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Carolus Magnus
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Carolus Magnus

English language edition

List Price: $39.95
Your Price: $29.99
(25% savings!)
(Worth 2,999 Funagain Points!)

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Product Awards:  

Ages Play Time Players
12+ 30-45 minutes 2-4

Designer(s): Leo Colovini

Manufacturer(s): Rio Grande Games, Venice Connection

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Product Description

The players are Charlemagne's heirs -- hence in constant conflict with each other. Here he has asked them to build castles in some of his favorite territories. But to do this they must seek and then maintain for as long as possible the support of the five powerful clans of nobles, the paladins (represented by colored cubes) which administer the Emperor's lands. But then the players on their side can dispose of exceptional tactical resources. One is that they decide themselves the order in which they move. Another, that they can determine how far the Emperor travels, which is crucial, since castles can only be built in his presence. And when castles are built in neighboring territories, these territories can be joined, so that, as the game progresses, great domains are formed, defended by four, five and more castles.... In the end, to win the game and gain the Emperor's favor -- and perhaps even the right of succession -- a player must have built 10 castles.

Product Awards

Spiel des Jahres
Finalist, 2000
Deutscher Spiele Preis
8th place, 2000

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Leo Colovini

  • Manufacturer(s): Rio Grande Games, Venice Connection

  • Year: 2000

  • Players: 2 - 4

  • Time: 30 - 45 minutes

  • Ages: 12 and up

  • Weight: 1,000 grams

  • Language Requirements: This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item. Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in multiple languages (including English).

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.3 in 12 reviews

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A unique and challenging gaming experience
June 02, 2003

Few games change their feathers quite like Carolus Magnus, which plays quite differently depending on the numbers of players. The 2 player game tends to be chess-like, and the 4-player game (played as partners) affords makes it possible for one side to make bold moves by bidding so to have both players play in succession --- sort of like letting a baseball team bat in both halves of an innning (Of course, that means the opposing partnered pair will also get back-to-back turns, so beware!). Preventing this possibility adds a lot more thinking into each round of bidding.

It is probably best as a 3-player game, in my opinion, offering a wider array of options each turn.

The game seems to accelerate as land tiles (castles) are merged, thus shrinking the board and usually making each successive merging even more dramtic than the last. However, clever play (and a little luck) can instantly turn an opponent's seemingly awesome cluster of castles into a vulnerable target for conversion to your side. Experienced players can change the situation almost every turn. It's not unusual to see victory snatched from the jaws of defeat by brilliant play.

I find Carolus Magnus extremely challenging because the power balance can change in a heartbeat. To minimize the impact of changes, one must plan defensively as well as offensively. Deciding how much more of one and less the other is part of the fun in the design.

And the components are beautifully crafted and quite functional.

I highly recommend this game for those seeking a very unique strategic gaming experience.

by Marc
Rolling with the changes is the key to winning.
July 18, 2002

What do you keep, what do you sacrifice. Or better yet how long do you retain a certain colors control before changing your strategy to ditch certain colors while merging more 'islands'? How can the colored 'paladins' and/or 'court' markers of your opponents effect and/or threaten your power base on the board? The key to winning this game is indeed within an abstract thought process. It's not important to dominate control of any color forever per se, but to constantly rotate your strategy. This can't be explained in a review so you'll have to work it out when you play this great multi-tiered abstract strategy game. I will now try El Grande since the reviews before mine have been so favorable towards it. Carolus is a GREAT GAME though!!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!! 5 STARS!!!

May 21, 2001

I was very hestitant to purchase this game, I am not into ABSTRACT games... but this game is brilliant and it is not as complex as it seems. I love the way board dominance can switch so quickly... keep your eyes on the other players. I have only played this with two players and fell in love with it. It seems like it is much better with three, but four players seems tacked on by merketing :) have to share pieces and I don't think it will work. There are elemenets of El Grande in here; if you like El Grande, have a look at Carolus Magnus.

by Rick V
Best 3-player game I have played
March 02, 2001

This is one of those games that looks deceptively simple, but will have you chewing your fingers off agonizing over each move. The game mechanic is a fresh variation on the whole 'the king is dying and must choose an heir' genre. The components are top-notch. The game works very well as a two player game but less so for four players. Where Carolus Magnus really shines is as a solution for the ever-vexing problem of what to do with 3 players. The player in last always has a chance to come from behind, and kingmaking is minimized.

by Jeff
Fantastic strategy game!
June 06, 2000

I looked through some of the reviews of this game and was disappointed that one review only listed it as a 2 star game.

