Warrior Knights

This game was recently re-published by Fantasy Flight Games.  The original design hails from 1985.  Having modern game mechanics, beautiful cards and game board, and high quality plastic figures makes this an outstanding update for the game.  Fantasy Flight Games has a hit with this very modern board game.

Introduction

Warrior Knights is a game of medieval diplomacy, politics and war.  It supports 2 to 6 players and can be played in anywhere from between 2 to 4 hours, depending on setup and number of players.  My personal experience is that the first few games take a while to work through, but after that it’s just plain fun to do again and again.  In most games, once you are familiar with the rules, you are totally absorbed and often are surprised by the ending when it arrives.

Here’s some descriptive text from the game manual.

In Warrior Knights, each player takes on the role of a Baron vying for control of the Kingdom. Each Baron commands four faithful Nobles who lead his armies into battle. Each Baron seeks to capture cities in order to gain Influence, which is used to measure his claim to the throne. Barons may also seek to gain advantage by increasing their income, gathering Votes to use at the Assembly, or by amassing Faith, which can be used to gain a measure of control over chance events. Only through cunning strategy and careful diplomacy can a Baron hope to attain victory.

 

What’s in the box?

This is another high production quality game from Fantasy Flight Games.  The board has a wonderful linen finish on a mounted board with rich colors and beautiful details.

There are many high quality cards.  They are small, similar in size to those used in Runebound and Ticket To Ride.

Several plastic pieces, including cities

 

 

 

…and a set of 4 Nobles in each player color.

Note the base of each Noble is a specific shape.  This identifies that particular Noble in the game while on the game board.

 

 

An assortment of cardboard pieces are included, which are used for Money, Votes, counting Political Influence, and accumulating Faith in the Church.

Vote tokens.

 

 

 

Faith token.

 

 

 

Influence tokens.

 

 

Speaking of Votes and Faith, there are 2 larger cardboard pieces used to designate the Head of the Church and the Chairman of the Assembly.

 

The player having the most Votes or most Faith tokens become the head of that part of the game play in key portions of the game.  One player can hold both positions.

 

These markers are placed underneath the neutral plastic city piece, on the board, to indicate city ownership.  The yellow player would use these to mark owned cities, for example.  The piece is different on the flip-side.  The other side shows that the city is fortified.

 

Each player has one Stronghold marker in his color.  This one is for the blue player.  The Stronghold is placed on an open space on the board and marks that player’s home base.

 

 

Game Play

Here’s a shot of the board in-play for a 2-player game.  One Baron is playing blue and the other Black.

There are two possible objectives that can be met to win the game.  A Baron must either have the most Influence at the end of the game, or the Baron can own more than half of the cities on the board,  Either condition wins.

There are multiple choices and decisions a Baron must make with every turn.  You need to pay attention to your military position, your political influence and your standing with the Church.  There’s even an aspect of investment in explorations to unknown lands.

Warrior Knights does not use dice to introduce random activity.  Cards serve multiple purposes in this game.  Movement, on large board hex spaces, is very deliberate.  You can choose to play an entire game and avoid conflict with another player and actually win through proper maneuvering in the political, economic and religious (acts of God) areas.  You can also battle like a mighty warrior with your opponents.  It’s all a balance.

To begin, you have your 4 Nobles.  Here’s one Noble’s card.

Each Noble has a unique icon/symbol (triangle for Sir Hugh Murrey), a unique name and a special ability.  The 4 Nobles assigned to each Baron are identical except for color and name.  Special Noble abilities are:

  • Does not pay wages for troops if army size is under 450.
  • +1 Victory in battle.
  • May inflict 100 extra casualties in battle.
  • May prevent 100 casualties in battle.

When a player uses a Noble on a turn the Noble is exhausted.  This is noted by flipping the card over.

Nobles have armies assigned to them.  You have regular armies, belonging to your Baron, and Mercenaries from other nations.

During this game, one of the Barons (the one with a circle as his icon/symbol) has 2 mercenary armies assigned: English and Poles.  The Square Baron has Regular armies assigned.  The Triangle Baron has mercenary armies: Rumanians and English.  The Diamond Baron has Regular armies.  At the beginning of the game you are dealt your regular army cards and a few mercenary army cards.  Everyone begins with the same armies total strength.  You must decide where to assign the armies, putting as many as you want under a Baron’s card.  The catch is that only a Baron with an army assigned can be on the board.  And you have to pay all of your armies on certain occasions during play.  If you are unable to pay your mercenary armies they defect and you loose them.  During the game you will have opportunities to purchase mercenary armies.

