Superior Tactics #44: Encircled Terrain

Their force is like a drawn crossbow
and their timing is like the release of the trigger.
Even in the midst of the turbulence of battle,
the fighting seemingly chaotic,
they are not confused.
Even in the midst of the turmoil of battle,
the troops seemingly going around in circles,
they cannot be defeated.
Disorder came from order,
fear came from courage,
weakness came from strength.
Disorder coming from order is a matter of organization,
fear coming from courage is a matter of force,
weakness coming from strength is a matter of formation.
those skilled in moving the enemy use formation
that which the enemy must respond.
-- Sun Tzu, The Art of War, tr.

This week, Alexander Kay (Kakita Akai) demonstrates why you might need to walk around in circles, walk around in circles, walk around in...

*old grandfather's voice*
"Back in my day in Imperial Edition, we found good uses for every card we had, since there weren't fifteen billion to choose from. See that table over there? No water marks. Even Occupied Terrain was useful, back in my day."

In the present, however, with some 20 terrain cards to choose from, why would someone pull up:

Encircled Terrain - Common Action (IE, EE, OE, JE, PE) - 0G - 1Fo
Battle: Terrain. Attacker and Defender each choose one unit that they control in this battle. All other units (including allies) return home with no effect and remain unbowed.

Most people, when presented with this card, think of it either as a bad version of Entrapping Terrain, since it doesn't send the entire army home, or as a cute trick to reward those who have ancestral swords or are foolish enough to put all their cards on the same personality. Consider the following scenarios, though.

In each case, Encircled Terrain has been used for a very different reason. While in each case other cards might have made for easier victories, Encircled Terrain is flexible enough to take these multiple roles. With Hantei Sensei, Norikazu, One Life, One Action, and Shiryo no Shoju, the ability to play with additional cards that can take the roles of more typical cards. Additionally, the inclusion of a card with multiple uses can be far more useful than a specialized card that ends up useless in the wrong situation, and cards like Last Refuge don't end up in decks that intend to win battles.

Encircled Terrain, fortunately (and also very unfortunately) is a Terrain, which means that it is subject to an infinitude of cards, as well as the Lion Stronghold. Toturi Sensei isn't worth throwing in just so you can get your Encircled Terrains, but using Akodo's "Leadership" on one or sticking one under the Armor of Sun-Tao may not be a bad idea. With its low focus value, it may not be the ideal addition to a dueling deck, but military decks, especially of the defensive honor variety, may find it sufficiently useful for general inclusion. It also tends to be more useful in multiplayer, where larger armies have a bad tendency to accumulate, and the need for extra Rallying Cries becomes more pressing.

The uses of Encircled Terrain go beyond that of a proxy for another more useful card. Using it for its own sake, however, requires doing something that most people advise against: concentrating your force in one unit. Single large units tend to be targeted by things like the Imperial Favor, Block Supply Lines, et cetera. While force buildup in single units is unavoidable with some cards (Ancestral Swords come to mind), this is hardly something to rely on. Perhaps the easiest combo to work with would be with the Hiruma stronghold's ability and a relatively powerful personality, which the Crab have no real shortage of, but this is limited to a defensive strategy. A Wedge could do the same for an attacking army. [Crab Oni got a lot of use out of this card in their day. -- ed.]

For Enlightenment decks that actually care about doing it "the old fashioned way," Encircled Terrain is a good way to bring out the Ring of Water, since it creates a battle condition which can be more easily won. You can even use it for the Ring of Earth. Ring of Air, well, um...

To focus your force, cards like the Experienced 2 Shiba Tsukune, Shiba Technique, and ranged attacks can be used, since you're bowing force that won't be included in the final count anyway.

Encircled Terrain also works pretty well with To the Last Man, because if they choose their strongest personality, you can choose a weakling with 1 force. Half of one, rounded up, is still one, and if there are no Followers in the unit, they lose their chosen unit because they have to destroy at least 1 force, even if they have to overspend by ten. [Note that the active player selects her personality first. -- ed.]

For defensive battles that are already lost, using Mara's Farewell with Encircled Terrain to increase your province strength when there is only one attacker left, which can easily save a province.

