Jesse DeanUnited States
FloridaPound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
MIL (1049) thematically is a game about managing a family of knights and nobles during the middle ages. The game's mechanics fit its theme well, with players being rewarded for building relationships; marriages and establishing vassalage both provide victory points, and the winner is largely going to be the person who is able to best manage to expand their family and territory to its greatest extent, all of which is quite in line with what you would expect to be seeking to accomplish as a noble family in medieval Europe.
The game’s rounds largely consist of alternating selection from available actions: harvest, recruit a soldier, family growth, place a knight on a power spheres, and passing. This continues until all knights have been placed in power spheres, or all spaces in the power spheres are occupied by knights and black time tokens.
There are a number of items, both large and small, that stand out for me about this game but two items in particular are causing me to add this MIL (1049) to the list of games that I will likely be picking up this Fall.
The Impact of Time
MIL (1049) is meant to take place over several generations, and the time tokens are used as an ever-growing threat of death. Most of the actions will either give to the knight taking them an automatic time token or have the potential to give one, with four time tokens indicating that a particular knight has died. This is not particularly harmful unless that knight has no heir, as the heir will simply take over as his father dies. Lacking an heir causes some chaos and strife, with a new individual in the extended family still taking over that territory, but only at the cost of 4 victory points.
However, the time tokens don’t only determine whether a knight lives or dies. They are also used as a gateway to get access to the power sphere actions. Each time token that is removed allows for the free placement of one of the player’s knights on a power sphere location. However, once the first of these knights is placed then recruitment, family growth, and knight placement actions no longer function for the player. This results in an interesting tension as to when to make a break for the power sphere actions; one you start you can’t go back.
The Ties That Bind
One of the major ways to get victory points in the game is by establishing ties to other players. The first method to accomplish this is by marriage. Whenever a new knight comes into play with lands he is required to marry someone of equal status. This is performed by a blind bid (representing the dowry) which is revealed simultaneously, with the winner giving half of the bid resources to the player getting married, and that player removing one of the “single lady” cubes from their board and getting some victory points. If the active player is the one who wins they are able to remove one of their “single lady” cubes also, but do not get any victory points.
The other major way this occurs is through establishing vassalage. Vassalage is established between individuals’ knights, with a stronger knight demanding it of a weaker one. The weaker one responds to this by offering resources as a counter-offer. The stronger knight then chooses whether to take half these resources (and void the vassalage but give victory points to the weaker knight’s player) or to either raise the offer and force the target to take half of the resources or give them a land or castle tile as a fief, both of which forces vassalage and gives the stronger player 2 vps. If any target owns any lands then the stronger player gets 4 more victory points for each one. If the target is given land as a fief, then they get the same amount of victory points.
So what does vassalage do? Well the first item is that it prevents both halves of the arrangement from declaring wars on each other. It also makes it so the lord of the vassalage relationship can help the vassal in wars, by contributing resources to help them win it. Why would the lord do this? Because every time the vassal gets more territory (the item wars are fought over) they gain 4 victory points. Similarly, a lord can give any lands tiles they acquire to a vassal, resulting in them both getting victory points and allowing for the lord to break his or her normal territory holding limit. This results in a very interesting dynamic that is fairly historical; stronger players will tend to help the weakest player and themselves at the same time.
What I Don’t Like
The first item that turns me off to this design is a continuing pet peeve but something easily resolvable. The game has hidden trackable information (resources on hand) hidden behind a player shield. When I play this I have every intention of playing without the shield, except for hiding resource as people determine their bids.
The other item is game length. Now, it is probable that the game length has been tuned to provide maximum game experience and I am quite wrong about this, but I admit I am concerned that 5 rounds won’t be quite enough to provide the right narrative arc for this sort of game.
There is a lot of interesting things going on in Mil (1049), and the bits I’ve noted above only the easiest to hit targets. This game is an excellent example of very thematic mechanics in action and as someone who has been studying this period lately, having a game that serves to effectively present the feudal and marriage relationships of the middle ages is quite a delight. Hopefully the reimplementation of Fief will be similarly delightful.