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Rowdy van Lieshout
Huis ter Heide
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This is a copy of an As a Board Gamer (LINK) article
(September 5, 2016)
You can find a geeklist of all my reviews HERE.
The idea of Medieval Academy is simple. There are seven tracks, every track has a set of numbered cards, these cards are shuffled together, every player draws five cards, through the process of drafting players pick and pass on cards until they have five new ones in their hand and in player order players will play one card each turn, advance on the corresponding track, until they have played four cards. Each track scores in different ways and during different rounds. At the end of the sixth rounds the player with the most points is the winner.
All track boards are double-sided and both sides work slightly different, score in a different way. Some tracks score every round, some every other round, some only at the end of the last round. Sometimes you get positive points if you are the best, sometimes negative points if you are in last place, sometimes you get points if you are at a certain spot, sometimes you get a few points, sometimes it’s a lot. Most of the time the fewer times a track will score, the higher the amount of points you'll get if you do well on those tracks.
Medieval Academy, or Die Holde Isolde as the German version is called, is one of those easy, straightforward, family style, drafting games. There’s almost nothing to explain. Just draft numbered cards and advance that amount of steps on a track.
It is exiting, because there is always a possibility that another player will overtake you at one of those tracks. You can't win every track, so you’ll have to pick your battles. You can focus on the long-term goals that will give you loads of points at the end if you are the best, but it will also mean lots of wasted energy if one or more players will overtake you just before the final scoring round. So, maybe you will be more flexible when you focus on the tracks that will score you fewer points, but will give you the opportunity to score every round. And then there’s the track of Princess Isolde, which is a sneaky one, because the first player on that track can move one of his tokens three spots on a track, the second player two, and the third player one spot on one track, so they might surprise you by taking over the first spot on a track you have been focussing on.
The rules of the other tracks, the variations on the backside, aren't as straightforward as the basic tracks are, but still aren’t very difficult to explain. They do add a bid of randomness to the game. Maybe unpredictability is a better word. Points are hidden, time of scoring is unknown or the amount of points you’ll get when winning on a certain track is yet to be determined.
You have to be careful mixing them all in. Not only does the game feel a bit more random, but the variations also have a different time of scoring compared to the basic sides of the boards. While during the base game some board score every round, some halfway and some at the end, if you aren’t careful and just add new tracks at random, you will only have tracks that score late in the game, which makes the game not as enjoyable. You need a good mix of short and long-term goals.
This a minor issue and you are the one choosing the tracks, so if you play with a bad combination of tracks, it’s your own fault. Isn’t it?
Medieval Academy is a good game. It has simple mechanisms. It has player interaction, in that there’s a bit of take-that.
OK, the theme doesn’t really come through, but it can help you draw players in. They don’t know, yet, that the theme isn’t very strong. I do have to say that, although I think the illustrations are fine, they paint a picture of a cheerful academy, I think that because of the cover of the box, many people will pass the game by. It looks pretty generic.
Maybe the game is a bit generic, but like I said in my Happy Pigs review, if you combine a set of simple mechanisms that are familiar to many players you can create a game that is highly enjoyable. So, that is what Medieval Academy is; a very solid and fun family game.