Love live the Empress!
For the Motherland!
Overview: Player act as knights of the round table trying to complete quests before Camelot is overtaken by the progression of evil.
Components: Days of Wonder always does a fantastic job with their components and this is no exception. The board is HUGE. It is composed of multiple parts, each of which represents a quest. The artwork is wonderful and the “results/rules” of each quest are clearly written on the board for quick reference. The knights and Picts/Saxons are gorgeous. They are grey plastic pieces that, for the miniature gamer hobbiest, could be painted to look even better. The cards are, in Days of Wonder style, plastic NOT paper; which means you can spill those drinks of them and they will wipe up easily without a problem (if you’re quick about it). One nice bonus is the rules books. Yes, I said books, and thank goodness for that. The main rule book has everything in it. You’ll want to read through it once, but then put it away. The quest book will have everything you need for the quests. The quest rules are in the main rule book as well, but think of the quest rule book as a quick reference guide. It’s got all the FAQ for each quest and makes it easy for new players to look up quest questions quickly (do you like my alliteration there?). Since the quests are pretty much the entire game, this is really nice. The box, unfortunately, is just a bit too small; it’s difficult to get all the game boards into the box without a slight bulge.
Pros: Plastic cards. Nice art work. Figures you can actually paint, if you like that aspect of the hobby.
Cons: Extremely large game board. The box could be bigger.
Mechanics: The game revolves around each player/knight in turn “progressing the evil” and then performing a heroic action. When doing the progression of evil phase, you get the choice of doing 1 of 3 things.
(1) You may either take a point of damage to your knight. You start with 4 life points. If you hit zero, you die and are removed from the game.
(2) You may draw a black card and follow its instructions.
(3) You may add a siege engine in front of Camelot.
After that is done, you get to perform a heroic action. The heroic actions consist of:
(1) Move to/from quest
(2) Work on a quest – Only 1 white card can be played per turn
(3) Discard cards to gain life points
(4) Draw 2 cards (only in Camelot)
(5) Accuse knight (more on this later)
You may also voluntarily lose a life point to take another heroic action, as long as it is a different action (you cannot work on a quest twice in one turn). Then it becomes the next players turn.
Winning quests grants the knights a “white sword” and usually some cards and life points. Losing a quest gains the knights a “black sword” and usually loss of life points to the knights. To Win, the round must have 12 swords with the majority of them white. The knights lose if they accumulate 7 black swords OR 12 siege engines OR all the knights are killed.
The game is built around “white cards”, which for the most part are numbered “fight” cards numbering 1-5. 1 is the most frequent and 5 is the rarest. Knights move to various quests, which I’ve list below, and use these fight cards to complete the quest. Some quests are solo quests: only 1 knight can do it at a time. Most quests are team quests: as many knights can participate in them as you want. Here’s their summary:
-Saxons quest (team): The knights must lay down a straight (from 1 to 5) of white fight cards before 4 black Saxon cards are played (indicating the invasion). This quest is continuous (after it’s won/lost, it starts over again).
-Picts quest (team): Same as Saxons.
-Black Knight Joust (solo): You must lay down two pairs of white fight cards (remember, only 1 card can be played per turn). The “game” will be laying down black fight cards. After EITHER your two pairs are lain OR the Black Knight has 5 black fight cards down, you compare the totals. Highest side wins the joust. This quest is continuous (after it’s won/lost, it starts over again).
-Lancelot’s Armor (solo): Like the Black Knight, except it’s a Full House (for you) versus 6 black fight cards for the “game”. Highest wins once one side’s cards are down. This quest ENDS once it’s won or lost. It then becomes…
-Slay the Dragon (team): Like the Black Knight, except its 3 three-of-a-kind (yeah, 9 cards) versus 7 black cards. This quest ENDS once it’s won or lost. After that, if you draw a Lancelot/Dragon black card, you place a siege engine instead.
-Excalibur (team): Discard ANY white card face DOWN to move Excalibur closer to your shore. Black cards can move it closer to the “game’s” shore. You win if it lands on your shore, and lose if you lands on the other shore. After this quest is won/lost, any black Excalibur cards that are turned up make a siege engine instead.
-Grail quest (team): Fill the “track” up with Grail cards to win. If the track is filled with Despair cards, you lose. The two cards cancel each other (it’s like a tug-of-war). Once this quest is won/lost, any Despair cards generate a siege engine.
-Camelot (team): Discard face UP any number of fight cards, then roll a d8. If your fight total BEATS the d8, remove one siege engine. Otherwise, lose 1 life point.