There are more devious ways to use Encircled Terrain, though. A Samurai's Fury can be used with any of a variety of cards (the Oracle of Water, Superior Tactics, Isawa Tomo) to assign a unit after the terrain resolves. Most insulting would be the experienced Takuan, who can reassign every unit that got sent home. Activating the Dark Path of Shadow should be a joke with only one opposing unit. You can use this with the Osari Plains to have the Encircled Terrain resolve instantly and then take actions as well.

Another more obscure combo involves use of a card that wasn't even used much in Imperial Edition, Legendary Victory. Since Legendary Victory only compares the current force totals, it can be played and you'll get double honor for winning the battle. This is unlikely to give you any excessively large quantity of honor, though, since you'll be destroying only one unit.

Remember, you're sending people home, and it doesn't matter if you're bowing the Kamoko Thunder to destroy someone as they're leaving the battle, since you can just choose someone else to be the one remaining. You could use Matsu Hokitare for the same purpose, but Lion dueling decks never did catch on.

Using Encircled Terrain with Matsu Agetoki (exp) allows you to play the terrain without them knowing what it is, and especially if they are expecting a more traditional Terrain, you can take great advantage of their confusion and wasted battle actions.

With the quasi "reset" of Gold Edition, Encircled Terrain will show up again in a more restricted environment, with fewer cards to choose from. While Entrapping Terrain and Rallying Cry aren't going anywhere, Hantei Sensei and its ilk will not be present in the strict gold environment, so Encircled Terrain's use as a "backup plan" is diminished. What, then, is its purpose in Gold? Many of the cards listed here for combos aren't going to be around.

Encircled Terrain's use tends to rely on certain allocations of force in battles, and its use may become marginal if you cannot create the conditions required for it to be useful. Its primary power is in decks that will have a good portion of their army bowed at the resolution of a fight (ranged attacks, for example). Considering that Gold claims a "slowing down" of the game, large battles are more likely, which means decks that have more specialized personalities, so this may become more viable.

With the "slowing down" of the game that is intended, cute tactical tricks like Encircled Terrain may win battles where simple force boosts may not. Whether or not this "slowdown" actually occurs is yet to be determined.

While not a panacea for every problem you'll run into, Encircled Terrain is a card whose flexibility can make a real difference in a game when used correctly. Used incorrectly, well... you'll only lose one unit, right?

Kakita Akai
Crane Clan Lunatic

[Additional: An attacker with Encircled Terrain in her pocket is more free to overcommit her forces than one without. Often in the late game, two players will have whittled each other's provinces away. An attacker going against an opponent with a pair of provinces is ordinarily in a rather tight spot. If she attacks with all of her units at one province, the opponent can just guard the other province and retaliate with a Counterattack or merely a follow-up attack on the following turn. However, if the attacker splits her forces or holds some in reserve, the defender can just get in the way, destroying the attacker's army. With an Encircled Terrain, however, the attacker can retain a defensive army should the attack avoid the confrontation. Why not just use a Rallying Cry? Encircled Terrain serves other purposes as well -- if the defender accepts the challenge for battle and expends his hand in an attempt to win the battle, the attacker can sacrifice a token unit after doing some Battle action damage of her own.

Encircled Terrain plays a part in some creative combinations. Tsuchi-do, originally considered an anti-Shinjo's Breath card, can help keep your own units in place. Since the target of Tsuchi-do cannot be moved out of a battle, Encircled Terrain allows two of the recipient's units to stay, not just one. Unfortunately, most of the other cards in this category either cancel the whole moving action (Armor of Earth, Cornered, etc.) or prevent all units from moving (Beiden Pass, Root the Mountain with Shifting Ground, etc.). Be on the lookout for any similar cards in the future, though. [One of the strongest defensive combinations with Encircled Terrain is Sorrow's Path. Even better than an Entrapping Terrain. -- ed. 12/30/00]

Also note Encircled Terrain's devious multiplayer uses. The attacker and defender must each choose one of their own units, regardless of who plays the terrain. A player shooting for an honor victory can use this to send home an ally without the active player's aid. A sneaky ally can wreak havoc with units on both sides before retreating to safety before his position in the losing army becomes painful. -- ed.]

Card text copyright FRPG, 1995-2000.
Article text copyright NAME, 2000, edited by Trevor Stone.

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