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Subject: Feudal living in the year 1000 (and 49) rss

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Tim Seitz
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Glen Allen
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Introduction to the game

MIL (1049) first came to my attention when this image of the prototype game board hit the front page, along with the funny looking game name:

The image was nothing special, but the name of the game was pretty oddly nondescript, so I was curious and clicked through to read the description:
Quote:
Your family struggles for prestige and influence in a medieval society. Will you succeed?

In MIL (1049) you can harvest your lands for resources, recruit soldiers and have descendants. But that's just the first generation! If you have a male heir, he can be married to another player's daughter – the one with the biggest dowry, of course! A strategical key point, though, keep in mind that during the game your knights will die or retire and their sons will have to take their place.

Knowing the ins-and-outs of the court will help you gain influence and vassals, while in the market you will be able to trade resources and recruit the necessary workforce to build a castle. How about going to battle to get some new lands or helping the curia to build the Cathedral? The abbess of the monastery can bless you with influence, while the echoes of the Crusades resound in a faraway land with songs of glory and honor. There isn't one single way that leads to victory – so which one will you choose?

Ho hum. Sounds like JASE . Anyway, I’m a sucker for medieval games, so I subscribed to see updates as they came along.

First we had some more ho-hum images:


Some ho-hum images

Looks cool and all, I guess, but nothing that we hadn't seen before.

It wasn't until the rules were posted, that I discovered there was much more to the game than they were letting on in the description. Over the short course of five turns, this game develops into a tangled weave of vassal-lord relationships, along with their incentive-altering implications. Instead of being JASE, it’s an interactive game that does a great job of maintaining a feudal theme.

BTW, pedants will note that MIL is not proper Roman for 1049 (like I just did). They know that, and it's mentioned in the rules. What's interesting is that the prototype name was Anno M, which would be "In the Year 1000". I think I like that better. I'll bet there's a funny story about changing the name.


Theme

Feudal System. But what is the feudal system and how does that apply to the game? We’ve already read the slightly misleading BGG description, so let’s go back and see what Professor Wikipedia has to say
Quote:
The classic version of feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs. A lord was in broad terms a noble who held land, a vassal was a person who was granted possession of the land by the lord, and the land was known as a fief. In exchange for the use of the fief and the protection of the lord, the vassal would provide some sort of service to the lord.

In the game this is represented by:

Land = land tiles which can be conquered by the vassal or the Lord (and then given to the vassal) – all land tiles are worth 4 VPs; VPs that the vassal earns for his lands also goes to the Lord! So this creates strong incentives to make other knights your vassal and to ensure that their lands are protected.

Land tiles you can conquer. Image by aSoso

Fief = In the game rules, this only represents land which is given to the vassal by the Lord during the vassal attempt, and results in an automatically successful vassal attempt

Lords = Protection = Lords can assist their vassals in war by providing food (for mercenaries) or influence (to buy allies); anything that helps your vassal directly helps you.

Vassal = provides service to the lord = VPs that the vassal earns for his lands also goes to the Lord. In addition, the Lord will receive 1 food per land from the vassal each turn
In addition, once a knight is in vassalage, he may never attack his Lord’s family (a player represents the family) or his Lord’s vassals.

The game does an excellent job of mimicking the sort of incentives and tangled alliances that would result from this complex arrangement.


Time. Another component of the theme is the passage of time. Nominally, there are five types of “actions” you can choose to take in
the Actions phase, but in reality, you will primarily doing only three of them: harvesting resources, recruiting soldiers, or growing your family. Harvesting and recruiting both us up time and require you to take a time token, and there are a limited number of time tokens available each game turn (4 per player). A knight that gets 4 time tokens gets old and dies. If he has no heir, he loses 4 VP, so you will always want to ensure you have heirs and this is where the family growth action comes in.

A die roll determines the options you have, with the result being a male, female or taking a time token. You can keep taking females and time tokens (running out the game faster) but this ends once you take a male.

When the heir of a knight with lands and/or castle is born, the player
flips his knight from the "young" side to the "old" side and holds a "party" and marries him with a single woman from the player who offers the best dowry. This is a blind bid auction and the winner gets to remove a single woman and receive 2 VP. The active player can also win, but he doesn’t receive the VP. This gives you VP at the cost of some resources, but it also serves to make your family potentially weaker, since women play an important role.


