Thursday, November 04, 2010

God is jam, and the apostles are jelly! (Warrior Knights)

This week we played Warrior Knights for a second time. Since I didn't really give a very good overview of the game last week, I'll do a quick one now:

Warrior Knights is a very ambitious conquest game that attempts to weave many facets into a single game. In addition to the typical combat for territory, players must also consider religion, politics, mercenaries and expeditions!

On the surface, things seem very much like a RISK clone. There is a map with regions and some castles. Players place between 1 and 4 Knights on the board and start trying to expand their territory.

The structure of the game cleverly manages to reign in the complexity and makes the game play surprisingly simple. Players have 2 copies of 6 different cards in their hand, each representing an action they can take (gaining votes, gaining faith, moving units, hiring mercenaries, etc) . Each game turn, they must select 3 pairs of cards and put them in three different piles. After everyone has selected their three pairs of cards, "neutral actions" are added to each pile and each pile is then individually shuffled. Once this is done, the cards are resolved one by one. In other words, players know that they will get two actions in each "pile" but they don't know in what order they will come up.

When the neutral cards come up, different kinds of things can happen. An expedition to a far away land might be launched, and players have an opportunity to invest in it. A random event might be drawn from a deck (often assigned to a player by the current leader of the church). An opportunity might come up to reinforce the cities on the board or recover some casualties. etc, etc.

A third important mechanic is that one a card is used, it goes to one of three special discard stacks, either "taxation", "assembly" or "wages". When these discard stacks equal twice the number of players, they triggers special phases such as gaining money from your cities, having to pay your troops or having to gather at an assembly in order to vote on issues.

All together, there is a lot going on but the gameplay is not that complex (as long as at least one player knows how to handle the administration of the game). On the flipside, having so many different things going on at once means that each individual aspect of the game sees little development in a session. The game has a significant luck/ chaos factor to it (events can have a big impact, combat is decided by card draws, turn order is decided by card draws, the items to vote on at the assembly can favour one player more than another). Still, there are typically ways to mitigate the luck so it's up to the players to put the odds on their side.

Overall, I felt the game was quite engaging and fun. My biggest complaint would be that the last turn feels quite anticlimactic because there is very little worth doing except conquering yet only a fraction of the cards you have allow you to do that. Further, the limited development in the game means that if you are not close to winning there is very little that can be done to come back in the game.

In this session, Shemp and I managed to get into a spat before we had even placed all our pieces. I had placed at a port town near his fortress so he placed near mine. He attacked my knight on the first round and destroyed him and his army. In retribution, I attacked the town he was holding and won. Luckily for both of us we decided to put our differences behind us and try to focus on the two others that were benefiting from our combat.

As the religious leader for most of the game, I was able to direct several bad events to the players that displeased me. Before we had made our truce, I had Shemp declared a heretic (apparently because he said that God was made of jam) and then declared again (because he said the apostles were made of jelly). Shemp controlled the assembly for much of the game. Meanwhile, Kozure and Bharmer were accumulating influence faster than we could because they hadn't yet suffered any losses.

As the game drew to a close, we all decided that Kozure was going to win and tried to take him down. We hurt him, but not bad enough... Kozure won by a point.

If I had to compare Warrior Knights to another game we have played I would tend to pick Conquest of the Empire. The gameplay is quite different, but that game has also made an effort to incorporate events, politics and combat. Between the two, I'd say I prefer this one. The political aspect work much better, for one.

Anyway, looking forward to playing it again, hopefully not too far into the future!

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