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Subject: Red Player One Reviews Council of Blackthorn rss

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Curt Frantz
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The Game

In Council of Blackthorn, 2 to 6 players take on the roles of council members in an attempt to gain power through treachery and plotting in order to gain control of the kingdom from the aging King of Blackthorn. Council members need to gain power without drawing too much attention to themselves, or they run the risk of being beheaded for treason at the end of the game.



The goal is to gain influence in four separate political factions while avoiding the treason cards that will be gained through player actions or as 'gifts' from other council members. Custom dice create separate conditions for each round, requiring the players to adapt their strategy when needed. The councilor with the most power (victory points) at the end of the game wins! ...or do they? In this game the player with the most points wins only if they have no also collected the most treason points. Because other players' treason cards are facedown, this most treasonous councilor won't be revealed (and beheaded) until the end of the game!


The Board and Components

The board is actually quite simple in Council of Blackthorn. There are four separate political faction tracks (Noble/Red, Guild/Yellow, Peasant/White, Legion/Black) with influence levels ranging from 0 to 13. At the start of the track, increases are only by one point, but later in the game moving up one space could gain a player as many as 4 influence points. Only one player can occupy the '13' space of each track. However, players may be forced backwards from this space, freeing the space for another player.





Next to each influence track is a space to place one of the custom dice each round. This die can be modified throughout the round, but there will always be a die on each track as the players take their actions. Each 6-sided die consists of 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, and 3 faces.

The rest of the beautiful board is used to store the influence tokens that are gained throughout the round and the decks of influence and faction cards (if you so desire).



The players will be drawing cards from the faction deck and the treason deck as the game progresses. The cards are well designed and the quality artwork is a nice touch. The faction deck includes ally cards and building cards, as well as powerful whispers cards.



Finally, there are six thick cardboard character cards, one of which will be used by each player. Each card outlines the persistent abilities and special actions possible for each council member.




The Gameplay

The gameplay in Council of Blackthorn is also pretty straightforward. The round always begins with the 'Right Hand of the King' rolling the faction dice and assigning each colored die to its matching faction space of the board. Following this step, the Right hand of the King will take their turn first. At the start of the game, this privilege is randomized and at the end of each round, it will rotate clockwise. A turn consists of the following steps:

1. Complete construction of a building started on your previous turn

This simply means to turn the building card upright, indicating that construction is complete and the actions or abilities granted by this building are now available. If no building was constructed on the player's previous turn, this step can be (and often is) skipped.



2. Take one action

Exactly one action may be carried out by the player. At the start of the game, the only actions that can be used are those on each player's character card. Often, these actions allow dice to be changed or re-rolled, influence to be gained (or lost by other players) on the faction tracks, or treason cards to be given to other players. As buildings are constructed, more actions become available.

3. Play a card

The player may play a card from his or her hand of five cards. Each card is a color matching one of the faction tracks on the game board. When a building or ally card is played, the current player will move their token up a number of spaces on the matching track equal to the value of the corresponding faction die.



For example, if the Noble die has a value of two for the current round and a Noble building or ally card is played, the player will move their marker up two spaces on the Legion faction track. Then, if the player meets the requirements printed on the card, they can either:

1. Carry out the immediate effect if the card is an ally or,
2. Place a building card under construction (on its side) in
the player's tableau, indicating that the actions will
become available during the following round.

The requirements for these textual abilities correspond to the players position on one of the faction tracks. For example, a card might require the player to have at least 5 influence in the Guild faction (as in the example below). If the player doesn't meet this requirement, they simply move up the track the value of the Legion die (in this case), but skip the ally ability or construction. The card is then discarded.



Also in the deck are eight whispers cards. These cards are played instead of a building or ally and allow players to gain influence in a faction(s) or give treason card they've collected to other players. These cards can rapidly change the game state.



4. Discard 0 or 1 cards, then draw back up to 5

The active player may discard a card in addition to the one they played, following which they will draw either 1 or 2 cards back up to a total of 5.

5. Score influence where you have the most control

For each faction track that the current player is leading, they will gain 2 influence points (1 if tied). They also score 2 points for having the most in play buildings. These points are not added on the tracks, but gained in tokens. If the player is tied, they instead gain 1 point. The tokens are placed face down in front of the player. In the example below, if it were the end of the Minister of Coin's turn (Yellow), they would gain 2 influence points.



The game ends once three of the '13' spaces of the faction tracks are occupied (following the completion of the current round). This usually takes around 45 minutes. Influence points are gained from the players' positions on each faction track and from the influence tokens gained throughout the game. The players' treason points are also summed, and the player with the most is beheaded. Even if they had the most influence points, they lose the game. In this situation, the player with the second highest influence is victorious.