The role of females. Despite stereotypes of the feudal
A single woman?
time period, females play an important role in the game. Single women in your lineage make it more difficult for knights to attack your family. When your family is attacked, the attacker must pay additional influence equal to the number of women in your lineage. Their drawback is that they result in negative points at the end of the game. So, you will want to marry them off (resulting in VPs), send them to the nunnery (resulting in influence), or otherwise remove them from your board by the end of the game (costing privilege).



Note: Because of the medieval themes of intermarrying and the role of inheritance, several folks have made comparisons to In the Shadow of the Emperor. Alas, I have not played that game, so I cannot assess.


Gameplay

The heart of the game is a combination of action taking and worker placement. I’m not going to give a full rules treatment, as you can read the rules here.

A game consists of 5 turns.

Each turn has 5 phases (The meat of the game occurs in two of them: Actions and Power Spheres):

1. Actions. In this phase, players use their knights to take one of 5 actions. As previously noted, most of these will be harvesting resources or recruiting soldiers, which cause the passage of time. When doing this, you take a time token from a space on the board, reducing the cost of placing a knight on that space. There are some gameplay nuances that will influence your choice of spot from which to remove the token. You can also grow your family. There are only 4 time tokens on the board per player, so once those run, out these options are no longer available.

During this phase, you can also place your knights to the board to claim positions in the power spheres, but once you start this, you can no longer take the above three actions. The fifth action is to pass, placing a black time token. The rules allow you to pass at any time, but generally, you do this after you have placed all your knights. The Actions phase ends once all knights are placed, or the spaces are full of knights and black time tokens. An interesting point is that having more knights is not always a good thing, as its possible they may not get placed on the board if the player gets greedy and delays his placement.

2. Tributes. Unharvested lands give 1 gold. Lords get food (derived from the lands of their vassals)

3. Political. There are bonuses to the family that has majority in four of the six power spheres, either by number of knights, or by priority of placement (left to right).

Yellow with majority in this sphere

4. Power Spheres. The next major phase of the game occurs here where players resolve the placement of their knights in each power sphere.

My annotated map shows what each of the power spheres do:



Monastery – the easiest way to get rid of single women. This location is resolved prior to war, though!

Court – This is where you can make attempts to vassal another knight. If you meet the requirements, then it’s done. But he can offer you gold or influence to avoid vassalage. You can refuse the offer (by outbidding him) or give him a land (fief). Much of the interesting game action occurs here. Majority here gets the first player marker.

Market – You trade resources or you can hold an auction for a castle. Bidding for a castle is once around with a small
minimum. The active player has a last chance to outbid, though, or he can give it up and trade in the market. Castles are valuable because they are worth 6 points in defense and they prevent a knight from dying in the winter. A neat twist is that it is winning the auction that nets the 4 VPs, but the knight can give the castle to a vassal, which protects that vassal!

War – Another of the meaty action areas, War is how knights gain land. You can attack some of the free land (which is limited – you can make the game more cutthroat by reducing the number of free lands!), or you can attack land from another knight. Lords can help their vassals win. This is where some interesting coercion occurs as vassals will try to negotiate with the Lords to help, since the Lord benefits greatly when their Vassal wins. It’s possible for 4 of the 5 players to be roped into a war action when one vassal attacks another. War is resolved by adding up soldiers, defenses, and adding any food or influence added (secretly) by any of the knights involved, including lords. Majority here gets military support from the king in the form of an extra soldier.

Curia – Money is donated to the church. This is a blind bid of gold, with the winner getting 6 VPs, and the losers having the option of getting fewer VPs or keeping their gold. Even though it’s a blind bid, it doesn’t feel like one, as everyone still retains these options. The player with majority here also gets the archbishop, which prevents vassalage or war on one of their knights.

Crusades – here fledgling knights with no castles or lands can be protected from winter.

5. Winter. This phase you roll the die. There is a 50% chance of a hard winter which kills any knight with no land or castle. If he also has no heir, then you lose 4 VP. You want to avoid this.

End of the game. 5 turns of this, and then, at the end of the game, there are some additional scoring: 2 points for most fabric+metal, influence, and privileges. 1 point per pair of gold, and then MINUS 2 for each single woman remaining, unless you have the most, and then it is minus 3.


