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Konradin oder Interregnum» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Pinching pennies in Mediaeval Germany rss

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Michael Debije
The Netherlands
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Konradin oder Interregnum is rather a tough one for me to rate, for several reasons. The original edition has a date of 1993, but there was a reprinting in 2000, with somewhat lesser-quality materials in some instances (the money has become cardboard counters rather than wood, for example), and the discontinuation of the dice tower. It is hard to believe the reprinting was due to overwhelming demand, or that they were leaping from the shelves (with a price of 75 Euros (about $90), it would be hard to comprehend this state of affairs), and given the rather uninspiring track record of the designer, Gerhard Kuhlmann, a historian first and game designer second (Kampf um Rom and Welfen and Staufer a couple other works), how I ended up with it was a bit by chance. I saw the game on display at Essen 2003, and caught my eye it did. A big, pretty lavish board, lots of cards depicting authentic images of medieval personae, lots of wooden pieces, and a very interesting time period: 1250-1348 a.d. I balked then at the price, and it wasn’t until 2004 that I used a surprise windfall to make the plunge.

And there the game had sat until recently. Took the long effort to put on all the stickers, and slog through the rules. And yes, it was a slog. I had the translated English versions (by a Kevin van der Schyff), and one can only hope the German version was better. Its not that the rules are incomplete, but the 52 pages are confusing, with details scattered through the choppy layout, and the 23 optional rules at the end don’t make it easier. I went through quite a bit of careful reading and effort to make a ‘cheat sheet’ with which we could play, along with the player aides provided with the game.

Essentially, the game is one of conquest, sort of. Money is the driving force, and money is awfully tight in the game. Putting together any sizable army takes 60-75% of your yearly income (which is hard to increase, but certainly can go down) and to avoid having to pay costly penalties, you’d better plan on winning one big battle or siege a year, or you are hosed. And don’t dream of losing a battle: it can set you way, way back. You have 6 years in which to reach one of five hidden goals: get crowned king with no anti-king, amass 500,000 Marks (yeah, right), 4000 knights (the pay of which will be 200,000 Marks, twice your yearly income from estates), 5000 troops, or gathering 16 nobles on your side. All pretty tough, although I managed to get the knights together. It is possible for 2 players to team up for a territorial conquest victory in years 5 and 6. If none of these goals are reached, there is a scoring system: most money, property and fame wins it.

Play mainly centers around ‘campaign season’, April-November, although nothing really happens but setting up armies in April, and September-November unsuccessful armies have to be double paid each month, so we didn’t keep them mobilized much during these months. That leaves roughly 4 months (May-August) a year to campaign. Given armies move 1 region/month, and sieges can spread over several months, it is not much time to play with. Also, all your currying favors with the towns and nobles may all go for naught unless you manage to keep all your allies happy, and this requires marriages, ascensions to bishoprics, or successful hunts (which set you back a fair penny). Marriage opportunities come up periodically, as do ecclesiastical posts and the chances to form alliances in the ‘offers’ phase. While this is a real driver for the game, giving chances to expand and maintain holdings, it is a bit of a pest as each month you have to roll to see what new offers become available, and players may spend money to re-roll the dice, so sometimes we had 5-6 potential changes/season, with 8 offers each year. Plus, the offers all have to be marked out on the map that, while nice to look at (I think so, anyway) is pretty damn hard to find the towns/cities you are looking for unless you are a native German.

Battles are dangerous and potentially ruinous. Losing a battle will force huge expenditures to re-moralize your troops, as well as put you in danger of having to pay them again if you cannot provide them with spoils of war. Each combat, all your leaders check for death, and the loss of leaders can be dire. You start with 5 males (potential army commanders) and 5 females (which can be married off to bring over son-in-law commanders) but that’s all you get. And, if one is getting married, one is in the monastery gaining the ability to get a bishopric that only leaves a vulnerable three between you and disaster. Combat is with 2d6 on a ratio of forces table: one roll, no modifiers. And the returns on plunder are not all that great, either, but still, one has to get money any way they can, despite the potentially huge risks.

So, yeah, how to rate this game. I am a sucker for the era, and it is oozing with history. The money is tight, and the gameplay pretty unforgiving. There is a huge imbalance of the starting areas, with some colors having basically no chance to win with some victory condition cards, and their only hope is to keep the game going 6 years and win on points. I think it looks gorgeous when set out, and once we got the hang of things, it moved along at a decent pace. Given you only have 2 or 3 pieces to move on a turn keeps gameplay smooth, and downtime not too high. We finished our 3-player game (by the way, it claims to have a 2-player game, but if you can figure out how to play it after reading the rules, please let me know) in about 5 hours, but it could be both shorter or longer. A Euro it is not, and unless you have had some experience with wargames, I would probably not spend the kind of money Kuhlmann asks. However, if you like the oddball esoteric game, like a real challenge and the ‘feel’ a game can bring you, and you appreciate the era depicted, it might be to your liking. My score at the moment is between 7-7.5, right now at the higher side of that. And what a conversation piece!
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Julian Donohoe
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Great review of a fascinating game. Oh for a simpler version...
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