I have a problem. And that problem is time. I once went out and looked for games that would take hours on end, creating an epic tale of victory and woe, allowing me to use all of my cunning and wit to slowly destroy my enemies over a series of hours. (Although I'm really more of a cooperative guy. So... trying not to slowly get destroyed by the board? Meh, that's not my point.)
I have another problem. And that problem is people. I don't have a steady game group, and the group that I have isn't exactly a group of veteran board gamers. I have one or two people that can handle heavier games, but honestly, most people would rather play something simple and light.
I have a third problem. And that problem is the fact that I am a snob. If I'm going to play a game, I want it to be a strategic experience. I want to have interesting decisions to make. I don't want the game to be some crazy luckfest that leaves me no control. If I win or lose, I want it to be because of the decisions that I and the other players made.
So in short, I want something short, simple, and strategic. And guess what? Lords of Scotland is all three.
And guess what else? It's pretty darn good.
Part 1: In Search of GSCGs
The story for Lords of Scotland isn't terribly involved. I was interested in picking up what I called GSCGs: Good, Solid Card Games. I've gathered a number of GSCGs, including Hanabi, No Thanks!, Love Letter, Jaipur, etc. As I looked at some reviews (primarily Shut Up and Sit Down's Archaeology review found here: https://www.shutupandsitdown.com/review-archaeology-new-expe...), I read that many of the games in the Z-Man Deluxe Card Game line are quite good. So I picked up Parade and Fairy Tale and then burned with rage at Z-Man for not reprinting Arboretum and Archaeology: The New Expedition and come on guys hurry up I'm waiting and
Okay... cool down, Drew...
Well, they also mentioned Lords of Scotland. However, their general comment was, "It's good, but Condottiere is better." So I tried to find Condottiere.
I was unsuccessful. So much for Condottiere.
So for lack of better options, I picked out Lords of Scotland instead.
And I'm glad I did.
Part 2: What You Get (Components and Rules)
As you probably already know, Lords of Scotland is a card game. It's a pretty straightforward card game at that. As such, the components are pretty limited. You have: cards. 98 cards, to be precise. The cards are pretty eye-catching, in my opinion. Each card has
-a clan (there are 9 different clans)
-a power (that corresponds to the clan)
-a strength (a number from 1 to 12)
-a rank (a number from 1 to 98 which you can mostly ignore)
Charge, my Followers! Charge!
All of this is relayed very clearly on the cards. In fact, everything you need (aside from the rank) can be found on a panel on the left-hand side of the card, which leaves the rest of the card for artwork. While there are only a total of 9 different pieces of artwork (one for each clan), the artwork is very evocative, bringing out a theme where the game would otherwise have little to none.
In addition to the cards, you get a few tokens to use with one of the card powers and a little cardboard sword. The tokens are functional, and the sword looks pretty cool.
This was the best picture in the gallery displaying these tokens. It's kinda like a find it puzzle. Also, mat not included.
I really have no complaints with the components. The only tiny thing I might mention is that, since the panel of information is on the left side of the card, when you fan out your cards, this panel gets covered up. Although who knows? Maybe that's not a problem if you're left handed. Or maybe I'm just a freak of nature who fans out his cards backward. The world may never know. In all honesty, I didn't even notice this until I mentioned the panel in the review and wondered, "I wonder if you can see this panel when you fan out your cards? Oh. I guess not."
The cards are good.
And arguably better than these.
The rules, on the other hand, are more "functional" than "good." They weren't the most riveting read, but they explain the game well enough. The game isn't terribly complex, and I think a more "exciting" rules explanation just would have made the rules longer than they needed to be. I could easily read the font, but I could see some wizened eyes having a hard time making out the small letters.
I think I'll give the components an 8. The cards and tokens are very nice, but maybe not worthy of a 10. The rules dock a point, simply because they don't necessarily draw you into the game.
Part 3: Being a Lord of Scotland (Gameplay)
For those who are interested, I'm going to go ahead and explain how to play. If you're not, skip to where it says, "END OF RULES EXPLANATION."
Lords of Scotland has a very simple rule set. You play in a series of rounds, with each round lasting 5 turns. On a player's turn, that player
-Flips a face down card face up (if that player is the first player- this helps track where the players are in the round. Each round starts with 5 face down cards.)
-Chooses to either Recruit a Card or Muster a Follower.
Well, what do those mean?
