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Subject: Three Player Game played at Spiel'13 in Essen rss

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Chris
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I wrote this small review/session for the GMT P500 list, but it should be in this folder as well...

I will give you some insight on how this game works. I may not remember every detail and it could be that I mix up some things (writing this out of my memory). Still you should get an impression of the game and hopefully this will help you to decide wether this game is something you should preorder or not.
Excuse me if (that) I make language mistakes. I am studying English, but after half a year in China, my ability to speak it has proven quite rusty.

Lets start with the map (I will explain the different functions of the different areas later on):




1. This is a normal duchy or earldom (that is true for every brownish/yellow area).
2. Every earldom (let us stick with this term) has one city
3. These coins mark the borders to other earldoms
4. Roads connect the different cities
5. This is a bishopric
6. There are a few, neutral, cities outside of the Holy Roman Empire.
7. This is an electorate
8. And finally an archbishrop

9. This box contains descendants from the players who try to become a bishop
10. This box on the other hand contains the descendants who are trained to become a knight

11. This deck of blue cards is the deck of destiny
15. This is where they go during a turn (sorry for the wrong numbering)
12. Green cards are action cards

13. This column counts the roads controlled by players
14. Here you mark the turnly income of every player
16. The size of each players troops are recorded here
17. This column is used to mark relics

18. This final column is used to mark who has controll over which electorate/archbishrop


Okay, now you know what is what, but you have no idea what it is for...lets just start with how the game is played, and everything will (hopefully) get clear on the way.

The game can be played with 2-6 players (I played with the two authors, so we were three players in total). Depending on the number of players, you get starting earldoms/bishrops randomly assigned.

In our game everybody started with five earldoms and one bishrop. You then place one of your descendants (flat wooden disks) in every single of these areas. Furthermore you have four descendants which you can freely assign to either the bishop or knight training. The difference is: If you conquer or purchase a new earldom/bishrop you need to place one of your descendants in the trainybox. Those in the bishop box can only be placed in a bishrop, knights only in earldoms (makes sense?). If you do not have one left...well bad luck.

After that, you count your income. Every earldom or bishrop gives you 10 ducat. Every border to an area you control as well gives you another 10 ducat. Connections with neutral cities outside the Holy Roman Empire automatically give you 10 ducat. You record the income for every player on the incometrack. Every player additionally gets a starting income (I think it was 100 ducat, but I am not sure anymore...).

Last but not least, you get one knight (not to be confused with your descendant knights...let us call him battle knight)...battle knight (big wooden cube) and two foot soldiers (small wooden cubes). Those are secretly assigned to a fiefdom (oh that term does quite well) by placing the cubes on your facedown starting territory cards.

I said last but not least, well that wasn't true...you also get two of those green action cards which you can nearly play any time during the game. Those contain, for example, events that allow you to recruit new troops, steal a card from your opponent, raise your income for one turn or prevent a destiny card from getting activated.

The game begins, your target now is to get control over the seven electorats in the empire in order to be crowned the new Emperor (shoulnd't one start with the goal of the game?).
Everybody rolls a die in order to find out who is the starting player (after the first turn the initiative circulates clockwise).
A number of blue destiny cards equal to the number of players is turned around in order of draw and placed on the numbered destiny card spaces. Starting with the initiative player everyone bids for the event now. The winner can carry it out. These cards can contain:

Imperial Ban
The winning player chooses a fiefdom were the current ruler is now doomed by the pope to die. This can be both a neutral fiefdom or one of an enemy. If it is a neutral one, any neighbourhood area with troops in it can march into the banned fiefdom. If there are two players both marching in, there will be a battle. I'll come to that later though. If no one is marching in, everybody can bid again and the winner simply places one of his descendants into the area.
However, if the fiefdom is one of a player, he has the right to place one of his descendants from the knight/bishop box into the area.

Build A Castle
You can build a castle and place it in one of your fiefdoms for free. If defending in combat (later) it will give you a bonus. Furthermore (and this is the important part) your current descendant in the fiefdom can not die anymore by being banned or killed during the endphase (later²). He can still be attacked though.

Build A Monestary
Comparable with the castle, also gives the combat bonus as far as I remember. But it does not cover your descendant. It does, however, allow you to place a relic into the chosen fiefdom.

City Rights
You can give city rights to one of your fiefdoms. This doubles the income from the fiefdom (which includes the borders to friendly areas).

Aquire A Relic
Already mentioned it. You can place it in any area containing a monestary. If you own the most relics (at least two) you get a bonus card which gives you extra income and the voice of one electorate (you can furthermore get an electorate through having the biggest army, having the most connected roads on the other hand only gives extra income).

