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Subject: Warning: High level of 'Epicness' found in game. rss

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Justin Sung
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Veins are about to pop out at any moment. His face is red, and he has a need to grind his teeth in frustration- but he holds it in. He crunches the delicate report in his hand and orders another corps to march out north at daybreak.

Renaisance Italy, and the country is in chaos. The condotierre Roland has fought a series of battles across central and eastern Italy, and was about to at last claim sovereignty after years of strife. But then came the reverses. The armies he sent were pinned down and given a severe drubbing in the south, and mauled on the west coast.

In the latest report, a leader by the name of Septaron has crossed the Rubicon in the north. He knows this leader- he’s the same one that pinned down his armies south, and played a role in stopping him from taking the west. How in the world does he appear everywhere? In any case he’s unperturbed. He has forged a path of conquest in 4 territories , another should not be so hard. Set backs or not he is still Roland, the invincible, and no poxy bishop, blasted heroine or any other miserable band of soldiers was going to stop him. Septaron. When he was lord of Italy, he would abolish that name out of the history books… forever.



Bringing an Epic game down to bite-size

Condotierre was not an easy game to review without being overbearing (IMO- some of you out there have great talent for doing that). But I love this game to bits, so I gave it a shot- and if I do a bad job- well, I’ll go down swinging. If it’s good- thank goodness.
Alright Let’s do this….

Are you prepared to read about a game that is THIS level of ‘epicness’?



1. THE RULES STUFF

What’s it about?
This game is about several warring factions in renaissance Italy several hundred years ago. The leaders of these factions were called Condotierre, hence the name of the game- you are a Condotierre, and you want to be the most influential warlord in the land.

How do you win?
The basic game mechanic is this- there is a map of Italy, divided into different territories. Using the win conditions for more players as an example, e.g. 4-6 players, you win when you control 3 adjacent territories or have 5 spread out territories. To win control of a territory you must win a battle- which are fought over a series of game rounds.

So you fight battles…
Everyone starts off with a hand of 10 cards. Whoever chose where to fight first plays one card, then everyone plays one card in a clockwise direction. Eventually you can pass- in fact you can pass without playing a single card in the battle. Once you pass you can’t play another card in the battle. The battle finishes when everyone has passed, or whoever is left runs out of cards. Whoever has the most number of points in front of them wins the battle and the territory.
That’s a battle. That's basically 90% of the game- battle, after battle after battle etc.

Now about the cards themselves…
I won’t talk about all of them, but a general random selection of a few different ones to get a good taste of the variety-

Soldiers are your meat and potatoes. Every one of them has some numerical value, lowest 1, highest 10, but no 7,8 or 9 (I don’t know why, that’s just the way they made it). Highest number in front of a player wins- so obviously that’s why they’re meat and potatoes.
Weather effects play a great role. Winter makes all soldiers value 1. Spring is the opposite- it gives all of the strongest soldiers additional strength. Winter and Spring cancel each other out- whichever one plays after the other cancels the earlier one. It’s not unusual to see Winter and Spring at different periods in the same battle.
Heroines are cards that are like soldiers- but don’t get affected by anything, with a high 10 value as well- but are a hard find in the deck.
Bishops are a double ability card which gets rid of the strongest soldiers in game at that point (if strongest card is 5, at that point, all 5s get killed etc) and lets you pick where not to fight next.
The Surrender card (which is affectionately named the ‘key’ card in my gaming circle) ends a battle the moment it’s played.
And so on and so forth- cards either affect soldiers or other things like picking where to fight next and things like that. So onto the next section…

2. THE FEEL OF THE GAME

Luck minimalised= a bad situation can be used well
One of the best things about the game is how the gameplay minimizes the luck of the draw. Choosing where to fight, choosing which battles to sit out and participate, and one of the most interesting things is the way a bad- no, terrible hand can be used. You may have a lots of terrible cards, but you can waste them all in a battle you know you won’t win and then after the round ends draw a fresh batch of cards- you can stay in a battle when everyone else has given up against that strong guy, making him edgy and nervous that you might play a winter or something when really terrifying. But you know that you’re just burning cards so you can redraw next round. That’s one example of using your bad situation to your advantage. That's me speaking from experience- because as long as you have a card in your hand- it could be a heroine. Nobody but YOU knows

Battles swing crazily= unpredictable tense fun!
For instance you might have lots of weak soldiers, and Fred has a few stronger cards and he's smiling patronisingly and shaking his head at your pathetic 1s and 2s (speaking, again from experience). But then you slap down a winter, making you stronger simply because you have more troops, and when every single soldier is a 1- its more that matters. You feel comfortable-until Fred plays the Heroine who isn’t affected by winter, and you resist the urge to scream- except maybe in delight when Joe who narrowly took the lead some point later keys it and ends the battle- wasting Fred's heroine.

