Thursday, June 16, 2005

2004-10-24: Carolus Magnus and War of the Ring

Historical Session - October 24th, 2004

Carolus Magnus

Carolus Magnus mixes strategy and randomness to make a great game for three. Why three? With just two, the turn order loses its importance slightly, and there are lots of good two-player games out there. With four, you have to play partners. It may be fine if you enjoy partnerships, but I can't see it being as fun and, again, I can think of many far better four-player games. For some reason, there's not as many good three player games that come to mind.

Fifteen tiles are placed in a circular fashion each with a random colored cube. A yellow king marker is placed on one of the tiles. Players receive nine randomly colored cubes at the start of the game which will be placed in their reserves. Everyone bids on turn order by playing one of their chips (one through five). If you play the 1, you'll be going first, but you will be restricted to moving the king only one space. While 5 will definitely be last, but allow you to move five spaces on your turn. Each turn you play one of your turn order chips until you have used them all, and then you take them back for the next five turns, and so on.

On a turn, you can either take some cubes from the reserve and place them in your court, or you can put cubes on any of the tiles. Cubes in your court count towards controlling each color. Whoever has the most, controls all cubes of that color on the tiles. After you place your cubes, you then move the king and where he stops you check the cubes present on that tile. Whoever controls the most cubes on that tile wins the tile and places a pawn of their color on it. (Examples: The king lands on a tile with one pink cube, whoever has the most pink cubes in their court wins the tile. If there are two blue and one pink, the player that is controlling the blue cubes will win it. If there are ties, no one gets it.) At the end of the turn, the player rolls for random cubes to place in their reserve for next turn.

Object of the game is to get your pawns on the tiles. Whoever gets them all out first wins. But, they can be taken over by another player if the king stops by and the majority leader has changed. Also, when two adjacent tiles are owned by the same player they join together to make one territory, which then makes it harder to take over. As the game goes, more territories will be joining reducing the king's journey around the board, and solidifying different players' lands. If it gets to where there are only four different territories left, the game ends and the winner is the player who has the most pawns on the board.

As I mentioned before, there is both luck and strategy here. Some people might complain at the dice being such an integral part of the game, but barring some freakish rolls, I think it all evens out in the end. Part of the game is trying to work out how to make use of the useless cubes you just rolled. It just wouldn't work if you were to pick which cubes you wanted each turn.

Final Comment:
I really liked this one. It had the right level of strategy and fun for me. I'm sure there is a theme here somewhere, but since it wasn't explained to me I think it's safe to say that this is pretty abstract.

War of the Ring

War of the Ring is undoubtedly the heaviest game to come out of the recent Lord of the Rings gaming surge. Set up alone seemed to take an hour, and the game itself... can't be sure, but it was in the range of several hours. As you can probably tell by the title, this is a war game. If amassing armies and taking over and controlling various regions all the while rolling an insane amount of dice doesn't seem interesting to you, then don't bother continuing.

While many people liken this to Risk, I don't think that is such a fair assessment. Sure, it might be the closest game to WotR, but all the problems with Risk (repetitive, primarily luck driven, obvious strategies) don't seem to exist here.

The player controlling the Fellowship and the rest of the Free Peoples ("good guys") is trying to get Frodo to Mount Doom, and at the same time, trying to keep the Shadow Armies ("bad guys") from taking over too many of Middle Earth's towns and cities. If too many are taken over, it doesn't matter how close Frodo is to Mount Doom.

Turns play out with a lot of dice rolling. You start with a pile of dice depicting what actions you can take this turn, and fighting takes a very Risk-like approach. So, yes, there is a lot of luck here just like that other game, but it's definitely not all luck.

Some interesting twists: At the start of the game, the Free Peoples aren't necessarily interested in this war. The first few turns are spent trying to get them involved by playing cards, using dice, or having the Fellowship wasting precious time to go visit them. Meanwhile, Sauron's armies are growing and advancing. Also, the Fellowship move secretly, and are only revealed when needed, or if the Shadow Armies player focuses his efforts into finding them with his initial dice roll at the start of the turn.

There were lots of exciting moments when I played it, and I generally enjoyed it even if I didn't fully understand all of the rules (I found the cards particularly confusing for some reason). But I'm not sure this game is worth the time, effort, and money needed except for the die-hard wargamers and LotR fanatics. I'd be fine playing it again, saying I actually had the time for it, but I doubt I'd be so willing after another game or two.

Final Comments:
This is definitely a "try before you buy" kind of game. It might look and sound great (it did to me when I first read about it), but you really can't fully appreciate the whole picture until you play a few turns. From what I've heard, this is one of those games that either you will love it, or hate it. And the considering the price tag on this one, I don't think it's worth taking the chance.


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