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Subject: Beauty is only skin deep rss

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Michael Debije
The Netherlands
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R.Oc was designed by Christophe Dubac ,Christophe Gautier, and Bertrand Mazelier and published in 2003 by Sarl Selene. It plays from two to four players in several hours.

What You Get

The box is one of the most stunning things in gaming I have seen. It is a large, single piece cardboard box made up to look like the cover of a middle ages tome, complete with simulated pages and a red silken tie-binder to seal it closed. Inside the foldout board is nice looking, but a bit amateurish, but probably wishing to convey the simplicity of mediaeval artwork. The card decks are gorgeous as well, although a more stuck up and homely group of royal family members is hard to imagine. There is a single wooden die recessed in its own compartment. However, for all the work that was done to make a noteworthy looking game, could the counters have been any more flimsy? Printed on glossy paper, they are super-thin, difficult to pick up, and not colored for easy identification. This was a major disappointment to me, given the jaw-dropping looks of the rest of the package. If they had to skimp, did it have to be here?

What You Do

The goal of the game is to gain control of a number of cities in southern France; either 9 alone, or 17 if married, and capture the capital of one opponent. This can take a while, but probably the players have lost interest long before that happens, but more on that later.

The game plays in four seasons making up one turn. In the spring, there is a secret bid for turn order, high money bid choosing their position in the turn. Then three event cards are dealt. Any green, natural disaster cards can be played now, no more than 1 per player, likes floods or fires. Does that mean each player plays one, or at most one effects each player? Your guess is as good as mine. We play the latter.

In summer, the blood flows. First, whoever controls the very powerful Inquisitor can move any crusaders on the map, the Inquisitor controlled by either a specific family (Simon) or by the Papal Legate, if there is one. A die roll tells you if the crusaders arrive or leave the map. Given the 50/50 chance of them buggering off each turn, don’t rely too much on them. Are crusader losses recovered when they return to the map? Ah, another good question, my lad. Can’t tell you though.

Next we get to play red cards, which can get some nice mercenaries (what if you run out of the counters? Are they limited to what comes in the game? Do I take them from somebody else? Hmm, let me look:no, that’s not there either) or forbid combat, or other stuff.

Troops then can move six spaces, but only if led by a leader. They can teleport from free city to free city for a fixed fee of 500 marks regardless of the number of tokens. How does this happen? Uh- fast horses. Yeah, fast horses it is. Anywhere pieces are coexisting from opposing groups, there are battles! Huzzah!

To battle, roll a die, attacker first (normally). On a 1-2, no damage. On a 3-4, inflict 1 hit, on a 5-6, inflict 2 hits. Troops units take one hit, leader counters more. After losses, defender rolls and inflicts hits. Then the attacker, followed by any remaining defenders and so on. Retreat? Not the brave French, me boyo. All battles to the death. There are siege rules, with the attacker required to cause a breach to be able to attack, which means a 50% chance for a regular battle with a breaching. Damn those walls are soft. Defenders, of course, can have anti-siege bricolets to defend with. They get one shot (as far as we can tell) and so are not too scary. Unless you have 20 in your town, which appears possible by the rules.

Finally we get to autumn. Now we can play the blue economic cards, and get extra moolah for our improvements. The Inquisitor can then move. If he enters a city space without a family member containing a weaver, watch out. The weavers are lost and ALL troops are killed! Nobody expects the Inquisition! Actually, you do. Why in God’s name would anyone build a weaver, much less not leave a family member there? Well, gives a job for that homely unmarried daughter. You get to collect money for your cities and improvements, then buy stuff, which includes the aforementioned improvements like the questionable weavers, guildhalls, bastides (extra defensive spaces) and abbeys. As a bonus, if you get four abbeys, you get the Inquisitor, four guilds cheaper weapons, and four weavers (good luck!) you get cheap bastides.

Last is winter, surprisingly enough. Now we can do ransom deals, playing black nasty cards like assassins and counter plots, and other stuff, arrange marriages between children to bond houses together, and, if we have 9 (or 17) properties, call on the aide of the King for an even better chance of winning when we are already ahead. Well, no one said the French played fair. Once winter is done, if nobody has won, start over again in spring, in which hope comes eternal that this is the last turn.

What I Think

I love historical context to my games, and some background notes are always read with great relish. However, when the background info goes on longer than the rules, and the rules are in such a shambles as these, I wonder as to the motivation for the game. Were these enthusiastic graduate students that thought, ‘hey, the middle ages is cool. Bill here is a great artist. Let’s make a game!’? Because I mean, really, there are so much rule silliness that I cannot believe they gave it to anyone but their girlfriends to review.

The fact in our game one player put 20 bricolets in a space as a deterrent may cause you some raised eyebrows. Also the fact I have 15 troops outside a town containing 1, but cannot even prevent passage in or out or the collection of revenue because I forgot my trebuchet. And where, in fact, ARE the river sources? And WHY would I want all the trouble of a weaver? The combat system is impossible to plan for, teleportation makes almost anywhere unsafe, and the pop-on/pop-off crusaders seem to be more of a pain than they are worth.

I don’t know-the game has good ideas, and we started it with great fervor and excitement, as it sounded like we were in for a great time. A few hours later, and no end in sight, there was little thrill left except when I suggest we call it a night. I gather this game cost new upwards of 60 Euros. I’d hoped the rules snafus might be a result of bad English translation from the original French, but I was dismayed to find that this was not the case. So, form won over function in this case, but we all lose in the end. I will keep my copy for the sheer delight in looking at the box and the lovely illuminated ‘R’ adorning the cover, but I doubt it will get played again. There are simply too many other choices of games in the similar vein (although not the same theme, which was an interesting one, alas) I’d play first.

What a pity.

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Martí Cabré

Catalonia, Spain
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I agree with your review. It is a pity the game was not reviewed by players before it was published.
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