When I was a child I used to enjoy playing a card-based solitaire variant known as clock patience. It’s a simple one player card game in which the cards are arranged like the face of a clock. Instead of placing all cards in the deck in suit stacks, the goal is to move every card to a pile corresponding to its rank, one card at a time. Cards move constantly, back and forth, in a grand spiraling dance, clockwise and counterclockwise, until you can’t move anymore.
In its own way, Druidenwalzer reminds me of this. Druidenwalzer is probably more derivative of the classic game Mancala, but the way the fairy cards move is very reminiscent of clock solitaire. Before I bought this game, I simulated the card play using an ordinary pack of playing cards and some beans, and I was hooked!
Druidenwalzer is one of Kosmos’ 2-player line, in the typical 8"X8" square box, but is published in German only so far. Fortunately there are good rules translations available on the BGG, and the game isn’t too hard to find. Note that no knowledge of German is required to actually play the game; the cards and playing pieces are all language independent.
Inside the box are 10 thick double-sided cardboard square tiles, one with a moon illustration, one with a sun illustration, four showing trees in sunshine, and four showing trees in the moonlight. Each of the tree sets is numbered, from one to four. When you play the game you choose either the sun or moon side and its corresponding trees. Lay the tree tiles down in a row in front of you so that the moon player’s #1 tree is across from the sun player’s #1 tree, and the moon player’s #2 tree is across from the sun player’s #2 tree, and so on.
I mentioned that the tree tiles are double-sided, and that’s because one side represents a tree belonging to the rightful player (a moon tree belonging to the moon player, for example) and the other side represents the tree after it has been killed or “subverted” by the other player, something which happens over the course of the game. Be sure to start the game with the side belonging to you face up.
At the end of your row, on your right, you place your symbol tile (your moon or sun tile), which becomes your discard holder. The moon player’s discard (moon tile) pile goes on his right, and the sun player’s discard (sun tile) pile goes on his right, so that the two tiles are at opposite ends of the row of trees. Both discard tiles are placed roughly between opposing players' outermost tree tiles, so the whole thing roughly forms a circle or oval. A good picture of this layout can be found here:
What do the numbers, 1 to 4, on the tree tiles represent? The numbers on the tree tiles decide your movement distance. Movement of what? Well that’s next!
Take the 60 fairy cards from the box, and divide them into 30 sun fairies and 30 moon fairies, as indicated by the sun or moon symbol on the lower right of the cards. Each side takes their appropriate pile. Fairies are represented by cards numbered from 1 (weakest) to 5 (strongest). These cards are shuffled and dealt into small piles beneath each of your trees, four cards face down and one card face up. The remaining cards are placed face down to the left of your own playing area and form your personal draw deck. So the sun player has his own sun fairy card draw deck, and the moon player has his own moon fairy card draw deck.
Now each player takes three of the six wooden pyramid pieces, or druid pawns, one in each color (black, gold and purple). The moon player places his three druid pawns on three different trees on his own side. The sun player does the same. The druids sit on one tree tile each, so that one tree tile per player is unoccupied at first.
Where you place the druid pawns is an important and strategic part of the game! The tree tile without a druid pawn is the only tile that will consistently not engage in battle during the game. In other words, the tree tile without a druid pawn is the only truly protected tile in the game! You can move a druid pawn to a different tree during game play, but that’s often a difficult strategy to actually implement as it comes at the cost of other possible actions.
On a turn, a player gets one action: play a fairy card, discard a fairy card, or move a druid pawn to a different tree tile. To start the game you draw three fairy cards from your own draw pile. You play these cards, one at a time, and do not draw back up to the hand limit of three cards until you have used all of these cards. This is where luck and strategy both come into play!
Choose one of the fairy cards in your hand, and place it in front of one of your own trees. This card replaces the card that is currently face up. That card is now turned face down beneath the new card.
Take the wooden fairy ring from the game box, and place it on the tree where you just played your fairy card, to show that no combat occurs with the druid pawn on that tree, on this turn.
Now all the fairy cards bearing the same number as the fairy card that you played move, except the one you played and any in the discard piles. Matching fairy cards move a number of spaces determined by the number on the tree tile under which you played your fairy card. They move in a direction determined by the arrow on the top of the fairy card you played.
So if, for example, you played a #4 fairy card with a clockwise movement arrow under the #2 tree, then all other currently face up #4 fairy cards would move clockwise, two spaces. These moving cards replace the cards where they land, with the other cards being turned face down beneath them, and these new cards being placed face up overtop the old cards. This sounds complicated, but it's fairly intuitive in practice, working much like the old game of clock solitaire.