This is a great game, especially if you appreciate a deeper level of strategy in your games.

The winner of the game is the first person to build 10 castles. A very basic scan of the game can give the appearance that the game is: play three cubes, move the king and repeat. However, there are many different strategies to utilize and it is definitely a game that requires looking ahead towards future moves, and planning your current resources accordingly. Some of the ways that this is apparent includes the way that turn order is determined. Each player has 5 disks, each numbered 1-5. The players then play one of their disks each turn and the one with the lower numbered disk gets to move first. The drawback is that you can only move the king the number of spaces up to the value of the chip that you played. Sometimes you are even forced into moving the king on your turn to a space where your opponent has the majority, resulting in a castle being built for your opponent. Throughout the game you are constantly jockying with your opponent for control of the different colors by either placing them on the board or by using them to control that specific color.

Almost every game that I have played has been a very close game with no clear winner until the game ends. I will agree that the game ends quickly, but then again, this is a rather fast game (each game lasting on average of 30 minutes).

As far as 3 and 4 player variants, each is very different. The 3-player game adds a third player to the mix, with each of the three players jockying for control over the five colors, and trying to be the first to build their castles. I must disagree with the previous review regarding the lack of pieces for a 4 player game. The game mechanism for the 4 player game is MUCH different than the two player game. The game is played in two teams, with the winning team being the first to build 10 castles. Each of the four players can try to gain control of the 5 colors, and if your teammate owns a color, then you can use any cubes that you own of that color to place on the map to use as defense or as an offensive strike against your opponents.

The four player game sounds very exciting, and I would like to give it a try sometime.

I would like to comment on a few details about the game that I think is lacking, and that is the volume of choices and deep thought used by making those decisions. This game is quick and fun, but does not have the heavy decision making that is seen in a game such as El Grande. I do think that it is worthy enough to join the ranks of such award winning games like El Grande, but you should appreciate that it is a totally different style of game. I will also agree that with such a low price for such high-quality components and for a truly unique style of gameplay and strategy, you cannot go wrong with this game.

Best strategy game since Abalone or Torres!
May 10, 2000

A fabulous game with clean, sharp components, this has quickly become a favorite in our gaming group. it is one of those rare games that plays just as well and just as quickly with 2, 3 or 4 players.

The rules are simple, but as with many strategy games, the gameplay is deep. A set of dice which determine your 'resources' keeps the game random enough to throw some surprises in from time to time, but players with forethought and good planning skills will win the day.

I would strongly recommend this game to anyone who is looking for a quick, easy-to-learn game that can be played again and again with a small group of people. the tides of power can shift in each turn, someone on the brink of victory can have it snatched from them by some especially creative plays, and the mechanics are wonderfully sound!

One of the best 3-player games available
June 28, 2001

Carolus Magnus is an unassuming little game that owes a debt of gratitude to the masterwork of [page scan/se=0040/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]El Grande. While considerably lighter than El Grande, Carolus Magnus manages to have quite a bit of the same feel as its spiritual ancestor.

There are some real innovations in Carolus Magnus, the most important being the joining of the various 'islands' into larger and larger kingdoms. Once entrenched, it is hard to displace a player. When it happens, though, watch out. Huge shifts in power can occur with almost every turn of the game.

One of my former co-workers swears this is the best game he has ever played. While my praise is not quite so resounding, I do feel it is a very good game for those not put off by its abstraction.

One of the most important aspects of the game is that it works extremely well for three players. Most games are designed with either 2 or 4 players in mind, with the middle number receiving short shrift. Carolus Magnus can be played by 2 or 4 as well, but it really seems at its best with three players fighting over these little islands.

Two thumbs up.

Will it boil down to chance?
June 21, 2001

This game offers an exciting and interesting variation on the mechanic where a limited set of options must be played out giving you advantages and disadvantages on each turn. [page scan/se=0040/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]El Grande is the notable early game to distribute this concept, and in Carolus Magnus it takes the form of the number disks which both determine turn order and how far good Charles may move.

