"To be honorable and just is our only defense against men without honor or justice." -Diogenes of Sinope
"Today is the yesterday you won't be able to remember tomorrow" -Pinkwater
What is it?
Kardinal & König das Kartenspiel is a card game based on the boardgame Kardinal & König (published in English by Rio Grande Games as Web of Power), by the same designer. While I like Web of Power and consider it a good game, I actually find Kardinal & König das Kartenspiel to be more to my tastes. In fact, of the new games released at Essen 2001, it's my favorite of those I've tried.
Kardinal & König das Kartenspiel improves on Web of Power largely in intuitiveness: I've never liked the way Advisors are handled in the latter game - the mechanic seems artificial and non-intuitive. The way advisors are treated in the card game is much easier to grasp, in my opinion.
At any rate, the card game is set in Medieval Europe, with the players trying to gain control of the various countries involved in the game, as well as trading routes by land and sea. It's not heavily themed, to be honest, but enough so that it's not quite an abstract game.
The most amazing thing about this game, though, is that it was extremely cheap at Essen (less than $5), and now that it's sold out, the author has made it available for free at his website, where you can print it out and make your own copy.
There are 56 cards representing nine different countries. In addition there are 8 Rules tiles and 15 "reserving" pieces, three for each player. These are used to hold certain cards for yourself before you can actually claim them. They don't always work, but at least it will cost your opponents something to take them ...
The cards have up to three bits of information on them, though some have only two of these:
1. The country they're part of and its point value (all have this),
2. One or two faction symbols,
3. A trading route symbol
The idea is to collect cards that score you the most points. As in Web of Power, whoever has the most control of a country at the end of the game scores the highest points for it, and others in the country score less points, but always something. (Unlike Web of Power, there is only one scoring round.)
As an example, let's say the game is over and it's time to score. France has eight cards total. If I collect 5 of these, I clearly have the most, and so score 8 points for France, because that's how many cards for France there are. (VP value of a country always equals number of cards for that country.) Likewise if I have the most cards for Bavaria, I score 6 points, because there are only six Bavarian cards. If, in the France example, there are two other players and one has collected 2 France cards and the other 1 France card, their scoring is a little different. The second place player scores points equal to the number of cards the first-place player collected. In this case that's five points because I collected 5 cards. The third place player then collects points equal to the number of cards the second-place player collected: two points in this example.
So although you want control of a country, you don't want to go overboard getting there. If I collected 7 France cards, for example, I would get eight points and whoever collected the final France card would get seven points!
You also score for factions and trade routes. Each country except Denmark has four factions, each represented by a different symbol. In France, there are four of one symbol, three each of two other symbols, and two of the fourth symbol. In a country with only six cards, there are three of one symbol, two of another, and one each of the last two symbols - and so on. Whoever has the most symbols of one type in a given country scores points equal to this number. So if I collected 3 of two different types in France, and no one else had more than two, I would get three points (the largest number of one symbol I collected), and no one else would get any points for symbols in France.
There are two different trade route symbols: land and sea. There are 15 of each type of symbol, no more than one per card. Anyone who collects at least five symbols of a given type will score points equal to how many he collected. Collecting only four or fewer of a given type scores you nothing.
So on each turn you collect cards, always keeping all three aspects of scoring in mind. You can only collect a limited number of cards per turn, so there's usually some interesting choices you have to make.
Course of Play
To start the game, the shuffled cards are laid out face up on the table in four rows of fourteen cards each. The Rule tiles are placed on eight different cards as shown in the rules, none of them at the edges of the array. On your turn you may take any of the exposed end cards, but never a card that is not one of the eight end cards. Although the rules are unclear, the designer has clarified that you may take a card in the second place if your first card taken exposes it to become the new end card.
You can take as many cards as you like with the following limitations:
* A card must be one of the eight exposed end cards (fewer later in the game, as rows are depleted),
* You can only take cards of one color (each country is a different color),
* You cannot take more than two symbols-worth of cards in one turn.
Most cards have one symbol, some have two. So if you collect one card with two symbols on it, your turn ends. Or you can take two with one symbol each on it, provided they're of the same country. All cards have at least one symbol except those of Denmark, which have none. So effectively, you could take all four Danish cards in one turn, but are limited to one or two cards of any other country.
Once you've taken your cards you may place (or move) one of your reserving pieces on any card in the array, even in the center. Once you collect a card with one of your reserving pieces on it, you may place it again in the array. Other players may not take a card with your reserving piece on it unless they pay for the privilege: they return your reserving piece to you but must put one of their own reserving pieces out of the game. Since you only have three reserving pieces (two in a four- or five-player game), this can be painful.
Your turn is over, the next player takes his turn, and so on, until all 56 cards have been claimed. At that point calculate the score for each player and the game is over.
The Rules Tiles
There are eight Rules tiles, small pieces which are mixed and placed face down on different cards at the start of the game. If you take a card containing one of these rules tiles, you collect the tile and may, if possible, use it. Not all of them are good, alas - some cost you victory points at the end of the game. I've made my own rule tiles in English, and will list them here that way. They are:
* Take three symbols (1 tile)
* Different colors allowed (2 tiles)
* Retrieve Reserving Piece (2 tiles)
* -2 Victory Points (3 tiles)
The first three types allow you a one-shot way to break a given rule. One of them allows you take up to three symbols in one turn - though you're still limited to collecting cards all of the same color. Two others allow you to mix colors, and two others allow you to take back a reserving piece you put out of the game to collect a card someone else had reserved. The final three cost you 2 victory points each at the end of the game. When you collect a tile, keep it face down in front of you until used or the game is over.
The designer has clarified that you are allowed to use them in the same turn you collect them, and that you can play more than one rule tile in the same turn.
Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?
Components. Even if you can get one of the limited production games sold at Essen 2001, you'll have to cut the cards out yourself. They're attractive enough, but definitely DTP cardstock. You can probably make nice ones from the designer's web site if you have the right printer, materials, know-how, etc. I'd love to see this game made professionally, but I doubt it'll happen.
Limited number of players: the game is listed as 3-5 players, but I don't think it plays well with five, to be honest. You have too little control. Three is best, four is okay.
A tiniest bit dry - it's more abstract than the board game, which has a lovely map. But I still like it better than the board game as it's a cleaner design to me. Your mileage may vary.
This is an excellent three-player game, and a good four-player one. You have lots of decisions to make, the only luck involved is with the Rules tiles, and you can ignore those if it bothers you. You have to calculate carefully which countries to collect, and how many of each, and which particular ones of each, in fact, depending on their symbols and trade routes. In addition you have to be careful about which cards you are then exposing for your opponents to take! The endgame has some particularly nice moves in it as you try to force an opponent to take a particular card to boost your score - think of being in second place in France, for example, and wanting the first-place player to take more France cards. Each one he takes is another point for you ...
All in all a very nicely done improvement on an already good board game. Recommended.