Never before have I had the opportunity to watch a game develop from its infancy to production. I’m not privileged to be part of a group that contains a full-fledged game designer. Although our group does do some play-testing for various companies and designers, the games we test have usually progressed beyond the “idea” stage and are generally a couple of steps along on the development path.
I was first exposed to Victory & Honor back in 1999. My good friend Ty Douds had been toying with this game for quite some time. The original design was a combination a trick-taking card game with a conquest-style boardgame. While the boardgame aspect was clever and quite good, it was eventually deleted to streamline and purify the game. I played it many more times during its course of development, watching it condense into an incredibly novel game filled with tension, tough choices and interesting strategies.
Victory & Honor is first and foremost a trick-taking game. It is filled, however, with clever twists, the cleverest being the simultaneously playing of three tricks. The intertwining of these three tricks creates a myriad of choices and decisions, making it perhaps the richest trick-taking game I’ve ever experienced.
The game plays EXACTLY with four players playing in partners – no more, no less. That is the game’s most glaring weakness, limiting the occasions in which it can be played. But when the occasion arises, you are in for a true treat.
The game has been released by Jolly Roger Games and it is a quality production. My only quibble is that I wish the cards had been laminated or coated with a silk finish. The deck contains four suits, which are designated both by color and symbol. Each suit contains cards numbered 1 – 7, with one, two and tree-star generals. Three of the cards – 1, 4 & 7 – have special abilities which I will explain a bit later. The artwork on the cards is public-domain, American Civil War photographs. To convey atmosphere of the time period, the photos are black and white, while the card backs and four battle boards all have the golden-brownish hue and tint of classic photographs. Even the box artwork and color conveys this antique photography appearance. Some may consider this dull and unattractive, but I think it is a perfect fit for the game’s theme.
Each player receives four cubes, one for each suit, and a battle board, which is divided into three sectors: left flank, center and right flank. Ten cards are dealt to each player and the battle ensues.
A player has the option of placing a card on any of the three positions on his battle board, within certain guidelines. When a card is placed onto a position, it becomes the “lead” suit for that particular position. Further, where the card is played determines which player will play the next card. If the card is played to the center, the player seated opposite this player – who is his partner – will play the next card. A card played to the right flank throws play to the player seated to his right, while a card played to the left flank tosses play to the player seated to his left. A card can only be played to a particular position if the player who will be forced to play next has an open position on his battle board.
This mechanism presents the players with several strategic possibilities and choices. Determining who plays next in a hand can be of critical importance, as often players are trying to force the play in certain directions and sequences to facilitate their strategies. The strategies include, but are not limited to, the setting of trump and the play of the special cards, both of which I’ll discuss later.
As in traditional trick-taking games, when a player plays the first card to a position, it is considered the “lead” card for that position. When a player plays a card to his battle board, he must follow the suit of the “lead” card that was played to that same position. However, when play is “tossed” to a player, he is not required to immediately play a card to the same position. Rather, he is free to play on any open position on his battle board. Eventually, though, all players will completely fill every position on their battle board, but delaying may give the player the advantage of playing last on one or more positions, which can be a considerable advantage.
When a “lead” card is played, ever player marks that position on their battle board with a cube of the corresponding color. This makes it easy to remember the lead suit in each position. When all three positions have received a “lead” card, the remaining suit becomes the “trump” suit for that hand. Being in a position to determine the trump suit can be vital, so attempting to manipulate the order of play is a constant aspect of game play.
If a player cannot follow the lead suit when playing a card to a position, he may play any card. This card is played face-down, and is known in game parlance as “sacrificing” a card. This sacrificed card may ultimately prove to be a “trump” card … or could even ultimately become one if trump has not yet been determined. This is yet another clever aspect of the game, which the skillful player can use to his advantage.
Once all players have filled each position on their battle boards, the hand ends. Each player will have one card remaining in their hand, which they immediately add to their “capture” pile. The results of each sector of the battlefield are then determined. Normally, the highest number played of the lead suit – 3-star generals are the highest – will win that sector of the battlefield, with that player taking all of those cards and placing them in his ‘captured’ stack. If any “trump” cards were played to a sector, the highest valued ‘trump’ card will win that sector. Normally.
I say “normally” because, as mentioned, there are three cards in each suit that have special abilities. Let’s examine each one of those:
1) The Scout. This is the ‘1’ value in each suit. When a player plays a scout to a position, he can force the next player to play a card to a position of his choice. So, although the Scout won’t likely win many battles, it can be important in forcing the sequence of play in your favor.
