Krieg und Frieden
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Each player is a leading noble in a land where the king is old and childless. His successor will be whichever of the great nobles seems to the king to be best suited for the task. The candidates gain favor in the king's eyes by being the dominant figure in solving the various problems, such as war and famine, which afflict the kingdom and by taking a leading role in the completion of the king's dream -- the building of a great cathedral.
Our gaming group has thoroughly enjoyed Krieg & Frieden. We have played it with the original scoring rules and the variant. The variant does provide some 'smoothing' that newcomers may find encourages a replay.
The mechanics of this fine game have been explained ad infinitum, ad nauseam. The interaction and what the players put into this game will make or break it for your group.
If you like a game that can reward some interesting, hard-nosed, sometimes back-stabbing decisions, as well as expose you (as the noble) to the vagaries of ill fortune (and realistically, didn't people in the era when cathedrals were being built have to endure fickle fate at times?), then K & F is for you.
It is not a family game. This is a game where the gloves should come off (similar to Intrige) and everyone should be looking out for number one (themselves!). There are a few German games where the flavor of the specific game varies with the intensity of the participants. For example, Die Handler can be a rather vicious game when played 'all out' with all manner of negotiations and broken promises as part of the game. K & F can deliver similar entertainment if the players wish to 'get down and dirty' and focus on every conceivable way to get ahead.
The scoring mechanism, which has received much criticism, is just part of the entire gaming experience. You as the noble already have a strong idea of what you need to do to win; you just have to find a way to do it. It would not surprise me to learn that nobles around Europe had plenty of unusual circumstances to cope with while trying to succeed financially and keep in the King's good graces. You can relive this challenge in K & F.
Krieg und Frieden is a game based on medieval nobles vying for the favor of the king. The king's favor is won by solving problems in the realm, and awarded with priviliges or the opportunity to build a part of the Cathedral. Victory points are awarded for favors. When the last piece of the Cathedral is built the game is over, and the player with the most victory points wins. The theme follows through very well, with every aspect of play relating accurately to historical fact.
You start as 1 of 2-4 landowners (nobles) in service to the king (a nonplayer presence throughout the game). The game proceeds in turns broken into four phases, which correspond to the seasons. Players start with 6 resources, of which there are four types: Grain, Riches, Knights and Serf Craftsmen. You also have Agenda cards depicting various problems the kingdom has during the game, which you as a noble must try to resolve. You own a piece of land, for which you get one randomly-drawn resource each turn.
In winter, the first phase, the gathering of the nobles takes place in order to decide which of the kingdom's problems will be tackled this year. The agendas consist of War, Famine, Civil Unrest and Taxation. Each problem (agenda) is solved best by the expenditure of a particular resource; obviously knights are the most important in War, but so are Riches. Knights are next to useless during a famine, but Grain is paramount. Of course, as a noble, you will want to push forward the agenda for which you have the most effective resources! This can be done by arguing for a different agenda or changing the agenda, which is very expensive.
Once the agenda has been chosen, it is Spring, and the Campaign begins. During the Campaign, each noble in turn bids for the resolution of the problem plaguing the kingdom this turn. Bidding is done with resources, and follows the same rules as poker, except the cards are seen by all: see and raise (by at least one point), or pass (fold). The nobles who decide to pass immediately take back the resources they bid in the last round of bidding, and may not re-enter. Bidding continues around the board until only one noble is left. That noble discards all the bid resources and gains the king's favor. If the agenda was for a privilige, the player may pick a king's title scroll, which will increase the income of one of the resources per turn according to the title of property: A Mill, Toll, Armoury or Guildhall. If, however, the agenda was for the right to build an addition to the Cathedral, the player adds a piece to the Cathedral in the center of the board. Victory points are always 1 awarded for a privilige, but for the Cathedral, more points are won as more advanced pieces are added to the building.
In Summer, the nobles rule their lands, and may effect as many of the following actions as they wish by spending the appropriate resource: 1) add to their population by spending grain, resulting in huts built for peasants, which in turn increases grain production; 2) send craftsmen to work on the Cathedral, which results in an extra point for each craftsman when you build; 3)send knights to plunder neighboring nobles, which destroys one hut and nets you two free draws from the resource card pile, or spend riches to bribe enemy knights to leave their noble's lands. This is a very fun phase in the turn, and tit-for-tat raids and bribes seems to be a recurrent theme.
