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Subject: Warlords of Europe: A Child's Play Review rss

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Jason Meyers
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A review of games based on experience playing with my kids, with its suitability for children in focus. For more, see my blog at Kinderspiel.


Warlords of Europe(Conquest Gaming/Kyle Battle, Ken Griffin and Russ Rupe, 2010)
2-4 players / 12 + / 2-4 hours

"Okay, dad, say good-bye to your castle in Germany! My army is rolling in!"

"Ha, you don't frighten me Danish pig-dogs!"

"Yeah, right. I play 'Greek Fire' first to kill off four of your guys."

"Go and boil your bottom, son of a silly person, you and all your silly knnnnnnnnnn-iguts!"

"Whatever. Then I play 'Heroic Leadership' to give me ten-sided dice."

"I blow my nose at you, empty-headed animal food-trough wiper!"

"Um, okay, yeah, then I play 'Seige' which reduces your rolls to the ten-sided, also."

"Ah, I don't want to talk to you no more! Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!"

"Too late, dad..."




What You Get:

What every kid wants: toys! Even (or maybe especially) "kids at heart" will drool over the components in this box, namely the 200+ detailed, plastic army and castle pieces. I'm not afraid to admit it! The castles are basic and stout, while the spearmen, swordsmen, archers, knights, and warlords are all finely rendered. One minor issue is that the warlords are all grey instead of each player owning a few in their own color. As they are captured, you really need to remember which belonged to whom since there are ways to get them back. There are three decks of cards, under-sized and sturdy, that provide some big bonuses and great thematic flavor. The cardboard coins and tokens are thick enough to handle and endure. There is a baggie of mini-poker chips which can be stacked under some units to represent greater numbers. The board is solid, stylistically antique-ish, and not too "busy." There are some small issues in distinguishing a few borders, here and there, and you will experience a good deal of territory over-crowding - unfortunately an attribute endemic to most dudes-on-a-map games not produce by Eagle. Then throwing caution to the wind, the designers toss out the commonplace six-sided die and instead include a gaggle of d8s, d10s, and d12s. There's nothing particularly special about these dice in themselves, but just for the refreshing change in replacing the overused standards!


The unit sculpts

The Quick Rundown:

Warlords of Europe takes mechanics that all conquest wargamers are familiar with from other titles, and mixes in a few tweaks for a unique experience. Its closest cousin is probably Ikusa (aka Samurai Swords of the 1980s MB GameMaster Series). As a medieval lord, all players begin with a couple of fiefs, a castle, and a small army with the goal of expanding territory and capturing a majority of Europe's castles. More lands and castles yield more money - with extra bonuses in consolidating all the fiefs within larger kingdoms. That money is used mostly to build up your army or hire mercenaries (which are the same units, but you only get to keep them for one turn). The units available include archers (who fire separately in combat as ranged units) and then spearmen, swordsmen, and formidable knights. Warlords are also available in limited supply that, in addition to their combat value, act as generals who can move any number of units attached to them up to two territories. Combat is determined by cross-referencing several tables based on combined arms, morale, initiative, terrain, weather, and leadership. No, not really - you just throw some dice. But the refreshing aspect here is the three types of dice. Which ones you roll is not based upon the units involved, but rather the terrain. Normally, both sides will resort to the d8. However, if you are defending in the forest or in a partially built castle, you get d10s; if you're holed up in the mountains or in a completed castle, you can break out the intimidating d12s. Better units require lower numbers to score hits. There is yet another crucial component that really defines this game: cards. Each card in the three different decks provides some pretty significant bonuses that can really make or break your strategy. Conquest cards are earned once per round as long as you've conquered at least one fief. All players receive a Papal card every turn as long as they're in good standing with the Pope (which is almost always). Finally, merchant cards are available for purchase. You will acquire a good number of these over the course of the game and their effective use cannot be stressed and appreciated enough.


A Battle...

T for Teens:

I may sound like a broken record before I finish up with our collection of this genre, but the same principle applies here: my kids (boys and girls) really have a deep interest in dudes-on-a-map, conquest games, yet struggle with strategic decision-making and also get quite restless while waiting on their next turn. But it goes back to the toys. The little figures seem to be a natural attraction for kids (my kiddo gamers are ages 9 and 10). I can remember playing similar games back in junior and senior high for the sheer, unquantifiable awesomeness of it all. And the publication and sales of such games proves there is a market among adults in the hobby. Maybe it's because we start young? I mean, even as we're playing, my 4-year old daughter will grab my extra army pieces and head off to the other end of the table to feed them, and dress them, and drop them off at daycare. Or, um, should that be knightcare...?