2) Artillery. The ‘4’ value in each suit (which does depict an artillery piece, making it easy to remember). When this card is played onto one of the flank positions, it will “bomb” the card directly opposite it. Thus, if the card is played onto a player’s left flank position, it will bomb the card located on the right flank position of the player seated to the player’s left. A bombed card is immediately captured before determining the victor of each sector. An exception is that “sacrificed” cards are not bombed. These cards are quite powerful.
3) Cavalry. This is the “7” in each suit, and clearly indicated by the photograph. Although potentially powerful, the card’s power can only be exercised in rare circumstances. If it is the LAST card played to a flank position, it will immediately flank and capture all of the cards in that sector … unless a trump card has been played. Again, potentially powerful, but it can only be utilized rarely.
When cards are captured at the end of a round, each partner will tally his total separately, then combine the two scores. It is not enough to simply capture cards, as all ‘regiment’ cards captured are worthless unless the player also captures at least one general of that suit. If a player has successfully captures at least one general, then all captured regiment cards of that suit are worth one point. If, however, a player captures two general of that suit, each corresponding regiment cards is worth two points. Likewise, if a player captures all three generals of a suit … an impressive accomplishment … then all of the corresponding regiment cards are worth three points apiece. General cards are worth one point per rank.
Scores for both teams are recorded and a new round begins. The team with the lowest score begins the next round, with a total of four rounds being played. The team scoring the most points rules the battlefield!
There are so many things to consider during the course of the game, and each card play can be crucial. Winning tricks is, of course, important, but one must concentrate on winning generals to match the regiments captured. Winning multiple generals increases one’s score tremendously, making this a top priority. Since each player will have one card remaining in their hand to add to their capture pile, it is often wise to conserve a valuable general. However, situation make dictate that this general be used in order to carry a sector and win valuable cards.
As mentioned, manipulating the order of card play is also extremely important. Not only can this force opponents to play cards into sectors before they are ready, it can also give the advantages of being able to play last to a sector and/or set the trump suit. Since the trump suit is re-set after each scoring (three times per round), it is much more important to be in a position to establish the trump suit in the second and third hands of a round.
Watching which cards have been played during the course of the hands is very important, as you may be able to determine with some degree of certainty which suits your partner and opponents are likely to hold in quantity and which suits they are likely to have depleted. This is important knowledge, so maintaining a vigilant eye during play is a virtue.
For those desiring even more options and more strategy, the Advanced Game adds twelve honor cards, four in each suit. When tallying the scores following each hand, partners combine their captured honor cards, scoring points for melds they can form. This was part of the original design, but had been removed from the basic game during development. Now, players have the option of adding them back into the game.
For folks who enjoy trick-taking games, Victory & Honor is simply superb. The ideas and twists are highly original and extremely clever. If this is not the pinnacle of trick-taking games, it is awfully close to the peak. For me, it is quite likely my favorite trick-taking game, one which I will jump at the chance to play. My challenge is getting exactly four folks together, which is a consistent challenge with my gaming group. When I do manage this feat, however, I know we’re in store for a rich, tension-filled game. I am overjoyed that my friend’s game has finally made it to production, and am thrilled that more people will be able to enjoy this outstanding game.
John and I teamed against Kurt and Michael. We ruled the battlefield, capturing victories in three of the four rounds en route to an impressive victory. John proved the superior general, sweeping all of the cards on three consecutive hands, earning the medal of honor.
Finals: John & Greg: 131, Kurt & Michael: 97
Ratings: Greg 8.5, Kurt 8, Michael 7.5, John 7
Me rocking out with my band, which you can hear at www.raindriver.com
Great report as always, Greg!
One nit... You mention that Cavalry cards take the trick if the last card played to a given flank, but they also take the trick in the center (in all cases only if no trump has been played in that position). Perhaps this is poor terminology, given that the cavalry are said to be making a flanking move. The designer has verified this in other threads, thought it would be useful to mention it here as well.
I'm looking forward to giving this a try with my group tomorrow night, we love trick taking games like Sieben Siegel, so this should be a winner.
Yes, the final published version did make the cavalry change you mentioned. In the numerous pre-publication versions I played, cavalry could not flank in the center. The new rule, although illogical, certainly makes it easier to remember!