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Bill Herbst
United States
New York
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Web of Power is an area influence game set in early Renaissance Europe in which 3-5 players place cloisters and counselors in several kingdoms in the hope of extending the greatest network of political influence. It is a very deep game from both a tactical and strategic perspective that fortunately relies on fairly simple mechanics and provides an abundance of tense decisions in less than an hour of playing time.

Each player begins with a hand of three cards that allow the player to place cloisters or counselors in one of the nine kingdoms. Four of the five card types allow one to choose between two locations that share the same color while one card type allows the player only to play in the large central kingdom of Frankreich. One can play one, two or three cards on a turn and then refill his hand to the original three cards either by choosing form two face up cards or by drawing blindly from the card pile. Each card played allows for the placement of an individual cloister or advisor in a particular kingdom. One can use two matching cards of any type as a wild card to make a single placement in a kingdom of choice. The rules for the placement of the pieces, however, make the gameplay tense. Players may only place one or two pieces per turn and all pieces must be placed in the same kingdom. Only one cloister may be placed in a kingdom on the first move into that region and counselors may only be placed up to the number of the cloisters held by the player with the plurality of cloisters in that region.

The ultimate goal of the race for placement is to put oneself in an advantageous position by the time of the scoring rounds that occur when the draw deck has been depleted by the players refreshing their cards at the end of their turns. After the first round only the cloisters are scored. The holder of the plurality of cloisters in a region receives a point for each cloister in the region, regardless of color. The second place player receives points for each of the first place player's cloisters and the third place player receives points for the cloisters of the second place player. At the end of the game, cloisters are scored again in the same manner, points are awarded for chains of cloisters that are at least four units in continuous length and the alliances between the kingdoms are scored on the basis of the counselors that have been placed in the adjacent regions. The alliance scoring allows players who have a plurality of counselors in a set of two linked kingdoms on the mapboard to receive a number of points equal to the total amount of counselors in the two kingdoms regardless of color. It is here that dramatic shifts can occur as players vying for a plurality in a region can unwittingly assist their opponents by increasing the number of counselors in region without gaining control and thus boost their opponent's score.

Each turn forces the players to consider the board and their hand very carefully with an eye toward seizing tactical opportunities to take control of a region, extend a chain of cloisters, block opponents or horn in on their points. These opportunities must be weighed against strategic concerns involving longer term goals often related to the play of the counselors in the endgame. As the number of counselors allowed in a region is a direct corollary of the number of cloisters held by the player with the plurality, these numbers must be kept in mind when making decisions about the placement of the cloisters many turns ahead of the actual placement of the counselors in question. Hand management is also difficult in this game as the rules for placement reward the possession of matching kingdom cards by offering the opportunity to play two units but it's often more important to place a unit in a particular region for tactical purposes at a specific time in the game. These concerns must be balanced with the need to keep cards that offer profitable placements on future turns when paired with the cards that may be drawn at the end of the turn. Despite its analytical nature, the game plays quickly and never seems to bog down into an overly calculative exercise. On the contrary, the tension involved in making decisions and managing one's hand makes the game's already brisk playing time of 45 minutes to an hour seem even shorter. Web of Power is an excellent area influence game that lives up to its reputation as a classic.

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