In the Autumn, of course, is harvest, where all nobles collect the resources due them. If a noble has four or less resources in hand and no income except his farmstead, i.e. one resource per turn, they may plead for the King's Mercy, a sort of medieval welfare. The pauper may pick another noble who has at least as many victory points as they do, and draw up to half the resources from their hand of cards. Conversely, if a player is very rich i.e. over 10 resources in their hand, they will be pressured to donate to the Church back down to ten cards.
The playing board is round, with artfully depicted roads, fields and forests showing the four landholdings, each with its own coat of arms. I'm a sucker for aesthetics and good production values, and this game has it in spades. All the cards show resources and agendas in a colorful stylization of gothic stained-glass windows. The playing peices are all of coloured hardwood, including the pieces for the Cathedral. Instructions are clear and detailed and the board and victory-point counters are sturdy cardboard. The plastic insert is cunningly designed, with a recess for every gamepiece, avoiding a mixed-up box of stuff when you open it (I hate that!). The only reason it did not get 5 stars is that it may be a gamer's game, of little interest to kids and nongamers, and thus lacks the universal appeal of Tikal or Elfenland. However, this is a good solid game with good strategy and bidding elements; a fun competition for power with plenty of social interaction, low abstraction and high aesthetic value. Nice job, Herr Mulder!
Our gaming group felt this game was potentially excellent but broken in some way, so we experimented with the following variant that fixes three problems:
The first problem is that the game encourages 'Picking on the little guy', with knights pillaging. How we fixed this is that you get 1/3 of the victim's resource cards when pillaging, rounded up. This is different than the normal two cards from the deck as called for in the original rules. In this way, a person with hardly any cards gives away 1 card, while someone with many cards can give up 2 or even 3 cards.
The second problem was the last turn being worth so much. We simply changed the scale from 1-1-1-2-2-3 to 2-2-2-3-3-4, with privileges worth 2 points each, as suggested by Stuart Dagger.
Finally, if someone ended up with very few cards for some reason, even though they may have made an income, they ended up not having any choices or chance in the later rounds. We extended the King's bounty to include anyone with less than 5 cards and a harvest of two or less cards. They then could steal from anyone else who possessed 5 or more cards. The amount they could steal is 1/2 of the victim's cards, rounded down, but the victim received a King's privilege. This one is a bit more controversial.
I'm always interested in other variants and improvements to this or other games, let me know what you think of this one as well.
Krieg und Frieden interested me and the gaming friends because of its original name, Charlemagne, and the appeal of that historical period. We soon learned the rules took at least an hour to shake clear. We had to learn the meaning of resource points.
The battling knights for war, the begging individual for famine, the receiving of goods for taxation, and the castle attacking card for unrest became quite important as agenda cards in the game. Each player receives four agenda cards at the beginning. We had to rely on the Internet printouts of rules summaries to discover each of the three players should receive eight resource points to start the game. That should have been clarified in the original rules printed.
Once we had our cards, we found the extra cross on one of the agenda cards for the starting player. The starting player bid heavily with shields (knights) as 4 points under 'war' agenda and won the bid. It soon became apparent we could place a peasant hut (building) for free (in the Summer Phase) near where the cathedral would eventually be built. For each barley card (in the Summer Phase) you could build one peasant hut on your estate. The wooden blocks for the huts and different sized blocks for building the cathedral provided a pleasant diversion.
After much discussion, we decided (as a house rule) each player was entitled to one turn to constitute the round of Winter and every other season (Spring-Summer-Fall). The third player immediately played a goblet (riches designation) in the Summer Round on my estate. That meant I had to give up a knight. I should have suspected early that player knew I held considerable knights. That bribery ploy as part of the turn can wreck your knights in your hand. In addition, a knight threatening another player's knights means both knights are lost. I lost three knights in that manner.
That round ended, and we were ready for Spring. In Fall we collected taxes and received one resource card for each two buildings. Because my resource card for War indicated a cathedral, I was able to place one point for a piece of the cathedral base. It pays, though, to place the last three building blocks of the Cathedral for three points apiece. In time, all the pieces of the cathedral (when built) look like a Gothic masterpiece.
The victory points had now accumulated to two on my board, and I felt too flushed with possible victory points or the most fame. Also, most of my knight cards had been used, threatening the player who originally played the first goblet. The second play went to me, and the card became the Unrest. Again, having the pitchforks (representing the peasants and worth four points apiece) proved lucrative in the bidding for the Unrest agenda card. The resource listing card of each player gives you bidding points (4-3-2-1) under a certain agenda for the Spring Round. However, I was now reduced by the Spring and Summer Rounds to three cards from the original eight. I was ready to plead the King's Mercy with four or fewer cards, but two victory points or fame prevented me from asking. Also, the rules state you must give up the remainder of cards if your hand holds more than 10 cards.
