon as a battle begins and it can move and attack immediately. If your ally is defeated in the battle it isn't gone forever--but you won't get it back until the next battle.
Praetor uses five kinds of energy: one for each element (earth energy, water energy, air and fire) and one boring old "general energy." Any of the elemental energies can be used for general energy in a pinch--so if all you have is three Earth energy left and you need to move a piece (usually requires one General energy), the game will happily use up one of your Earth energies and let you move. But the reverse doesn't work: if a piece requires two Earth energy to summon and all you have is one General and one Air, there's no way you're going to be able to summon that piece.
Your energy comes from your pieces: creatures and enchantments and such generate it. At the start of the game your Praetor generates two energy for you (three if you choose the path of Sorceror), and by the end of the game it generates a lot more than that. There are lots of pieces that affect your energy; the campsite is the most important for a long time. There are also other creatures that generate their own energy, so that you have extra energy as long as they're in play.
Energy generation for you happens at the start of your turn. As soon as your turn begins, the game looks through all of your pieces currently in play and tallies up how much energy they're generating for you, then starts you fresh with that amount of energy to spend--regardless of whether you had any energy left from your last turn.
Just for the record: in the first Praetor episode you'll only be using general and Earth energy. In subsequent episodes the other forms of energy will come into play as well.
Attack and Retaliate
Probably the most important part of combat to master is the attack-and-retaliate process. When you attack an enemy piece, there is no roll-to-hit step involved: if the piece is in your range and you can legally attack it, then you'll deal damage to the piece equal to your attack strength--minus any armor or other protective enchantments that the victim can bring to bear. Attacking costs you some energy--usually just one general energy but still worth paying attention to--and most creatures can only attack once per turn.
Here's the trick, though: if you don't manage to kill the creature when you attack it, then it might be able to retaliate. Retaliation is automatic: when it's your opponent's turn and he attacks one of your pieces, your piece will retaliate immediately without any intervention on your part. There is no limit to how many times your pieces can retaliate, except that retaliation uses some of your energy: if you've used every bit of your energy earlier on your own turn, then your enemies can attack you over and over and your pieces won't be able to retaliate. (That's why the computer opponent often decides not to use up all his energy on his turn--he's saving some to use for retaliation if it might prove necessary.)
If you're careful, you can use this to your advantage: use a weak creature to attack your opponent, forcing him to use up his remaining energy retaliating against the pieces you don't mind losing, then bring in your heavy hitters once he's out of energy and can no longer retaliate.
Fast - when your piece A attacks an enemy B, the usual process is that B gets damaged, then if it survives the attack and B's player still has energy, piece B will automatically retaliate against piece A. But now there's a complication: if piece B is fast and piece A isn't, then when A attacks B that retaliation actually happens first. The retaliation can even kill A, at which point B won't suffer any damage at all. It's good to have fast reflexes.
Flying - flying creatures get special movement rules--they can fly across (but not land on) water for instance. But even more important is what flying does to battle: if you want to hit a flying creature, you can only do it if the attacker is either also flying or has a projectile weapon. (That's true for retaliation as well: if your war hound is hit by a flying dragon, even if the dragon is standing right next to it the hound can't retaliate.)
Projectile - not hard to figure out: if you've got a bow, you're using a projectile weapon and can hit flying creatures. Projectiles don't always have a range greater than 1, but it's pretty common.
Ranged Retaliate - retaliation is usually a face-to-face thing: if you're hit by an arrow, you typically don't get to retaliate even if you have a bow of your own. There are a few creatures that don't care: if you hit them even from a distance, they're going to hit you back (so long as you're inside their retaliate range). That's what Ranged Retaliate indicates.
Penetrating - your armor protects you from taking damage: if you're about to take 5 points of damage but have an armor 2, then you'll only take 3 damage. Penetrating indicates that this creature's attacks go right through that armor without slowing down--like a poison, for instance, that doesn't care if you're wearing armor or not. So if you're hit for 5 points of damage by a Penetrating creature, you'll be taking the full 5 damage even with your tidy whities on.