A comment on components:

Since I am playing off of prototype, I can’t be sure this is not being addressed but the choice of cardstock stand up knights will be a bit fiddly. Depending on how they are oriented, the knights will not all be visible to all the players, and there is much leaning left and right and/or twisting of the placed knights to see their colors. This is important when trying to gain majorities in the spheres. This could have been addressed by using colored bases - the rules show grey bases, while prototype images show clear ones. It’s also important to note WHICH knight is being placed, as well, as each knight has different numbers of lands and soldiers. Gameplay would have been enhanced, perhaps at a slight expense to theme, by just using colored discs with lettered stickers for each knight.


Reactions:

We had a lot of fun with this game. The actions are relatively simple to pick up on, and so the game is all about trying to beef up in soldiers to be able to vassal other knights while avoiding being vassaled, and also earning lands to gain points. The fact that food is plentiful and lords can aid their vassals in battle means there can be some nasty battles happening near the end once all the free land is gone.

While there is advantage in expanding your family with more knights, it can backfire if they are weak and the stronger knights will jockey for position to attempt vassalage.

The parasitic nature of the feudal system means there are lots of occasions where vassals can and will be helped by their lord in order to gain points. The ending can be quite a riot as many final battles should occur, since there should be no women protecting the families anymore after the monastery phase, and food is worthless at the end (meaning it can all be used in the attacks).

Another fascinating aspect is that it’s not necessary to max out your family in order to win. Many knights means weak knights that are easily vassaled by stronger knights. However those lords might help your knights gain lands. One strong knight might just collect a lot of vassals, which bring in points for their lord. There is a lot of interaction going on here.

While I have only played with 5, I would suspect this is arguably the best number. Regardless of the player count, there are always going to be 4 time tokens and 4 power sphere spots per player (the extra ones are blocked), so in that respect it scales nicely, but the opportunities for vassalage and the attendant entangling relationships will be much reduced as the player count goes down.

I rate this 8 out 10


BONUS!

A couple of other player reactions after I taught them and they played their first game:

John seems to think it's "typical euro" (JASE!), but he rates it an 8.


Bryan gives it a 7.5 or an 8. "Solid"


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Ingo Griebsch
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Re: Feudal living in the in the year 1000 (and 49)
Thanks Tim, for another great review!
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Joe
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This review is amazing! I'm even more excited to play a game I was, well, already really excited about playing!
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Tim Seitz
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Glen Allen
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Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. 2 Sam 14:14
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Thanks, guys! meeple
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Nicolai Broen Thorning
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Excellent review.

I am very fascinated by the theme and the game in general but hesitant about the lower player counts.


Any likelihood of you playing the game with different player counts - say 2... whistle
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Pol Cors
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I'm really surprised what a few images and a rulebook can do.
Tim, if at any time I meet you, you have some free beer!

More things about it.
I'm with you on the JASE part (just discovered we as publishers don't look for JASE, but finding a non-JASE game is really difficult.

MIL (1049) was already enthralling the the first time I played it.
From the original prototype we simplyfied some parts (it had more resources than now, and some more minor actions difficult to remember or not good enough with the theme).

I hope the published version is the best one, finding the middle ground between playability, theme and time spent.

About the cardstock with bases, we found the best way to play it.
The plain colored discs didn't work for most people. One reason, for theme's sake, but the other one is that the cardstock with bases is visible along the board.

As publisher we thought about the plain discs as they are a lot cheaper than the bases used, but in the end, the single view of a game in progress with all the knights in the power spheres, and the ability to see the majority from far away, was the final deciding factor.

As from a number of players side:
Due the quantity of interactions in the game one would thought "the more the merrier". Well, as the knights on the game, the more players are only better if you look for it.

If you like the interaction above all, of course, you are looking to play with 4-5 usually.

But if you remove the interactions from the game (vassals / direct attacks) you have a fine game with lots of things going. At the end you win for having the most VP, and you have some other ways to do it.
Getting majority, wining the Curia bid, building castles, fighting for a basic land...

A 2-3 player game focus more in that other part of the game. You can go for the interaction part, but then any mistake is fatal. (and the game is more like Cold War, building an army just because the other side is doing the same).