This mechanic is critical and requires you to consider your possible actions for up to three turns ahead, keeping in mind what territories will likely be joined in the meanwhile. The mechanism virtually guarantees that at some point you will have back to back turns, and thus forces you to give your opponent the same opportunity. Positioning yourself to take best advantage of it is the challenge.

So it's clever, fun, thoughtful and strategic, but why only four stars? Unfortunately it seems that once you reach a certain level of play, your destiny starts to become more and more dictated by the random roll of new paladins to fill your reserves at the end of each turn. The numerous variations already sprouting up on how to replenish this supply emphasize this point. Without random replacement, the game would become too chesslike and analytical, allowing too much foresight and turning off most gamers. But the current system just feels too chancy.

One 'perfect' roll at just the right time can win a player the game (or even more so when your opponent needs just one paladin of a certain color but is unable to get it in their roll). There may be a good house rule to address the issue, and the game is still a fun pastime, but it would need to have been solved in the published rules for this game to be a five for me.

A unique, interactive contest.
July 06, 2000

This wonderfully made game has more of a building feel than a conquest feel, which would make Charlemagne proud. The concept of physically interlocking neighboring territories to form a region, and the punch-counterpunch nature of the game make it a winner. For maximum enjoyment, a slight edge goes to the three player game. The decision of which clan to support, and whether to reinforce them at court or in the territories is a constant struggle. Think of a simplified combination of a medieval Acquire and El Grande.

An elegant and entertaining mental challenge
April 29, 2000

Carolus Magnus is a game that is easy to get into, but remains challenging after many plays. At first it appeared to me to be too much of an abstract strategy game for my taste, yet there is a reasonable amount of chance and uncertainty when rolling for new cubes, and so the game evades the 'standard moves memorized by the experts' problem that many abstract games have.

I first played it as a two player game, and enjoyed it greatly that way. Every color of cube was useful, and I was worried that in multi-player games, you would end up with cubes of a color you couldn't use. Yet the three player game proved me wrong, as these cubes can be placed on opponents' territories, causing them to fight each other fiercely for control of that color. The three player game turned out to be even more fun than the two player. The four player game is played in teams, and I have only played it once, but it seems to be good also, with several different strategies.

Carolus Magnus was a pleasant surprise. Accessible and engaging, even for lighter gamers, it doesn't drag, and offers quite a few difficult decisions on every turn. It's a winner!

Magnus is Magnifico
April 06, 2000

One of my favorites of the new spring offering from Rio Grande Games is Carolus Magnus by Leo Colovini. I bought this game for two reasons. First, because of the designer. I had played Europa: 1945-2030, co-designed by Colovini, and was fairly impressed by it. And second, because Carolus Magnus is marketed as a two-player geographical-conquest game, a fairly scarce commodity in my collection. Granted, these are not the most scientific justifications for a purchase, but the goddess of cardboard pushers smiled on this particular acquisition of mine because, as it turns out, Carolus Magnus provides a very satisfying and, in many ways, unique gaming experience. In fact, it is not quite like anything I have played before, and it contains some intriguing elements more closely related to African/Asian pit-and-pebble games like Wari, than to Risk or Vinci.

On that point, let me say as a caveat, that Carolus Magnus does not really have anything to do with geographical conquest at all. On the contrary. Although it supposedly represents dynastic conflict among the heirs of Charlemagne, and although its artwork provides a certain flavor of the Dark Ages, it could have just as easily been designed as a completely abstract game. If you are looking for some kind of historical simulation, even a very lightweight one, like Vinci or History of the World, you are almost certain to be disappointed. (I'm not implying that Carolus Magnus is unique in having this characteristic; many games do. I just want you to know what you'll be getting before you open the box.) That being said, I found that, from my point of view, the theme and artwork did not detract at all from the fun, and in fact, enhanced it quite a bit.

Carolus Magnus is not played on a board per se, but on fifteen cardboard tiles that are laid out on circle on the table. The tiles are printed with Medieval-looking artwork--mountains, towns, rivers--in sepia ink. Although the artwork has nothing to do with the game, the tiles do look like cool little kingdoms from the Middle Ages. The remainder of the components--castles, paladins, and the emperor--are all painted wooden pieces. In general, the whole package is quite nice, in the best tradition of European games.

