Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Svea Rike

Design by:  Dan Glimne
Publisher:  Casper
2 – 5 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

I had first heard about this game on an obscure post on the internet, which included a photo of the game.  It seemed intriguing and I immediately began putting out feelers to see if it would ever be imported to the United States.  It took awhile, but eventually several mail-order shops began importing it and I was able to scoop a copy along with the English rules translations and paste-ups for the cards.

After spending about four hours pasting up the English translations on the cards, I was eager to give this Swedish Game of the Year by Casper games a try.  It’s a shame that the cards aren’t available in English, as they seem to contain some wonderful snippets of Swedish history that aren’t included on the English paste ups.  Further, I grimaced every time I pasted the sticker on the card as the cards (and everything else contained in the game) are so beautifully done I hated to mar the cards with those plain stickers.

The game is designed to re-create the history of Sweden from 1523 (the reign of Gustav Vasa) to 1818 (Karl XIII).  Each player represent one of five noble families attempting to build status for their family.  Status is achieved by accumulating fiefs, money, history cards in sets (which include such things as queens, scientists, cultural personalities, palaces, commanders, etc.), troops and merchants.

The game is driven by event cards … and there are a ton of ’em.  On a turn, a player draws and event card and can play as many of them as he sees fit (whether during his turn or not).  Thus, the game becomes a series of various events, usually aiding the player and/or hurting his opponents in some fashion.  It can get quite nasty … but I’ve never minded nasty!  However, not all gamers enjoy games with such randomness, so be cautioned that Svea Rike should only be played by gamers who enjoy lots of random events and don’t mind being nasty to their opponents … and being jumped on by them, too.

The game is played in 16 turns but after getting familiar with the mechanics, the turns go quite quickly.  The first action of the turn is the revealing of that year’s Royal Card, which can cause an event which affects the entire game turn.  These events can range from Peace (in which case there is no special event), Good Harvest (yields extra income if a certain action is chosen), Famine (reduces income) to War.

Following the event (unless it is a war), players take their turns.  The turn order varies each turn by mixing each player’s marker, so no one knows exactly who will go when. This is very important as certain cards played will affect players who go after the one who played it.  There are even cards which end the game turn at that point, so players who would have gone after do not get to take their turn.

During a turn, a player chooses one of three possible actions:  Agriculture, Culture & Science or Commerce.  These actions allow a player to do certain things:  Collect income from Fiefs or Merchants, Purchase a History card, Send out merchants to foreign countries, etc.  Thus, one must weigh the benefits of the various potential actions versus their costs (some involve paying troop upkeep).  Throughout their turn (and even during opponent’s turns), players may also play event cards to affect the course of action.

The aim of each of the actions is to gather income which can be used to purchase available fiefs, support wars, purchase history cards, etc.  All of these lead to status, which eventually will win the game.  Since all holdings are kept visible on the table, it is usually easy to spot which players are achieving the most status.  Thus, they usually become the target for most nasty event cards until a new leader emerges.

If the Royal Card decrees that a War has broken out with one of the four foreign countries (Russia, Poland, Prussia, or Denmark), players do not get to execute their normal turn and all merchants that are in that country are removed from the board.  This hurts a player’s income and it takes time to re-deploy the merchants during future turns. Players may then opt to participate in the war.  This is done by each player secretly committing (or not committing) one of their Fief cards to the battle.  Fief cards usually contain troop symbols denoting the strength of that card in battle.  The more troop symbols, the stronger the force.  The strength of the Fief card can be aided in battle by Military History cards that a player may have in his possession.  When all players simultaneously reveal the Fief they committed to the battle, each player must then pay for support for those troops.  Then, a number of enemy force cards are drawn which exceeds the number of players committed to the battle by one.  The troops symbols on the enemy cards also vary in strength, so players never know just how strong the enemy force will be until the battle commences.

The actual battle is very simple.  Each player rolls a die and must roll equal to or under the value of his Fief force.  If so, a hit is inflicted on the enemy, and one of his force cards is removed.  All players roll and enemy troops eliminated BEFORE the enemy gets a chance to strike back.  The enemy’s attack is handled in a similar fashion.  Basically, the last side standing wins the war.

If Sweden wins, each player who participated in the war gets to claim booty.  This takes the form of taking one of the following three options:  1) Take a History card; 2) Take a Fief card; OR 3) Roll 3 dice … take that amount in gold.  However, if Sweden loses the war, all Fiefs that are in the dominion of that foreign country are removed from play and players also are in jeopardy of losing another Fief (based on a die roll).  Even those players who opted not to participate in the war have a 50% chance of losing a Fief.

The game ends following the 16th game turn.  Status points are tallied and the victor determined.

Players earn status points in the following categories:

GOLD:  For every 20 gold pieces, 1 SP is earned;

FIEFS:  For every three crown symbols on the fief cards in your possession (cards can contain from 1 -3 crowns), 1 SP is earned.

TROOPS:  For every two troop symbols on the fief cards in your possession, 1 SP is earned.

HISTORY CARDS:  Players get 1 SP for every three history cards OF THE SAME SERIES (Queen, Military, Cultural Personality, Scientist, Palace).  Each additional card in the series earns another SP.

MERCHANTS:  For every three merchants a player has on the board, 1 SP is earned.

Thus, during the course of the game, choosing which of the three actions to execute during a turn is a vital decision.  One must insure a healthy flow of income so he can take advantage of the four history cards available for purchase (only one of which may be purchased during your turn), the fiefs available of purchase (again, only one per turn, and only if you chose Agriculture as your action), and send out merchants to foreign countries.  The more merchants you have in a particular country, the more income you receive.  This increases substantially with each additional merchant in that country.

One of the potential strategies in times of war is to not commit troops to the war.  Since this is all done simultaneously, other players may have been counting on your participation and will be handicapped without it.  We found, however, that everyone wanted to participate in a war due to the rich spoils which were available following a victory.  I’m sure that with more experience, this tactic of leaving other players ‘out to dry’ would prove effective and damage your opponents.

So what’s the verdict on the game.  Well, as I mentioned earlier, the game is an event card driven game.  Thus, the best laid plans and tactics can be scuttled by timely and vicious play of event cards. This has never bothered me in a game, but players who prefer games wherein they can implement long-term strategies and see them through to fruitation will not like the chaos the event cards create in this game.  It is one that must be played with the right group of gamers … those who enjoy a free-wheeling, chaotic game that does require planning and strategy, but also requires players to adapt to the chaos created by the cards.

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Responses

  1. Best Swedish history game around! I will always play this one. The battle sequence is interesting because sometimes you want to help and sometimes you don’t. 8/10


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