So, for people asking for lower player count I would say it depends what are you looking for. (The designer plays a lot of 2 player games)

If any of you are going to be at Essen, feel free to test it at 2 player. (we will avoid any 5 players game when possible, as the first play takes a lot longer)







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Tim Seitz
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Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. 2 Sam 14:14
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aSoso wrote:
I'm really surprised what a few images and a rulebook can do.
Tim, if at any time I meet you, you have some free beer!

You're on!

Quote:
MIL (1049) was already enthralling the the first time I played it.
From the original prototype we simplyfied some parts (it had more resources than now, and some more minor actions difficult to remember or not good enough with the theme).

If you don't count knights, there are already 7 resources in the game, adding in privileges and time, 8 with soldiers. There used to be more?

Quote:
About the cardstock with bases, we found the best way to play it.
The plain colored discs didn't work for most people. One reason, for theme's sake, but the other one is that the cardstock with bases is visible along the board.

As publisher we thought about the plain discs as they are a lot cheaper than the bases used, but in the end, the single view of a game in progress with all the knights in the power spheres, and the ability to see the majority from far away, was the final deciding factor.


If you blow that image up, you can see that the knight at court is at an angle where it is impossible to see his color or letter. That's what I am referring to. I'd have to twist him , and then likely he's at a bad angle for someone else.

Quote:
So, for people asking for lower player count I would say it depends what are you looking for. (The designer plays a lot of 2 player games)

Most of my player count is 2-3, so we will definitely try it.

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Stefan Rastapopoulos
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Really top-notch review here. I want this game now.
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Kurt R
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It was my life, like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be.
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Thanks for the review. This was high on my list of new Essen games and remains there. Love the interaction from different angles. Only thing I didn't like hearing was that 5 is arguably the best number, but I can understand why with the vassal/war/family elements. You probably want as many interwoven player relationships as possible.
 
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Jose Luis
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In my opinion, there isn't a ideal number of players. The 2-players experience is different but no worse.
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Jason
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jose_luis wrote:
In my opinion, there isn't a ideal number of players. The 2-players experience is different but no worse.


Thanks was curious how well is scaled for all player counts!
 
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John Di Ponio
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Thanks Tim for a great review. I haven't looked at too many Euro's lately but this is one I have had my eye on that my family may really like!
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Tim Seitz
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You're welcome. I hope it helped inform your decision whether to try or not.
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Dan Fielding
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Still no other reviews???

>The role of females. Despite stereotypes of the feudal
time period, females play an important role in the game. Single women in your lineage make it more difficult for knights to attack your family. When your family is attacked, the attacker must pay additional influence equal to the number of women in your lineage.
>

I don't see this as anything close to being a historical reality. Sounds like they tacked the need for a balancing mechanism onto "unmarried females."
 
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Firmino Martínez
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Quote:
>The role of females. Despite stereotypes of the feudal
time period, females play an important role in the game. Single women in your lineage make it more difficult for knights to attack your family. When your family is attacked, the attacker must pay additional influence equal to the number of women in your lineage.
>

I don't see this as anything close to being a historical reality. Sounds like they tacked the need for a balancing mechanism onto "unmarried females."

Oh, yes, it is a necessary design artifact. But it also has historical significance: more women give to the family more opportunities for social relationship and making alliances. It is more expensive to attack a socially well-connected family.

Link to more information (in spanish)

http://mil1049.blogspot.com.es/2011/08/el-papel-de-las-mujer...

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Dan Fielding
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> more women give to the family more opportunities for social relationship and making alliances.>

MARRIED women. Or influential in holy orders. Not the "spare" represented by the cubes in the Influence area.
 
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Bruce Murphy
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Gronak wrote:
> more women give to the family more opportunities for social relationship and making alliances.>

MARRIED women. Or influential in holy orders. Not the "spare" represented by the cubes in the Influence area.


No, actually. Women you could still marry off represented greater opportunity for creating alliances.

B>
 
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Dan Fielding
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Potential opportunity won't stop someone attacking you. The game gives influence for actually converting them to married or Abbess.
 
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Benjamin Benson
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Bond8089 wrote:
jose_luis wrote:
In my opinion, there isn't a ideal number of players. The 2-players experience is different but no worse.


Thanks was curious how well is scaled for all player counts!


Hey Jason, did you ever play this game? If so, what were your thoughts?
 
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