Picking your battles carefully
This is especially true towards the end of the game. End game is a frantic ‘Don’t fight there- if he wins the battle he wins the game!' (I really wish people would say ‘wins the war’ more often- its more thematic)
When you're on the verge of winning, sometimes you don't want to pick spots where you're the only one who can win the game. Otherwise everyone else will coordinate the battle against you to have someone else win. If you pick a place where another person has a chance to win too it'll be harder for them to ally (although it can backfire- the other person might win!)- which is my next point...

Allies are important (not in the way you think)
You have to help other players sometimes- and sometimes you will help them even if they didn't ask for it. If Fred is on the verge of winning the game from the battle, you need to play to help Joe to win when you know that you yourself can't win. Play the winter for Joe’s heroine, play the key when Joe has a slender lead to stop Fred from winning.
Sometimes you have to make some hard plays that are intended to stop Fred, when it hurts Joe. Maybe you’ll play a bishop, killing off the strong cards from both players Fred and Joe (less for Joe), hoping that Joe will be able to come through with more from his hand even if he suffered some collateral damage. And even if he does, he might very well hate you for the rest of the game.

That's realism for you- I'm betting those wars in Renaissance Italy were always ugly messes diplomatically and militaristically

Incentive to win battles- no turtling!
Here’s one rule I left out that I’ll mention now– your hand of cards grows bigger by 1 card for every battle you win. That’s definite incentive to win- the more you win the more cards you draw, and the better chance for something good. There is no turtling strategy of waiting until the end to unleash the killer hand, no- it’s likely the guy with 4 more cards than you will simply outplay you in the endgame. You can’t just sit around- you need to watch carefully to make sure no one builds a substantial lead- and that’s what makes the game great.



It all adds up…. Fun + epic= AWESOME GAME
All these factors make sure that every game of condotierre eventually finds some point where things get epic. The narrative at the beginning is based on an actual game. It was awesome. As were 90% of most other games played.

Add things like quick set up time, fairly easy rules explanation (I can’t speak for the time length though- one match I played lasted 5 hours, we had to shoehorn some house rules in when we ran out of territories to fight over- we found out later one of the guys hoarded up all the surrender cards and wouldn't play them ) and you’ll understand why this game is a 9/10 for me.

'Epic' Update 28/2/12- not epic actually , just some spelling, and sentence structure corrections.
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Jim Miller
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Centennial
Colorado
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Condottiere » Forums » Reviews
Re: Warning: High level of 'Epicness' found in game.
Wow, great review...Condottiere needed a good review as it has been a long time coming since the last one. I love this game too and so does the group that I play with.

A very underrated game in my book. A lot of fun!
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Randall Monk
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This is a timeless classic in our house.
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Martin G
United Kingdom
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
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Good review of a great game. I recently got the Eurogames edition, which has a bigger board, lovely tarot-style cards and even simpler gameplay than the Fantasy Flight edition. I particularly like the way the Bishops work - they're just like a surrender but *nobody* wins. So much fun to draw out all your opponents high mercenaries and then pull the rug out
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Mark Mitchell
England
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qwertymartin wrote:
Good review of a great game. I recently got the Eurogames edition, which has a bigger board, lovely tarot-style cards and even simpler gameplay than the Fantasy Flight edition. I particularly like the way the Bishops work - they're just like a surrender but *nobody* wins. So much fun to draw out all your opponents high mercenaries and then pull the rug out


The most awesome cards ever made in the euro games edition. Best purchase I ever made, the game is an eternal classic.
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Batou Romaine
United States
New York
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I just ushered in the new year with an epic session of this brilliant game lubricated with a liberal amount of tequila. It is truly an under appreciated gem and I hope it goes a chance to shine with more gaming groups! Thanks for your post!
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