The trick is that these quests are “progressing toward evil” even if you are not present. So if the Black Knight fills his fight cards up first and there’s no knight present, the round table STILL gets a black sword. Much of the game is managing who is going to go where to either win a quest, or more importantly, PREVENT a quest from being lost. There are some other twists, like each knight has it’s own special power (Arthur can exchange cards between himself and another knight). You can also play black fight cards face DOWN to draw a white card. The disadvantage is no one can see how high that black fight card is, so there’s no way to tell if you are winning or losing the joust (for example).
Finally, there’s the traitor. One knight is randomly, secretly picked to be the traitor. He wins is the knights lose. As a heroic action, a knight can accuse any knight of being a traitor at any point during the same when there are at least 6 siege engines on the board. If he’s right, the knights get a white sword and the traitor is exposed (limits what he can do for the remainder of the game). If he is wrong, the knights take a black sword.
One final point: there is no ‘table talk’. You CAN say, “I would do well on the Grail quest.” But you cannot say, “I have 6 Grail cards.”
The game does a tremendous job of keeping it close in most games. Typically, the game is won or lost by just a few cards. The game is designed such that it is going to be difficult for the knights to win, maybe 25%-35% of the time. Good game play and more importantly, good team work will win WAY more than simple random dumb luck. You HAVE to talk in this game and you have to work together to come up with a strategy. Since no one knight is better than another, there is a role for each player in this game. There’s also practically no way to win without someone killing themselves for the team. Fortunately, this happens most of the time toward the end of the game, but there have been a few instances where it happens early on and the player is forced to sit through a session without interacting. Although very rare, that is one time where it can be boring for that one player.
Pros: Cooperative style=social interaction. Extremely easy rules. The game feels like a true race toward the finish.
Cons: On the rare occasion where a knight dies early in the game, that player has nothing to do until the game ends.
Strategy: The game is cooperative, with the exception of the possible traitor. So strategy primarily involves working as a team. Without this, there can be no victory. The key is find the people in your group that will excel in certain quests, and send them all to that quest. It sounds simple, but keep in mind you cannot tell each other what cards you have. In addition, prioritization is key. If everyone went to the Excalibur quest, there is no doubt that the players could win it, but at what cost? They would leave Camelot undefended and the Grail would certainly fall into darkness. Thirdly, most cards can be used at most, if not all, quests. Fives (5’s) are going to be very valuable. Throwing them away in the Excalibur quest is a waste. But it can be a tough choice between using them to complete a “straight” in the Saxons/Pics or for sum totals for something like the Black Knight. It has the appeal of the cooperation you find in a RPG, but imagine trying to delve a dungeon without being able to tell who’s the back-stabber and what equipment you have.
Pros: Uses resource management in a cooperative fashion, allowing much interaction between players. Always the choice of “if we could just use another 1-2 knights”, which makes prioritization key, and fun.
Cons: If you don’t like cooperative style and are enjoy aggressive games, this is not for you.
Will this game work with few (i.e. 2-3) players as well as many (i.e. 4+) players? The rules accommodate well, especially since no matter how many players you have there is always a 1:1 ratio of evil : heroic actions. That being said, the game is designed to be more fun with more tension and decision making with more players. While it works very well with few players, it’s even more enjoyable with more.
Will my non-gaming spouse/friends like it?: If you can get them past the fantasy theme, there’s good, easy mechanics with fairly straight forward rules to make it appeal to the non-gamer. The traitor is something that may turn them off, but that could be left out quite easily. In addition, the fact it is cooperative makes it more laid back; something a non-gamer always appreciates
Good for kids? The theme is perfect for kids. The fact that it’s cooperative means that parents/friends can help their kids and it is actually part of the game. It likely won’t work with *just* kids, though, since there’s enough rules to make it too complex for kids alone. The reason: lots of quests with different rules each. This is one game where with a group of adults, 1, maybe 2 kids will do alright. Beyond that, you will be struggling.
Should I buy it? I think the criteria to buy this would be: (1) Can you handle working with others, including needing to be subservient to the “team’s” decision at times? This includes being willing to “die” for the group. (2) Can you speak up when needed (or are you too much of an introvert…which will not help)? (3) Do you find games where the solution isn’t obvious and winning can mean finding the solution together (versus “you” being the only one to come up with that solution)? If yes, then the game is likely for you.
Overview: This game is a wonderful ice-breaker game. If you’re meeting with some new friends, and they are open to trying something new, by the end of the evening, this game will certainly give you some insight into those people. Too small to be called a true “party game”, I think this makes a wonderful “dinner party” game in that regard. Everyone is familiar with King Arthur, so this is one fantasy setting that pulls off quite well.