Finding old games
Desert Island Games
Letters to the Editor
Castle, Democrazy, & Dragon's Gold
In the past year or so Eurogames has created a new line of card games in small blue boxes. The anchorman in this effort is Bruno Faidutti, whose game designs comprise the first three titles in the series.
Castle, codesigned with his Murdey in the Abbey partner Serge Laget, had an unusual genesis. The two designers decided to create a game involving medieval places and characters, then went off on their own to do so. They came back with completely different games— one with eight characters and sixty locations (Ohne Furcht und Adel), one with five locations and sixty characters (Castle). Rather than trying to merge two very different games into one, Faidutti fine-tuned each and published them separately. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to eliminate all of Castle’s problems.
The game is a race to get rid of one’s cards by playing them to a 5x5 grid. Some can only be played on the ramparts (the outer edge of the grid), some in the towers (the corners), others the courtyard, and others outside the castle entirely. The cards represent various medieval characters and often trigger special abilities— swapping cards around, forcing players to take back cards they’d previously played, and so forth.
The result is a very chaotic game, with a handful of very important cards overshadowing the rest. One card can only be played as the very last card in the courtyard, restricting it to an extremely narrow window of opportunity which can hamstring a player. Players can exchange cards from their hands for cards from a common pool, but of course such a move does not directly contribute toward the player’s goal of getting rid of all his cards.
By far the worst problem with the game is the interaction of soldiers (played only on ramparts) and siege engines (played outside any wall). If four soldiers fill a rampart, they repulse any siege engine outside that wall and the original player of the siege engine must return it to his hand. If four siege engines surround the ramparts, all soldiers are returned to their owners’ hands. The net effect of all this is to create a never-ending ping-pong game in which keeping one’s soldiers or siege engines in play becomes virtually impossible. Smart players trade them away immediately, giving players dealt fewer of them an advantage.
We found Castle to be too chaotic for our tastes, with a lot of early jockeying leading up to an effectively random endgame.
Democrazy is Faidutti’s streamlined rendition of Karl-Heinz Schmiel’s rule-making game Das Regeln Wir Schon! Faidutti reduced a rather fiddly and cerebral design to a more breezy party game.
The game revolves around rules, only a few of which are in effect at any one time. Players hold a hand of such rules and nominate one of them for adoption on every turn. A quick vote determines the rule’s fate. Some rules are instantaneous effects, while others are lingering conditions which must be obeyed. The adoption of some rules require the retirement of others, which can certainly influence the voting. As can the rules themselves.
The ultimate goal of the game is to finish with the most valuable collection of colored chips. As you might expect, the rules impose a variety of ways to gain and lose chips, and even control the value of the chips themselves. Voting with the majority might earn you a chip. Voting the same was as the player to your right might cost you a chip. Forgetting to stand before reading your proposed rule might cost a chip. And so forth.
To spice up the voting, each player has a secret special voting card which he can use once per game. NO! and YES! cards guarantee the corresponding verdict, while SCAM! cards reverse the vote’s outcome. If more than one of these cards is played in the same vote, however, they’re all ignored— and still lost for good.
Democrazy works best at the higher end of its recommended 4-10 players, where the outcome of a vote is less predictable. The cards causing players to gain and lose chips are the most entertaining, but there are twice as many cards causing the loss of chips as there are granting chips. Having fewer chips makes some of the scoring rules less interesting, and so the card mix could use a bit of tweaking. Fortunately blank cards are included, so players can add their own ideas to the game.
Chaos is a hallmark of Faidutti designs, and there’s certainly a lot of it here. Democrazy is not meant to be played as a serious game, but as a light diversion where the activity is more important than the outcome. At that level it succeeds quite well, but my ideal game lies somewhere between the footloose Democrazy and the cumbersome Das Regeln Wir Schon.
The best of the threesome is Dragon’s Gold, a game which strikes just the right balance between order and chaos. Players send adventurers out to hunt dragons, each of which has a hoard consisting of a number of gems and/or precious metals. Part of each hoard is known from the outset, while the rest isn’t discovered until the dragon is slain.
Players have identical sets of adventurers with strengths ranging from 1 to 4. On each turn a player sends one of his merry men to fight a particular dragon, adding his strength to that of any adventurers already fighting the same beast. When their accumulated strength equals or exceeds that of the dragon, the good guys win. Now comes the tough part— splitting the booty.
After uncovering the hidden portion of the hoard, the players whose adventurers helped kill the dragon have a minute to divvy everything up. Mercifully, deals are completely restricted to the division of the present hoard and may not involve future favors or other common dodges, nor can any random factor be involved (“Let’s split evenly and then flip for the extra gem”). These wise restrictions keep the game simple and focused. If no deal can be reached in that time, the treasure is lost and everyone goes home empty-handed.
Bargaining is driven by a simple scoring system. Every silver or gold nugget earns victory points at the end of the game. Gems score nothing on their own, but having one of each color or the most of one color earn tidy bonuses. The black stone is the monkey wrench, scoring a hefty number of points but preventing its owner from scoring any colored gem bonuses. For some the black store is anathema, destroying their plans to earn big bonuses for gems. For others it’s a windfall, augmenting a collection of silver and gold.
Magic stones are also worth a victory point, but they’re even more valuable to any wizards in the party. A wizard walking away with a magic stone draws a magic item card. These provide the signature Faidutti chaos, allowing funky things like swapping hoards or increasing an adventurer’s strength. Though inevitably some cards are better than others, none are dramatically out of kilter. Just make sure all players know about The Invisible Hand, which lets its owner cheat!
If a thief is in the party he steals a random treasure from another party member, potentially mucking up any gem-counters tracking how many gems they need for a majority.
A final twist occurs midway through the game, when players have a minute to trade treasure amongst themselves. This is a great time to auction off the odd extra gem you don’t need but other players are trying to collect.
Dragon’s Gold is unusual among negotiation games for its brisk pace. Loot is divided fairly quickly, since there are usually many ways for each player to be satisfied. That’s another of the game’s strengths— many different collection paths can lead to victory. From a gameplay standpoint, Dragon’s Gold may well be Faidutti’s most successful design to date.
The Game Report Online - Editor: Peter Sarrett (email@example.com)