If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
"We hoped to return to the North Way, but the curse follows our dragon ship... the Wolves of Fenric shall return for their treasure, and then shall the dark rule eternally."
I love a game that can get me into that good old Saxon mood to kill monsters, then eat a lot of food and party afterwards. Beowulf: The Legend is definitely a game along those lines.
An auction game from Dr. Reiner "you paste that theme on, but we love you anyways" Knizia, Beowulf packs a punch. If you want certain things from a Beowulf game, that punch could be at your expectations. You may expect to play Beowulf in this game, but you are merely in his posse. You may expect to engage in glorious combat. This is represented in card-management and auctions. You may expect to ravish wenches at the end of the day. These are not included in the box, but you are free to do so anyways.
Since I can say a lot about what the game isn't, what the hell is is?
Bits first. The board is beautiful, but odd looking. The L-shaped board is covered with the art of John Howe, who did a few of Reiner's Lord of the Rings games. Suffice it to say that it's pretty, moody, and largely the only thing connecting this game to the son of Ecgþeow.
The art doesn't interfere at all with the game mechanics, which are among the simplist ever seen. A single track is followed by the players as a collective, with everyone stopping at each event. These will be the auctions, selections, recoveries, and other events.
The game is card driven, and there are a good deal of cards. Fortunately, most of them are roughly the same things. The main cards are all symbol cards, with either one or two symbols each of six things: Axes of fighting, Ships of Travel, Fists of courage, Foxes of wits, Horns of friendship, and Beowulf, who acts as a wild in place of any of these.
There are also numerous special cards, which take one of two flavours. They will either be pumped-up symbol cards, with three or four symbols each, or text cards, with numerous effects, such as aids to risking or avoiding various misfortune. None of these special cards are in the main deck; all of them have to be won in different auctions.
There are also countless tokens for money, VP, scrolls, scratches, wounds, misfortunes, and other things, but they aren't important enough to actually go into depth about. Let it be said that they are there, and record game progress splendidly.
And so to the game itself. The cards in your hand cycle in and out pretty quickly while you're playing the various auctions which are on the event track. Most of the auctions are of the typical style: someone makes a bid, the next person matches or raises, the next person does the same, eventually people drop out until there is a winner. A few of the auctions are "facedown" auctions: players bid howevermuch they want to face down, then everyone reveals, and winners are determained.
There are about three interesting things about auctions in Beowulf that you don't see in most games. First, (most) all of the auctions are based around only two of the five primary symbols on your cards. You could have a big ol' stack of stuff, but if the auction calls for ships and fist and you're sitting on a wealth of foxes and axes, you're out of luck.
Second, each auction has a pinwheel of prizes on it. These range from very good to slightly/very bad. There are also small tokens with the numbers 1 to 5. Whenever someone drops out of an auction, they take the highest number still left. The winner obviously gets the number one. Then, in order, players place their token on the pinwheel and collect its prize. The winner gets the first choice of prizes and resources. The last place gets no choice, and often the short end of the stick. The prizes are things like money, VPs, scrolls (which can have VP or money), cards, special cards, scratches and wounds (more on that below), etc. Lots of stuff, good and bad.
Third and finally, there is risking. When you don't have any cards left with the right symbols to continue the auction (or, if you just feel ballsy), you can risk. You draw the top two cards from the deck. Any of the cards that match the symbols pertaining to this auction get added to your bid. Any that don't are discarded. If you have enough added to stay in the auction, bully for you; else, take the highest number token and wait for it to end. If neither of the cards match with this auction, you have failed the risk. First, take the highest number token, 'cause you've been kicked out of this auction. Second, take a scratch. Risking is dangerous stuff, but it often determains game winners.
And what is a scratch? It means you've been hurt. Three of them instantly become a wound. At the end of the game, if you have three or more wounds, each wound is worth -5 VP (making a minimum of -15 VP lost, sometimes more). Scratches (while they still are scratches) and wounds can be healed in select parts of the game, but always for some trade off. It's best to try to avoid them, or avoid getting 3 wounds. (Duh.)
A few of the auctions are money auctions. These work the same way as the rest, except you can't scratch and there's usually just a single prize to be won.
And that's the brass tacks of the game. Move the Beowulf figure down the track, play an auction or some other event, move the Beowulf figure down the track. The track does follow the story of Beowulf's life, with highlights such as Grendel, Grendel's mom, and the Dragon. Beowulf dies at the end of the game; whoever has the most VP is assumed to be Beowulf's heir.
As you may have noticed, I don't feel the theme really works with the game too well. However, I'm in the camp that says that theme is around to make the game easier to play; if it draws you into its world, good for it, that's a bonus.
It is a lot of fun, however. Falling behind is easy, but often you are realizing that you were behind a minute ago and are now far ahead. There are a number of different strategies, but what you always have to look out for is what's you might be bidding that you'll need in the next few auctions, and trying to decide if it's worth pulling out. Also, it is important to note where you are in the game. The second half of the board is deceptive; it looks like there's still half a game left, but it's really a lot of non-auction events, then a few rapid-fire auctions to end the game.
As far as auction games go, Reiner made more brutal ones in Taj Mahal, Ra, and Amun-Re. However, Beowulf fills the bill as a light auction game. My group almost treats it as a filler, as it's so quick and simple.
Really, wasn't bad.
- Last edited Fri Feb 9, 2007 4:18 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Feb 8, 2007 8:45 am
It is a very interesting game. I played once with 3 players and once with 4 and found that more players mean, more scratches and wounds. The different type of auctions are great and overall a good game. Especially for someone who has no idea about the story, there was no trouble playing along and trying to win. Lots of strategy involved also, as you have to possibly lose some auctions to take a lesser prize, to gain the best prize in a future episode. A good game!
SoRCon 11 23-25 Feb 2018 Basildon UK http://www.sorcon.co.uk
An auction game from Dr. Reiner "you paste that theme on, but we love you anyways" Knizia
No. Theme first, game later.
Nice review. I enjoyed reading it.