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I picked this curious looking strategy title up when Toys R Us decided to put it on clearance for $9. For a board game with 92 minatures and decent presentation, I thought it was a steal, even if the game wasn't too good. Lionheart has long had a negative reaction from most gamers for basically 2 reasons: It's mainstream (Parker Bros.) and some people think the name was ripped from the more acclaimed, European strategy game. In the case of Lionheart, the phrase "Don't Judge a book by it's cover" should really be the mantra all gamers use. Lionheart won't win any awards for brilliance, but it's certainly a much better game than it may seem.
Lionheart is a Chess-like game played on a 10X10 grid. You can play the basic game, in which each player has a balanced army of 8 units, each of which (except the King) has more than one element to it, so each unit basically can take "hits" in battle before being removed from play. The "Advanced" game is customizable and each player can create their armies from the basic pieces as well as 3 "advanced" pieces (Peasants, Mercenaries, and Heavy Infantry).
The bad side to Lionheart is that it takes a very long time to setup. The box doesn't really clue you in to the 45-min/1 hour time it will take to get all of the figures off their plastic tree, and add stickers to the appropriate characters and dice. This heavy assembly left a bad taste in my mouth, but luckily the game makes it worth it.
I played the game a number of times with my girlfriend, who usually dislikes heavy strategy titles, so she was not looking forward to this game, which advertised itself as a strategy/combat game. In reality, the game moves VERY fast, and there's enough luck involved that the strategy in making your moves will not be deep and involving (like Chess). Each Unit of your army has specfic rules on how they move and attack, but the basic gist is that when you're next to an enemy piece, you can attack it by rolling dice equal to the figures present on the unit which them result in hits or misses. Archer characters can attack in a 3X3 grid in front of them. The objective is to kill the opponents King or kill every other unit of his army and leave him standing alone.
Each player gets 2 actions per turn, ana ction can be spent moving a piece, attacking, or turning a piece in another direction. At first this SEEMS annoying, but it actually balances out everything quite well.
TO make a long story short, Lionheart has lots of great strategy involved, but it's not very complex and plays extremely fast, so people who cringe at the word "strategy game" might actually like this one. It is a lot like Chess (so the comparisons are valid), but since you have to kill other pieces, not capture, the logic becomes a bit more looser and you realize you must take legitimate risks and put characters in danger far more often than you'd think of doing in something like CHess. We played 3 games initially, and the whole affair took less than an hour (not counting assembly time), which, to me, was a great thing. We didn't feel cheated, we didn't rush, and we didn't try to lose on purpose just to end a boring game. We used real strategies, though about things, and the game STILL only lasted about 20-mins. I like detailed games on occasion, but Lionheart is fun because of this great pace. I suppose you COULD agonize over moves and really get into it, but I'm not sure how far that would take you.
The game basically comes packaged with its own expansion, in the form of 3 additional types of characters that can be used with "Advanced rules". One of the characters is Mercenaries, who can change sides if a King bribes them. I personaly thinkt he Advanced version is a brilliant and cunning way to add some more life to the game, but it does take longer to play this version. However, if you like the idea of making up your own army, it'll certainly fill that gap.
While the game itself is a nice, fast but thoughtful play, the presentation does have a few sticky points. The instructions are rather poorly written. Although the rules are easy to grasp in retrospect, the writing is just awful, and not up to the simple, clean, concise standards I'm used to in independent/European translation games. Also, the rules claim that you can use 10 Infantry pieces per base if you really want to (giving you 2 units of 10 Infantrymen), but they fail to explain how you'd roll dice for something like that (there are only 4 dice), soa few house rules will be needed in order to keep things going smoothly. Overall, this game hit the spot on my regular gaming night with my girlfriend, and considering her tastes are not much for wargame themed stuff, that's a good thing. Parker marketed this game horribly and to the wrong people (The case says "From the Makers of RISK", but Risk lovers won't really find much to compare with here). My only complaint is that Archers seems to draw too much focus in the game. For a real interesting game, you may want to try playing without them.
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