This guide will teach you how to play Vinerva: where to set up, which agents to select, your opening moves, and how to close out your game for a quick win.
While rulers get more and more fearful of Vinerva’s Gifts as the game goes on and World Panic rises, in the early game they are a potent tool that can subjugate an entire kingdom on their own, leaving your agents free to focus elsewhere on the map. Later in the game you can exploit the shadow your agents spread earlier, as enshadowed rulers care not for the danger Vinerva’s Gifts pose.
Plan Your Run
Look at the map. Press the 1 key to bring up the nations overlay, so you can more easily make out allegiances. Find the largest kingdom, the one with the most cities, and go to the capital (the city with the crest on top of it in the overlay) and look at the ruler’s stats.
So long as the king does not dislike Cruelty, this kingdom is your best candidate to form the Dark Empire. If he does dislike Cruelty, then move on to the next largest kingdom. Dislike of Cruelty is quite rare among rulers, so the second-largest kingdom should be fine.
Select a good, central location in the kingdom that is to become your Dark Empire, and cast the spell Heart of the Forest; its first cast will cost you no Power, and unlike subsequent casts you can cast it with no range restrictions.
You can only cast Vinerva’s spells, including the spell to add a new Heart of the Forest, on any tile that is three or fewer moves away from any Heart of the Forest you already have on the map, so you’ll have to add more Hearts later to cover the rest of the kingdom, but right now you just want access to a few of the cities.
After your future Dark Empire is selected and your first Heart is placed, find another place of interest on the map. If there is a second large kingdom then it’s always a good idea to go there: your agents will make sure its king has no interest in joining the Chosen One’s alliance, and if it’s in your Dark Empire’s path of expansion can even cause turmoil which will break it apart into smaller kingdoms that hate each other. If there are no other large kingdoms, just pick one spot to leave alone – the Dark Empire will conquer this place later – and another for your agents to work in.
Select Your Agents
For the majority of the game your agents will work entirely away from your Hearts of the Forest and your Gifts. Their ultimate goal is to spread Shadow, and to do that they’ll need to infiltrate first, so your first two agents should focus on Intrigue. One of these should always be the Courtier, since his unique ability to make rulers dislike each other is phenomenal. Your other two options are either a Hierophant if you need to break up a large kingdom, or the Trickster for general use.
The Courtier has the option of three interesting traits, but I recommend Man of Means. It costs 25 gold to bribe the guards in a city, reducing the complexity of infiltration challenges down by 50 for 25 turns each time you stack the bribes. If he and your second agent have both leveled up and increased their Intrigue to 5, they can fully infiltrate even a capital city with just three bribes if they’ve already infiltrated a couple of adjacent settlements and if they work in tandem, and they’ll still have half of his starting money left over.
After the Courtier has increased his Intrigue to 5, you’ll want to either start raising his Lore if you picked the Trickster, so your Courtier can help your dedicated Lore agent, or keep raising his Intrigue if you picked a Hierophant, who will raise Lore instead of the Courtier.
If you want to break up a large kingdom that will be in your Dark Empire’s way, a Hierophant can help with that. Like all three agents recommended here, Hierophants can start with 4 Intrigue, so he can help you with your infiltrations at the start of the game. His Preach Gospel of Envy, a lore challenge that requires you to have fully infiltrated a city, will go a long way towards sowing discord by making the ruler of that city more prone to ambition and less prone to cooperation.
If you brought a Hierophant he will be your secondary Lore hero, so raise his Intrigue to 5 first and then spend the rest of his levelups on Lore.
If you don’t want to use the Gospel of Envy a Hierophant can bring then a Trickster should be your choice by default. She has the ability to use a stolen hero’s item (which she or the Courtier can steal from the hero’s home city) to frame a hero for the next challenge one of your agents completes in a city, giving them the Menace value instead of your agent. Not only does this save time from your agent having to lay low, but this can make trouble for the hero too.
Pick the Adorable Monkey starting trait; none of her unique traits are great, but if a hero is near an agent when they do something dastardly they might gain a disliking for that agent, and if they dislike an agent they’re likely to drop what they’re doing and block your agent from making progress in their tasks; having two nearby heroes start out liking her makes it less likely she’ll gain such a nemesis. Pickpocket Primate can eventually become helpful as well, but heroes start the game without any money so it won’t help you early.
Your Trickster will focus on Intrigue for the entire game, leveling up the stat each time she gets the chance. It’s not a bad idea to pick Stealthy later on, after her Intrigue is at least 5 (a crucial break point for infiltration tasks), to keep her visibility down and therefore keep heroes from bothering her, but her Menace will be much more important to manage than her Profile.
