The Geemus
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NOTE: Below review was based on the "Evertide" pre-release version of the game, not the mass produced "Z-Man" version of the game.


I must admit, I'm a fan of Scottish things. Especially bag pipes and Highland games.
I've found the lack of Scotland-themed board and card games disappointing, so I jumped at the chance to play Lords of Scotland.

Every player acts as one of the Lords of Scotland, vying for support in the volatile kingdom of yore.
The game is played in several skirmishes where the lords compete for support by mustering clans into battle.

Play Summary

At the beginning of the game, each lord starts with 5 cards in hand. The initial face-up support pile (to fight over) is made up of an equal number of cards as there are lords in the game. There is also a recruit pile, made up of two face-up drafting cards and the remainder of the cards face-down in a draw deck.

Each Card
The cards double as clans that can be played or the supporters to be fought over, so all the cards are in one 96 card deck.
The number value on each card therefore indicates the clan strength in battle and the point value if acquired as support.
The color of the card (and the artwork) indicates which clan/bloodline the card comes from, and there is one of each of the 8 clans for every number value in the deck, 1-12.
Each clan has a power (special effect) associated with it such as extra actions or play area manipulation.

Each Turn
You may either recruit a new clan or muster a clan into your army.
Recruiting is a draw action: Place a card from one of the two face-up recruit drafting cards or the face-down recruiting draw deck into your hand.
Mustering is a play action: Play a card from your hand onto the table. It can be played face-down or face-up, but its clan power can only take effect if it is face-up and if it is the lowest showing value so far this skirmish (see Ability Blocking below).

Each Round
A round consists of every lord taking one turn in clockwise order.

Each Skirmish
A skirmish resolves at the end of 5 rounds. All lords reveal all clans they mustered this skirmish, then compare the total values of their entire armies against each other. If there's Clan Uniformity (see below), that can also affect the support totals. The lord that had the highest value army drafts the highest support card followed by each other player in descending army value.
Once the support has been divided amongst the lords, all clans mustered are discarded (except those with an activated clan power to persist) and a new set of support cards are made from the draw deck. The winner of this skirmish plays first next skirmish.

Winning / End Game
So you've won the battle, but who will win the war?
The first lord to accumulate 40 support wins, with some extended rules for tie situations.


Enough rules, what did I think about it?
My Thoughts

My Favorite Interaction Dynamic
Ability Blocking! As I mentioned above, a clan power only comes into effect if it is the lowest showing value clan so far this skirmish.
So low value cards are more playable in the sense that it is more likely their clan power will come into effect (and they block more future clan power actions this skirmish) but that utility is traded for higher number values which are needed to get support, and support == points!
In each skirmish, there's a choice to play high and allow for more clan powers (including possibly your own) to be played afterward, or to low-ball and block as many players as you can from being able to use their own.
Clan powers can make quite a difference in the gameplay because they are the exceptions to the strict "recruit or muster" rules, allowing players to perform extra actions or alter the armies or supporters in a given skirmish.

My Favorite Rule
Clan Uniformity, which is defined at skirmish resolution. Basically if the entirety of a lord's army for this skirmish are from a single clan/bloodline/color, that lord's total army value is doubled (provided there is more than 1 card in that army).

Difficulty: Family-Friendly
This is an arithmetic game with special effects, and in that respect it is like 2 of Richard James's other card games: Straw and Court of the Medici. If you enjoyed those titles, then I recommend this as well. Much like those games, my favorite quality about Lords of Scotland is how there's not too much special-rule-memorization required: instead the challenge is focused on situational tactics and positioning. So I would suggest it for family trips or as a warm-up for more intense gaming nights while players are filtering in.

Number of players: 2-5, rarely 6
The game is best with 2-4 players in my experience. I played with 5 and 6, but I felt there were too many targets for effects, turns started to drag, and the balance skewed. I think 6+ would be too many, unless some things were altered.

Optional Mod: Fight for Scraps
A tweak I like to sometimes apply amongst my most competitive friends is to reduce the amount of support cards to player count -1 instead of equal to player count, but I suggest playing the boxed version first (as one of the clan powers allows a player to take multiple supporters, giving you a taste of this reduced resource competition).

Pithy Game Description
Hand Management and Positioning with a Scottish Twist!

Enjoy
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The Geemus
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Re: "What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?"
Quick note: I wrote the above review about a pre-release version of the game.
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Stephen Keller
Canada
Calgary
Alberta
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Re: "What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?"
Excuse my ignorance if I missed it but I don't see anywhere in the review where you say whether you liked the game or not.
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Andy Andersen
United States
Michigan
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Re: "What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?"
I just added this to my wishlist. Thanks.
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The Geemus
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Re: "What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?"
Certainly!

On the BGG scale I gave it 8/10.
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William Bekking
Canada
Kanata
Ontario
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Re: "What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?"
The Geemus wrote:

The game is best with 2-4 players in my experience


Great review. How do you rate this game as a two player game? Compared to say Court of the Medici, by the same designer?

Thanks
 
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John Rudolph
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Re: "What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?"
I just received my game and my rules say that all the recruit cards are face down, not 2 face up like you describe. The rules say "Take the top 5 cards from the draw pile and place all of them face down side by side next to the draw pile to form the recruit pile."
 
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The Geemus
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Re: "What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?"
Hi John,
As I mentioned above, this review was of a previous (pre Z-Man) version of the game. I will now edit my review to put this note at the top so that becomes more obvious.

Hi William,
I prefer Lords of Scotland to Court of the Medici. On the BGG scale, I gave Lords 8/10 and Court 7/10.
I enjoy how different 1v1 is from multiplayer. Since your interactions are reduced to only 1 opponent, the game becomes back-and-forth: less chaotic and every move counts more. So it allows for less mistakes, which is akin to Court as well.
Combine those ways to play with some rulebook variations and community variations and Lords becomes quite versatile for the low price.
 
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Mark Chaplin
United Kingdom
Nottingham
Ice-choked tower, Mondavia, Nanglangka.
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The rules could do with an example of a skirmish, IMHO.

Great review!


 
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