Posted by: gschloesser | August 4, 2011

Krieg und Frieden

Design by:  Gerald Mulder
Published by:  TM Spiele
3 – 4 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

While attending the Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends in April, my good buddies Ted Cheatham and Ty Douds ran up to me, both excitedly claiming that I just had to try Krieg und Frieden.  They both said I would love the game and it was ‘right up my alley’.  Of course, I immediately joined in the next game I could find.

After an incredibly horrendous beginning which saw one player draw an inordinate amount of knights and proceed to continually decimate us, the game finally settled down and became mildly enjoyable.  Still, it became apparent that, like many an NBA basketball game, the first three quarters don’t matter much.  The game boils down to the final bid; up until then it is simply a matter of positioning oneself so you have enough resource cards and at least one privilege marker to make a grab at winning the last bid and, likely, the game.  Thus, the game left me shaking my head and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Still, I was interested in giving the game another try.  Thanks to the generosity of my wife who presented me with K&F as part of my Father’s Day gift, I had the opportunity.  Thanks to an excellent editing and formatting of the english rules by Steve ‘K-ban’ Kurzban, the game flowed much smoother this time around. In spite of the easy flow of the game this time, however, the game is still lacking.  And that’s a shame, because the mechanism is fairly unique.  There really should be a great game in here … it simply isn’t happening, though.  After yet a third playing, with equally disappointing results, I am ready to declare the end game broken.

Each player represents a noble who is attempting to gain the most favor from the king.  Each turn, a problem faces the realm (represented by the playing of an ‘agenda’ card) which must be dealt with by the nobles.  These ‘problems’ come in one of four forms:  war, unrest, taxes and disasters.  The noble who proposes the best solution to the problem wins the king’s favor and gets to execute the special power conveyed by the agenda card.

‘Solutions’ are proposed by players bidding resource cards.  Each of the four resource cards carries a different value depending upon the problem being faced.  Thus, a ‘knight’ card is very valuable (4 points) in dealing with a war, but is virtually worthless in times of famine (1 point). Players take turns openly bidding resource cards for the right to ‘solve’ the problem.  The interesting bidding mechanism is that during each subsequent round of the bidding, if a player increases his bid, he must set the new resource cards in a row below those previously bid.  If a player passes, he may only reclaim his most recent row of resource cards.  Any card bid prior are lost.  This makes for some interesting bidding.

The ultimate high bidder pays the resources bid and then becomes the ‘King’s Advisor’.  This allows him to set the agenda for the following round.  Plus, the player has ‘solved’ the problem facing the realm and gets to exercise the special privileges granted by the agenda card. There are two powers, depending upon the agenda card solved:

1) Privilege:  The victorious noble earns one victory point and chooses one of the four ‘privilege’ scrolls (knight, barley, serfs or riches).  This will allow that player to get a free resource card of that type during the Fall harvest.  Plus, any player who possesses a privilege has the opportunity to change the proposed agenda by surrendering his privilege and substituting an agenda of his choice from his hand.

2)  Cathedral:  The victorious noble gets to add a piece to the central cathedral, which earns him victory points.  The first three pieces added are worth 1 VP apiece, the following two pieces are worth 2 VPs, while the final piece is worth a whopping 3 VP.  To this is added the number of ‘builders’ the noble has working on the cathedral.  Thus, if a player has two builders huts and adds a piece worth 2 VPs, he earns a total of 4 VPs for constructing that piece of the cathedral.

Following the execution of the special privilege granted by the agenda, each player then may utilize his remaining resource cards to perform various tasks:

1) Barley – each ‘barley’ card played allows the construction of a new farmstead.  For each two farmsteads, a player receives a resource card during the Fall season.

2) Serfs:  For each serf card played, a player may ‘promote’ one of his existing farmstead huts to the ‘builder’s huts’ spaces.  As described, these add to the victory points earned when constructing a piece of the cathedral.

3)  Knight:  A knight card is played on an opponents in attempts to burn and loot one of his huts.  If successful, the opponents removes a hut of his choice from the board and the victorious player receives two resource cards to represent the ensuing looting and pillaging.  An opponent can nullify a knight played upon him by playing a knight card from his hand.

4) Riches:  By playing a ‘riches’ card on an opponents, it forces that opponent to discard a knight card from his hand.  If the opponent does not possess a knight card, then he must show you the cards in his hand.

Finally, all players receive resource cards:  one for each two ‘farmstead’ huts they have on the board, one for simply being in the game, plus any awarded for possessing privilege scrolls.

Players who have less than 5 resource cards and have only received one resource card that round may then petition the King for aid.  The player may then select any opponent who has an equal or greater amount of victory points and take half of his resource cards, rounded down.  The pillaged opponent receives a privilege scroll as compensation. This rule, as many in the game, is intended to serve as an equalizer and keep everyone in contention for victory.  Finally, any players who have more than ten resource cards must discard down to ten.

The game concludes when the sixth and final piece of the cathedral is constructed.  The player with the most victory points is victorious. Ties are broken in the favor of the player who has the most resource cards remaining.

Admittedly, the game sounds intriguing.  It’s mechanics are fairly unique and the components are all top notch.  The game should work. It really should.  Somehow, however, it doesn’t.  In my games, the same unsettling problems continue to surface, the main one being that only the final bidding round really matters.  By simply playing the game reasonably, one will be in contention to win on the final bid.  That doesn’t sound bad and is likely what Dutch designer Gerard Mulder had in mind, but it somehow feels wrong.  There doesn’t seem to be a way in which to play a masterful game, manage one’s resources, skillfully bid on the auctions and insure a victory.  It all boils down to that final bid.  As long as one plays a moderately competent game … I’d even say one could get away with below average play … he will be in contention to win at game’s end.  One could practically sleepwalk through the game and manage to collect a couple of victory points along the way.  As long as one holds at least one petition (and that may not even be necessary due to some dumb luck which can easily occur) and hordes a nice quantity of resource cards entering the final round, he can win.  Period.  As my good buddy Ted Cheatham says, “The ride is fun, but the destination disappoints.”

There are so many ‘equalizers’ in the game that every step forward results in one step backwards.  One gets the feeling of treading water .. you just aren’t going anyplace.  If one wins the right to add a cathedral piece, ALL of your builder’s huts are removed after constructing the piece.  One has to start all over again.  If one does manage to build a lead, however slight, in farmsteads and/or victory points, he will be set upon by all of his opponents by attacks and the ‘King’s Mercy’, and likely lose huts and cards.  This is even more devastating if one comes last or near last in the turn order. Finally, the progressively increasing value of the cathedral pieces also makes early constructions moot.

I’ve now played this game three times and this exact same problem occurred in each and every one of them.  I’m not playing with dumb players here … these are smart, intelligent gamers who know how to optimize their plays and develop winning strategies.  We’re not geniuses, but we usually know enough to be able to play competent, skillful games.  Everyone I’m playing with is spotting this flaw.  It exists … I have no doubt about it.   In my opinion … and the opinion of the vast majority of those I’ve played with … the game is broken.

As with Rheinlander, I really, really want to like this game.  It has most of the elements which should make it a great game.  However, it simply doesn’t transcend beyond the level of mediocrity.

 

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Responses

  1. Interesting use of the cards for dual purposes. There is a little problem at the end of a 4 player game that one of the players cannot win. It is still a pretty good game. 6/10


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