My kids really get into the Middle Ages setting. I suspect most other children will, too. They delight in battling with swords, storming castles, and sending forth their knighted hero to rescue the princess...only in this case, it's a warlord, which actually is kind of awkward. No matter. I share their enthusiasm for the theme. Playing the GameMaster series as teenagers, my friends and I dreamed that Milton Bradley would give us the opportunity to use our strategic wits, honed on the fields of ancient Rome and medieval Japan, in the fiefs of Western Christendom. Sadly that was never the case. But this oversight has now been gloriously corrected by Larry Davis' spiritual successors at Conquest Gaming, LLC.

Outside of wargamers, downtime and game length are probably the biggest turn-offs in this genre. Warlords has two mechanics that seem to address both problems, yet do not alleviate them completely. Though honestly, I'm not sure that's possible for a game of this nature without removing its heart and soul. It would be unfair to ask for evangelical titles to convert the light hobby or Euro gamer to the wargaming faith. So how does its mechanics connect with kids?

To alleviate downtime, a number of actions are executed simultaneously (or nearly so) during a Group Phase. These brief actions are resolved in fairly quick succession and include a victory check, taking a Papal card, levying taxes, mustering and deploying units, building castles, assigning initiative, and purchasing Merchant cards. These are settled in a particular order based on initiative, which changes each round, and anyone may play cards during these action phases when indicated on the card. It is a helpful mechanic to break up all of the logistics, shorten the focus on individual campaigning, and keep players involved in a more frequent rotation. Another added benefit to concurrent mustering and deployment is that all players have a chance to replaces losses before the next campaign season begins. When the campaigning does start, you will be waiting while the other players announce their movement, resolve battles (which could involve you), and finally maneuver reserves. There is downtime.

While still an afternoon affair for 3-4 player games, the victory condition mechanic and scenario options go a long way to help reduce overall game length. Rather than conquering every last square inch of land or completely eliminating all enemies, your goal is to capture and hold a majority of castles (all of them in a 2-player game). That is still no easy task - which accounts for the games 2-4 hour span. Yet it provides a finite goal in what might otherwise turn into an exhaustive marathon of give and take. This measurable victory condition will also guide players' strategy and is conducive to streamlined game play. Castles are extremely important in this game, which makes sense given their political, military, economic, and social dominance of the times. You must own one in any given kingdom in order to collect taxes from its fiefs. If you control a majority, or all, of the fiefs in a kingdom, you are awarded bonuses in the form of extra taxes and free levees. Losing your last castle means you no longer collect money, nor can you hire knights - and that's a tough slog. On another note, suggested scenarios scale the playable map area to a smaller number of kingdoms, eliminating the slow and boring build-up and forcing players into early confrontation.


Example kingdom (highlighted in yellow). Own all a kingdom's fiefs and reap the rewards.

If castles are the heart of the game, then its soul lies in the cards. Each card either provides you with a sweet benefit, allows you to break a rule, or cripples an opposing player of your choice. In addition to providing fun, historical flavor, the cards offer uncertainty, secrecy, hope, healing, and revenge! This all adds up to excitement in our book, but I imagine the added randomness could be off-putting for others, especially when the dice can already bless or curse your plans. Mechanically speaking, these cards serve as a minor leveling device where a run-away leader problem is otherwise an issue. As one player edges ahead in fiefs and castles, it is quite easy to exploit her extra gold and quickly surge forward, even seeming unstoppable. But then you draw that card, or more, allowing you to infect her with the plague, or steal some gold, or roll better dice for a critical assault on one of her strategic castles. You're position is not always as secure, or hopeless, as it may appear.

There is one quirky aspect that can significantly affect game play. On your first turn, your only goal is to successfully consolidate the 6-7 fiefs of your starting kingdom. From your 2 start territories, you'll invade the other lands and fight the peasants there: 1 in mountain fiefs, 2 in forest fiefs, and 3 in plains and farming fiefs. Now most of the kingdoms are fairly balanced and the success rate for accomplishing this task is very high. However, while it won't occur every game, it will eventually happen that a player will fail to consolidate his kingdom and, therefore, miss out on the early bonus gold and spearmen. It may sound minor, but that person will then be disadvantaged right from the start and must be especially diligent to reach equal footing.



Okay I'll Shut-Up Now:

In the end, I personally give Warlords of Europe an 8 on the Board Game Geek scale (Very good game. I like to play. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game). It would not be the first wargame I recommend introducing to your children, especially younger than junior high. But kids, like adults, will be hard pressed to resist its sweeping historical narrative and epic theme. While most mechanics will be familiar to even moderate wargamers, top-notch components and fresh tweaks create a fun medieval experience. Simply stated, if enjoy conquest games you must have this title.




Example cards (from top): Conquest, Papal, Merchant
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Chris Strabala
United States
Hiawatha
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With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
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Simply Fabulous!!

