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For those who don’t spend their time concerning themselves with international board game affairs, Rio Grande Games is a company who basically searches out some of the very best strategic board games around the globe, brings them to the United States, translates them into English then unleashes their addictive tendencies to a whole new unsuspecting civilization.
Keeping that in mind, Knights is exactly one such game, released originally back in 2000 by a German company called AbacusSpiele. Written by Michael Schacht, Rio Grande brought it to North America shortly after its German release.
Hard facts are short and sweet: This is a game for 2-6 Players, recommended ages 8 & up with a playtime of 20 - 40 minutes.
Within the pocket-sized box are 56 cards, 6 dice, and a single black and white foldout rule sheet. My copy also contained a full color AbacusSpiele catalog written entirely in German containing some pretty interesting-looking titles that sadly, do not appear to have made Rio Grande’s to-do list.
The game, in its simplest summation resembles the ever-classic Yahtzee formula with cards complimenting the dice and a nice medieval-theme throughout. While it maintains the core dynamic of dice rolling for purpose of combinations, it would be a far cry to insinuate that Knights were merely a thematic spin on Yahtzee.
Here the goal is to win over the kingdom, which can be accomplished in 3 ways: First having 4 different colored castles in your play area. Second by having three different castles and defeating the king and finally by having two different castles and three tournament cards.
Two draw piles are established in the middle of the table and players roll 6 yellow & black dice on their turn in attempt to beat the combination depicted on either one of the cards atop the draw piles. Rolls of 6 are immediately discarded and worse still, the die (or dice) showing this number are set aside and cannot be re-rolled. Players can roll up to 3 consecutive times per turn in effort to build the necessary combination to claim the card. Like in Yahtzee and dozens of card games throughout the ages, quintet (5 of a kind) of a lower number beats out a quartet (4 of a kind) of a higher number and so on. However, poker combinations like straights and flushes do not apply here.
Grabbing cards is all part of the mission to achieve any of the three winning conditions listed above but along the way are a whole host of special cards to help protect what’s yours and to sometimes help put the screws to your opponents. See it turns out that not only can you attempt to win castles as they appear in the deck; you can also attempt to steal them from your opponents. This is done by not only beating the dice combination listed on the castle card’s face but also by successfully fending off the player’s defense roll which, if higher than yours, means you’ve wasted your turn.
Special cards bring all sorts of good old fashioned mayhem to the mix; cards worth a dice value that can count toward a combination for the duration of the game, cards that protect a player’s castle from opponent attack, cards that allow a player 4 rolls when attacking an opponent’s castle and so on.
There are also various tournament cards scattered about in the deck. Revealing one of these sets up another dice rolling competition, this time directly between all of the players. Highest combination wins the card (don’t forget there are game-winning combinations that require these). Oh and while everyone else gets 3 rolls in which to get the job done, the player who revealed the card is considered the host of the tournament and in addition to rolling first, gets 4 rolls for his troubles.
Finally, I mentioned that one of the ways to win was to have only three different castles and to defeat (topple) the king, that’s done by beating the incredible combination of quintet 5s (and a 1 as the tie breaker)... Failure to succeed in assassinating the king costs the player a castle of his choosing, back to the deck, as it were- ouch!
In all, there is little debate that the game’s outcome has much to do with luck, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t strategy and ruthless tactics aplenty. The game is one of few that can honestly be as much fun with its minimum number of players as it is the maximum. Even with two players, rounds are quick, slick and full of twists and turns.
Jaded as I may be, I found quite a bit of good quality entertainment in Knights, as is par for the course with most of Rio Grande’s imports. It may not be a viable substitute for similarly themed games like Warrior Knights or Stronghold; it is undeniably fun filler material. This, along with Funmaker Games’ Knights of the Realm really managed to impress me with solid mechanics and similar themes. It is certainly true that sometimes games with little to no hype surrounding them turn out to be unexpectedly magnificent.
While it still gets credit as being an active game on Rio Grande’s roster, Knights does appear to be getting more and more difficult to find in the United States. Should you come across a copy in your travels, however, don’t hesitate to pick it up as it’s certainly exceeded most expectations I initially placed upon it.