The next phase of the game is the battle. Compare the fairy cards sitting beneath each of the colored druid pawns’ tree tiles, except for the one containing the fairy ring. So, for example, compare the fairy cards sitting underneath both black druid pawns’ tree tiles. Provided these tree tiles aren’t protected by a fairy ring, these fairy cards now do battle, which simply means you compare their numbers and the highest number is the winner. This winning card is then discarded and a new card tuned face up beneath that tree. The losing card stays, but its tree tile receives one of the tiny, square “subversion” markers from the game box.
This sequence is repeated many times with a war of attrition happening on the trees. When a tree receives six subversion markers, it’s considered dead or subverted, and its tree tile is turned upside down, its fairy cards are discarded, its druid pawn is moved to another tree on the same side (where possible, only one druid pawn per tree allowed). This tree tile is now skipped over when counting movement in future turns. The first player to lose two tree tiles to subversion loses!
Sun and moon tiles are counted in the movement phase, but fairy cards matching numbers in play, originating on these tiles, do not move. Only fairy cards underneath tree tiles participate in movement. The sun and moon tiles are for discarded cards only. During game play, movement can force a fairy card to be discarded, and this is part of the strategy too.
There are two ways to subvert a tree, one is through winning battles and one is by causing a tree to lose all its fairy cards. If the tree’s owner can’t place a fairy card underneath an empty tree by the end of their next turn, their tree is automatically subverted!
So by winning a battle, you hurt your opponent’s tree, but since you have to discard the winning card, that also puts your tree one card closer to emptying and subversion! On the other hand, the losing card stays, but it is a low value card and likely to lose future battles too. Each player, in their own way, is at a worse position than before the turn. In Druidenwalzer no action is uniformly positive!
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this game! Druidenwalzer is a bit of a brain burning spatial puzzle. I think it’s delightful and mesmerizing! On each turn, you’re faced with a big, branching decision tree. You choose which fairy cards to play, how far to move them, which direction they’ll move, plus you can decide which tree(s) to protect either via the movement of the ultimately battling cards or via the placement of your druid pawns and fairy ring.
At the same time, you also have to pay attention to future events! You might win this battle, but does it come at the cost of your tree’s card pile? Does winning this battle put you at a disadvantage in future battles? Does taking a hit on this tree now help or hurt you in the future, and by how much? If the cards beneath this tree are depleted this battle, then what’s the cost of replenishing the pile and how quickly can that be achieved? This must be done by the end of your next turn, else you’ll lose the tree to subversion, so you have a bit of time, but not much!
Decisions, decisions! It’s difficult to foresee them all and plan accordingly because there’s still some luck of the draw involved too. The fact that you can see which cards will move means there is a known outcome, which allows some planning. But uncertainties include your future draw cards, and what cards will be revealed through the cards moving, making planning too far ahead challenging. The hardest part of this game is trying to visualize where the various cards will end up if you play a given card, and what that means when the combat begins. It isn't always clear at all what is the best move. Sometimes you need to take a point of damage now to give your opponent damage later.
By the late game typically you are juggling weak trees, low cards, and empty piles, to the point where both players are each constantly one or two turns away from losing. This makes for a close and exciting game! Yes, this game can be challenging, but it’s also very elegant and fluid and enthralling! The game is beautifully produced, with high quality components, and plays quickly, in the 30-45 minute range. It’s a winner at our house, and I hope this review will encourage you to try it too!
- Last edited Sat Feb 18, 2006 6:12 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Feb 17, 2006 10:20 pm
A great review of a great little gem! Druidenwalzer is one of my favorites.
May I pass along my congratulations for your great interdimensional breakthrough. I am sure, in the miserable annals of the Earth, you will be duly enshrined. -- Lord John Whorfin
Very nice review of a game that is a bit underrated and a bit overlooked. I bought it primarily because my wife and I had enjoyed many of the other Kosmos 2P games - and Druidenwalzer was so damn gorgeous.
We gave it a couple of plays, but my wife gave it the big thumbs down. It just didn't work for her. I've put our copy up for trade but am reluctant to get rid of it - I'm holding out hope that I can find someone to play this fascinating game with...
Druidenwalzer’s a great looking game with an unusual theme, no doubt, but unfortunately for me it is so reminiscent of Mancala (a game I loathe) that I have absolutely no fun with it. It’s also a game that takes a little work to get your head around, and the awful rules that it is shipped with don’t help matters much.
Still, I can see where others would enjoy it.
Druidenwalzer is one of those games I can be really horrible at and still enjoy. Thanks for the good review.