When the game ended, the second player had a fistful of cards (about 10) and was proceeding to outbid the other two players. It was evident with two remaining cards I might as well forget about becoming the first player to determine Taxation or Famine agenda as the last two outcomes. This frustration in play suggests the game needs a clearer definition of the rules. These questions were raised during play:
The game possesses potential. It was called a gamer's game by some other reviewer. The strategy factor appears high. That may be true, but games should not have to take part of the evening to clarify confusing rules that hamper playing ability.
I have to agree with the other reviews on this page that point out that the last round (and the second to the last round) are the most crucial in the game. I would also like to add that somehow I sense something else missing. The simple fact that the board is laid out with so much gameboard area and rule mechanisms devoted to huts (90% of board area and the rules mechanisms of hut building, hut upgrading, and hut destruction), you would think that the hut building process would be very crucial to winning. That is hardly the case... as the winner of our game won easily by very fortunate card draws in the last 2 rounds, without ever having managed to keep a single hut on the board during the entire game. I believe the hut building should give the player more advantages than it currently does. I managed to build up basic huts, and even upgraded many of them, and was positioning myself for a big castle building round to win the game when I suddenly found myself drawing unlucky low point cards in the second to the last round. My opponent burned down all my huts in one turn as a result, and won the game on the very next turn. This game is flawed, but I'm sure that some creative gamers out there can find a solution.
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, as in many NBA basketball games, 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:
Following the execution of the special privilege granted by the agenda, each player then may utilize his remaining resource cards to perform various tasks:
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. Its 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.
This is a historically accurate, beautifully illustrated and highly interactive representation of the turbulent Middle Ages. War, Famine, Unrest and Taxation are the problems facing the Kingdom, and resources (Knights, Grain, Serfs and Riches) fluctuate in value in each scenario. Resources are bid to decide who will solve the immediate problem. Some problems gain the winner a Victory Point and the right to extra resources. Others require adding a piece to the ongoing Cathedral and acquiring the related Victory Points. Now that some order has been restored, most players will use their remaining resources to bribe, attack, and plunder. This delightfully bitter period of selfish rage is followed by the collection of any incomes due. Then the next problem emerges, and so the cycle continues until the last Cathedral piece is added to announce the arrival of peace. Forevermore? Not likely--let's start another game...
There were a number of good games from independent producers at Essen last October, but the two that were attracting the most attention were Richard Breese's Keydom and Gerard Mulder's Charlemagne. Both were unabashed gamers' games and as good to look at as they were to play. Keydom was attracting a lot of interest from possible publishers; Charlemagne didn't need to, for it had already been snapped up by Kosmos. Krieg und Frieden (which would be a great title for a novel) is the commercial production of Charlemagne. And a very handsome job they have made of it, with the game development side being in the hands of TM Spiele (the ``gamers' game'' label that Klaus Teuber set up six years ago and which now seems to be being used by Kosmos in the way that Alea is being used by Ravensburger) and with the graphics being provided by the ubiquitous and highly talented Franz Vohwinkel. With this game even the box is beautiful.
The idea of the game is that the king of some medieval land is coming towards the end of his reign with no natural heir. His successor will be whichever of the leading nobles manages to ingratiate himself sufficiently with the old boy to get the nomination in his will. Doing this will be partly a matter of demonstrating one's fitness to rule by being the man of the hour when it comes to resolving the crises such as war and famine that afflict the kingdom and partly by taking a leading role in the completion of the king's pet project, the building of a great cathedral.
The board shows a central site, which is where the cathedral will be built, and four estates, one for each of the nobles. Each estate has nine sites for huts, of which up to six will be occupied by farmers and up to three by stonemasons. The rest of the equipment consists of some wooden huts, six wooden sections which will come together to form the cathedral, victory point markers and two sets of cards. One of these sets is the ``agenda cards'' and the other the ``resource cards''.
The game is played in ``years'' each with four seasons, beginning with Winter, when the ``king's adviser'' will attempt to set the policy agenda for the year by playing an agenda card from hand. These cards come in four types -- war, famine, taxes and civil unrest -- and each has the symbol of either the cathedral or a privilege charter in its corner. The other players then have the opportunity of changing this card to something that suits them better, but doing so will require them to surrender one of their hard-won privilege charters and this will have an adverse effect on their future income. Despite that there will be times when you will want to do it, because getting an agenda that you can `win' is the only way to gain victory points. The end of the Winter season will see the fixing both of the nature of the crisis facing the kingdom and the reward that is on offer to the noble doing the most to resolve it.
