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Subject: Session Report rss

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Greg Schloesser
United States
Jefferson City
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I first noticed this one while attending the Spiel convention in Essen, Germany. The Queen booth had several huge towers of games stacked to catch folks’ attention. This one caught my eye as I had read absolutely nothing about it. What further caught my attention is that the designer was Klaus-Jürgen Werde, whose only previous credit was the 2002 Spiel des Jahre winner Carcassonne.

Still, it wasn’t an immediate purchase. Several of us wondered why the designer’s follow-up game to his Spiel des Jahre recipient was published by Queen and not Hans im Glück, the publisher of Carcassonne. Queen is not usually considered in the top tier of publishers, so we wondered whether the game might be somewhat lacking. Still, the game’s theme, designer and appearance were all enticing. After a few inquiries with folks who played the game later during the convention, I decided to climb out onto a limb – certainly not the first time I’ve been out on that limb -- and purchase the game.

It took a bit before some industrious soul (Pitt Crandlemire!) translated the rules into English, so my initial playing was somewhat delayed. Plus, I took the step of designing English paste-ups for the cards and player aid screens so that actual game play would go smoother.

One can’t really quibble with the game’s appearance. There’s lots of thick, sturdy cardboard, including coins, coat-of-arms markers, city tiles, player aid screens and an unusual five-piece, interlocking game board. In addition, there’s more deforestation, with heavy wooden pieces for the cathedrals and castles. The components are completed with various playing cards.

The theme and mechanics of the game add credence to Mel Brooks’ declaration in History of the World Part I, “It’s Good to be King!” Or, at least, it is good to try to overthrow the king. Players vie to accumulate victory points, with the major methods in accomplishing this task being a constant series of rebellions to overthrow the king. The player who is the king gets to tax his subjects, earning victory points for each of his castles in his realm. Players who participate in rebellions, either against or in support of the king, also earn victory points, so ‘rebellion’ is the name of the game here.
Players begin the game by claiming two territories on the board by placing their coat-of-arms markers onto these spaces. Then, they each receive four cards and game play begins.

On a turn, a player has three action points to spend. Nearly all game actions require the playing of an appropriate card to execute, the cost of which varies from 1 – 2 action points. A player’s possible actions include:

1) Build a structure (city, castle or cathedral) – 2 AP. In order to build a structure, the player must control the territory where the structure is to be constructed AND play the appropriate card from his hand. Cities can only be built on plains, while castles may only be built on mountains. Cathedrals may only be built in large cities (those covering two game spaces).

There is a generous, albeit limited supply of structures available in the game. Cathedrals and large cities are the most limited, so if a player gets unlucky and is not able to draw the appropriate cards, he can be at a severe disadvantage in the game. This is a big drawback and may require some adjustments in order to better balance the game.

2) Expand a territory. Expansion is into empty territories adjacent to those you already control and requires the playing of a card. Cards depict from 1 – 2 shields, which equal the number of territories the player can expand into by playing that card. The cost is 1 action point per territory claimed.

3) Seize an Empty territory. The para-drop move. You can claim an empty territory anywhere on the board, but this costs 3 AP. The cost is hefty, but it does have its uses.

4) Attack a territory. You can attack an adjacent enemy territory if it does NOT contain a structure (city or castle). However, this does require the attacker to play cards whose value is greater than the total number of castles owned by the defender. The defender may respond if he possesses a ‘Truce’ or ‘Ambush’ card, but there are only two of each of these in the deck.

The idea here is to gain control of a territory you may need in order to build a structure or to enlarge your empire, as points are scored at the end of the game for the players with the largest empires. In reality, however, the board is so large that there really isn’t much contention for territory. Further, attacking is costly as it depletes your hand of valuable cards which could have been better utilized for other purposes. So, attacking is of little real use in the game. I’d love to see a variant wherein players could attack areas that DO contain structures, as this would prove a great deal more useful and really add a completely new and more exciting dimension to the game.

5) Draw a card. This only costs 1 AP and there is no hand limit, so it is always a valuable option for the players.

6) Papal Visit. This card offers protection, as the player cannot be attacked by opponents for one round, nor can a revolt be declared if the player is king. 1 AP.

7) Incite Revolt. This card allows the player to reveal the top 3 cards of the People deck. Revealed sword cards are kept face-up and count as points against the king in the event of a revolt. 1 AP.

8) Revolt. A VERY common action, especially as the game progresses. For 1 AP, a player can declare a revolt against the king. Each player then declares his loyalties, either with or against the king, by playing the appropriate ‘Vote’ card. Players also play any number of cards from their hand beneath their ‘Vote’ card and the value of these cards will be tallied to determine the ultimate outcome of the revolt. A player may only attempt one revolt per turn.

To determine the outcome of a revolt, players loyal to the king add the value of their cards plus 2 points for each player supporting the king (including the king). Rebels add the value of their cards plus 1 point for each sword card face-up on the table from the People deck. The side with the greatest total is victorious. It is possible to abort a revolt by the playing of a ‘Truce’ card.

To the victors go the spoils:

If the king wins, he gets 2 VP for each of his cathedrals, while his supporters get 1 VP for each of their cathedrals.

If the Rebels win, the lead Rebel becomes the new king and gets 1 VP for each of his castles and 2 VP for each of his cathedrals. His supporters get 1 VP for each of their castles.

The new King must then declare his total accumulated victory points. If this exceeds a designated amount (which varies with the number of players), the game enters its end phase, with the ‘Game End’ card being shuffled into the bottom 20 cards of the deck. When it appears, the game is over and final victory points tallied.