The game has some variability in setup before the players begin.  Depending on the number of players in the game, not all cities are available.  Less players means less neutral cities on the board.  Once the game starts, cities are never added to the game.  However, cities can become razed either by acts of God (directed somewhat by the Head of the Church) or through the actions of a Noble.  Once a city is removed from the board it never comes back.

Another variable in setup is the number of starting Influence counters.  These are available for the players to obtain throughout the game.  They are measured out at the beginning of the game and placed in a specific place on the board.  As they are drawn down, eventually the last one will be taken.  When this happens the game is over and players check their scores at the end of that round.  A game can end before the Influence pool exhausts by simply conquering more than half the cities on the board.

You can see a pile of unused Influence tokens on the game board.

There’s a very clever game mechanic going on with how the players decide which actions they are going to take in their turn.  Every Baron is given 12 action cards at the beginning of the game.  They include actions like “Draft Soldiers”, “Serve the Church”, “Levy Taxes”, “Rally Support”, “Mobilize Forces” and “Versatile Action”.  You have 2 of each card.  In the picture above you can see three regions for action cards on the lower left side of the board.  Here’s how that works.  In the planning phase of a game round, each player examines the action cards they have available in their hands and selects 6 actions they want to have happen this round.  They then place 2 of those actions face down in the first stack, 2 face down in the second and 2 face down in the third.  Each player puts 2 cards in each of the 3 stacks.  There are also 8 Neutral action cards which belong to no specific player.  Neutral action cards include actions like “Important Event”, “Fund Expedition”, “Upgrade Defenses”, “Muster Troops”, and “Uncertain Times”.  One person takes these 8 Neutral Action cards and randomly shuffles them and then adds 6 to the 3 stacks, 2 cards per stack.  After each player has added their cards to the three stacks and after the Neutral action cards have been added, each stack is then shuffled independently.  That is, every player will find what they placed in the first stack but the order of the cards, including the Neutral Actions cards, are randomized.

During the game the top card of the first stack is revealed and played.  If it’s a card belonging to a specific Baron, that Baron then executes the card.  If it’s a Neutral Action card revealed it impacts  all players (except for “Important Event”).  When the first stack is completed, the next stack is processed.  This process is again repeated for the 3rd stack.

The “Important Event” Neutral Action card causes cards from the Event Deck to be processed.  The Event Deck is the fourth deck from the left in the game board picture above.  These cards can be either red, green or blue on the back.

If the card is red, everyone knows it will be a bad event.  If it’s green, some really good event will happen to a Noble.  If it’s a blue card it will either impact the game as am environment change or directly impact all players equally.  Now here’s where the “Head of the Church” applies his power.  The Head of the Church gets to decide which Baron must take the Important Event.  He can choose himself or he can choose an opponent.  The only trick is that it costs Faith to through the Event one way or another.  If the top card is red, the Head of the Church must pay 1 Faith token to have it directed at another player.  If he is unable to do so, the bad event must apply to himself.  That’s a cool concept.  If the Head of the Church has not remaining Faith, he cannot prevent bad things from happening to himself.  If it’s a green card, he must pay one Faith Token to apply it to himself.  If he has not Faith tokens, then he must assign it to an opponent.  The bad events are usually the death of a Noble, or a city being Razed by an act of God, or something else equally unfortunate.  Good events are gold, extra armies, extra Influence points and other nice things.

 

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.  One the players have all contemplated which action cards they want to play and the distribution amongst the 3 stacks, the planning portion of the game round is complete.  The game then resumes by drawing down the action stacks as described.  Once the third action stack is depleted, the game enters the Upkeep portion of the round.

 

In Upkeep, you first check to see if anyone has won by conquering more than half the available cities on the board.  If not, then each player gain influence tokens, from the common pool on the board, for each city that is owned.  Finally, owned cities that are currently not occupied by a Noble may revolt.  The fate deck cards are pulled for each city at risk.  If a card says “Revolt!” the Baron must either pay a certain amount of gold or faith to quell the revolt and keep the city.

As Nobles move around the board they battle against each other or conquer cities.  A city is either neutral or owned by another Baron.  Cities can be captured on one of 2 ways.  Either the Noble decides to take the city by Siege or by Assault.  A Siege takes longer, but is much easier to accomplish (unless an opponent shows up and decides to battle with your Noble).  An Assault is very direct but the Noble must have a sufficiently large enough army to defeat the city.  Not all cities are the same strength, nor have the same income value once owned.

The neutral city is being attacked by the red Circle Noble.  He has decided to place the city under siege.  A cardboard Siege token is placed next to the city to track this activity.

