Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Review: Louis XIV

Louis XIV is the latest game from Rüdiger Dorn and Alea, the company that brought us such classics as Princes of Florence and Puerto Rico.

In Louis XIV, players travel to the court of the Sun King and attempt to influence the various courtiers who are each represented with large square tiles decorated with artwork from one of the great masters. This is a beautiful game with ornate and lavish artwork that fits in well with the theme.

This game doesn't have a traditional board; rather the playing area consists of a checkerboard pattern of square tiles, each of which bears a likeness of someone from Louis' inner circle. Players take turns placing influence markers on these tiles in an effort to gain the reward printed on the tile. Each tile lists a cost and a reward. For some tiles, you must have a clear majority of influence to take the reward. For other tiles, having a clear majority gives you the reward for free, but if you have any influence on the tile at all, you can pay a bribe (in gold coins) in order to claim the reward even if you don't have a majority. And for still other tiles, you can always claim the reward provided you have a minimal level of influence. Furthermore, the tiles are double sided and they are flipped over when someone claims the reward, changing the requirement for the next round.

The rewards offered by the tiles include mission chips (used to fulfill mission cards), gold (used to bribe courtiers), coats-of-arms chips (worth victory points), influence tokens, and cards (used to place influence markers in subsequent rounds). The most common reward is the mission chips which come in several varieties: helms, orbs, parchment, rings, and crowns. These chips are traded in pairs to put a mission card in play. Mission cards are worth five victory points and they also grant an additional power to the player who plays them. For instance, some mission cards give a player an additional chance to place influence markers, some reward the player with extra gold, and so on. The mission cards are the primary avenue to victory in this game and you'll want to play as many of them as you can.

Louis XIV is played in four turns. Each turn begins with players receiving a set of five influence cards and some randomly determined amount of gold. Influence cards are played in order to place influence markers on the playing area. Each tile is then scored and rewards are given. And finally, mission chips are used to put mission cards in play. After four turns have been played, victory points are tallied and a winner is determined. The whole process actually goes rather quickly and can easily be done in well under the 90 minutes printed on the box.

This is a beautiful game and there is a lot going on. There are several avenues to victory and a successful game will require a relatively high amount of both strategy and tactics. This is a relatively complicated game but once you've played through a round it all makes sense and it's easy to play.

I have only two minor quibbles with this game. The first is that, for all the lavish artwork and production values, the theme is actually rather thin. The second (and more serious) is that one element of scoring (the coats-of-arms chips) is random. At the end of the game, players reveal their coats-of-arms chips. Players with a majority of any coats-of-arms type (there are six) are awarded an extra victory point. Typically this only adds up to an additional point or two but as the scores in this game can be quite close, this could be enough to swing the game. I didn't find it to be that big of a deal but if it bothers you, you could very easily play without this rule.

My final verdict is that Louis XIV is a solid game and a worthy addition to the proud Alea line. This is a gamer's game with a lot to offer. The replay value is high. The production values are first rate. The length is just about perfect. This one is a keeper!


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