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Title: Charlemagne: Master of Europe
Basic information: Designed by Tom Russell, Hollandspiele Games, 2017.
Overall Evaluation: This is an excellent solo game with great replayability. It offers a well developed system combining political, economic, military, and social aspects into a single game. Those who enjoy “Agricola: Master of Britain” (Hollandspiele) will like Charlemagne as well. To me, Charlemagne is “Agricola on Steroids” with many new features added to a proven foundational system. Yet, it should be understood that Charlemagne is not simply Agricola applied to a new century. While many of the basic structures are from a similar foundational system (chit pulls and movement between cups holding counters representing factions/groups hostile, unfriendly, and friendly to the player), the two games are quite different and reflect the missions of the two leaders -- one to subdue Britain and one to subdue Europe.
Background Theme: The game covers the 8th century rule of Charlemagne (King of the Franks) as he consolidated his position and built an empire that covered much of Western Europe during a time of Viking raids, the expansion of the Moors, and careful diplomacy with the Byzantines.
Mechanics: The solo game is a very interesting and successful hybrid of military, economic, political, and social awareness behind the consolidation of Charlemagne’s empire. While “Agricola: Master of Britain” contends with the various tribal factions within Britain, “Charlemagne: Master of Europe” is pitting Charlemagne against neighboring rulers, Viking raiders from the North, Moors in the Southwest, the Byzantine Empire in the Southeast, and religious pagans in the northeast. Troops must be raised, neighbors must be fought, raiders and incursions must be defeated or bribed, political intrigue must crushed, religion must be supported by the building of churches and conversion of pagans, and infrastructure must be constructed -- all with limited resources. A failure in any one area can bring the downfall of Charlemagne.
This is a point-to-point rather than hex-based game system based on five phases per game turn. A failure in any phase can bring the game to an abrupt defeat for Charlemagne at the end of the turn. Each turn requires the player to have acquired a certain level in the treasury, a minimum military strength, and a minimum number of victory points. The latter are accumulated by receiving Papal approval, construction of infrastructure, clearing regions of enemy troops, building churches, increasing the treasury, and achieving goals such as becoming the Holy Roman Emperor. The treasury is increased through taxation received as a result of infrastructure (improved economics), building churches, and taxation from areas incorporated into the empire. Alas, treasury is spent on increasing the military, dealing with Vikings, and actually constructing infrastructure. Many factors can bring an immediate defeat in the game including not meeting the victory point threshold at the end of each turn (and it increases each turn), not completing all five tasks at the end of the game, losing a battle, allowing the Moors to move past Poitiers, or falling to political intrigue.
In the first phase of each turn, the player acquires (levies) troops. This is not a “free” acquisition as the player must buy them. Thus, money needs to be coming into the Treasury. The second phase is one of campaigning against opponents. The third phase centers on construction. The fourth is a diplomatic phase. The final phase is related to housekeeping duties and determining if you survived that turn.
While the game map is strategic in nature, military battles are fought between units on a tactical display area of the map sheet. The game uses a simple but effective battle sequence.
Components: The game includes a 22 x 17 inch map sheet on light card stock, 176 counters, a 20 page rule book (15 pages of rules and a 5 page example of play), a 4 page Player Aid with charts and tables, and an 8-sided die.
The map is simple yet beautiful in its presentation of Europe and quite functional. Kudos to the artist - Ania Ziolkowska. The map includes various tracking charts (Turn, victory points, treasury/taxation), Force pools, and a tactical battle section.
The counters are thick, well illustrated, and pop out of the holder easily and cleanly. I like thick, sturdy counters. The one problem (and it’s minor) with the counters is clarity for those of us with aging eyes. The illustrations on the counters are magnificent with some being very complex pieces of art (copies of period art). Some of the counters are a little too dark to see the richness of the illustrations (think a section of a Medieval style painting miniaturized onto a counter). Fortunately, there is a counter guide on the back of the rules booklet with slightly enlarged examples of many of the counters. Some counters have their names/types in black print on the top. These can be quite difficult to clearly see due to the black label on dark colored counters. The counters with white labels are much easier to read.
What I like about this Game:
1.This is a great solo system that combines strategic and tactical action. It is a “thinking” game where the player must be looking ahead not only in terms of gathering military strength but also political and economic strength. You begin to build a church now to have it available in the future. You spend resources now on roads and bridges because you’ll need them in the future.
2. I like “Agricola: Master of Britain” and was hoping “Charlemagne: Master of Europe” would not simply be the same game with a different leader’s name. I was not disappointed. Although sharing a foundational system, the two games provide different gaming experiences.
3.The game is manageable and the rules are well written. Some do take a re-read but that is not uncommon in games. I noticed Tom Russell is good about answering rules questions posted on BGG.
4. The game is a true challenge. One just does not sit down and win this game. Rather you must master the hybrid of military, political, and economic factors that are intertwined within the game. Yet, this is not a game where the player will find himself/herself always winning even after developing a mastery of the skills. This is not a game you learn to beat and put into the corner shelf out of boredom.
5. Replayability is excellent. The experience differs from game play to game play.
6. Components are excellent.
Potential Issues for some Gamers:
1. Simply stated -- If you don’t like to lose -- you won’t like this game. This is a solo game that will test the mettle of any player and it is certainly not easy to win this game. While there is naturally quite a bit of satire in this comment, I include it because there are some gamers who prefer to always win and I add this point to highlight that any gamer could play Charlemagne many times before winning...and then lose again the next time he/she tries again.
Yet...don’t fret. The designer does include three modifications under an “Easy Mode” optional rule to make the game a little easier to win.
2. Some of the counters are difficult to read or discern their illustrations. I covered this earlier.
3. This game might not be for you if you are seeking a purely military game without the strategic level political and economic aspects of conflict. This game does include a miliary element (and a tactical battle map) but economics and politics are as important as military campaigning in order to win.
Replay Value: Excellent. The game includes many random elements that alter play each time.
Bang for the Buck: Excellent. Lots of replay value in an interesting game on a fascinating topic. Even bigger bang when purchasing the PnP style which is cheaper than the boxed version. I must admit that although I like PnP games, I went for the boxed version.
c The Swamp Hamster
"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
Another fine review.
The one problem (and it’s minor) with the counters is clarity for those of us with aging eyes. The illustrations on the counters are magnificent with some being very complex pieces of art (copies of period art). Some of the counters are a little too dark to see the richness of the illustrations (think a section of a Medieval style painting miniaturized onto a counter). Fortunately, there is a counter guide on the back of the rules booklet with slightly enlarged examples of many of the counters. Some counters have their names/types in black print on the top. These can be quite difficult to clearly see due to the black label on dark colored counters. The counters with white labels are much easier to read.
Based on this article, the game is near the top of my "buy" list...
...but somebody needs to post an image of the countersheet on BGG so I can judge my ability to read them.
Outstanding. A clear, thorough and accurate review of a game that I have been enjoying these past few nights.
It’s a tough one for sure, though. I’ve yet to make it beyond Turn 3 but each game I figure out a bit more about the (many) perils and (occasional) rewards, baked into the system. That thrill of those more minor in-game successes, that may only get you one turn further than you’re previous game, certainly feel like enough to keep me setting it up to try again.
That one thing this game will absolutely teach you is that runnin’ things ain’t as easy as it looks.
You did it to me again with a good review. Looking for my wallet...