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A review on a tiny company of Knights
Im Auftrag des Königs
What is it all about?
One of my favourite games of all my collection is Shadows over Camelot. When I bought this one, although this is older than SoC, I told my friends that I had just bought a Soc version for up to 4 players! Since we never play SoC with less then five players and all my friends are pretty much fans of it, they all thought this was pretty promising. It obviously isn’t any version of the bigger game. The big one is a cooperative game with a possible traitor; the tiny one is a purely competitive game.
There are a few similarities though, in this game, as well as in SoC, there are several locations to which the Knights must travel in order to score points and in order to resolve quests, the knights must play specific combinations of cards, required to succeed the questing. This is true for both games.
Nevertheless, being a game from Adlung, you already know! It’s a tiny deck of cards, no big board here, no sir! Just a bunch of cards.
How does it work?
The deck of 66 cards is broken down into several card groups; so there are:
4 knight cards (to identify the players)
4 tent cards (to indicate the playing order)
8 location cards (that is where the knights need to travel to after accepting quests)
16 action cards (these decide which actions players are going to do)
14 quest cards
18 training cards (with these the knights may train there wisdom, courage, dexterity and strength
2 overview cards (show you a diagram and provide a brief explanation of the most important cards.
So you take the location cards and put them face up on the table in a circle, no specific order needed. Each player receives one knight card and a tend card, plus several starting training cards (varies according to the number of players).
The idea of the game is that players pick several actions which they are going to do during the turn. Picking an action starts with the player with tent number one, this player chooses one action (any action), then the second player chooses one action, and so forth, next, the first player chooses another action, second player too, and so on, and another round of action picking starts. Action cards are placed face up on the table in front of each player and after this round, each player will have 3 actions!
Next round: using the action cards! Player with tent number one goes fist and executes all three actions at once! Then the second player does, and so on. So whereas in the action picking round the players take turns in picking one, restarting a new picking round, in this phase, the players do everything at once before the next player’s turn.
So what can you do?
The game provides several options:
You can hoan your skills in one of the for training camps (sword, lance, dragon fighting or studying), you can "go to the stable" and pick one of several horses (with different speeds), you can also go to the round table to brief on new missions, you can pick a questing card that allows you to resolve a mission, or you can go travelling outside Camelot, preaching on Arthur’s values and establishing new order in savage lands or you can enter a tournament against another knight!
So you see there is quite a lot you can do with only 66 cards! Although this might all sound somewhat confusing, there is actually a chain reaction in all this. The ultimate goal is to be the fist achieving a set score (15pts, 20pts or 25pts if playing with 4, 3 or 2 players respectively).
The best way to obtain points is by questing, you can get 3 - 5 points. But you do need certain combination of training cards (swords, lances, dragon fighting or books), the more points a certain quest card offers, the more cards you need to resolve it. So basically the chain goes like this:
You train your knight to obtain specific cards; you go to the round table to brief on missions (select one of three faced up quest cards); pick the quest resolve card that allows you to score a quest card by playing it’s required training cards; but then you also need a fast horse that gets you to the place where that specific quest is to be resolved (indicated on the quest card); Fairly easy. The only problem is that all cards are fairly limited! There are not enough round table cards for all players, not enough quest cards for all players, even less quest resolve cards, etc.
So part of the game is to keep track of your opponents intentions to try and plan one step ahead. Sometimes you can’t do what you would like to do, but you can always hinder your opponents as well!
There are also the tournament cards (only two) that face off two players in a wild tournament, where the winner (decided by the cards played and their values), scores 2 points, or both players score one points in case of a draw.
There is also the preaching in faraway lands. You go representing King Arthur in noble law making and justice deciding, for which you also score 2 points! But these two options as well are limited only to two players at a time!
So is it any good?
You probably noticed by now that this is a fairly complex game for a card game. It also occupies quite some space on the table, unlike most card games. But that’s how Adlung likes to work, cram a complete boardgame into a tiny deck! Some like it, some don’t! Personally, I do like this idea which doesn’t make the game good though, so back to the subject.
I think it is an interesting game, players need to play it a few times before they get the hang of it, but once they do, there is rally nothing to it and it’s quite logical what you need to do and which the sequence to follow. To my mind this game is more about how to avoid other players to score big-time whilst trying to sneakily score low but often, so rather then ignoring your opponents’ moves and just do your stuff, part of the strategy I believe, resides in stopping your opponents from getting what they need at the right time. Since players have 3 actions per turn, scoring a quest is a relatively large investment. You need a horse to ride you far enough (not too often the problem), you need to have the right training cards, a quest card, and the mission card. You also want to be able to ride back if your horse can ride that distance... so you can see a player needs mostly to accumulate things for one big point winning move. In order to make it more difficult you could get the better horse, that would make your opponent take one more turn to ride back to Camelot, thus losing one more opportunity to score sooner then later. You could also try to accumulate training cards your opponent needs, and slowly spend them on smaller amount of points. Your opponent might do that as well of course (scoring the little points), but since the initial intention was to score big points, by the time he/she realises that it won’t be possible because you’re hindering him/her, he/she will already have lost 1 or 2 turns where he/she might have scored. This are a few ways this game might be played and I believe to be the best way to make it an exciting game. And this is its downturn! If players don’t play aggressively, this game just "strolls along". It’s like a walk in the park, it almost plays by itself, it becomes so obvious what players can do that if they don’t have access to one thing they turn to another since they are going to need it anyway.
So on one hand we have a game that might be extremely interactive in the sense that players can actually mess with each other’s plans; on the other hand, if players don’t exactly feel like warfare, but are keener on a field trip... then this game kinda goes on its own, which is a shame, cause this way it looses its real appeal.
So to my mind, this game is great if you are playing with 3 more hardcore screw yourself players, that play a focused game, paying attention to the opponents’ moves and messing with their plans with cold-blooded intentions of keeping them behind score (very unlike the knights of Camelot); it is not so great though if you’re playing with more occasional gamers, or if you want to make this an intro game for newcomers (not at all advisable!), since it fairly difficult to explain the rules in a clear way, and since it also lacks some game mechanic that makes it a transparently competitive game; I just don’t think this game is exciting to these types of players.
The bottom line
Well... on the one side, for the huge game crammed inside the tiny Adlung standard box, the fair complexity and a great potential for a real hardcore confrontational and plan messing game, but on the other side, for the lacking rule adjustments to make this an exciting game for occasional gamers I give it 7.5 out of 10