This review was originally written and posted by me on Ameritrash.nl
William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, two Scottish heroes, led the Scottish rebellion against the English. A rebellion that started the struggle for Scottish independence. Not coincidentally the subject of Swords and Bagpipes. Will you stay true to Scotland of can the English seduce you with the promise of money.....?
Swords and Bagpipes
Right Games LLC
Hand Management / Secret Unit Deployment / Simultaneous Action Selection
Some degree of dependence language
Fans of Mel Gibson will probably still remember the movie Braveheart. With his face partly painted blue, Gibson rode towards his enemies. Mel Gibson actually played William Wallace in this movie, one of the protagonists in the revolt of Scotland against the English oppression.
You won't find any horses in Swords & Bagpipes, but just like the movie the game revolves around the first war (1926-1328) between the Scots and the English.
In Swords & Bagpipes you play a Scottish aristocratic family which has to decide if they want to back Scotland in its struggle for independence. Each round you must choose whether you want to support the Scottish or the English when the fight begins. And the choice isn't yours alone. The other players will influence your decisions and will have an occasional veto.
At the end of the game you'll find out if the Scots or the English are the winners of the war. The winning player is the one that has taken the winning side without being too treacherous.
Although the preparation for the game is not very complicated, it requires a number of actions.
The game board (with a map of Scotland) is placed in the middle of the table. The dagger and bagpipe cards are shuffled independently and placed on the board.
The marker for the defeat of Scotland is placed on the defeat-track and a stock of gold coins and units will be placed next to the board. Each player starts with 3 units and 3 gold coins.
To create the English Arms Deck you randomly take one King Edward card and you place this at the bottom of the English Arms Deck (without looking at it). Then you shuffle the English Arms cards, pick six randomly and place them on the King Edward Card. This deck of seven cards is the English Arms Deck.
Each player then chooses one of the Scottish clans and takes a castle and a camp sign board with the same color as his clan. In addition, each player starts with three cards dagger.
You are ready to play!
Swords & Bagpipes is played over 7 rounds. Each round consists of the following seven steps:
- Invasion Phase
- Action Phase
- Badge of Honour phase
- Selection Phase
- Battle Phase
- Award Phase
- End of round phase
This may look like a lot of different phases per round (well seven phases is a lot), but this isn't an issue with this game. Most of these phases don't require a lot of time and thought and will pass by as a simple formality.
During the invasion phase the top card of the English Arms Deck is revealed. This card contains all the information you need for the next round. It will show you how many British troops will invade Scotland, which rewards participants get in the fight, and what special effects are applied during the next round.
Once everyone knows what the English Arms Card stipulates the Invasion Phase is over and the Action Phase will start. During the Action Phase each player has to decide which action they want to perform. During their turn, each player must take one replenish action and may relocate their units and/or play bagpipe cards showing the action phase symbol. You can play these actions in an order as long as you perform at least (and at most) one replenish action during your turn.
As mentioned you must perform one replenish action per turn. Players can choose to:
- Receive one gold
- Raise militia (each player in the Scottish camp on the main board place a unit in their camp);
- Gather troops (the active player places two units in his castle); or
- Hire mercenaries (pay gold to put four units in your castle).
During your action phase you can relocate your units whenever you want. Relocating means moving your units between your castle and your camp. Only the units in your camp will participate in the fight this turn. So each turn you have to consider which units will participate in the fight (and will be discarded at the end of the turn) and which units you're just holding back (and can be used in other turns).
After all players have completed their action phase, the holder of the Badge of Honor must choose which player he passes it to. This cannot be the player who gave it to him in the last round. This choice is not just a formality, but is actually a choice which is quite important.....
Once the action Phase is done players will have to choose between Scotland and England. All players have their choice tokens which they will use to declare their choice between the English and Scottish. This will be done simultaneously and in secret. Only the holder of the Badge of Honor doesn't get to make a choice, he always supports the Scottish camp and cannot betray his country. Some bagpipe cards have a symbol for this Phase on them. These cards can be played until the end of this phase.
During the combat phase each player reveals their choice and the battle is resolved after all choices are revealed. The total power of the Scottish camp (units in the Camps which support Scotland) is compared with the total power of the English camp (units in the camps which support the English and the number of invading units on the English Arms card) to determine the winner of the battle. If Scotland has as many units as England or even more units Scotland wins. Otherwise England wins.