On Turn 24 you’ll get the ability to summon a third agent, and for this agent you want to focus purely on Lore.
A Warlock is always a good choice for a Lore-focused agent, but note that unlike the other two generic agents Warlocks do not get to put a point into a stat when first summoned; your Warlock will be at just 3 Lore until he levels up. Instead, when you summon a Warlock you will be asked to pick which school of magic he starts out knowing.
- A Death Warlock can summon ghasts who will happily wander the map spreading Shadow for you, as long as you can find locations with the Death modifier to summon them at; a Death Warlock never even needs to level up his magic for his spells to be useful.
- A Blood Warlock can mess with Heroes big time, but needs to collect Arcane Secrets to level his magic up since Blood magic’s level-one spells aren’t nearly as good in comparison to Death’s. Thankfully, Blood is much cheaper to level up than Death.
- A Geomancy Warlock can be a safe pick if you want to be able to attack channelers remotely (see Protecting Your Garden for why you’d want to), but if you just want to wreak havoc with powerful geomantic spells the Survivor unique agent starts with two ranks in Geomancy and can be called once World Panic hits 30%.
Your other big option is the Harvester. He’ll start with one more Lore than the Warlock will, but you need a Human Soul modifier in a city to summon him, and he won’t start knowing any magic. If you need a Soul you can always have the Courtier or Trickster silently assassinate the ruler of an infiltrated settlement, and his Howl: Sin ability will give him lots of XP any time he shares a location with heroes, while also enshadowing those same heroes he’s draining. Just be careful if you select the Harvester, because while his Howl is great it also means he’ll gain Menace just for being near heroes, so he’ll need to lay low more often.
Planting the Seeds of your Dark Empire
Before doing anything, take a moment to look at each city in the kingdom you’ve selected. What do the rulers like? What do they dislike? You want to take note of two things.
- Any dukes who dislike Cruelty
- Any dukes who dislike Gold
Dukes who dislike Gold will take extra time to turn, but it affects both your Gift and the more conventional Tax the same; since everyone needs gold, you’ll get the ruler eventually. Dukes who dislike Cruelty, however, will only prefer a Gift of Gold to taxation under the most extremely dire of financial circumstances.
It’s not perfect. It’s a horrific way to gather gold, so any ruler who dislikes Cruelty will never prefer the grove to ordinary taxation. Also, the higher Unrest is in the city, the better taxation will look by comparison.
Work swiftly, because you’re on the clock. As World Panic rises, your gifts become less and less tempting. Additionally, any ruler who the Chosen One makes aware will ignore all of your gifts except in the most dire of circumstances. Prioritize getting Groves of Golden Roses into the cities of any rulers who dislike gold, then spread them around to the other cities.
Enshadow the king early, because after you enshadow him it will take fifty turns before you can found your Dark Empire. And, just for safety, give him a second Grove of Golden Roses after he uses up the first just in case you need that extra 100% Vinerva’s Gift later.
Don’t worry about small settlements like villages, castles, abbeys, etc… They will loyally follow their dukes. You’re only interested in settlements big enough to have a City Palace.
After a ruler has accepted your Gift of Gold twice, you can enshadow them with the Black Forest power that you unlock when the first seal breaks, on turn 12. This spell turns the Vinerva’s Gift modifier on the city into Shadow on the ruler, at a perfect 1:1 exchange rate, until it maxes the ruler’s Shadow out at 100%. Since two Gifts of Gold will add a total of 100% Vinerva’s Gift, one cast of Grove of Golden Roses will be enough to fully enshadow any ruler.
Casting this spell will give the kingdom’s ruler a national action to raze the nearest Heart of the Forest, but once he’s fully enshadowed he won’t care, and will never raze your hearts. Since kings can only raze Hearts within their own kingdom, if all of your Hearts are in the kingdom you’ve targeted then they’ll be safe once the king’s Shadow is at 100%.
Once a city’s ruler is 100% enshadowed he’ll increase his city’s Shadow by 2% a turn. The only city this matters for is the capital, since it needs to be 100% enshadowed before you can summon the Monarch to establish the empire.
There is an option that might work for a duke who dislikes Cruelty. If they encounter severe Unrest in their city, the Grove of Peace Lilies might start to look appealing to them. Depending on how high World Panic has risen, the Gift of Peace will start to look better to the duke than the Reduce Unrest action by around 60-80% Unrest.
In the event of a famine the Grove of Nectar will also look very appealing to any ruler, so if you see the city suffering from an outbreak of hunger after turn 24 then definitely give it a try.