An Elector Dies
An elector of an electorate dies and players have to bid in order to get control over it. The starting bid is 500 ducate.

The Emperor Dies
This triggers a new election. This is the important phase in the game to win. If you have a simple majority of the electorates, you win. If the neutral electorates are the most, a neutral emperor is assumed to be elected. I should also mention that if this card is drawn, it always goes first, before any other destiny card is free for auction.
I am not perfectly sure, but as far as I remember in the turn the emperor dies everybody can attack one fiefdom of his choice (chaos reigns). But that might also have been an extra card (or both).



There are of course some more cards, but I did not see them all and I only mentioned the (to me) most important ones.
If the deck is empty, you just reshuffle the discard pile. The game ends when a player wins the election.

Lets play an example turn. Three players. First we take a look at the current income for every player and deal out the according number of ducates. After that every player gets a new action card.
Now the destiny cards are drawn. First card is 'Build A Castle', second one is 'Imperial Ban', third one is 'Build A Monestary'.
Player One starts to bid for the castle. He says '10 ducate'. Player Two raises by 10 (you always have to bid at least 10 more ducate). Player Three is not interested and passes. Player One and Two bid on until Player One wins with 90 ducate. He pays the money to the 'bank' and can now choose a fiefdom where he places a castle.
Second destiny card is now free for biding. After each card, the starting bidder is shifted by one clockwise. So Player Two starts the auction and eventually wins it. He desires to get some new territory between him and Player Three. There is a neutral fiefdom which he chooses and now every player with troops in an adjacent space can move into this fiefdom. Both Player Two and Player Three move in and now a battle occurs (finally....). Note that if no one would have moved in, the fiefdom would have been auctioned.
Player Two has a knight and one foot soldier, Player Three only a knight. Knights have a maximum of four hit points, foot soldiers two. Knights roll three dice and foot soldiers, again, two. First you set up your troops, normally you have to face every single of your troops opposing to one enemy force. But as in this case Player Three has only one unit, Player Two can place both units against the knight. If there is more than one unit opposing to an enemy, on is selected as the leading piece. If there is a knight, he always goes first. In this case that would mean that the knight of Player Three is fighting the knight of Player Two with the foot soldier behind him in reserve, giving him a +1 bonus to die rolls...I think...
Combat begins, both players roll three dice. As far as I remember you only hit with a 6. But there was only one combat in the whole game, so pardon me for not remembering clearly. Player Three rolls 3,4 and 6. Player Two rolls 1,5,6. The knight of Player Three gets two hits (one for the 6 and one for the 5, its +1 due to the support). The knight of Player Two only gets one hit. This is now played out until all enemies are defeated, or until one player retreats. If your lead unit dies, the one in reserve is going to the front. If a knight is defeated, he will become a prisoner and can be freed by paying a ransom. I think foot soldiers have to fight till the bitter end, elsewise they get killed. But this did not occur in our game, so one of the authors would have to help out here (the fight we had looked exactly like that, except for the die rolls, and I retreated after a few turns of fighting with my single knight).
To continue the example: Player Three retreats and Player Two gets ownership over the neutral fiefdom by placing one of his descendants from the knight box. The wounded knights keep their hits. After every turn one hit is removed.
The last card is in auction, and Player Three eventually builds a monestary.
This ends the turn and every player rolls a die. On a 1,2 or 3 the ruler of a fiefdom dies (due to age, illnes...), chosen by the die rolling player, and the area is now free for auction (you cannot move troops into the fiefdom, as this is not an Imperial Ban). On a 5 or 5, you give birth to a child (well, not phiscally you, and also not the person you are representing, but one of your family members [preferentually female]). You can place him either into the knight or the bishop box. On a 6 you get twins.
Finally you can freely reassign your troops into any other friendly fiefdom, they do not have to be physically connected.
And now...a new turn begins...


So much to that, I will write my opinion in an extra comment, because it is already a bit late here in Germany (considering that I have to do some more work for my studies). Please ask if anything is unclear (I bet there is quite something, I have written this in one session and not looked over it).

Here is a picture I took at the end of the game (I was the green player, yellow won).