If Scotland loses, then the defeat marker on the track is directly placed one field closer to the end of the track.
The outcome of the battle determines who gets the reward in the award phase. Regardless of the outcome of the battle, each player who supported England gets one dagger card and receives an amount of gold. The English Arms Card lists the total amount of gold the English supporters receive. This amount is divided evenly between all England supporters.
If England wins the battle, every Scottish supporter may place one additional unit in his castle and he gets an amount of gold equal to the amount indicated on the English Arms Card. If Scotland wins, every Scottish supporter gets a bagpipe card and gold equal to the amount shown on the English Arms Card.
If players have bagpipe cards with the correct symbol they can play these during the Reward Phase.
The round ends with the last phase in which all players discard their units in their camps (including those in the Scottish camp). The holder of the Badge of Honor then begins the next round.
After the seventh round is played (and the King Edward card is played) Scotland wins the war if the defeat marker has not reached the end of the track. If during the game the defeat marker does reach the end if the track England wins the war.
If Scotland wins, the player with the most money (with the least daggers as tiebreaker) wins the game. If England wins, the player with the least daggers (with the most gold as tiebreaker) wins the game.
However, this isn't the end! Now we have to check if the players weren't too treacherous. Every time you betray Scotland and support the English, you get a dagger cards which shows one, two or three daggers. At the end of the game players compare the total amount of daggers each player has. Each player who has at least five daggers more than any the other players, is declared a traitor and loses the game immediately (regardless of the amount of gold).
This is the game as it is played with four or five players. When playing with more or less players the rules are slightly different. In addition, the game has some variants for longer, shorter or more tactical games.
I first noticed Swords & Bagpipes when the publisher asked me to translate the rules to Dutch for Spiel 2015. I've been able to play the game several times since I got it at Spiel. And even though the war for Scottish independence isn't a period in time that has my specific historical interest, I found the game surprisingly fun. The direct conflict and the mind games you'll be playing are especially fun elements within the game.
The actions you'll perform during the game are simple enough, but choosing which action to use at which time is what makes the game interesting. Especially when you keep in mind that every action, every word you say and even every move you make will be watched and interpreted by your opponents. When choosing your action you'll always have to keep in mind that your first choice isn't a choice for who you're going to support. This choice will be made in another Phase of the game and this choice might even be up to another player (if you receive the Badge of Honor). So keep in mind that you'll have to be as flexible as possible.
Although the choice of supporting Scotland or England isn't always up to you, there is plenty you can do to influence the choice. The first couple of games you might feel a little lost, both once you get to know the game you'll be able to push your opponent in any way you want.
While playing the game you must always keep an eye on the progress of the war. Will Scotland win or will England. This will greatly influence if you'll want to save up on money or dagger cards. There is a little push your luck/hidden information element here. Since you don't know how many daggers your opponents have. So will you take another card and get some extra money supporting the English or don't you want to risk becoming the traitor.
And then there are the bagpipe cards. Many of these cards are also designed to directly interfere with your opponent’s plans and are guaranteed to wipe the smile of your opponents face.
Altogether Swords & Bagpipes is a wonderful game in which you can betray your country and opponents. Each unit moved will raise the question, who is he backing? Should I put my faith in Scotland or can I support the English for just this round? And what will my opponents do?
The several variants included in the game guarantee a high replayability and give the players the possibility to adjust the gameplay to their liking and the liking of their game group. A little more tactical? Sure. A shorter games? Or one with less direct confrontation? It's all possible!
In terms of components and their quality I can be brief, both are excellent. Fun (cartoon-like) artwork with clear and concise symbols on it, and a good quality cards and firm tokens.
The theme of the game is likely to be less appealing to many, but those who can see past the theme will find an excellent game!
Great review! This will likely be an underrated/lesser-known gem in the future. I'm really happy we backed it!
Great review! This will likely be an underrated/lesser-known gem in the future. I'm really happy we backed it!
Thanks Lenny! I completely agree. If I hadn't translated the game I probably would have missed it as well and it would have stayed a hidden gem for me too.