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Game Preview: The Staufer Dynasty, or Taking a Lesson from Henry VI

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: The Staufer Dynasty
I previewed Andreas Steding's The Staufer Dynasty — debuting at Spiel 2014 in German from Hans im Glück and in English from Z-Man Games — in late September 2014 on BGG News in a small amount of detail, but my head was somewhat off at the time in that I remembered few details of the design and I didn't even catch incorrect details in the short description that had been submitted with the game listing in the BGG database. (To start with, The Staufer Dynasty is not an auction game.) Thankfully I've now been shoveling the fish in at a prodigious rate and the intercranial bits are once again dashing to and fro like a well-oiled engine.

To start, players are nobles in the 12th century, accompanying Henry VI on his tour of the areas of Europe brought under control by the Staufer family, an area that included much of modern day Germany, went south to Sicily, and stretched across the Baltic Sea. Henry VI apparently liked to travel around the region to put himself into a stronger position of power and make his status known. (Wikipedia covers his travels in the late 12th century in detail. He really got around!) Henry VI's habits have rubbed off on you, so you're eager to improve your own lot in the land by placing envoys and nobles in positions of power in the six regions represented in this game.

To set up the game, which allows for 2-5 players, you lay out the six regions around the action board, drop point tiles at random on each region, lay out the supply table, drop chests (which have special actions) face up under each space on the supply table and each office seat in each region, lay out the privilege cards, stop for a drink and a bite to eat, give everyone four envoys and one noble to supply their court, shove all the other pieces in a shared province, arrange family members on the action board (with players initially taking actions sort of clockwise, counter-clockwise, counter-clockwise), giving everyone secret job cards, taking a nip of chocolate to build up your energy once again, setting out the five rows of scoring tiles (each comprised of three parts), and finally dropping King Henry VI in the one region not placed among the scoring tiles, paying attention the entire time to make sure that you've using the proper sides of things based on the number of players you have. Then you pack it all up and congratulate one another on an excellent layout job.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

No, then you actually play the game, which lasts five rounds with each player having three actions per round. Players take action in order from top to bottom with their family members, and on a turn you either take a supply action (moving to one side of the action board) or a move/deploy action (moving to the other side).

For a supply action, you pick one of the spaces on the supply table (as shown at the bottom of the image above), move the indicated number of envoys and nobles from the province to your court, then claim any chests underneath that space. The treasure chests come in different colors, with each color having a different function in the game, just as you'd expect from a game with good graphic design: the brown treasure chests score points based on how many you collect, the orange ones provide immediate points or figures, the blue ones provide a one-shot bonus, and the purple ones let you collect one of the privilege cards on display. The privilege cards often modify other actions or give you a bonus for doing a particular thing, and you can use different sets of privilege cards to give the game a different feel.

For a move/deploy action, you decide which office seat you want to occupy in a particular region. If this seat isn't in the region where the king is located — that is, where you are accompanying the king while he's buffing his credentials with the locals — you need to spend one envoy as you move clockwise away from the king, placing each envoy in the top part of those regions, until you reach the region that you want to occupy. You then pay the cost of the office seat, placing one figure — possibly a noble if the seat demands it — in that seat and all the other figures in clockwise order, one per region. When you occupy a seat, you claim the chest underneath it, with these chests functioning just like the ones I described earlier.

As you might gather, you'll be sprinkling envoys across the land like Johann Appleseed, using them to spread word of your fabulousness, then forgetting about them until you need them later, which you inevitably will.

Board Game: The Staufer Dynasty

After everyone has finished their actions, you score for the round — but you score only in the region indicated in the current row of scoring tiles (Aachen, Nijmegen, Palermo, etc.) and the region that best meets the condition laid out in a separate part of the current row of scoring tiles (fewest chests, most occupants, where the king is located, etc.) If these two regions turn out to be the same one, you score that region only once. Players score points for having the most office seats in a region (or the second- or thirdmost most office seats) based on the point tile placed in the region at the start of the game. Each region also has a printed bonus that players receive, such as bonus chests or additional envoys.

To end the round, you remove all of the office occupants of the region that scored — having scored for you and receiving nothing in return, they apparently have no qualms about moving on to other employ — add new chests under each office seat in those scoring regions and each space on the supply table (doubling up on chests if any remain from earlier turns), then sweep the king clockwise 1-3 regions so that he can survey a new part of his domain. As the king moves, he returns all of the envoys that he encounters in the regions that he enters to their owners.

Players then start a new round, with the family members who moved to the supply track taking their actions first, followed by all the family members who previously moved/deployed. Thus, your action choices in one round affect when you can do things in the next.

After five rounds, players score for their treasure chests as well as for how well they completed their secret job cards. Are you dominant in the region you were assigned? How well have you placed figures into the available office seats? In the end, whoever has the most points wins.

As I mentioned in that earlier write-up, I've played the prototype of The Staufer Dynasty once, and while much of the game was as I describe it now, some things have changed, such as the possibility for scoring to occur in two regions instead of one, which puts more of the board into play each round instead of allowing people to quietly focus on their secret job cards. I don't recall the region boards, the action board, etc. being double-sided to account for differing player counts, but why would I? I wasn't the one setting up the game. Seems like a nice touch to ensure competition no matter how many opponents you face, and kudos for a modern Eurogame that allows for 2-5 players. So many titles seem to max out at four players these days!

Board Game: The Staufer Dynasty
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