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Subject: Warrior Knights Nights (a review) rss

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My second review will be of the board game Warrior Knights... probably the first "hardcore" board game I ever purchased. Being a huge fan of mideval fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons and pining over lost childhood memories with games like Battle Masters... I needed some strategy with swords and castles. Some decent reviews, a look at those nifty plastic castles and downright awesome box art, and out came the wallet.

The Basics

Lid off! *pop*

Wow, that's a lot of tokens. The thing you notice right away is that there are a lot of cardboard counters for this game. Sure, plenty of games have lots of cardboard, but this one had lots of different cardboard: coins, ships, colored markers of all sorts, a giant gavel and scepter?! After taking a good bit to get all those punched out and playing with the gavel pretending to be a judge ("Hear ye! Hear ye!") we got a look at the rest of it. A nice big board with big hexes, a bunch of plastic knights and castles, several different decks of cards... wow! This game looks complicated! The big, thick rulebook of 40-ish pages affirms that this is indeed not a game for the squeemish. We get it all sorted out, burn a whole box of sandwich baggies to store everything, read about half the rulebook and we're set up to play.

The pieces are certainly nice, there's lots of great attractive artwork on the cardboard and cards, and the molded figures are nice too. My copy is defective... I got two of one figure when I should have gotten two different ones in one case, but we marked one with a sharpie and moved on.

The object of the game is to secure a shattered kingdom by any means necessary... and I say that because there are several ways to do that. You can spend your turns mustering forces and waging war of course, but you can also play the court system, start expeditions, secure castles or sail off to a distant island (where the big money's at). Each of the game's systems are card driven. Basically you plan out a whole series of events at once... you have a hand of cards that represent all of your available actions, and you choose several of them and the approximate order you want them to occur in. These are shuffled into piles with the other players' cards and executed in random order. Players gather resources, move about the map, initiate battles, secure votes for the assembly, initiate drafts and pay soldier wages as a result of the various ways that these cards interact and are counted.

Why would anyone bother with all this? Well, the object of the game is to gain Influence, special points that abstractly represent your popularity in the kingdom. Get enough of it, and you'll be chosen as the heir to the throne, and thus win the game. Each of these different tactics are avenues toward this lofty goal, or preventing your opponents toward reaching it before you do.

The interesting part of the game is that there are so many facets to it, that you can explore all of them in attempt to gain advantage. Often you will have to make a choice to excel in some areas by neglecting others. Want to secure a new castle, or destroy an enemy one? You'll need soldiers and generals for that, and those cost money. You can gather faith tokens and become Head of Church to gain influence over game-changing effects, or collect votes for the periodic assemblies which allow you to pass laws that promote your officers, give you influence or other tasty treats. It's really difficult to do all these things at once, mostly because accumulation of resources is a little slow, and all the players' plans are executing at the same time.

Well, that's a surface look, let's see how it played.

First Impressions

My first several games of WKs was with but one other person. I simply decided to sit down and read the rules in their entirety before we played. The rules aren't that complicated, but there's a lot to keep track of, and several sets of cards to manipulate at various points, so it was hard to get everything right... right off the bat. We had to check the rules quite a few times, and we reviewed them after each game. After the second playthough and review we pretty much had the hang of it, able to complete a game in about 90 minutes with only sporadic checks of the rulebook.

At the same time that all the rules to remember slowed down play, it is worth noting that they all interacted in very interesting ways! Moving around the map, gaining gold, playing the mercenary track, all of these things seemed to have a big effect on the game as a whole, and your actions not only affect you but all of the players directly. Holding a public office is a big advantage. Forcing players with powerful armies to pay wages can be crippling. Starting an expedition can mean boom or bust for all the investors. The large amount of detail makes this a broad game, and it could cater to many different play styles. If you want to be a politician, you can. If you want to rule with the iron fist of God, you can. If you want to put your other player's vassals to the sword, gather up a couple hundred Sweeds and have at it!

The game looks like it could support up to 6 players, and I think that towards the upper end of the scale it plays much better. Our two player games were fun, but they sort of limited our strategies. Attacking each other was simply a waste... it was much more effective to secure unguarded castles and use faith and votes to control how much influence we got. Kindof disappointed when a rather large section of the rules detail how combats between others play out, but we still managed to find our fun.

Lasting Appeal

A while later I was able to get a few more players in on the act... and we took some time out to teach them the game (and review the rules once again for ourselves) and the game was much more interesting. A player is doing less at any given time, since his action cards come up proportionally less often, but there's more direct conflict and steeper competition for influence, which is definitely a good thing. In two player games typically someone gets to run away with it and the other player can't muster troops fast enough to do anything about it. In multiplayer games, players tend to gang up on the leader, keeping more people in the running. This game is great for people who like to make deals and alliances at the table! With all the extra detail, you can sometimes really feel like you're a duke making alliances and trades to get ahead in a midieval world. This is certainly the game's strongest point.