Another interesting idea from the action cards is related to how certain other events get triggered in the game.  For most, but not every, player action card, there is a colored banner at the bottom of the card.  The banner is either a single red, single blue, single yellow, or in some cases combinations of colors (red, yellow or blue).  The way this works is that once the action card gets played it does not get returned to the player’s hand.  Instead they are stacked into the proper colored location along another section of the board.

This accomplishes 2 things.  First, once a card gets played, the player must wait for it’s return as an available action.  This obviously impacts the strategy for the Baron.  Second, once a predetermined number of cards in one of the red, yellow or blue stacks, another game event is triggered.  Once the number of cards in a stack equals twice the number of players in the game, the activity associated with that colored row gets triggered.

For example, when enough cards accumulate on the yellow row, a Taxation event gets triggered.  Every Baron gets tax income for all cities controlled.  Each city specifies how much income they generate during taxation.  How do actions get placed on the yellow row?  These cards are all resulting from economic action cards played by the Barons.

When the blue row hits double the number of players, an Assembly event gets triggered.  This is when “Chairman of the Assembly” comes into action.  Three political agenda items are evaluated from a previously drawn Agenda deck.

Agenda items are about laws that are proposed that impact game play, or special benefits that can be assigned to a Noble, or extra free armies available to a Baron.  The players have been accumulating Vote tokens throughout the game and now cast them in such a way to influence the outcome of these agenda items.  Ties are always broken by the “Chairman of the Assembly”.  A novel feature of being Chairman is that you can decide the outcome of any tied vote including ones for which there we no votes.  An interesting game mechanic is that whenever a battle is fought through the “Mobilize Forces” action card, it gets added to the blue “Assembly” row.  The idea here is that aggressive actions cause the Nobles all to come together more often to vote on things, including agenda items that could negatively impact a powerful player.  Sounds like the United Nations, doesn’t it?

The red row triggers on the same conditions.  It’s one the players do not want to see.  Usually.  When the red row triggers it’s time to pay your troops Wages.  Regular troops must be paid first, then mercenaries.  If you cannot pay mercenary armies, they leave you.  Gold is hard to earn in the game, so this can be a tough event for the players.

Some cards allow the user to decide which row they will be added to.  This further adds to the strategic decisions a player makes in the game.

Another trigger on the game is related to how the Barons purchase mercenary troops.  This activity is a result of specific actions in the planning phase.  When enough Mercenary Draft actions accumulate, the participating players get to take turns purchasing armies from the current mercenary pool.  The mercenary pool refreshes and is often very different after this event completes.  Again, through planning and strategy a Baron can set themselves up to get the best draft choices first.

The rule book is large, and full of many illustrations.  Still, it took us a few plays before we got everything understood correctly.  I haven’t touched on Nobles doing combat in this report, nor have I discussed overseas explorations nor sea movement with Nobles.  There is a lot to the game.

One aspect you should be aware of is that the game take a while to play.  I plan on 3 hours if there are 3 players.  A 2 player game gets done in less time, I even experienced one that finished in 90 minutes.  Even though the game supports 6 possible players, you should plan on the game running 4 hours or more as the number of players goes up.

You can modify the starting conditions to cause the game to shorten.  An obvious option, recommended in the manual, is to reduce the total Influence Pool token count at the start of the game.  When these run out, the game is over.  You could also add more tokens to allow the game to run longer.  Reducing the number of available cities will cause more player interaction.

But here’s the interesting thing about playing this game.  One you get the rules and can just experience playing without a lot of pauses to see how something works, the game feels like it plays really fast.  One more than one occasion I’ve been playing the game and then it ends in what seems to be rather abruptly.  It often seems that just when the game starts to get really interesting it’s over.  On more than one occasion I’ve actually increased the standard amount of starting Influence Tokens Pool to allow the game to run longer.  It really ends up being an enjoyable experience.

Conclusion

I recommend this game.  It’s full of many interesting game mechanics.  With familiarity the game plays really quicker.  I recommend that you assign one person the job of managing the cards.  It just makes thinks go faster.  I’ve already said it, the quality of the game components is really good.  The board is beautiful and the cards are also made with excellent artwork.  Using cards for the random events and battle resolution is cool.  I love how they implemented the political element in this game.  Often times I feel like most of the fun comes from the Political and Church related activities the game provides.

The game is very approachable.  My 12-year old son likes playing the game and he’s pretty good at it when he plays with us.  My wife loves the game too.  It really is a high quality fun game and I’m glad to have added it to our collection this year.

 

 

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