Before the player who is currently the king takes his turn, he has the option of taxing his subjects. If he elects to do so, he receives 1 VP for each castle in his realm. However, he must reveal the top card of the ‘People’ deck and if it is a sword, it remains face-up and will count against him in a future revolt. This is supposed to add a sense of tension or cause the king to pause before taxing, but in reality the danger posed by adding another sword card is negligible. So, the general rule seems to be ‘tax, tax, tax’ (I’ll omit blatant political commentary here!) I’d like to see the penalty for taxing be a bit more severe. Again, this area likely warrants tinkering.

Once the game enters the ‘End Phase’, revolts become frequent. Indeed, they occur on just about every player’s turn. Players don’t necessarily have to be king to win, but the constant series of revolts provide opportunities for players to earn victory points by supporting the winning side. This constant series of revolts grew weary and the game began to have an almost comical feel … sort of a “here we go again” repetitiveness. Perhaps further playings will reveal that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the norm, but it certainly appeared to all of us that this was the best way to earn points.

When the ‘Game End’ card finally appears, players tally their victory points and add the following bonuses:

· 1 point for each structure (castle, city and cathedral)
· 5 points for having the largest connected territory
· 2 points for having the second-largest connected territory
· 5 points for being the current king

The player with the greatest total of victory points emerges victorious.

The game can also end if all plains and forest spaces are controlled by the players, which does seem to be a possibility.

Although there seems to be a lot going on in the game, I have a strong suspicion that there really isn’t. Players spend the early part of the game grabbing adjacent territory and building cities, castles and cathedrals. The more castles and cathedrals you have, the more victory points you will earn when you are king or back the winning side in a revolt. Far more often than not, the rebels win a revolt, so there isn’t a terrible amount of tension in the revolt process. So, although the game does provide a host of options, several of them aren’t anywhere as near as important as others, which means there really isn’t that many options from which to choose. The end result is a game that doesn’t feel all that exciting.

As mentioned earlier, “it’s good to be king”. Being king offers the ability to tax your subjects each turn, which can yield a considerable amount of points if you manage to hold on to your throne for 3 or 4 turns. The only real drawback to being the king is the possibility that the two ‘city scoring’ cards will be played, which award victory points to everyone EXCEPT the king for the number of cities they own. However, since there are only two of these in the deck and the points awarded aren’t tremendous, this small danger is far outweighed by the advantages of being king. Thus, the benefits of being king result in frequent and, in my opinion, far too many revolts. This causes the game to devolve into repetitiveness, especially in the ‘End Game’ phase, which can last for quite a long time.

A further problem here is that in order to be king, you must be in possession of at least one city and one castle. It is quite possible to find yourself without one or both of the cards required to build these structures for a considerable period of time, thereby rendering you unqualified to become king. This can be a severe disadvantage, since not only can you not be king , but if you cannot build a city, then you cannot build a cathedral. Thus, even if you back the winning side in a revolt, you earn ZERO victory points. This is exactly what happened to me in our first game.

So, in spite of the game’s appearance, theme and designer, the game play itself is rather disappointing. I haven’t abandoned all hope just yet and do want to play one or two more times with the rules as written. However, I do think several modifications, especially in regards to the attack system, would significantly enhance the game. I’m certainly going to be pondering various options and would welcome any input fellow gamers may offer.

Our first game followed the pattern I described above, with players concentrating on expanding their empires in the early part of the game. Willerd was elected the first king and held that position for several turns, taxing his subjects without fail. Eventually, a revolt against the throne occurred, earning victory points for both Keith and Jim. In spite of my best efforts, I was unable to draw a city card for numerous turns (I’m guessing 7 or 8 turns). Thus, I could not construct a city, which meant I also could not construct a cathedral. So, I couldn’t earn victory points in either of the two major ways: being king or backing the winning side in a revolt. When I finally did draw a city card, I then couldn’t draw a cathedral card for 5 or 6 more turns. This put me at a huge disadvantage and I fell significantly behind in victory points. I was never able to overcome this deficit.
It did teach me a valuable lesson, though – hold on to at least one cathedral card even though you can’t build a city yet. Don’t use that card to expand or do anything else!

Another lesson I learned is that it really doesn’t pay to your initial two coat-of-arms placements separate by more than a space or two. Since bonus points are earned at game’s end for the largest and second-largest territories, attempting to develop two separate territories will virtually insure that you WON’T earn these points. Not realizing this, I put my initial two coat-of-arms on each side of the board. Needless to say, I didn’t even come close to having the largest or second-largest territory. The best strategy seems to be to put your initial two placements in close proximity and join them quickly.

When Jim announced that he had more than 20 victory points, the game entered the ‘End Phase’ and the revolts exploded. I was already having some problems with the game, but the endless series of revolts that occurred really dampened my enjoyment and opinion of the game. The throne repeatedly bounced back and forth between all of us, eventually settling on Jim when the ‘Game End’ card was revealed. Keith possessed the largest territory, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Jim.

Finals: Jim 103, Keith 96, Greg 74, Willerd 73

Ratings: Keith 7, Jim 7, Willerd 6, Greg 5.5
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Bryan Johnson
United States
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Re:Session Report
gschloesser (#5027),
Sounds alot like our first game of K&S that we played last night. After one play, it seems pretty predictabe already. Looks like evryone has the same problems with this game.
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