Monday, October 10, 2011

Warrior Knights – Politics, War, Faith and Trade

This past weekend I managed to celebrate my imminent return to the workforce with an activity I haven't been able to participate in for a while now. My wife and I had a few friends by to play board games, and I got to play favorites of mine that have collected dust for years. Among these was one of my very favorites, Fantasy Flight's version of Warrior Knights. Not so long ago, I wrote about the difference between Eurogames and "Ameritrash" or Thematic board games, and Warrior Knights straddles the line between these extremes neatly. As a result, its design heavily influenced several popular games currently in production including RuneWars and Chaos In The Old World. It is a complicated looking game that is actually pretty simple, though it is not without its flaws, as I'll get into later. This is a revamp of the original published by Games Workshop, with European Game designers brought in to make the mechanics more appealing to modern audiences.

Parallels have also been drawn between this and A Game of Thrones (the Board Game.)

The layout, board, counters and pieces are classic Fantasy Flight. They are well made with solid artwork and plenty of components, but none seem unnecessary. The game is intimidating, as there is a lot going on, and the first turn will take so long unless everyone is a veteran that you'll lose sight of the fact that using standard rules, it'll be over inside of 5 turns. In a generic medieval country that has knights and lords with French, British, Italian and German sounding names, the king died without an heir. Without a clear line of succession, the Barons maneuver for the power to delare themselves monarch. This means that influence must be accumulated, and the easiest way to do that is to bring cities under your control, and keep those cities. Every player must plan six moves from strategy cards in their hand with a little control over what happens first, and then see how fate and the plans of other Barons make their plans all fall apart.

Each turn, players choose six general strategies which allow them to move and/or attack, serve the church, gather political support, levy taxes, draft mercenaries or allow for a less powerful but more versatile strategy. The players put the two orders they'd like to see happen first in a stack marked "1", second in the "2" stack and then third in the "3" stack. Two neutral strategy cards are added to each pile, the three stacks are shuffled and then orders are executed one at a time in a random order. When orders are executed, the strategy cards are temporarily discarded to one of three piles which will trigger sub-phases when those discard piles fill up completely. The piles are labeled Taxation, Wages and Assembly, and when each triggers, income from captured cities is given out, soldiers must be paid or released from service, or Barons convene to vote on legal matters, respectively. Until those piles clear and trigger their phases, those cards are unavailable to use again by the player who spent them.

Game in progress at CABS in Columbus, OH.

To build an empire, players must supplement their own loyal troops with a mercenary army, levy taxes to pay for army upkeep and build a stable economy. Hiring mercenaries and outfitting all troops is difficult to do with taxation alone, so there are several other options to get money rolling. Players may choose to invest in trade expeditions to the far east, gather support to have trade concessions legally assigned to them, or conquer cities in foreign lands. Balancing income versus military might is essential, as the most lucrative options for making money don't typically directly contribute to victory, and large armies are expensive. Getting new soldiers is handled through a mercenary "draft" where anyone who chose to use the "draft soldiers strategy" is allowed to pick, in order from the new units ready to be assigned to nobles.

Taking cities and fighting with these armies is fairly simple. Each player has four commanders to move around the board, each has a special power. Cities can be assaulted at the risk of damaging the defenses and/or taking casualties for a quick (1-turn) capture, or with a large enough army a city can be besieged for 2 turns and it will automatically fall without any damage to defenses or the attacking army. Sieges may be lifted by any player attacking the besieging forces, and in a game where victory points are calculated at the end of every turn, risking two turns to maybe get nothing is significant. Armies and cities get to play one Fate card per 100 troops, with armies led by a noble (anything except an uncontrolled city) getting two extra draws to choose from to represent tactical ability. Fate cards may inflict 100 casualties, prevent 100 casualties or generate 1 victory point. Resolving fights is simple, if either side took enough casualties to wipe out all the troops assigned to them, they lose (and casualties to cities also represent broken walls, etc.) If neither side is wiped out by casualties, whichever side has the most victory points wins, and the opposing force is killed (but buildings take no permanent damage from this phase.)

Each noble may command an army and move about the board, while the Baron
(representing the player) only fights if the home Stronghold city is attacked.

Nobles limit how many places you can be at once, as there are only four of them and all your troops must be assigned to any nobles on the board or to defending your home base. When a noble dies, they are off the board for a turn and a card is pulled to see if any mercenaries under their command desert (by nationality.) The next turn, the noble's heir commands his dead father's forces and rides out again. If nobles don't stay at a captured city, that city may revolt, so rapid expansion comes with risk as well. The power of each of the four nobles either allows them to prevent 100 casualties, deal 100 extra casualties, generate +1 victory in battle or to not have to pay wages to any army smaller than 450 troops. Figuring out how many troops to assign to each and where to place the nobles helps determine who wins.

There are also two roles that players fight for throughout the game, the Chairman of the Assembly and the Head of the Church. Assembly Chairman gets to choose where trade expeditions are started and breaks ties in votes on agendas. Agendas may grant extra income, grant titles (with free troops) to nobles, or put rules into effect for the rest of the game. The Head of the Church may decide to bless trade expeditions to increase their chance of success, and also spends faith to influence the events deck. The events deck may grant free influence, have nobles assassinated in the field, affect plague or revolt, or even declare that a noble has no heir and may not return with his troops to the board when killed.

The game has an expansion that addresses some of the flaws I talk about below.

The biggest problems with the game are that a runaway leader in early turns is hard to catch, as everyone gets influence from all cities every turn, so a player in the lead must be attacked quickly, or everyone else falls behind. Experienced players can deal with this by keeping the game close through a lot of aggression, if people play passively, the outcome is determined almost from the very beginning. Also, the amount of influence in the pool determines game length, and the default number of 10 per player means the game tends to end abruptly just as it is getting good. Adding more influence per player fixes this, but it also makes the game take quite a bit longer. I think that the default shorter game is good to teach it, but after learning the rules, 15-20 influence per player makes the overall play more satisfying. I'm looking forward to giving it another go, as I don't play often enough to not have to play the shorter default version to re-learn it every time.
Best Blogger Tips
  • Stumble This Post
  • Save Tis Post To Delicious
  • Share On Reddit
  • Fave On Technorati
  • Buzz This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Digg This Post
  • Share On Facebook
Blog Gadgets


Post a Comment