Resting - means your creature can't come out to play right now. If it's your Praetor, then you won't be able to summon new creatures either--he's asleep, so he can't get around to it at the moment. Most creatures start out resting immediately when they're summoned; that's called summoning sickness in some CCGs (collectable card games), and it goes away when that player's next turn starts. A creature can be forced to rest by lots of different enchantments.
Summoner - notice that when you summon a new creature, you have to put it next to your Praetor? That's because your Praetor is a summoner, and can bring new creatures into play. There are other creatures that are summoners too, and if you play one then you can summon new creatures next to them as well.
Immune - this has a dual meaning. First, it means that the creature won't suffer from summoning sickness: as soon as it's summoned, it can move and attack and do whatever other special things it likes to do. Second, immune creatures can't get poisoned.
Non-Living - at some point you're going to fight a golem--a giant rock. That's a great example of a non-living creature: you can grind it into powder, but it doesn't have the same biological complications as, say, a dog. From a pragmatic standpoint, you can't poison non-living creatures, nor can they get sick from diseases or be forced to sleep with a Sleep Potion.
Phalanx - a creature with this attribute can participate in a phalanx--which is to say, if it's standing adjacent to any other creature with the Phalanx attribute, its strength and armor will go up by one. The more creatures that crowd around it in the Phalanx, the tougher it gets. The Hastatus, Triarius and Mercenary cards are great examples--and there are enchantments to add the Phalanx ability to just about any creature. This is a Roman-themed game after all, and using a Phalanx is often essential to victory.
Magic - these creatures cannot be damaged by mundane weapons. To harm them you will need to use magic of your own: either a sorcery or enchantment that does damage directly, or some sort of magical equipment that grants your warriors the Enchanted attribute.
Enchanted - creatures with this attribute are able to strike Magic creatures. Some sorceries (like Baleful Gaze from Episode 2) do Enchanted damage, meaning that they can damage magical creatures directly; other sorceries (like Tremor, which creates an earthquake) don't affect magical creatures, because they're not creating enchanted damage. A little confusing, I suppose, but you'll get the hang of it quickly in practice.
Strategy, Tactics and Luck
There's very, very little luck involved in Praetor. The only real randomness involved is in which pieces appear in your hand ready for play on your turn--and even then, the choices are obviously governed by which pieces you chose to put in your army. The precise mechanic of drawing pieces for your turn can sometimes be pretty important, so here are the details for how it actually works.
Whenever you visit the Raft, the villagers' marketplace or the Trireme from home, you're getting an opportunity to pick what pieces to put your army--that is, your card deck. You've clearly got a maximum number of pieces to put into your army: when the game starts you can only hold three pieces (but that's okay because you only have three different pieces anyway). By the end of Episode One your army will be able to hold 7 pieces and you'll have dozens of different pieces to choose from that you can put in there. By the end of the last Episode, your army will have grown to 25 pieces and you'll have over a hundred different ones in your repertoire.
When you start a particular battle, though, you don't immediately get all of those pieces in your hand to play. Your Praetor has a pair of properties called InitialHandSize and MaxHandSize; you can't really see numbers these directly in the game, but you'll recognize them in force as you play. InitialHandSize represents how many pieces Praetor will put in your hand at the start of every battle; thereafter you'll draw new pieces at the start of each turn--and if you ever have more than MaxHandSize pieces in your hand, Praetor will throw the oldest ones out of your hand to keep you under the limit.
The actual piece-drawing process is a little bit complex. Let's say you have three pieces in your army and you're able to draw one piece at the start of each turn. (Yes, that number can increase later too.) Praetor puts all three of those pieces--let's call them A, B and C--into a bag and each time it needs a piece it draws another one out. That process means that you're guaranteed to get A,B,C or A,C,B or B,A,C or B,C,A etc--but always one of each, rather than just picking a new random choice from your deck each time.
Here's the real catch, though: when it's your turn and Praetor reaches into that bag to draw out a piece, if there aren't any pieces left in the bag, you'll get nothing: instead, Preator will spend that turn refilling the bag from scratch, so that next time you'll get a new round of some permutation of A,B,C again. This amounts to having a small penalty for having a small army: if you have only three pieces in your army then you'll draw no piece on one quarter of your turns--but if you had twenty pieces in your army, you'd miss a draw less than 5% of the time.
