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Barbarian Kings is a game I've grown up with so it has that sort of soft-focus which results from sentimentality. My brother even made a nice box for it. It is a multi-player game of magical and physical empire building at the strategic level for 2-5 players. As a magazine game, it suffers from size restraints both in the map (which benefits greatly from being mounted) and in the 100 piece countermix.

The components really are quite attractive despite whatever changes the editors inflicted on Costikyan's original map. The pieces are colorful with pretty pictures on them.

Recently, I played a 4 player game which pointed out the fatal flaws in this game. We only played for 2 hours--long enough for 2 of the players to be eliminated as factors. The final war might have lasted another hour or two so the game is not overlong. It is very confusing, however. All of the players have access to all of the various types of units and thus no unit has any national identity associated with it. You only know whose is what by keeping track of province ownership on your Diplomacy(tm)-style strategic maps. In the end, the map becomes a bewildering heap of color with no player able to proudly claim any one color or ethnicity as her/his own.

Also, this is the second time SPI managed to take a fantasy game and leech all the color from it. It should be exciting--it's got wizards and magical creatures, but in the end, it's just kind of dull. I imagine this is a game which could be salvaged somehow, and the lovely pieces would suit a game-bash.

On my 1-4 scale, I give Barbarian Kings two stars.
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Ken McElhaney
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If you're willing to spend a few bucks, I can recommend a solution to the "fatal flaw" you pointed out in the game. Instead of using the individual maps, I would recommened using colored beads (you can find these in the arts 'n crafts department of Wal-Mart or your local store that carries these items) and assigning a color to each player. When a player takes over a territory, put their bead in it. That way, everyone can check in a glance just who owns what. Of course, you'll have to be a bit careful in moving counters around so you don't knock a bead out of place.

Ken
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Nick West
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Colinton
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"Only two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity....
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....and I'm not certain about the universe." Albert Einstein
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I too have a residual affection for this game. Clearly it must have been played much lot more than I recall - as when it came down off the shelf I found photocopies of the map and hand-made/coloured duplicate counter sets so the players can plan their moves without pens and pencils. Such effort suggests the game cannot have been that bad.

So last month, for the first time in maybe 15 years, we settled down to play. A two player game - previously all our games must have been four or three player games - and it seriously suffered in comparision.

Maybe I ws very unlucky but I managed to get my King captured in the first turn due to an unexpected encounter battle, in a forest, against elves !! It was a surprise to both players but stuffed the game for me. From that moment onwards my opponent just aimed "kill-leader" spells at every leader I built to keep me from moving more than one stack. With an almost monopoly on elves gained in the first turn all he had to do was guard my captive King in a forest and I did not have a hope of recovering him. I think I conceded pretty quickly....

Maybe this belongs in a session report but your article prompted the recollection and I have to agree with your comments on the klunky mechanics. I would add that the magic rules are unbalanced - some powers are just so much better than others at least in a head to head contest.
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