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Subject: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A satisfying meaty filler for gamers rss

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Introducing Harald

I'm always on the lookout for card games that have relatively simple rules, and yet satisfying gameplay with interesting decisions. A recent game that fits these criteria well is Red7. When I first came across Harald, I was surprised to find its rules were also very short. Yet despite a fairly straight forward ruleset, this game proved to have surprising depth, with very tactical and interactive gameplay that requires tough decisions - each card you play involves a layer of multiple of decisions to think about! Some might consider this a "juicy" game, and certainly it is a rewarding one.

The rulebook explains the theme as follows: "Harald has finally unified the different kingdoms and become the King of this powerful nation. With the newly established peace, the different peoples are going to war on a different battle field: one of intrigue and struggles for influence. Send your emissary to the King’s Council to win his favor so your village becomes the most prestigious."

In this clever card game, you are playing cards to the King's Council, to try to increase the influence value of the cards in your own Village, while cards played to your own Village will allow you to use the special abilities of those characters to interact with your opponents, and also score bonus points.

Designed by Remi Gruber and originally published in his home country by French publisher RUNES Editions, this game has just made the leap to the English market by being included as #10 in the EGG series of portable games from Eagle Gryphon Games. Suitable for 2-4 players and billed as playable in under 30 minutes, Harald is not your ordinary filler, and is a card game that will appeal more to gamers than non-gamers.

So let's show you what you get and how it works!



COMPONENTS

Game box

Like the other titles in the EGG Series, the game box is conveniently portable, and features cover artwork that includes various animal characters from within the game.



The back of the box explains how the game works as follows:

"Each turn you send one card to the King's Council, and another to your own Village. Which card you send to each of these depends upon the powers of each card and your unique strategy. The powers of the cards and the numbers and combinations of each determine the final scores for each player. This unique and beautifully illustrated card game will soon become a family favorite."



Component list

Inside the box we find the following:
● 72 character cards
● 8 reference cards
● 1 scorepad
● Instructions



Character cards

There's a deck of 66 cards featuring 11 identical copies of six different types of animal characters: Boar, Bear, Fox, Wolf, Goat, and Lynx. These are also known respectively in the game as Blacksmith, Warrior, Bard, Navigator, Merchant, and Scout, as indicated by the icons on these cards.





Each card contains an illustration of the character, a unique symbol to indicate that character, and icons on the bottom. The icons on the left indicate the special action that can be performed by that character, while the icons on the right indicate the bonus points that can be earned by that character.



Variant cards

In addition to the standard characters, there are also half a dozen Badger cards, that are used for the optional Badger/Scholar variant, and aren't needed for the basic game.



Reference cards

There are two types of reference cards, both of which are double sided. One reference card explains the abilities of the six different characters in the game.



The other reference card explains the meaning of the icons, while the reverse side explains the Badger/Scholar variant. There are four of each reference card.



Scorepad

A scorepad is provided with the game to assist in adding up the points at the end of each game.



Rules

The rules are on a small paper that unfolds with 8 panels. You can download it here from the publisher.



GAME PLAY

Set-Up

Players start with five cards each, simultaneously revealing one card face up to begin their personal Village.

An area in the middle of the table begins empty and is known as the King's Council.

Four cards are turned face up beside the draw pile and form the Reserve.



Flow of Play

The basic flow of play involves player doing the following three steps in order:
1. Play a card to the King's Council
2. Play a card to your own Village (and optionally taking its action)
3. Replenishing your hand back to four cards

1. Play a card to the King's Council

The number of character cards of a particular type represents the influence that character has - so if there are three Merchants in the King's Council, then each Merchant in your Village is worth three points. The first thing you do on a turn is play a card from your hand to the King's Council area in the middle of the table.



2. Play a card to your Village

Next, you play a card to your Village. These cards will earn you points equivalent to the corresponding influence at the King's Council, and will earn bonus points depending on the Character.

Each character also has an ability that you can activate when you play it if you wish. These are as follows:
Blacksmith: Flip up to two cards in two different game areas.
Warrior: Place any Village card under the draw pile, and replace it with a random card from the top of the draw pile.
Bard: Exchange a card from your Village with one from your hand.
Navigator: Exchange a card from any Village with a card from the King's Council.
Merchant: Exchange a card from your Village with a card from an opponent's Village.
Scout: Activate the ability of the card you just played to the King's Council.



3. Replenish your hand

After playing a card to the King's Council and to your Village, you draw back to four cards, by taking two cards in total either from the face-up reserve or from the face-down draw pile.