They might never get such high Unrest or a famine without your agents acting, and that’s okay, because you only need the capital city’s Shadow at 100% to form the Dark Empire; once the Monarch proclaims the empire, all of the dukes you’ve enshadowed to at least 90% will obey and join the empire, while any dukes below that threshold will rebel. The greater part of a kingdom should have no trouble subjugating the last one or two cities.
Protecting Your Garden
If the Chosen One starts to redeem your king your options are limited:
- The Brother of Sleep
- Attacking the Chosen One
A Geomancer can spoil the ritual by launching an attack remotely from a geomantic locus with the Attack Channeler challenge. Note that you can’t select who you attack with this, so if there are any heroic Geomancers channeling (something they like to do to help nurture crops) you’re rolling the dice.
Your map might also have a Brother of Sleep on it, a special location where you can sacrifice an agent who has leveled up at least once to disrupt all heroes. Disrupting the Chosen One this way will ruin the ritual just as well as a Geomantic attack and the Chosen One will go off to do something else.
But, if all else fails, a sure way to stop the Chosen One is to attack him. Your agent might die, depending on how good his minions are at this stage, but even a failed attack will disrupt the spell and send the Chosen One off to do something else. If it’s turn 72 or later you’ll have a fourth agent slot, so just recruit any agent and do it. If it’s too early for that though, the Trickster is your most expendable agent right now.
Whatever you do, be careful: check to see if there are any other heroes in the capital city there with the Chosen One. If one is, he’s probably guarding the Chosen One, and you need to be able to kill or drive him off first before you can attack the Chosen One. Any hero guarding the Chosen One isn’t likely to have minions at this stage though, so a level-one Warlord would be up to the task as long as there’s an Orc Fortress nearby.
The Chosen One might come back to try to redeem your sovereign again, but he won’t do it right away. Since the spell takes about ten turns and it only takes fifty turns for the city to reach 100% Shadow, you should only have to chase the Chosen One away once or twice twice as long as you let him almost finish each time.
Should the worst happen and the Chosen One succeed in redeeming your king, it’s not the end of the world, but you will have just lost a lot time with your agents. Immediately Black Forest the king again and burn that extra 100% Vinerva’s Gift you left him with, then give him another Grove of Golden Roses. Drop whatever your infiltrators are doing and send them to his capital with a lot of bribe money, fully infiltrate the city, and Enshadow it with lore. The plan must continue on schedule.
Reaping Your Dark Harvest
After the capital reaches 100% Shadow, do one last check of the kingdom. Make sure every duke you can get has 100% Shadow, then create the agent the Monarch in the capital and have her use her unique Dark Empire challenge establish the Dark Empire. You’ll get a lot of victory points from that.
For a Vinerva playthrough the Dark Aristocracy trait is probably the best for her. Every city in the Dark Empire is going to be at 100% Shadow by the time she finishes declaring the empire, so she’ll be able to go on a tour to each city, rendering each fully infiltrated instantly. Only ever level up the Monarch’s Command skill; not only will it allow her to do her unique challenges faster, but it will also make her better at commanding the Dark Empire’s armies in battle should you choose to use that challenge.
Any time you want to expand the Dark Empire, move the Monarch into a settlement in your target kingdom and use the Dark Crusade challenge and your empire will declare war. Don’t venture too far out of your empire until the Monarch has had a chance to Lay Low first though: she gets a lot of profile from proclaiming the empire.
Spreading Your Roots
They will be busy spreading Shadow elsewhere. The combo here is the same as with any god: fully infiltrate a nice central city after infiltrating the surrounding settlements, enshadow it with a Lore agent, use Well of Shadows to speed up the spread, then repeat.
Any city with docks is a high priority for infiltration, at least of the docks, because that will unlock the Malign Catch Lore challenge, constantly increasing Shadow and Madness in the city.
As with any god, don’t let your agents’ Menace get too high. Make sure you’re laying low, preferably in infiltrated, enshadowed cities, to keep your agents from seeming like such big threats to any do-gooders.
Once you’ve finished spreading your gifts around the kingdom you’re planning to turn into your Dark Empire, you can bring your powers to bear in this land of shadow your agents have created. You can stretch your Heart of the Forest network over, three moves at a time, or you can send an agent to harvest a seed from an existing heart.
Once the seed is in his inventory, send him to the city you want to plant a new heart in. No matter how far away the seed is from an existing Heart of the Forest, even if the path to reach it travels over water, the seed will allow you to plant a new Heart of the Forest in that city.