The one thing I love and hate about WKs, though, is the time-control-slash-win-condition that is the influence pool. Gathering influence is the name of the game, and the first player to reach a set number of influence wins. There's a few ways to get it, but the end result is always the same. My problem is that once the game is underway you can get into a position where you earn these points at the end of every round, making influence accumulation an automatic task. Thus, the games tend to end a little sooner than everyone wishes they would. It always seems that your strategies are just barely starting to take hold, and all of a sudden someone's king... game over. We tried playing with an inflated pool of influence (even much more than the maximum the rules recommend), and this eased the problem somewhat. However, that has the effect of devaluing individual influence points, so certain means of gaining influence (such as one-time awards from cards) became less valuable. It seems you could go through an endless chain of compromises to re-balance the game only to be back where you started. I think that if I played the game again I'd know what tweaks I'd use, but its at this point when I also stop and think that when I'm tweaking a game I'm ultimately not happy with it. There are lots of things I like about Warrior Knights, and some things I don't.

If I haven't made it obvious yet, this is most certainly the sort of game that would only be at home with a dedicated gamer group. The large number of rules and interactions that must be considered in the game most certainly rule it out of any sort of casual play. Be prepared to have to refer to the rulebook from time to time, as there a few rules that aren't always clear, and with the myriad of different systems rolled into one, that's a lot of little nuances to remember.

The Verdict

Warrior Knights is a really fun game, its worth checking out just to see how all the interesting rules play out. This isn't your typical wargame, in that you also have to manage your county's finances and political standing at the same time you're drafting mercenaries and sacking castles. This game is absolutely not for casual players, but if you have a group of regulars (I recommend a handful) who are looking for a different kind of war-themed boardgame this one might surprise you. So be ready to take a little time to get everyone's feet wet, and make sure your table has lots of space to fan out the hundreds of playing cards and cardboard tokens.

The almost-excessive complexity, combined with a few shortcomings in the rules, truly keeps it from being an A-list game in my opinion. There's a lot of meat to this game, but that means there's a lot to scrutinize... there are some aspects of the game I wish were more detailed, others I think that were overly so, some I would have handled differently and others that I wish were added in.

Go ahead and give it a try if you're looking for a nice, thick boardgame to chew on. This game will give you a lot to think about, its definitely a game you'll have to visit a few times to really appreciate. The ending can sometimes come too soon, but I'm not sure if that's a fault of the game or just a sign of myself wanting more.

Grade: B

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I am glad that Johnny Jaws is my friend.
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Enumclaw
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Good review. I have been keeping an eye one this one. It is my understanding that the expansion "fixes" some problems with the first release. Are you using the expansion?
 
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Marc Mistiaen
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About your duplicate (and missing) figure, FFG are well-knowned for their incredible customer support and I can tell first-hand. Just contact them and they will send you a replacement free of charge.
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Tomas Syrovatka
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I had the same problem with duplicate figures (blue), I contacted FFG and received a replacement within a week. I love WK and strongly recommend the expansion, once you try it, you won't play without it.
 
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Gordon Adams
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The expansion (Crown and Glory) does, indeed, make the game more manageable imho.
Yes, one does have to be patient with reading the Rule book and it is this that really overwhelmes first-time buyers. So, unless you are into this genre of game and like big rule books and consulting issues that arise in gameplay, this game might just be the ticket to an interesting evening of play. If you like few rules and getting into gameplay, this might not be for you. Simple, really !
However, I have played the main game with 2 and 4 players and it went better with four. It took about twenty minutes to explained the basic rules and then answer questions during playing.....but make sure you really have got the rules right first
It also depends on your tactics, as the reviewer pointed out. As a two player, battles are just not worth the effort, the outcome is over very quickly. But, having , at least, four players allows for various tactics to be used.
Nice and clear review,wiseman. I know a number of people who have been put off by the scale of this game and it's odds and ends (the cardboard bits consume a lot of bags to store them in).
I would say, that if you are into Arkham, this is a doddle!
The only gripe I have is with the price of the expansion . Mind you, I think the Immortal King "series" takes the prize for "most expensive" card game ! Worthwhile to get, if you really like the game and want to play it with 4 or more , but not if you are likely to play the game once every blue moon.

Kind regards.
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Richard Young
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I would also highly recommend you try playing this with several players (four is a good number, but more can make for an interesting experience as well if somewhat longer) a few times and see if your overall impression improves. This game was never intended as a two player game and it really starts to shine with more. I'm actually surprised you rated it as highly as you did given your mostly two player experience with it. It does seem a bit fiddly at first but experence with it soon removes that feeling. Finally, as others have done, I highly recommend looking at the expansion.
 
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Ray Diebel
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As far as "hard core games" go, this one is rather light. Yet, it is heavier than most that my group plays. I loved the rules, depth of options, and approach to gameplay that requires some level of commitment to strategy.

I wasn't certain how it would be received by my game buddies, but we ended up all enjoying it quite thoroughly.

You say a 90 minute game. We took about 3 hours. But that might have had something to do with the beers and jokes in between!


 
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Jon Grey
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Damn, I really want Warrior Knights, but 40 page rulebook is a little too heavy for my group.. for now anyway.

(edit) Found the rule book pdf, 20 page rule book aint half bad!
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Jim bo
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SPARTAN VI wrote:
Damn, I really want Warrior Knights, but 40 page rulebook is a little too heavy for my group.. for now anyway.

(edit) Found the rule book pdf, 20 page rule book aint half bad!

after you've played through a couple of turns the rules start to become fairly intuitive and the game flows.

i think the most off putting aspect for a casual gaming group might be the amount of components to setup and manage rather than the complexity of the rules itself.

this game is begging for an online computerised version to take care of all the bookkeeping automatically.
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