This is particularly important to understand when you face the Constrictor Vines early in the battle, because your opponent also has an army that follows these rules. Every few rounds, your opponent won't draw any new pieces either--and when you're facing the Constrictor Vine, that means every few rounds it can't reproduce and you can move in closer to the heart of the root.
This mechanism means that, regardless of the size of your army, you'll never completely run out of pieces to draw. Putting one War Hound in your army means that in theory you could field a dozen hounds all at once (provided your Praetor is experienced enough to field that many creatures anyway), just using that one piece over and over. If you put more War Hound pieces in your army then you increase the frequency with which those pieces are drawn into your hand.
Praetor is, above all things, a strategy game. The order in which you draw pieces from your army is really the only part of the battle that involves any luck whatsoever: once that step's over, there are no random numbers or other non-deterministic aspects to game play. If your strategy and tactics are strong, if you've chosen a good set of pieces to include in your army, then you'll be able to win--and otherwise, you won't. To ensure game play remains enjoyable there is some degree of freedom of action given to the computer opponent so that no two battles are exactly alike--but the variations aren't really enough to give either of you more than a transient edge in battle.
The Villagers' Marketplace is effectively a store where you can buy and sell game pieces, using an in-game currency called denarii. You earn denarii every time you defeat an opponent in battle--and since in the campaign you get to defeat each opponent exactly once, there's a finite amount of money you can earn during the game. In practice you'll earn just enough money during the game to eventually purchase every game piece in the marketplace--or you can save your money for use in the next episode, where there will be more stores and new pieces to buy.
Every game piece has a value, usually on the order of a few hundred denarii. When you're at the store, keep in mind that when you buy a piece there the villagers will charge you that value plus 10%--and when you sell a piece, they'll only give you 90% of its value. So don't use the marketplace as just a convenient place to drop off temporarily unwanted pieces--you'll lose money every time you buy them back. Instead, keep your extra pieces at the raft where you aren't charged a fee to move pieces in and out of your army. (The Roman Trireme is likewise a no-charge "store" where you can swap pieces around without spending any denarii.).
You've already observed that Praetor has one big world map, plus dozens of distinct hexagonal-gridded battle maps. Each of these battle maps is actually representative of the terrain on the big map where you're doing battle: if you've started a battle in the hills near a fork in a river, the battle map will have a lot of forest tiles and a forked river in it. So you can get a general idea of what kind of terrain to expect in a battle, just by looking carefully at the big map when you fight.
The battle maps are made up of individual hexagonal tiles, and each tile has an associated terrain. For the most part these terrains are pretty straight-forward: you can walk over grass, sand and forest all alike, and you can't walk over water or through rocks. But the terrain can actually be a really big factor in a lot of battles, so it's worth spending some time to look over the details of these terrain types.
- this is probably the most common terrain, and I generally think
of it as a default type. Grass tiles don't have any special
properties, and almost anything that can walk can cross it just
fine without any penalties or rewards.
Dirt - exactly the same as grass, except that it looks like dirt. You won't see this until the Air campaign; dirt usually shows up inside palisades.
Forest - these tiles look like wood (I should probably put graphics here to help out). Forest isn't intrinsically special--that is, it works just like grass for most intents and purposes. However, there are some creatures and enchantments that behave differently when a creature is standing on forest tiles. For example, your Darkroot Armor gives you armor +2 when you're on a forest tile, and only +1 when you're standing somewhere else--and there are other creatures (like the Meliai) that have similar bonuses.
Sand - again, sand is another basic terrain--it's the light-colored tiles that you'll often find as a beach, between water and grass tiles. Sand tiles in themselves aren't special--they almost never offer benefits or rewards--but collect enough sand tiles together in the higher campaign levels and you'll eventually start to see Desert tiles. More on those in a minute.
Water - walking creatures can't go on water--duh--but flying creatures, swimming creatures and amphibious creatures can travel across water tiles just as fast as you can travel on land. When you get the Swimming enchantment, you'll be able to go through water too--but you'll be slow there, only able to move one step at a time. (The exact rule is that you can stop on water, but you can't go across water if that helps.)