When you Recruit a Card, you can take any of the 5 face down or face up cards. If you take a face down card, you replace it with a face down card from the deck. If you take a face up card, you replace it with a face up card from the deck. The only slightly tricky thing here is that you generally don't draw from the deck itself, which is tempting for players. Now, taking a face down card is fundamentally the same as taking a card from the deck, so I usually don't mention it if a player slips up. However, when all 5 cards are face up, those 5 cards are your only option, and you can't take from the deck. Also, you can't recruit if you already have 10 cards in hand.
When you Muster a Follower, you play a card from hand to the table. You can play the card face down, in which case no one knows what you played. You can also choose to play the card face up, in which case you get to use the card's power IF there are no face up Followers in play with a lower strength (this excludes Supporters, which I'll mention later, and cards available for recruiting). If you have 4 or 5 players, this rule changes, letting you use the card's power if there are no Followers of that clan with a strength equal to or less than your card in play. This allows for much more interactive play in higher player counts.
After 5 turns of this, all players reveal their Followers and add up their strength. If those Followers are all of the same clan, this strength gets doubled. The player with the highest strength gets first pick of Supporters. Supporters are laid out at the beginning of the round (one per player) and are worth points equal to their strength. This means that the stakes are different for each round, a fact which will affect how you play. If you have no Followers, you don't get any Supporters.
After Supporters are distributed, all Followers and available cards are discarded. However, players get to keep their hands, allowing for long-term plans to develop. Then, more Supporters are laid out, five cards are placed face down, and play continues until a player reached 40 points. At that point, whoever has the most points wins.
A game in progress.
Now I hear you. "Drew," you say. "Drew, I want to hear about these powers. Powers are fun." And in response I say, "Yes. Powers ARE fun." Here are some of the things you can do with powers:
-Draw a card (The cards must flow.)
-Counts as any clan (Brutal if you can make it work)
-Muster another Follower (I smell a chain coming)
-Keep for another round (Persistent are we?)
-Swap with a Supporter (seems useless... except it can dramatically alter how points are scored that round...)
-Discard another Follower (and watch your enemies weep)
-Swap with another Follower (Steal a card while busting up your opponent's same-clan bonus? Fiendish!)
-Claim two Supporters (and probably keep one of your opponents from even getting a Supporter. You sick person.)
-Copy another power (All of the above.)
Thankfully the cards in the new edition don't have swords covering random words on the powers.
Well, that's all you really need to know. As I said, the game is pretty straightforward.
END OF RULES EXPLANATION
So what do I think about the game?
Okay, let's get one of my "criticisms" out of the way. Lords of Scotland is not terribly thematic. As far as I see it, the theme comes from two places:
-The choice of slowly building bands of warriors and gathering allies than direct conflict
Aside from that... this game could have almost any theme you would want to give it. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. While I really do like having theme in my games, a game like Lords of Scotland doesn't necessarily need it. The draw of the game is its game play (and maybe its artwork), not its theme. That said, it is worth saying that this is not a thematic game. If that's what you're looking for, look somewhere else.
The first thing I think about with Lords of Scotland are the choices you have on your turn. It is rare that you have an obvious play. Instead, you have all sorts of things to consider. Do I want to win this round? Or do I want to stock up Followers? Do I want to go for the same clan bonus? Or do I want to use lots of high powered cards of different clans? Do I want to enhance my own position? Or do I want to make sure that the lead player doesn't pull too far ahead? The puzzle of how you want to spend every 5 turns is brilliant, even more so because it comes from such a small rule set and basic components. I think that is the mark of a great game.
Clan Powers Activate!
The powers are, for the most part, equally brilliant. Some of the powers can be game changing if used correctly. Discarding and Swapping with another Follower are some of the most spiteful cards you can play in the game. Claiming Two Supporters is also a very dangerous card for your opponent to have in play. If that player comes in first, they're getting the two strongest Supporters out there. Copying any power is clearly a very versatile power, given that enough cards have entered play face up.
Then you have powers that are very useful. Mustering another Follower and Drawing a card give you the momentum you need to get the most out of each round.
Then you have powers like Keep for Another Round and Swap with a Supporter that seem a little more situational. Keeping for Another Round seems useful, except it makes it difficult to keep the same clan bonus with that. Swapping with a Supporter may be useful; however, it's not worth collecting a whole bunch of them since the power's effect runs contrary to the same clan bonus. I think that these are cards that I need to figure out how to play more effectively.
