Saturday, February 12, 2005

Review: Carolus Magnus

Carolus Magnus is a game by Leo Colovini who has a reputation for making great abstract games with rather thin themes. Carolus Magnus definitely falls in that category. This game has a nice theme (battling for political influence in Charlemagne's Europe) but in reality the theme doesn't actually have much to do with what otherwise is an excellent abstract game.

This game has some lovely components. In addition to the scores of colored cubes that seem to be requisite for any euro-game worthy of the appellation, there are also fifteen oddly shaped provinces, some colored dice, five sets of numbered discs, four rectangular "court" tiles, a large yellow wooden figure representing Charlemagne, and three sets of wooden "castles". The province tiles are each shaped like four hexagons joined together and they are covered with a very attractive design suggestive of old European maps. They're made to fit together like pieces of a very attractive puzzle. Add to that the two cloth bags that come in the box and you have an attractive set of bits that go together to make a very beautiful game.

Carolus Magnus can be played with 2-4 players but where it really excels is as a two-player partnership game. Players play as partners, cooperating for political control of Charlemagne's empire.

Players start with a random set of colored cubes which represent paladins in one of five clans. These cubes can either be placed in a player's court, where they earn that player a controlling interest in one of the clans or they can be placed on one of the provinces on the board where they indicate which clan has a controlling interest over a province.

A turn begins with players bidding for turn order using their numbered discs. The lower bidder goes first. He places three of the paladins (cubes) from his supply anywhere he chooses: either in his court or on a province. Each is placed independently so it is possible to split the placement however the player wishes. Then he moves Charlemagne around the board and randomly selects three more paladins to replace the three he played from his supply. Charlemagne can never be moved more spaces than the number of the player's bid so players who bid lower will move first but will have less flexibility on where the emperor can be moved.

When Charlemagne lands on a province, players determine which paladin clan has influence over the province (determined by the majority color in that province) and which player has influence over that clan (determined by the majority color in the player's court). That player gets to place a castle in that province, to indicate his or her team's control. Castles count as a paladin when determining influence, therefore once a castle has been placed on a province, it's going to be harder for the other team to replace it with a castle of their own.

One of the more interesting elements in this game is that whenever adjacent provinces are controlled by the same team, the provinces merge to form a single province. That new province now has two castles as well as the combined set of paladins and therefore it becomes even harder to overthrow.

The game continues until there are only three or fewer provinces left (because they've all merged) or when one team manages to place all ten of their castles.

Carolus Magnus is extremely attractive and deeply strategic. It's easy to learn but quite difficult to play well. It plays well with two or three players but it definitely shines with the full four player partnership game. I highly recommend it.


Post a Comment

<< Home