Final Thoughts


This game plays with the atmosphere of a party game, but has a good deal of strategic depth for a play time of about 45 minutes. In addition to the strategic ordering of card play, a major mechanic is the lobbying of other players to shift their focus away from you and onto others so that treason cards aren't being passed your way. If you're beheaded at the game's end, it doesn't matter how many influence points you end up with. This creates a delicate balance between playing well and not putting too big a target on your own back. This is a mechanic I've not seen in another game, and it's a really interesting wrinkle to include.

The game moves very quickly. Each player's hand will guide their play, and because the game state doesn't change much mid-round, players will often have their actions planned before it's their turn. A negative impact of the Right Hand of the King token passing left is that a player will sometimes have to wait almost two full rounds to take their next action.

With only a few actions and 5 cards to choose from each round, this certainly isn't Agricola-level strategy, but I don't think it needs to be. For the length and pace of the game, there is just enough depth and decision-making to keep me engaged from beginning to end. In my mind, there are three ways to end this game: by winning, losing, or being executed. The goal is obviously winning, but losing the game but surviving the execution can feel like a secondary victory in Council of Blackthorn.




If you enjoyed reading this review, feel free to check out my other game reviews HERE
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Rick
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Re: TribeFan07 Reviews Council of Blackthorn
Thanks for the great write up!
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Curt Frantz
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Re: TribeFan07 Reviews Council of Blackthorn
My pleasure! In today's game, I came in dead last and was also beheaded. I obviously wasn't doing something (anything) right. However, this is a game that I have a great time losing, which is one of my major criterion when critiquing a game.
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Rick
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Re: TribeFan07 Reviews Council of Blackthorn
You managed to "pull a Rick" whistle I guess I should be proud of getting something named after me...
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Sean
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Thanks for the concise but thorough review.

I have played a PnP version of Blackthorn, and one of the things I like most about the design is the interaction between the influence-tracks and the faction-cards: gaining influence in a particular faction's influence-track actually gives you a greater advantage in using a different faction's cards.

For example, the greater your influence among the Guild-faction (the higher you are on the Guild track) the more power you will exert when playing the Nobility faction-cards. The greater your influence in the Peasant-faction, the more power you will exert when playing the Guild faction-cards, etc.

This dynamic means 1) the most valuable faction-cards for a player are not the cards of the faction they highly influence (per the track) but the faction-cards of a different faction, and 2) certain Council Members will start the game with a more defined strategy.

For example, if you play as the Queen, you start with more influence on the Nobility-track, which means the Military faction-cards are more valuable to you (at least at the start of the game). So, the Queen begins the game by hoping to draw Military faction-cards.

I love what this design element brings mechanically and thematically.
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Curt Frantz
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Harrelson wrote:
Thanks for the concise but thorough review.

I have played a PnP version of Blackthorn, and one of the things I like most about the design is the interaction between the influence-tracks and the faction-cards: gaining influence in a particular faction's influence-track actually gives you a greater advantage in using a different faction's cards.

For example, the greater your influence among the Guild-faction (the higher you are on the Guild track) the more power you will exert when playing the Nobility faction-cards. The greater your influence in the Peasant-faction, the more power you will exert when playing the Guild faction-cards, etc.

This dynamic means 1) the most valuable faction-cards for a player are not the cards of the faction they highly influence (per the track) but the faction-cards of a different faction, and 2) certain Council Members will start the game with a more defined strategy.

For example, if you play as the Queen, you start with more influence on the Nobility-track, which means the Military faction-cards are more valuable to you (at least at the start of the game). So, the Queen begins the game by hoping to draw Military faction-cards.

I love what this design element brings mechanically and thematically.


Yes, you're absolutely on the mark. Another interesting decision point is whether to create a balanced attack and move up some on 3 or 4 influence tracks, thus allowing you to play more allies/buildings for their text, or to specialize in 1 or 2 tracks. This would lead to a lot of 'dead' cards in hand (played only to move up a track) but greater influence point increases as the player moves to the top of a track(s). There's a lot to consider.
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Jay Meyer

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Wow Curt....

You nailed it perfectly.
Nice summary.

Thanks,
Jay
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Curt Frantz
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GreatNorthernGames wrote:
Wow Curt....

You nailed it perfectly.
Nice summary.

Thanks,
Jay


Thanks for the kind words, Jay! I really enjoyed meeting you guys at Gen Con last week.

Keep up the good work!
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Roger Howell
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Great review, thank you! Any input on how this plays as a 2 player game? This is how I would be playing it 99% of the time.
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C B
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rogerramjet3361 wrote:
Great review, thank you! Any input on how this plays as a 2 player game? This is how I would be playing it 99% of the time.

It plays fine 2-player. Just don't use the Black Widow or the Master of Shadows. Those 2 characters are unfair in 2-player.
You also have to remember that there is only a beheading in 2-player if one person has double the treason points of the other.
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Rick
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I like this game best with 4 or 5, but 2nd best is 2 player. Since you basically get back-to-back turns you can pull off some fun card plays at times. And, no Master of Shadows or Black Widow! Use one of them for the ghost player.
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