Enshadowed rulers are blind to the threats your gifts pose, no matter how high World Panic gets and whether the Chosen One has made them Aware or not. They’ll greedily accept your gifts, and instead of enshadowing them with the Vinerva’s Gift they accrue you can harm them in other ways.
Choking Spores will reduce the prosperity of the city and any settlement one move away from it. This doesn’t add to your score, but it doesn’t use up Vinerva’s Gift either, so you might as well keep this part of the map as weak as possible.
Neurotoxins will expend Vinerva’s Gift to add twice as much Madness to the city, causing a psychotic break if you can get to 300% Madness. Insane rulers do add to your score, so this isn’t a bad way to spend Power.
Once you reach turn 200, you get access to Manifestation. This requires at least 125% Vinerva’s Gift in the settlement and will immediately destroy it, giving not just the two victory points for a destroyed settlement, but also three extra points for the manifestation that will forever sit on the map in that location.
If any rulers aren’t quite enshadowed enough to take a gift you really want them to, the Pheromones power will add a maximum of +25 to their willingness to accept the gift, decaying over time. You can check the settlement’s Local Actions tab if you want to see how close they are to accepting your gift. It costs 3 Power though, so use it sparingly.
Finally, if you drag the game out to turn 420, you get the option to summon Wilderness Spirits. For 3 Power you get an 50-strength army that will seek out and destroy un-shadowed settlements for you.
Closing the Game
But, if you need just a little bit more than the Dark Empire to put you over the edge, there are two evergreen strats every god can make use of, and a way to get even an Alliance member to accept your Gift.
At turn 200, you gain not just the Manifestation power that might put you over the top, but also the ability to hire a fifth agent. If there are a few settlements you need dead, you can always start a plague and use the Plague Doctor to nurture it until they’re destroyed.
Or, if they’re near a geomantic locus, the Survivor starts with two levels in Geomancy and can unleash a volcano on them, provided his Arcane Bulwark can hold against the retaliatory attacks the heroes will launch against him.
Alliance settlements can’t be infiltrated, and their leaders are very likely to be Aware of you so they will refuse your gifts. There is one last trick you can do to get in though: if a city relies too much on its outlying settlements for food, it’s vulnerable to supply disruptions. Send an agent with a decent Might score to do the Raid the Periphery challenge on some villages, and the food they send to the city will plummet, and a famine will start.
Once the Hunger modifier reaches 150% or so, a Grove of Nectar will start to look very appetizing to the starving populace and the ruler won’t be able to keep them from it any longer. Once it’s accepted, the settlement will immediately receive 125% Vinerva’s Gift so it can be hit with Choking Spores to contaminate the neighboring settlements, then destroyed with Manifestation for score.
Appendix: Vinerva’s Mechanics
Here we can see every action the local ruler is considering taking, ranked in order from highest to lowest priority, and we can hover over each possible action to see why it’s been assigned the score it has.
Two things will hurt a ruler’s willingness to accept your Gifts: World Panic, and Awareness. The World Panic percentage is subtracted from the desirability for every single Gift you offer a ruler, and a ruler’s Awareness percentage is also subtracted from a Gift’s desirability.
For instance, at 20% World Panic, a ruler who is 50% Aware will have a total of -70 to accepting your Gifts. At 70% World Panic and 100% Awareness, it’s -170.
But remember, enshadowed rulers care not for the threat you pose. The desirability impact of World Panic and Awareness are reduced by the ruler’s Shadow percentage. For instance, if that same half-aware ruler also had 50% Shadow (such as from casting Black Forest after the ruler has accepted a single Gift of Gold), he would only be at -35 desirability for your Gifts. Still bad, but within a range to be overcome by your Pheromones. Even that second ruler would be at “only” -85.
That also means that once a ruler is at 100% Shadow, World Panic and Awareness both have no impact at all on whether that ruler is willing to accept your gifts.
If a ruler has Awareness, check their heir’s Awareness. It may very well still be at 0%. You can always assassinate an aware ruler to replace them with their unaware heir.
The Grove of Leper’s Succor is not a good way to infiltrate the Alliance. A 100% Aware ruler with 50% World Panic would need 300% Immunity from the Inoculate Population action before Gift of Health would look better, and at that point they’re not likely to have a plague worth worrying about.
Heart of the Forest increases in cost each time you use it. The first cast has no range restriction (because you have no Hearts down yet) and no cost, and the next three castings will only cost 1 Power each. Casts four and five will cost 2 Power, casts six and seven will cost 3, and so on.
Be careful with your Hearts, because the cost doesn’t go down when one is razed; cost is tied to the amount of times it’s been cast, not to the number of Hearts on the map. Make sure you’re locating them in kingdoms with enshadowed kings.