Scoring

The game ends after a fixed number of rounds, depending on the number of players (10/8/6 rounds for 2/3/4 players). In the final round, players only play a single card to their Village and none to the King's Council. Your score is calculated immediately when you complete your final turn.

The score-pad can be used to assist with final scoring, which is the cumulative total of the following:

Influence points: Each character in your Village is worth points equal to the number of characters matching it in the King's Council (e.g. 2 Blacksmiths in the King's Council means each of the Blacksmiths in your Village is worth 2 points).

Bonus points: Characters in your village can earn bonus points:
Blacksmith: 4 points (max) if you have more Warriors than Blacksmiths
Bard: 4 points (max) if you have more Bards than Merchants
Navigator: 4 points (max) if your number of Navigators and Scouts is equal
Warrior: 1 point for each Bard in your Village
Merchant: 1 point for each Navigator in your Village
Scout: 2 points for each face-down card in your Village



Variants

The rules also include a few variants:

Allegiance to the King: Play without the bonus points, and do final scoring only using influence in the King's Council.

Strength in Numbers: A four player game in teams, where players opposite each other add their final scores together.

Badger/Scholar variant: This extra character lets you protect one type of character from opponents' actions, and is used as a wild card in final scoring.



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

A learning curve despite simple rules: The rules of this game are fairly easy, and as evidence of that you only need to consider the small size of the rulebook. But there is a lot going on, because you are keeping track of the amount of influence you have in the King's Court, as well as the different abilities of the six characters in the game, plus you'll want to keep an eye on the bonus points characters award in different ways. So there's a lot to be considering and thinking about, and the entrance into this game isn't made any easier by the need to grasp the icons used in the game. Count on your first couple of games being learning games!

Complexity in decisions rather than rules: While this game isn't a simple filler that's easy to learn, the complexity of the game isn't so much in the rules themselves, but in the decisions that you're making. Each card you play has a big impact on the game - for each card that you play in your Village, you need to think about how it will score you points as a result of the influence that character has in the King's Court, as well as how it will score you points as a result of its bonuses, so optimizing your score is never a straight-forward matter. And if that's not enough, you also need to think about its special action, which typically will allow you to switch or exchange cards. That means that each card play involves at least three layers of decisions wrapped into one, and it's rarely very obvious what is the best card to play! So this is hardly a very light and casual game, and the gameplay is quite rewarding - people who enjoy puzzling and some measure of brain-burn will really quite enjoy these multiple levels of decision making involved in the choice of a simple card. The depth of gameplay means that I wouldn't consider this a simple filler, but more of a meaty game that would appeal more to gamers than non-gamers.

Best learned with "Allegiance to the King" variant: I typically only look at variants after mastering the basic game, but in the case of Harald, I wish that one of the variants had a high profile in the rulebook. The "Allegiance to the King" variant offers a simplified form of the game, in which you play with the normal rules, except that you don't worry about the bonus points of the characters. I highly recommend playing this way when learning the game, because there's already enough to think about with the icons and character abilities, without needing to worry about maximizing the special bonus points as well. In fact, this variant produces a very good form of the game that is very similar to the main game, but with a slightly lower degree of complexity. I wonder if it had been better included in the rules as the standard form of the game, with the character bonuses being considered an "Advanced" form of the game for experienced players.

Not at all just luck: Even though this is a card game in which you're drawing cards from a deck, the outcome is not just a matter of luck. To begin with, you'll want to optimize the abilities of your characters, and make clever choices that optimize your point scoring. This requires careful thought, and there's quite a bit to think about, because typically you have a lot of options, not just in terms of which card to play, but more importantly in where to play it, and how to take advantage of its ability. Furthermore, the mechanic in which there's a face-up reserve of four cards means that you aren't forced to draw blindly, but have some choice in terms of which cards will end up in your hand.

Highly tactical: In the early stages of the game, it's hard to plan, because the cards in play will often move around a lot. That makes it very difficult to embark on a long term strategy. It's usually best to play your first cards fairly quickly, and concentrate on getting the closing stages of the game right. In the later stages of the game, each card played becomes more and more important. This means that the tension ramps up, and with the stakes becoming higher and higher as the game progresses. The gameplay is very tactical, because of the strong impact each card has. Your final card plays are especially critical, because a single card tactically played at a crucial stage of the game can create a significant point swing in your favour. In that respect this is a very tactical game, and a good play in your final turn can sometimes earn you 10 points!