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Chris
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Okay, now to some more personal thoughts on the game. I did not really consider preordering it so far, because I knew nothing about the game and was not too interested in the topic anyway. However, the buzz created through this list at least made me want to try it out once. Knewing that I will attend Essen'13 this year, there was no reason to not do so. Actually it was the first thing I did there (as a matter of fact, UGG was the thing I was most interested in anyway due to their repertoire of different wargames).
I think the current artwork is quite good. Best thing are the card illustrations. They are done by one of the designers and look really really good. Only the boxcover looks a bit comic. The rest goes hand in hand with known themes and styles of painting known in those days and adds a lot of flavor. The map itself looks better than before, at least in my opinion (look at the picture above, with all the pieces [imagine six players] it looks really nice!). The most parts, tracks and the like, are done very well. Only thing I did not like about it are the two boxes for the descendants and the rivers, they are not to well incorporated into the rest. Other than that, quite well done. Will there be changes to the map art? I guess not. The designers told me they are just waiting for the game hitting its numbers. But who knows.
The wooden pieces make it look like a euro (I like them by the way)...its not. Its not a wargame either, though. Definitely not. In our game we had only one combat. I'd compare it with Game Of Thrones, just with a lot more focus on the economics. But the main part of the game is getting new territory. And this can be achieved either way: With tons of money or masses of soldiers.
Speaking of combat and wargames, I liked the combat system. I could not really experience it in its full form, as we only had that little combat from the example, but its not too dull (Risk like) and not too heavy to disturb the game flow. Action cards increasing your units strength add a little uncertainty. Definitely was tense. The bidding system is okay, the game allows for free agreements ("I won't continue bidding if you give me 20 ducate").
This allows for some backstabbing as well. I wonder what happens if three armies enter a fiefdom.
There is certainly more than one way to achieve victory. I made good progress through attaining new territory, the winner gathered relics and concentrated on getting the electorates. The third player did not get along so well, as he did not really concentrate in either direction (military, expanding or 'cultivating'). One very good thing: Right in the beginning the eventually winning player played a card that gave him double the income. I thought that was way too strong, as he had a big advantage for the next rounds. Still, the game was always very close, and the final electorate was decided by only one voice. Also the total income of the players stayed at about the same level. You really have to concentrate on one enemy player in order to cripple him enough and take him out of the game.
I liked the different possibilities in this game, building castles, cathedrals, cities, relics, armies...their certainly is something to do here.
The big problem I see: Comparable to Game Of Thrones (which I own, therefore the reference) is that you need the full six players in order to get a well balanced, thrilling game. In our game yellow just had a superior position because red and me were close to each other and naturally had to end up in rivalry. Also there was a lot of free space we had to get across first to really interact with each other outside of the auctions. The one single combat is a consequence out of that. In a six player game, I sense there will be much more direct conflict and backstabbing. Just as it is in Game Of Thrones.
This is also the main reason why I am still reluctant to preorder this game. I had a good time playing it. It is easy enough to get the rules in a short time (except for the special cases), and therefore get other not so involved people into playing this, but it still offers enough choices to not be dull. However I think the bidding method takes up a little too much space.
As for the playing time: I am not really sure, but I would say we maybe played one and a half hour or so. I am not perfectly sure if there was a mechanism to end the game early or if you have to wait until one player has won. I could imagine that a game could take on for quite a while if there is a balanced situation on the board. That must not be a bad thing. But it might not offer enough to thrill you four or five hours. Of course these are things I can't really answer as I have only played one game. But they are playtesting it for a few years now, so I hope for the best.
The action cards are quite neat, but I didn't really use them too much. Might be that my cards were just not fitting to the style I played, the other two seemed to use them more often. They would definitely miss though. On the other hand, I guess they could be implemented better into the rest of the game.
Well, to sum it up, I had a good time. I think it is a good game, not a great or perfect game, but a good game. Someone interested in the mechanics and in possession of a big gaming group can surely have lots of fun with this game. I would preorder it, but I have a hard time finding anyone of my friends ready to commit to a few hours of boardgaming (so sad shake). Fearing that it will not see the table very often (hello again Game Of Thrones), and will be too tedious with 2-3 players (stay here, Game Of Thrones, don't run away) really keeps me from saying: Okay, I'll buy this!
If I had such a group of people, however, I would pretty much trigger the P500 button....
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Sam Carroll
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Have some Geekgold for breaking the silence surrounding this game!
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Patrick Korner
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Thanks so much for the thorough write up! Much appreciated.

I think this game sounds pretty damn cool, kind of light a shorter, more readily played Virgin Queen, although I'm sure many of the game mechanisms are not the same. For me, that's a game I'm willing to back, so my P500 is staying put.

pk
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Chris
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I would not compare it in any way with Virgin Queen or any other CDG. The mechanics, as you already thought, are not even close to the standard GMT CDG game. And the historical background is, in effect, nothing more than a ...background. There are no historical factions, no historical setups. It has historical flair, but rather in an eurogame like sense.
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