You sir, have done this game a great service!
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Julio

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crsluggo wrote:
Simply Fabulous!!

You sir, have done this game a great service!


Agreed. A great review for a great, underappreciated game. One particular aspect I enjoy from Warlords over Ikusa is that different terrain affect attact and defense dice values.

My only gripe: it is only for up to 4 players (you can buy additional sets from the publishers' site though).
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Jason Meyers
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jrescan wrote:
My only gripe: it is only for up to 4 players (you can buy additional sets from the publishers' site though).


So true! I did mean to point that out, too. Oops! And thanks!
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Russ Rupe
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My boy is 8, and this review probably just shamed me into finally teaching it to him in earnest.

If you ever fail to get your whole starting kingdom on turn 1, it's time to go into heavy negotiation mode. Someone is usually willing to (try to) make you their junior partner while you play catch up. The only issue then becomes gauging properly at what point you become sufficiently strong enough to stab them in the back! ...or for them to realize you're a threat and stab you in the back! The negotiation element of this genre, while not often appearing in the rulebook, is often times the most fun part of it for me.

Great review with solid pictures...the new gold standard.

Russ
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Jason Meyers
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sporksfoons wrote:
My boy is 8, and this review probably just shamed me into finally teaching it to him in earnest.


It is fun to play these types of games with younger kids, but with a caveat - patience is required!

Quote:
If you ever fail to get your whole starting kingdom on turn 1, it's time to go into heavy negotiation mode. Someone is usually willing to (try to) make you their junior partner while you play catch up. The only issue then becomes gauging properly at what point you become sufficiently strong enough to stab them in the back! ...or for them to realize you're a threat and stab you in the back! The negotiation element of this genre, while not often appearing in the rulebook, is often times the most fun part of it for me.


Excellent point. The unwritten, understood requirement (or benefits) of negotiation - and that whole aspect - is another strong similarity I saw between your game and Ikusa. This is a difficult concept to teach kids and one they have trouble implementing. It's certainly good to start young. Besides, they have no issues in understanding, "Let's gang up on dad"!!! shake

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Great review with solid pictures...the new gold standard.

Russ


Thank you, sir...that means a lot!

And to other readers, one clarification that Russ was kind enough to geekmail me on:

Quote:
The only thing I saw that you guys might be playing incorrectly is that players do collect gold during taxation as long as they own at least 1 castle anywhere. It doesn't have to be in the kingdom they are taxing.


I mis-interpreted that, instead reading it as you had to have a castle in the Kingdom to collect taxes from its fiefs. This, as you might imagine, led to a proliferation of castle building in our games in the contested middle kingdoms! I hope my kids will forgive me as this was one of the few rules they really did not like. And here I thought I was big-fatherly-stuff for using it as a teaching moment to explain how it was thematically strong given the importance of castles in the period.

Ah, well... laugh
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Aaron Gelb
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Is this game unique enough to add to a collection that already has Ikusa?
 
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Jason Meyers
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asgelb wrote:
Is this game unique enough to add to a collection that already has Ikusa?


If you really enjoy this genre and play it often and have the group/friends to do so, then, yes, it is unique enough to add to your collection and I recommend it. The card play really does add a lot to what would otherwise be a typical dudes-on-map game.

The only questionable point is the price. While certainly understandable because it's a small publisher and the components are top-notch, it's still a steep pinch if you have trouble getting these types of games to the table very often.
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Kyle Battle
United States
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Probably the most well worded, well thought out and organized, best review of the game I've seen! Thank you!
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Brian Jones
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asgelb wrote:
Is this game unique enough to add to a collection that already has Ikusa?


I'm not sure it is different enough that your players would want to play it over Ikusa. The player count is different, and Warlords might be a better 4 player game than Ikusa and it certainly works 2 player which Ikusa does not. As mentioned, the card play is the difference here, and some players may not like this element of chaos (or fun, if you prefer). I like it, but ultimately it comes down to how many times you play these sorts of games a year.
 
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Aaron Gelb
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Does this game have player elimination, or is it usually over before someone is totally wiped out?

 
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Russ Rupe
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Yes it does.

Taking a final castle gets you significant bonuses: 30 gold and a chance to immediately recruit troops, 1 new card + his hand of cards, and the ability to eliminate that player via outright conquest or buy-out (purchase his troops where they stand). The ability to use his army set (12 archers instead of 6) is pretty awesome.

Often times eliminating a player will put you in great shape to win on the next turn. And, often times being in great shape to win is enough to make the remaining opponents capitulate. However, I've seen a fair amount of 4 player games where the remaining 2 are able to gang up and thereby extend the game beyond the elimination, especially if the 1 fluked into it from a position of weakness (not common, but possible).
 
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