High degree of interaction: One thing that Harald can not be accused of is "multi-player solitaire". Most of the characters give you the ability to switch cards from your neighbour's village with your own village or with the King's Court, or to flip them face down, thereby directly impacting their score. So there's a high level of confrontation and a strong "take that" element. It is simply impossible to ignore what others are doing, and playing successfully requires you to optimize card plays that will reduce your opponent's score while at the same time increasing your own, and a single clever play can have a significant impact on your score, by changing the values of cards drastically, especially those that require specific conditions to achieve bonus points. This makes the game extremely dynamic, and while some people will find that this introduces a frustrating measure of chaos that makes long term planning difficult, others will appreciate the high degree of interaction and the emphasis on sharp tactical play. You do need to be constantly adapting to the changing landscape of the game, which for me was part of the fun.

Mechanics reminiscent of Fairy Tale and Guildhall: Several aspects of the gameplay remind me of another little card game that I love, namely Fairy Tale. Now Fairy Tale is a drafting game (like Seven Wonders), and there's absolutely no drafting in Harald. But the common element is that you are trying to build up a personal tableau of cards where their value depends on the total number of cards, or on certain combinations of cards. Additionally, cards have abilities and symbols like flipping. I can't help wonder whether the designers drew some inspiration from the mechanics of Fairy Tale, even though the two games are quite different. I've also seen comparisons made with Guildhall, and while I've not personally played this game, from what I've read about it, I can see some common elements, notably the idea of set collection involving cards with special abilities and a high degree of interaction. If you enjoy either of these games, there's a good chance you might like Harald as well.

Best with two or three players?: With four players, I find that there's almost too much to think about, although there is a variant that enables you to play in teams, which I haven't tried personally, but it does sound like it would be rather fun. A two player game plays the most quickly, and becomes a sharp and rewarding tactical battle. Three players works well too, although it means that you potentially have two other players messing with your plans and your cards, whereas a two-player game is more of a head-to-head contest. Both are fun, and certainly if you are looking for a game that works well with just two players, this fits the bill nicely.

Excellent component quality: The quality of the cards themselves is typical of the quality of Eagle Gryphon Games. They are very durable and impressive, with a fine linen finish that shuffles and fans nicely. The reference cards are also well done, and although it's a bit of a pain to need a score sheet to tally up final scores, I'm glad that this was included. Everything fits in the box nicely, and the result is a small package that is portable and yet contains a lot of game inside.

Questionable graphic design: While I like the different colours, I would have liked the animal artwork to be more prominent on the cards, because the background patterns and artwork detract from the main illustration of the animal character itself. While the use of icons rather than text does make the game language independent, it also makes the game harder to learn, and especially in your first few games you'll find yourself constantly referring to the reference card, and it can be somewhat overwhelming. Note that this is no longer an issue once you've played the game a few times. I'm also a bit puzzled by the rationale behind giving every animal a second icon and name which is completely unrelated to that animal - this just makes the game more confusing than it has to be. It appears as if the game was created with characters like Blacksmith, Warrior, Bard, Navigator, Merchant, and Scout, and an animal theme which has nothing to do with these roles was just pasted on. None of these are fatal problems, but they do affect the game's accessibility and increase the steepness of the learning curve.

Fun animal theme: The theme of this game could have been any number of things, but I appreciate the fact that a choice was made not to go along the lines of some of the over-used themes like medieval characters, but instead to use animals. As mentioned already, it's somewhat confusing that the icons used in the game aren't consistent with the animal theme. But an animal theme in itself feels fresh and fun, and helps evoke a light atmosphere that helps the game stand apart from many other card games. The artwork is by Emmanuel Civello, who is also a comic book illustrator (link).

Filler for gamers: Aside from a slight entry banner due to the iconography, for the most part Harald is an easy game to learn. It also doesn't take that long to play - once you're experienced with the game, you can polish off a game in about 20 minutes. However, the myriad of things to think about when playing a card will make your head swim (in a pleasant way) the first time you play. Actions, points, bonus points - it's just going to be more than the average non-gamer can handle. But for the typical gamer, this thought process will generate a delightful form of brain-melt, while at the same time very much remaining within the category of filler.



What do others think?

The criticism

Being such a new game, critical feedback thus far is very minimal. Those who didn't enjoy the game mentioned concerns about the impact of the final round, the less than intuitive iconography, and that their first play wasn't as well received as hoped for. I had a similar experience - the use of symbols/icons does make the game harder to learn, and the amount of things going on does mean that your first experience with the game won't always be positive. Some may find it too overwhelming, or perhaps too interactive and chaotic. However it is important not to judge this game too much by first impressions, but to take the time to master it first, because some persistence in learning it will pay off.