In the Spring season, players use their resource cards to bid for the position of the noble who gets the credit for dealing with the crisis. The resource cards, like the agenda ones, come in four types -- knights, food, wealth and peasant manpower -- with each being better than the others at solving particular types of crisis. So, for example, if you are faced with a war, the most useful resource you can have at your disposal is knights, but if you are in the middle of a famine, they are the last thing you want because all they seem to do is eat. A full description of the bidding procedure would take too long, but take my word for it that it is a clever and elegant piece of game design with some novel twists that force the players to think not just about their own holdings but about the likely holdings and plans of their opponents. Eventually someone will have won the bidding and they surrender the resource cards that it took them to do so and collect their reward. If the symbol in the corner of the agenda card was a charter, this is one victory point plus a ``privilege'', something that will boost their acquisition of new resource cards. If, on the other hand, it was a cathedral, they add a new piece to the partly built cathedral in the middle of the board and collect a number of victory points for doing so. The basic victory point rate for cathedral building is 1 for pieces one to three, 2 for pieces four and five and 3 for the final piece six. To this basic rate is added 1 for each stonemason's hut that the player has on the board. The player who has won the bidding also takes over as the new ``king's adviser''.
In the Summer, players use resource cards to campaign and build. Knights can be used to attack other players' estates, burning down huts and collecting loot when you are successful. Money can be used to disband opposition knights, thereby stopping them either making future attacks on you or defending against attacks that you yourself have planned. Food resources can be expended to build new huts for farmers and manpower to convert farmers into stonemasons.
Finally, in the Autumn, each player collects income in the form of resource cards. Everybody has a basic income to which is added extra from privileges and from farmer's huts. After that it is back to Winter again and the cycle continues until the cathedral is complete.
As Derek Carver remarked in his variant piece last issue, and as you have doubtless figured out for yourself from my description, this is a serious game for gamers. It is not aimed at the family market and the box makes this clear, describing it as a ``tough strategy game'' and ``not for those of a tender disposition''. It is also, it must be said, a game with an imbalance in the scoring, an intentional imbalance but one that not everybody likes. It is the result of a deliberate decision on the designer's part to skew the victory points towards the last turn, not to the extent that whoever wins the last bidding round will win the game -- despite assertions that have been made to the contrary -- but certainly to the extent of making the last turn very important. His stated reason for doing this is that he prefers games where the result is in doubt until the end, but if you think about it, it also makes sense in terms of the scenario. In this sort of succession, whoever holds the key office at the moment when the king drops off the royal twig is the one who is best placed for the succession. That being so, if the mechanics are to be true to the theme, the last turn ought to be the most important, but as I said, not everybody is happy with the idea.
There are two ways to deal with a situation like this. One, and it is the one that you should certainly try first, is to respect the designer's intention and to learn how to deal with the problem that he has set you. This means planning your game strategy not on a turn by turn basis but as a whole and with the last turn crock of gold in mind. If, after giving this a thorough trial, you decide that, as far as you are concerned, the scoring balance doesn't make for an enjoyable game, then change it. This is quite easy to do and you don't need to touch any other part of the game. Using the official rules, by the end the total number of victory points that have been split between the players will probably be in the high twenties and on average five of them will have been picked up by whoever won the last turn. If you think that that is too high a proportion, a simple way to change it is just to add one to the victory points on offer in each game year: so players now score 2 rather than 1 for winning a privilege and the basic score table for the cathedral is 2-2-2-3-3-4 rather than 1-1-1-2-2-3. The total score on offer over the game would then go up from around 28 to around 40, with the last turn being worth 6 on average rather than 5. The last turn is still the most important, but the ratios have been altered.
We played our first game without either of Derek's variant suggestions. Having made the experiment on your behalf, I'd suggest that you went along with his changes from the start. The game can be liable to a Catch 22 situation: to stand a good chance of winning one of the Spring bidding rounds it helps if you can set the agenda, but you can't set the agenda unless you have previously won one of the Spring bidding rounds. This can make it difficult to get started. The suggestion that each player should have a token that they can use instead of a privilege when changing the agenda gets round this. The other one, which enables people to build up their hands more quickly after they have been denuded by a bidding round, is also a good idea in a game which doesn't have a lot of rounds.
In summary, this is a good game with very enjoyable game play but with a slightly eccentric scoring system that not everyone will like, but which can be changed easily enough to something that suits you better should you turn out to be in the ``anti'' camp.