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How to Tame the Brew

This article describes the way I went about completing the map Taming the Brew. The idea is to share some thoughts and insights about playing Heroes 4 maps for top score and to describe some tricks and tactics that might be less widely known. I will not go into the scoring system itself - I will assume you are familiar with it. If that's not the case, I can highly recommend the excellent Namerutan's article.

This is by no means the best possible solution, but it is good enough (13 days, 1138 points). I would be very interested in any suggestions or comments and will happily answer any questions. Please e-mail me if you have any.

The walkthrough expects Winds of War version 3.0, no Equilibris.

The plan

The first question that I ask in any map is "What is the optimal path for this map?" That is, what must be done in order to reach the end? I don't care about the fights, whether they are or are not possible, at this point - I only look for the "best" path. In Taming the Brew, one can clearly separate the surface and the underground maps. There's no travelling between them, except once. Let's explore the surface, where the game starts:

To get underground, a player must capture four tents (teal, purple, green, blue) and defeat hero Skruffy at [99,90]. The tents are located near the four corners of the map; the purple and the teal one are accessible right away, to get to the green and blue you need to capture the towns of Muckintuck (NE) and Rompnstomp (SE). Romnstomp further requires the defeat of Bone Dragons at [40,106], Muckintuck is accessible right away, although it doesn't look like that (a mistake by the mapmaker). The travel between all four tents is quickened by the system of cyan one-way teleporters. The optimal route will use the teleporters, will only visit each section of the map once and will end in the SW, which is closest to the tunnels to the underground. I decided to start with Muckintuck (NE), because it is closest to the starting point and has the fewest guards in between. Then teleport to Rompnstomp (SE) and finally go southwest and underground.

The underground part is pretty much a given. There's basically only one way it can be played, with only some minor variations on the way: The player must first get into the water and destroy Ice Demons at the northern island and Pirates at the eastern one, capture Whiskeyville (SE; could be done before boarding the ship), capture Bourbontown and Vodkaville (NE), defeat the hero Vodka (NE), capture Rumcity (NW), destroy the hero Boozebreath (NW) and finally head SW to Liquorland, its Mantis/Bone Dragon/Behemoth guardians and end the trek with the defeat of GinGin town and TheBrew hero.

Once the route is determined I look for chokepoints, battles that are critical for the winning of the map. Obviously I only consider those that seem to be difficult given the strength of the heroes at that point - there's no need to worry about battles that are fought when my armies are immortal. Taming the Brew has several critical combats:

  1. The fight against Skeletons and possibly Bandits at the very beginning
  2. The two level 2 guards and two level 3 guards between the start and Muckintuck
  3. Muckintuck itself. All three share the same problem: The heroes will be very weak, having just started, and will have very little equipment and armies. All fights after Mucintuck will be made easier by the access to potions of immortality.
  4. The fight against Skruffy. A Devil-summoning demonologist with a Skeleton/Bone Dragon/Vampire army is always a force to be considered. Especially the 72 Vampires tend to cause serious grief to a low-level army.
  5. The fight against the God of Wine's minions. While this fight isn't strictly necessary, it is very important because it yields the Seaman's hat which is crucial for the water travel. The high-level heroes with Tactics, Nature and Chaos skills as well as 45 Dark Champions and 225 Efreeti are a serious pain, though.

The first three critical points pretty much force my choice of the starting artifacts (one treasure - the other isinaccessible due to the Berserkers, one minor): The minor isn't really important, although a Ring of Health would be very welcome, but the minor is. There are several choices (Wand of Health or possibly Illusion), but I decided for the HIdeous Mask which, once coupled with First Strike (or Expert Melee) can kill most melee stacks quite easily, no matter the level of the hero.

The fourth and fifth combats forced me to decide for some detours. Especially important seemed a visit to the might training area in the NW (it is accessible through the purple one-way portal south of Muckintuck.

The beginning

Here comes the boring part: I need to get such a starting setup that will allow me to execute my battle plan. For Taming the Brew that meant a setup that gives Hideous Mask in the mage's chest and which doesn't have any of the unbeatable level 3's (Vampires, Cyclopses, Goblin Knights, Genies, Water Elementals) on the way. The truth is that I expected a better setup than the one I played, because the treasure artifacts were worthless and the shooter stacks looked dangerous, but I was sick of restarting by then - Hideous Masks were in especially low supply that day. The unfortunate drawback was that I got Genies in several places later in the game, where I would rather prefer weaker units. Still, one has to live with what he's got.

The first day

It is easier to fight the Bandits with Hideous Mask than without it. That means that I should defeat the Skeletons first, take the Mask and then attack the Bandits. But how to do it when I am tied to them? Easy - go into the army screen and split the fighters (suitably equipped with the other's items and doped on PoIs, of course). How to defeat the Bandits easily (provided I want to fight them at all, which I want, because I crave the experience in the treasure chest)? Give the Mask to Crash and send her alone in the fight; she will cast First Strike first and then use her Wand of Ice to slowly kill all Bandits who are unable to attack (it is important to kill 45 of them ASAP, as it will reduce their morale to zero and prevent any unexpected unretaliated attacks, and after that it's a good idea to use Confusion whenever a previously bad-moraled Bandits get a normal morale for a change - that would lead to a non-retaliated attack).

