Back after a very long hiatus. I’ve moved into a new place, that I now pay the mortgage for, in the intervening time. Packing up for the move and everything that came with it was my excuse to go dark, but even after I settled in I still didn’t start writing again. Weeeeelp. No more excuses then.
The holiday season was a very fruitful one for fun and games. We played many party games as well as plenty of strategy games. I’ve expanded my board games collection once more, even adding an additional shelf to house the party games and some of my Magic cards. The Cube has been updated and I have put together the Cube Tracker spread sheet. I’ve also started going to the Eurogames at the Royal Standard events through the Melbourne Boardgames Meetup Group, which has been amazingly fun and rewarding. Dungeons and Dragons also started again, with an introductory session for new players last week, and another one-shot session planned for this weekend. It’s a good time to be a gamer.
You probably don’t need to hear me ramble on about what I’ve been up to recently. Here are some opinions of games instead:
I recently picked up a couple of fairly new releases from AEG Games. AEG has been making pretty good strides into the board game market in recent years. Previously I’ve had Infinite City by them, and they have also been behind Thunderstone, The Adventurers, Nightfall and many others. Obviously, I’ve also had some Legend of the Five Rings decks sitting around for some time. However, the two games I am about to review present their more recent forays into more Eurogame style designs, rather than the top-down designs from before.
First up is the area control game of Courtier. Courtier is part of AEG’s latest Tempest initiative, which involves various board games set in the fictional city state of Tempest. The other games in the series are Dominare, Mercante and Love Letter. Of the whole series, Love Letter and Courtier are the ones that really intrigued me. Love Letter because it is supposedly only involves a very limited number of cards to create a tense game. Courtier because of its designer, Phillip duBarry, who previously designed Revolution!.
Like Revolution, Courtier is a fairly light area control game for up to 4 players that uses influence cubes to gain certain objectives on a board. In Courtier, the board represents the various Courtiers in the Royal Court of Tempest that you will try to curry favour with to fulfill certain petitions that have been made of you. The petitions are objectives that you can score by influencing the right courtiers, and you have one hidden petition at all times as well as 4 open petitions that can be completed by anyone.
You place influence cubes of your colour on the board using Influence Cards, which allow you to influence specific courtiers or types of courtiers. You can also use Power cards which allow you to move influence or swap influence or other assorted special actions. Courtiers are also grouped into Coteries, which provide a powerful bonus if you control that Coterie. There is also an “event” deck, called the Fashion Deck here, which triggers special events, denoting the Queen’s changing whims, whenever anyone scores a petition. One of the cards in the deck, “The Queen is Arrested!”, triggers the end of the game and the player with the most points from petitions and other bonuses wins the game.
Control of a particular courtier is purely based on which player has the most cubes of his/her colour on that courtier’s influence spaces. Neutral influence cubes can also be placed on courtiers which do not count against any player’s control, and in fact courtiers with only neutral cubes are considered available to all players. The neutral cubes are also useful for filling up spaces as only a courtier that is completely filled can be scored. However, once you score a petition, all courtiers involved in that scoring have all the influence cubes removed. This stops players from simply “chaining” similar petitions. Also, if you have the most cubes of your colour across all the courtiers in a coterie, you get the coterie bonus which is usually very useful. In the photo above, Red has control of the Admiral, King, and Guildmaster and can thus score the petition for 10 points. Red also has the most cubes in the Royal Family coterie and gets the associated bonus card.
The basic rules are very simple and can be taught fairly quickly. I liked the gameplay, as it usually moved pretty fast and there was ample opportunity to mess around with your opponent’s influence. There is a fairly large element of randomness as some Influence cards can only influence very specific courtiers and drawing too many of those could potentially hurt your overall game plan. Fortunately the game has many ways to manage the luck through Power cards and also by allowing the cycling of cards. Each of the coterie powers are also very strong, and the early game will see a lot of jockeying around to maintain the coterie powers before you get enough influence on the board to start scoring petitions. All in all, a nice little package that isn’t obviously exciting or breaking new ground, but is a solid introduction to the area control genre. Not something I would clamor to play, but it fills a niche in my gaming library. Since it was our first time, we all just started with a random assortment of cards, but the full rules involve a draft of starting hands which I am very keen to try.