And then there's the Any Clan power. It essentially needs to be the first card played in the round, as both copies of this card have a strength of 12. It's actually not recommended to play with these cards in your first few games. For now, I'm not entirely sure how useful they are, since they'll probably be immediately discarded or swapped.
Sow as you can see, I'm not sure if each power is equally useful yet. There seem to be some very strong powers, some useful powers, and then some... other powers. In a sense, this might be a good thing; this might just mean that the game has more depth than I can even see yet. And that's cool. Yet at the same time, it might just mean that the powers are unbalanced. That would be uncool. I hope it's the first one. However, if there is some imbalance, know that the game still stands strong regardless.
Man, I got down on the game again. Let's end on a high note.
A Lordly Combination
I could go on and list a number of things that are great about Lords of Scotland: short-term strategy, long-term strategy, simplicity, interaction, manageable play time, replayability, etc. None of these qualities make Lords of Scotland unique. However, what I think does make Lords of Scotland special is how it manages to take all of these qualities and combine them into one package. This is a game that you could bring out around most people, teach it quickly, and have a great time. It's a game where you can be vindictive and single-mindedly attack one player. And best of all, it's a game that a board game elitist can play with the plebeians and actually have a good time! In short, a handful of good, a smattering of great, and a pinch of excellence all come together to create a product that is ultimately superb.
I think, all things considered, I'd give the game play a 9. It's good. It's very good.
As I've said, Lords of Scotland is a great game. It's one of my go-to games when I want to play a solid, satisfying strategic game that is simple to teach and set up. It's one of the most blatantly confrontational games that I heartily enjoy.
And it has a little over 1000 voters and just 2500 owners, which I think is a shame.
We live in an age where there are more games than we know what to do with. It's hard for a game to stand out from the crowd, especially when it came out years ago. And as I said earlier, there isn't necessarily one aspect of Lords of Scotland that is incredibly unique. However, Lords of Scotland is more than the sum of its parts, and it's a game that deserves to be a lot more popular than it currently is.
Overall, I would give Lords of Scotland a 9 (keep in mind that my final ratings are more or less unrelated to the ratings I give throughout the review). It's a good game that, for now, I am pretty much always willing to play. And it's portable enough that I can take it around wherever I go. And despite its small size and simplicity, the game play makes it feel full and robust.
So go out and buy Lords of Scotland. You won't regret it.
How can you say no to a beard like this?
“Brothers, oh brothers, my days here are done, the Dornishman’s taken my life, But what does it matter, for all men must die, and I’ve tasted the Dornishman’s wife!”
"Oak and iron guard me well, or else I'm dead and doomed to hell." - Andal proverb.
You can also use the Lords of Scotland deck to play Arboretum up to 3 players. Consider the new them making formations of some sort. If you have 8 pawns in 4 colours, you can also use the deck to play Topiary. Consider the new theme about a rock throwing competition of some sort.
Thank you for the review! I picked this up for $6 at A MM sale and I'm excited to try it.
Also thanks for the arboretum trick too Mark!
My mind shudders to think. No, really. My mind shudders when it thinks. It's actually a rather pleasant sensation.
I think that all right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired. I’m certainly not, and I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.
The only tiny thing I might mention is that, since the panel of information is on the left side of the card, when you fan out your cards, this panel gets covered up. Although who knows? Maybe that's not a problem if you're left handed. Or maybe I'm just a freak of nature who fans out his cards backward. The world may never know.
I vote for "freak of nature".
I'm right-handed, and like the vast majority of right-handed players, I fan my cards from left to right so that the left edge of the card is visible. You are fanning yours the way a left-handed person would. So, this game was designed by normal right-handers for normal right-handed players. Left-handers and right-handed freaks of nature are SOL.
Great review. Thanks for doing it.
We've loved LoS. I've played it with my gaming group of 4 die-hard gamers, with my family of 4 which covers the spectrum from die-hard-gamer to willing-to-play-if-everyone-else-wants-to, and with 5 teenagers who enjoy games. Everyone enjoyed it.
The comparison with Condottiere is interesting. Condottiere is a better game at the 3-player count than is LoS, I think; and of course Condottiere maxes out at 6, whereas LoS maxes at 5. The advantage of KoS is no player is ever just waiting for a round to end (in Condottiere not only do you have the standard wait-for-your-turn wait, not infrequently you are out of a round & waiting on the other players to complete it.)