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Rüdiger Dorn’s Louis XIV started Alea’s new mid-size series. It’s not a big board game, but not a card-game either, but something in between. There’s no actual board, though there is something quite like it: a grid made of cardboard tiles, functioning as a board. The game definitely plays like a board game.
The theme is certainly intriguing. If a game is about influence and power, a court is a good environment to set it in. What’s the greatest court in the history of all courts? I don’t know, but the one Louis XIV, The Sun King, set up in Versailles can’t be a bad guess.
So, players are plotting in the Sun King’s court, trying to fulfil their missions by asking for favours from the members of court. Basic area influence, that is. Well, there’s actually a twist or two to make it more interesting.
The different members of the court are laid down as a four by four diagonal grid. That is, each tile is adjacent to four other. This layout feels a bit messy, but is necessary because the tiles are flipped over every now and then - the two sides are slightly different. I’m not quite satisfied with it; I’d prefer a proper board.
Players are dealt a bunch of cards depicting the people of the court. To play influence, one plays a card and places up to three influence markers on that tile. From there, they can be moved to another
adjacent tile, as long as at least one marker is left behind. From the new tile, the third marker may lead to another adjacent tile. The mechanism is the same as in Dorn’s Raub Ritter.
That way the choices of players’ are limited, but not too much. If you insist on gaining influence over certain tile, you probably can manage it somehow. There are also wild cards to make things even easier.
Bribes and rewards
The different members of the court require different bribes. Some give the benefits only to the player using most influence. Some are more generous and give the reward free for the highest influencer and with a cost to the others. Either way, the tile is then flipped over and the behaviour changes.
The player with the number one reward loses his or her influence tokens to the common pool, where they must be bought back. The price is just some actions, but that can be annoying.
The rewards are mostly mission chips, which are used to complete the missions. There are other rewards, too: money, new cards, influence on other tiles, things like that. There's also the Louis XIV himself, appearing on one tile each round, handing out extra bonuses.
Scoring is based on missions. Each mission is worth five points. There are also coats-of-arms, which are each worth one point. Those can be collected during the game. In the end, players check out their coats-of-arms and score more for majorities in different types of them. This is a small luck element in the game, as the coats-of-arms you receive during the game are random.
It's not complete luck-shot, though: by focusing on coats-of-arms during the game you are likely to get more majorities in them, thus collecting few extra points for your efforts. This element tends to set off people who hate luck elements in their games, but I don't think it's that bad.
The game takes a while to play: I'd say 100 minutes is a pretty good estimate. It can be played in an hour, but that takes seriously fast players. What comes to the amount of players, well, I've only tried with four. That works. Can't really say about three or two.
I think Louis XIV is definitely interesting area-control game. I like how the decisions are restricted by cards. The lack of decent board is not good, and I don't like to explain the rules to the game - it's a bit complicated, I guess. I wasn't too thrilled about, I ended up selling it after two games, but if you're looking for an interesting area control game (particularly if you're a bit burned on area control games), check this one out.
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You've pretty much nailed it with this game. But it does take some careful planning with placing one's influence tokens to accomplish one's goals. That's what I like about this game. Luck will not overcome good planning and placement of tokens. I know this because I have got beaten more than I have won in the endgame. Among equally good players, though, it might come down to how the coat of arms are distributed, if no one makes any glaring errors in gaining influence on the boards. Good game.