Next up is Guildhall. I originally thought that this was also part of the Tempest line, but I’m obviously mistaken. In fact, I’m still not sure why this wasn’t just tweaked to be part of the Tempest line. The theme is generic enough to fit in with the rest of the Tempest games. Perhaps Tempest doesn’t have a strong guild system? Pshaw. I’m sure they could have fit it in anyhow. Seems like a wasted opportunity, seeing as this game is quite a gem. Well, except for that farmer’s manic grin on the cover. Creeps me out. Also what I assume is the Historian of to the right seems waaaaaaaay grumpy. He looks like he’d sooner smack me with that heavy book and add my name to the list of “accidental” deaths than tell me my genealogy. What a dick.
Notwithstanding my issues with the cover and the inordinate size of the box to the contents (seriously, you couldn’t find a smaller box? Really?) , Guildhall is a clever and entertaining set collection card game for up to 4 players. You get a hand of six cards with which you will fill up guild chapters in your guildhall which can then be exchanged for victory points. First one to twenty points wins the game. Very straightforward. Obviously since this is a card game, the interesting bits lie with the cards. Guildhall only has 6 types of cards, each representing a different guild: the Assassin, Dancer, Farmer, Historian, Trader and Weaver. Each card type provides different effects, and also can have increased effects if you have already played cards of the same type to your Guildhall.
Each card comes in 5 different colours, and you can only play cards if they do not match a card you have already played. So if you already have a Purple Assassin in your Guildhall, you cannot play any more Purple Assassins, but can play any other colour of Assassin. You have two actions each turn which can be used to play cards or cycle through your hand, but you can’t use consecutive actions to play the same type of card. So, no consecutive Farmers even if they are different colours. At the end of the turn, all played cards enter your Guildhall, which is just your play area in front of you.
As mentioned before, the cards also get stronger the more cards you have of the same type in your Guildhall. For example, a played Farmer gets no effect if no other Farmers are in your Guildhall but provides either 1 VP if there is at least one other Farmer already in the Guildhall, or 2 VP if there are at least three Farmers. Once you have collected one of each colour of a specific occupation, those cards are turned face down and you now have a completed Chapter. Completed Chapters can be exchanged for Victory Point cards which may also provide a one time special effect when bought. The following shows an example sequence of plays:
Play Dancer to draw a card and get another Action. Play Historian (Rank 2) to add a Blue Assassin to the Guildhall. Play Assassin (Now Rank 2 from Historian action) to destroy one card in an opponent’s Guildhall.
At the end of the turn, the played cards get added to the Guildhall permanently.
Play Historian (Rank 4). There are no legal cards to return from the discard, so choose not to activate the power. Use second action to discard rest of hand and refill to 6. At end of turn, Historian enters Guildhall and completes a Chapter.
Use first action to claim a Victory card with the completed Chapter. The 2 Point action lets you steal an uncompleted Chapter from someone else. Steal a Chapter of 3 Farmers. Use second action to play a Farmer (Rank 3), to gain 2 VPs.
I really enjoyed Guildhall. There were many little combos you could pull off, even with the limited amount of card types. I felt that play was quite balanced, and you always had to keep an eye on other players for potential screwage situations. The rules are really simple to explain, but there are enough tactical decisions that this is not a simple game. I feel like there is a strong mix of abilities presented here, and there could even be more Guilds that could be added in expansions. This is definitely something I will always be happy to play in between larger games. The one little quirk I enjoy about the game is that you start building a sort of engine which gets more powerful as you add more guildmembers to a Chapter, until you complete it and have to start over. However, you get to then turn that Chapter into either a massive power or a huge bucketload of points. I’m just really enjoying how all the pieces fit together so nicely in this game. One of my favourite new games that I’ve played in 2013 so far.
So there you go. Two solid little games from AEG, that are now welcome additions to my collection. Now, there are only 5 or so games left unplayed… Until next time, happy gaming!