Rocks - these are nominally barriers to anything--even flying creatures. After about the fortieth battle or so, though, you'll pick up a Tremor Earth sorcery piece that will let you turn rock tiles into sand tiles.
Mountains - Mountains don't appear until the air campaign. They look like rougher rocks, and nothing can cross them. They're not susceptible to Tremor either, so they're basically just impassible barriers that you'll have to work around.
Swamp - Walking creatures--that means you and most of your pieces--can travel through swamps just fine, but they'll be a little slow. (The movement rules are in fact identical to how you can swim once you have the Swimming enchantment: you can go one step at a time across swamps.) The real difficulty with swamps isn't just that they slow you down, it's that you get Swamp Rot if you stand still on them for too long. Specifically, if you start your turn on a swamp tile, and if you didn't move on your last turn, then you'll come down with the sickness--and Swamp Rot will drain your health one heart at a time until you're dead, even if you leave the swamps. So feel free to move through the swamps, but don't stop moving.
Desert - Desert tiles don't appear until the Air campaign. They show up where Sand tiles are stacked one after another, with no Grass or Forest or Water tiles nearby; once you get far enough from those nicer tiles, the Sand tiles turn into Desert tiles. You can rush across Desert tiles just fine, but you don't want to end your turn on one: if any piece starts its next turn on a Desert tile, that piece comes down with the Exhaustion enchantment. Exhaustion slows a creature's rate of movement and drops the creature's strength by one; if the creature starts another turn in the desert, its strength drops further and its movement cost increases. The longer the creature stays in the desert the lower its strength drops--all the way to zero if it stays long enough. When the creature leaves the desert its strength will slowly recover (by one at the start of each turn); when its strength is fully recovered, the Exhausted enchantment disappears by itself.
Lava - Lava tiles don't appear until the Fire campaign. Most creatures (including yours) aren't able to travel on lava--but there is a class of creatures that can, and they're pretty tough.
Um, walls, that is; a palisade is just a walled enclosure. They first show up a little ways into the Air campaign, and thereafter they're not too uncommon, so it's worthwhile to talk a little about exactly how they work.
Each palisade has an ownership, and it's determined by who is inside it. If there's nobody in there, or if there's a mix of your creatures and your opponent's creatures, then the palisade is unowned. If a palisade has some of your creatures in it but not your opponent's, then it will be owned by you and will turn slightly blue; in the reverse, it will turn slightly red.
The whole point of a palisade is its walls: if you own a palisade, your enemies can't pass through your walls to get to the chewy center. Melee attacks don't work through walls either--but projectiles do, so if you're inside hoping to stay safe, stay out of bow shot.
If it's your palisade, then the walls are a little more porous: your creatures can burn a move to step through a wall you own in either direction. That lets you make a sortie, then (if you survive) escape back into your palisade where they can't follow.
When a palisade is unowned--whether because there's no one in it, or because there are creatures from both players there--both players can shmooze through the walls that way. Said another way, you can claim any unowned palisade by moving into it first--and then your opponent won't be able to get in. Plus, if you can find a way to get one of your creatures into your opponent's palisade, then he loses ownership and you can sneak the rest of your army inside too.
There are two ways to get into an enemy palisade. The first is to use a flying creature; those aren't stopped by palisade walls at all. But, darn it, you don't really seem to have any flying creatures in your army--so that leads to the other way. If you manage to knock a hole in the palisade wall, you can simply walk through. And for that, you need catapults. A catapult can target any section of the wall that isn't manned inside, and it knocks down the walls immediately. Once the wall's down, just step through the gap--and once you have an agent inside the palisade loses ownership so the rest of your army can just scale the walls. Kill everyone inside and the palisade becomes yours.
But now there's a hole in your palisade; how do you fix it? Easiest thing in the world: just put one of your creatures next to the hole. At the start of your turn, if you still have a creature there, the walls will be fixed. Note that repairs won't happen unless you own the palisade, and they won't happen if there's an enemy on the other side of the wall.