In my first try from this position, I only managed to kill the Ghosts and then had to stop for a day until my heroes regain health. A new replay yielded much better results, I managed to kill even the Elves and the Monks. The trick is to use Angels to take as much damage as they can while surviving without losses (331 points worth of damage, to be exact - 92 can be resurrected).

Muckintuck (day 2)

How to defeat Muckintuck without losses? You'll need to reduce the ballistae quickly while keeping them alive where they block the gate to other units (let them shoot angels, they won't retaliate and kill the ballistae accidentally). Then you can use a wait-attack-retreat tactics of your Hideously Helmeted Smash to poison and kill as many Bandits and possibly Behemoths as possible; don't bother with the Berserkers as they are immune to Fear and would make mincemeat of Smash. When only the Berserkers remain, use Confusion to stop them (did I mention it's important to cast Mana Flare early?) and Wand of Ice to kill them. The key is to realize that you CAN sacrifice heroes here, because they will get resurrected once the town is captured. When the town is yours, head to the cyan teleporter and Rompnstomp.

Rompnstomp and training (day 2-4)

Ah, a first stack of Genies. I am not quite sure just how I managed to win, I just know I needed a LOT of reloads. The key is to kill the Genies quickly while preventing Nagas from guarding them, but it's hard. I decided to visit the stables with both heroes, as I planned to win in two weeks and in such a case an extra 5 movement points for seven days is something not to sneeze at. Crash can kill the Bone Dragons alone while Smash with Angels can capture Rompnstomp. Crash then continues for the tent while Smash heads for the Might training area. There she visits the Pyramid (because of the gold and artifacts) and tries to improve her Combat and Scouting skills (goal: GM Melee, GM Combat, GM Pathfinding, then focus on Resistance and Seamanship). Bit of a luck at the exit, I managed to lure the neutral hero with Potion of Regeneration towards her, so she doesn't have a long way to go. It pays to buy enough Potions of Endurance to last until day 14.

The south-west

Here I "wasted" several days. I decided to take the Dragon Cave (because of the gold and artifacts, also because waiting for Crash who went for the purple tent) and the town, because it was on the way (I had to defeat the Genies with Smash). I thought about killing the neutral hero because he had some great artifact, but decided not to after seeing just how many Evil Eyes he had and how few Rings of Permanency I had. So I at least visited the Tree of Knowledge.

Skruffy (day 7)

Another very hard fight. It would be made easy with Spidersilk Arrows and Quicksand, but sadly, I hade none of them. Well, actually, I had a Scroll of Quicksand (and I remember how happy I was to get it) but forget about it (call me an idiot). At least I managed to get a Crown of Enchantment somewhere, and Confusion took care of the Vampires. It might work to keep harrassing Skruffy with smaller armies until he wasted all of his Spell Points (which he used to Summon Devils otherwise), but it turned out unnecessary.

God of Wine (day 9)

Another nightmare combat. This time I decided to sacrifice some movement points in favor of buying a Druid, training him to Advanced Nature and giving him a Journeyman's Handbook to provide Quicksand support. Otherwise the fight is pretty much lost in advance as both Dark Champion (45) and Genies (225) can reach my heroes in the first turn. Slow and Bind won't work as the opponents will respond with Mass Speed. Quicksand and Confusion do work, as would a Potion of Cold if I had it. It is quite important to get rid of the Druid hero quickly, because once he casts Antimagic on the Efreeti, the fight is concluded (and the player is not the one who won it). Too bad I once again forgot about that Scroll of Quicksand...

The sea voyage (day 9-11)

Beware: A trick! Rather than boarding the ship and heading east, north, west, then town-portaling to the town, it is far faster to walk t othe second beach, summon a boat there and go north and east. With Smash only, Crash can meanwhile capture Vodkatown and start capturing the towns in the north-east. Smash can then Town Portal to Vodkaville from the Ice Demon island and head towards Vodka hero.

Finale (days 12-13)

The rest of the map is pretty straightforward, the only curiosity is the use of Town Portals. Smash and Crash work in a nice tandem: Smash defeats the neutral hero who must be defeated to open the way further, Crash captures a new town and Smash teleports to it. No need to worry about Battles Won until the last two fights, you will do them both with a lone hero and he's weak enough to always fight against overwhelming odds (thus gaining 60 points for each fight, and he only needs to win two to max out) - that was one of the reasons why I didn't visit Trees of Knowledge after beating the God of Wine's minions, by the way. Don't forget to buy enough armies to max out on creatures, too!