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Subject: Beware the Mongol hordes, my son rss

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Michael Debije
Netherlands
Eindhoven
The Netherlands
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What you get

Inside the thin-style GMT box (which has a quite attractive cover in my opinion) you get a sheet of 140 cardboard counters, full color, two tiny dice, a player aid card, a sheet of cardboard money counters and the driver of the game, 110 nice-looking cards depicting either map sections or actions/events. In all, I find it an attractive game, although the map cards are indeed a little small and sometimes the number of counters is too few for game play, which is a pity.

What you do

The game starts by placing a number of the map cards onto the table to form the starting map. From the depicted nations, each player chooses 2 or 3 power cards, representing control of the nation and its armies and navies. Each nation also has an associated leader, rated as good, average, or bad, and effects the nation’s ability in battle. Then players are dealt 4 cards, and collect the income from each of their controlled provinces, and off the game goes. On your turn, you first fill your hand to four cards. Then, you have the option of drawing a map card to further enlarge the map: doing so, however, will lessen the number of attacks you can make that turn. Next, a number of cards in the deck are marked as mandatory plays, including disasters and death of rulers: these must be played at this time and the effects applied. Now one enters the action phase. As a first action possibility, the player can choose to collect income from all its possessions, but this will end their turn. If the eschew taking funds, the turn may consist of playing as many cards as desired to help yourself or hinder opponents, and make up to two attacks (or one if they placed a map card this turn). An attack is made by tracing a route from the attacking province to the defending (possible negotiating passage through your neighbor’s lands), paying 1 florin, and hiring mercenaries (at 3 fl each). The defender also hires their own mercenaries, both hirings done in secret. Bids are simultaneously revealed. Battles are decided by adding the army strength to the leader ability to card play to the roll of a die. The attacker wins if he beats the defender’s combat value, and takes possession of the province. Neutral provinces may also be attacked; they just defend with a die roll. Sea combat is similar, just more expensive and attackers win ties as well. The game centers on control of power cards: playing a power card allows the controller of the provinces of a country to also control the leader and army of a nation: once held, a power card can only be taken from an owner by conquest of the individual provinces. On top of all this, there are 7 Mongol cards in the deck. Nothing happens upon drawing the first three. However, after the third is drawn, they are shuffled back in the remaining draw pile, and ever further Mongol draw indicates an attack against the Easternmost card of the map. This attack is a die roll +5, and defended by the collective players with a similar roll, modified by the defense of the region and possible card play, If the players lose, the map card is flipped over and becomes out of play, and any regions owned on that card are lost! Once all seven Mongols enter play, the game ends immediately upon drawing the next power card. There are some more game details, including crusades, marriages, heresies, but the general drift of the game is as described.

What I think


This game has a bit of a rough history. I was one of the p500 pledgers, and we has a very reasonable price quoted for the game. As it turns out, the game cost GMT much more than they expected, and came near to driving the company out of business. Despite this, they honored the pledge price, which I though was amazingly classy: Decision games had no problem jerking me about on the pledge price of the Empires of the Middle Ages. Anyway, what about the game? It came out to some real criticism, with claims that it was too complex, too long, too little variety in the cards, the map was too small, and there were not enough counters. I’m here to tell you that, while the latter two comments are somewhat true, they are not debilitating, and that the first three criticisms are bollocks. The rules are reasonable clear to anyone with cursory experience in heavier rule sets, and the living rules have made it a bit easier to navigate. Complexity is nothing big, and once you’ve gotten going a few turns, it all flows smoothly. People who have been playing the game 5+ hours are playing way too slow: quit over-thinking this game. It is short, sharp, and direct. Attacking is advocated, and the timing mechanism and gradual loss of the map edge to the Mongols is brilliant. Adds some real pressure as one sees the unstoppable march of the hordes, indicating the day of reckoning is fast approaching. As to player interaction, outside the ‘take that’ and response cards, external deals are encouraged, and trades of cards, money and favors are possible. As to card variety, it may have been possible to diversify, but the cards are generic enough that they can superficially cover a variety of other events you could imagine for Europe in this time, so it never bothered us. As it is, we have cards to cover Papal activities (excommunication, crusades and more), heresy, assassins, Knights of Christ, Jihads, civil wars, monarch deaths… pretty good variety as it stands. The game can be quite fluid, and dramatic changes of fortune are possible, and only the carefully-planning can avoid some severe bumps along the way. I have to admit, I’ve mainly played 3 or 4 players and have not yet tried with 5, but it works fine with the 3 and 4. I find this to be a surprisingly good game, and my group has never balked at a chance to play, and has never failed to be entertaining. One of the best card games I have played, and it captures a bit of the chaos and uncertainly of the period, and you gain more appreciation of the fear felt by the people of that age for the alien Mongol menace.
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Richard H. Berg
United States
South Carolina
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I thank you for the kind comments concerning MEDIEVAL, a most unusual game (with unusual mechanics).

Two points (which have nothing to do with your opinion):

1. "...the game cost GMT much more than they expected, and came near to driving the company out of business." This is not true in any sense. GMT did have to rethink the pricing, but the "edge of doom" you mention was not, in any way, a possibility.

2. Try using paragraphs when you write . . . it greatly aids the reader and makes the wirter sound a lot better.

RHB
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Noel
United States
Unspecified
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BergBROG wrote:

2. Try using paragraphs when you write . . . it greatly aids the reader and makes the wirter sound a lot better.

RHB


Checking one's spelling is also important.
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Francois Petitclerc
Canada
Verdun
Quebec
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I have had this game on my shelf for a while now. Thank you for the report; I will make a point of bringing it out to try it for myself.
I especially like the end game conditions with its impending sense of doom.

This isn't the game that almost nailed the coffin shut for GMT; that dubious honor goes to Flagship I believe.

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