Your goal in Carolus Magnus is very simple. Be the first player to construct ten castles and you win. You can build a castle every time you move the emperor to a tile (territory) where you control a majority of the paladins present. Sounds easy enough. But it's tough getting control of the territories you want and also tough to get the emperor to move where you want. Sometimes very tough!

Opening Phase. You and your opponent begin a turn by selecting one of the five numbered disks that are distributed at the beginning of the game. These numbered disks determine two things: turn order and emperor movement. If you play a disk with a lower number than that of your opponent, you take your turn first, and during the action phase you will be able to move the emperor the number of territories corresponding to the number on the disk. Choice of disk is a difficult and important decision. You must think about the territories to which you would like to move the emperor, about where your opponent may move him, about what disks you might want to save for future turns, and how changes in the control of the paladins may affect all these choices. This is no simple task.

Action Phase. On your turn you perform two actions. First, you put three paladins into play out of your reserve of seven. You can place them freely on any territories or in an off-board area called your 'Court.' Paladins come in five colors and you only control a particular color when you have more of that color in your Court then you opponent has. Thus control of the paladin colors can (and often does) change. Placing paladins a tricky business. You may want to defend a particular color of your own or you may desire to attack an opponent's. But at the same time you need to place some paladins on the territories in preparation for the all-important business of castle building. In general, you never seem to have enough paladins to accomplish your goals.

The second action is emperor movement. You move the emperor clockwise around the circle up to the number on the disk you played during the opening phase. If you move the emperor to a territory where you control a majority of the paladins, you may build one of your castles there. You have to be careful though. If you move the emperor to a territory controlled by your opponent, he builds one of his castles instead. (You don't generally want this to happen, but sometimes you just can't help it.)

In addition, if the emperor stops in a territory that already contains a castle, the castle is replaced by one of the opposing color if the opponent controls the territory. (In this case, castles are also counted in determining control.) And to add more elements to the mix, territories can join together into regions if they are adjacent and contain castles belonging to the same player. When joined into a region all castles and paladins are considered to occupy the same tile. Regions are theoretically stronger and easier to defend because of the presence of multiple castles and larger numbers of paladins, but they are also inviting targets for a takeover. You can usually win the game quickly by taking over an opposing region that contains three to four enemy castles.

Carolus Magnus also contains three- and four-player (partnership) rules. Since I've only played the two-player version I can't really comment on the game from a multiplayer perspective, but it does seem likely that three- and four-players games would progress along very different lines.

Carolus Magnus is a game of almost pure calculation and as such may not appeal to everyone. In fact games may bog down with too much ratiocination in particularly complex positions, so you might want to play with a chess clock or some other kind of game accelerator. The only random element in the game comes at the end of your turn when you replace your expended paladins by making a dice roll. This roll can have a pretty big effect on the game, but you can drop this rule by simply letting players pick their paladin replacements freely. I, at any rate, welcomed the dice roll since it freed me from making another tough decision in a game filled with them (and also gave me a convenient excuse if I lost).

All in all, if abstract games are your bag, Carolus Magnus more than delivers the fun. I've played the game about ten times now, and it keeps bringing me back for more. That's about the best compliment I can give a game.

Great Bits for Little Dough
June 01, 2000

Although this game deserves the award for the highest production quality in a $20 package, I still feel it is too simplistic and lacking that special something that Spiel des Jahres 'Game of the Year' award winners always seem to have. But if you look at the field of nominees, you soon realize there isn't much to choose from but a few card games, and 2 player board games like this one.

I have a feeling that all the hype surrounding this game is due to it's 'newness' and the amazingly high quality of the bits and pieces. Despite the high value for the dollar, I believe the game has the following serious flaws: First, I found the game ended too quickly. Second, I found the gameplay rather boring in that there aren't too many different things for you to do in a turn, and therefore not very many different strategies to attempt. Thirdly, I found the game not well suited for 4 players, as there are only enough pieces for 3 players. In order to have 4 players you have to 'share' pieces by playing partners.

So why do I think the game lacks substance? Each turn, you play some cubes, move the king, and roll the dice for more cubes. And if you own the majority of cubes in a region, you build a castle. And every now and then you merge some regions. Whopeee! If you want a game that has beautiful components AND leaves your mind turning and tossing over every decision during every moment of the game... head for Taj Mahal, which deserves the 'Game of the Year' title. Too bad it was disqualified for this year, it would have beaten Carolus Magnus hands down.

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