The praise

Despite some criticisms, the majority of the comments on the game so far are positive, including the following:

"A great little game with a lot of depth and interaction. More than a simple filler!" - sathimon
"This 'little' card game is awesome. There is such lot of strategy in this tiny little box." - RFTGJC
"Highly recommended, well worth adding to your collection." - NeilDT
"Nice card game with twisty counting system." - Purri
"Harald is a real gem of a game that scales perfectly for 2 to 4. I've played it a dozens of times with many different people." - brunogaia
"A very easy to learn, but incredibly difficult to master game." - badgerthebrave
"This is a little game with the depth of a heavier/bigger one. For me it's 9 / 10." - sathimon
"Terrific Game! Unique scoring conditions take a while to get used to but make the game very interesting." - ricks
"If you have the chance to play Harald, don't hesitate, it's gorgeous, fun and very strategic." - RFTGJC



Recommendation

So is Harald for you? This game is not your typical filler, due to the complexity of gameplay in the context of a relatively straight forward ruleset. While the intensity of the experience may prove too much for non-gamers, it will have appeal to gamers who are looking for a quick yet thoughtful game that features multiple layers of agonizing decisions in playing cards. It's not really a strategic game, because it's heavily dependent on tactics, with a strong emphasis on strong interaction, making it more suitable as an appetizer than a main course. But despite the relatively short game time, it offers a puzzling experience that will give your grey matter a good workout.

Harald is suitable for gamers willing to give it a fair try and not judge it too hastily, and who are prepared to take on the challenge of constantly changing battlefield where your opponents are using tactics to mess with your plans and giving you opportunity to mess with theirs. It's a game to return to, and once that offers a deeper playing experience than you'd typically expect from a card game in a small box of this size. Yet again, the EGG series offers a pleasant surprise!

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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If you made it to the end of this review and found it helpful, please consider giving a thumbs up at the very top of the article, to let me know you were here, and to give others a better chance of seeing it.
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Thanks for another wonderful review, Ender! I agree the graphic design could have been better. Seems that important gameplay-related visual elements took a backseat to the beautiful art.

Reading your explanation of the game I'm getting a distinct Parade vibe. The way the scoring pushes and pulls you in multiple directions at once forcing you to balance a number of different suits instead of just going all in to 1 or 2 of them feels very similar. Have you played Parade, and if so could you comment on similarities and differences there?
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Kathleen Nugent
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I immediately thought of both Guildhall and Rapa Nui.

I play mostly with just one other opponent, and because of your review, I'm adding this to my Wishlist to keep learning more about it.
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MentatYP wrote:
Reading your explanation of the game I'm getting a distinct Parade vibe. The way the scoring pushes and pulls you in multiple directions at once forcing you to balance a number of different suits instead of just going all in to 1 or 2 of them feels very similar. Have you played Parade, and if so could you comment on similarities and differences there?
I haven't played Parade, but from skimming a couple of reviews, it seems to be a much simpler game, with quite different mechanics.

If there is anything in common, it might just be the `feel' that you describe, of being pulled in multiple directions at once, and the impact this has on decision making.
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EndersGame wrote:
MentatYP wrote:
Reading your explanation of the game I'm getting a distinct Parade vibe. The way the scoring pushes and pulls you in multiple directions at once forcing you to balance a number of different suits instead of just going all in to 1 or 2 of them feels very similar. Have you played Parade, and if so could you comment on similarities and differences there?
I haven't played Parade, but from skimming a couple of reviews, it seems to be a much simpler game, with quite different mechanics.

If there is anything in common, it might just be the `feel' that you describe, of being pulled in multiple directions at once, and the impact this has on decision making.
Yeah, it's definitely a simpler game. The end game scoring where you need to balance the various suits can influence you from trying not to get any cards of a suit to suddenly gobbling up as many of them as you can in order to score better (less points = better in Parade). Looks like a similar thing happens here, which is great.

Thanks again for introducing this game to me (subscribed to your reviews geeklist and saw it there). Definitely one to keep an eye on.
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barry Doublet
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A great presentation and overview
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Rémi GRUBER
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Ender, really thanks for this long and detailed review, and for the kind things you say about the game! I'm glad that you enjoy Harald, and touched that you took time to write this long article.
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Peter Mc Gregor
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We got our copy of that game few weeks after it came out in France.

So happy to get a French game that come with the rules in English!

Our gamers Friends loved it. We have a good group of people here at UM...
Some are more casual players and get definitely lost.

However, they still play and follow the game, playing less against the other one, but more defensively.

The more "thinker" / "strategy" of our friends fall in love with the game.
I came back from my last trip in France with several boxes for those friends.
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