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1618 AD: The Thirty Years War began. The small German states are divided into Catholic and Protestant camps. But for political rather than religious reasons, foreign powers are moved to intervene. There are Wallenstein, called the Emperor's General, the Count of Pappenheim, and also the Swedish king, Gustav Adolf. All of them would happily join in the conflict. No matter which camp they belong to, each one is looking out for his own best interests. Nevertheless, you must protect your land and thus you need sufficient troops at the right places. But the conquering of land is merely a means to an end. The actual aim is to increase the value of your lands by constructing the most impressive buildings. The people have to eat and the army and buildings need to be financed, but you must work with very limited taxation so that the farmers will not rebel. There's lots to do all over the place, but in each area you may only do one of 10 actions each season. Try to overcome all obstacles in order to be the strongest power when a new order in Europe is settled due to the Westfaeali Peace in 1648.
Recently, Ive been reviewing light games, ones that are good especially for children. However, I do like good, meaty games quite often, and some of them are in my top ten games. I like a lot of games, but the top ten are the games that Ill play anytime, anywhere; and its very rare that a new game makes it up to this esteemed (for me, anyway) list. But, such is the case of Wallenstein (Queen Games, 2002 - Dirk Henn). I had initially heard good things about the game from those who played it. The inclusion of the cube tower that was in Im Zeichen des Kruezes - one of my favorite game components ever - made it that much more interesting to me. Once I opened the box, however, I was a little overwhelmed with the pieces, boards etc. - and the fact that everything was in a different language. So I downloaded some English paste-ups for the cards and some English rules, and proceeded to play the game.
And the end result was that Wallenstein shot up into my top ten games immediately, with every subsequent playing confirming this choice. It has some features of a light war game, with the stunningly cool dice tower, mixed with the strategic play of a euro game - and the mix works amazingly well! Ive found that the game goes over with those who like war games, and equally so with those who like German mechanics, such as area control. The game is huge, and looks fantastic on the table - and the game play matches the mechanics. There are few games that I recommend higher than Wallenstein, it is in fact third on my all time gaming list.
A huge game board is set in the middle of the table, representing Germany during the Thirty-Years War. The board is split into five regions, each a different color, split into nine countries. Each player is given an individual player board in their color (representing one of the leaders during this time), all the small cubes of that color, and several blank land cards. One cube for each player is placed on a grain track on the side of the main board - at zero - representing how much grain their faction has. Depending on how many players are in the game (3-5), each player receives chests worth a certain amount of gold. The cube tower is then set up, and seven armies from each player, along with ten green (neutral) armies, are thrown into the cube tower. Any cubes that fall out at the bottom are returned to those players, but some cubes will stay in the tower. A stack of event cards is shuffled and placed on the board.
Each player then picks their territories. The players can decide to either follow a suggested placement included in the rules, or pick their own territories. If they pick the latter, the land cards (one for each territory) are shuffled, and two are placed face up next to the pile. At the top of each players boards are nine squares with numbers in them (5,4,4,3,3,2,2,2,2) - each to be filled with the appropriate number of armies (cubes). Starting with one player, each player can either take one of the face-up cards, or the top card from the pile - then place all the armies from one of their squares into that country. The game is then ready to begin. Each game consists of two years - each year being formed of four seasons (although the winter season is really only a scoring phase).
At the start of each of the two years, four event cards are drawn and laid on four spaces on the board. These cards show events that will happen after each season and how much grain will be consumed during the winter. At the beginning of the second turn, players will also set their grain counters to zero. Spring season starts with summer and autumn turns following the exact same pattern.
The first thing that is done each turn is that ten action cards are shuffled and placed in ten action spaces at the bottom of the main board. On the first five spaces, the action cards are placed face-up, on the last five, face-down. Each player then plans their actions. On their player boards, they have ten spaces for cards - each representing one of the ten possible actions. On each of these spaces, they place face-down one of the cards in their hand. They can place any of the country cards that they control, or one of the blank cards (in the beginning of the game, they wont have enough country cards, so they will be forced to play at least some of the blank cards.) A card representing each player is then shuffled, and placed face up on the board - showing turn order. One of the four event cards at the top of the board is selected randomly, and the event on the card occurs during this season (restrictions on movement, etc.). Of course, there are only three event cards for summer to choose from, and two for autumn. Then starting with action one, players execute the actions in turn order. The player reveals the country card they have on that action, and executes the action in that country. The actions that can occur are:
- Gold: Each country produces a certain amount of gold. If the player chooses a country for gold, they receive chests equal to the output of that country, then place a revolt marker on that country. If a player puts a revolt marker in a country that already has one, a revolt breaks out, which is handled similar to a battle - but the player fights neutral armies according to how bad the revolt is.
- Grain: This is handled the same way as gold, except that the grain marker is moved rather than the player receiving chests.
- Movement/Battle: There are two of these cards, one marked A, and the other B. They allow players to move armies from one territory into an adjacent country, and if it is a neutral or opponents territory, attack it. Battles are fun, using the cube tower, and Ill simplify them by just saying that the more cubes that fall out of the tower of your color - the better you do! (Theres more to it than that.)
- Building: Three of the cards allow the player to build a building on a city in their territory. One card allows a trading firm, the other a church, the other a palace, all costing 1, 2, or 3 chests. Each country has one to three cities, and each city can only have one building tile on it - and each country can only have one of each type.
- Supply: The remaining three actions involve supplies. Two of them allow players to reinforce the countries with armies, for a price. This allows them to reinforce a country, and then move armies from that country to a neighboring friendly country.
After all actions have been completed, the next season is started, which is carried out in the exact same way, except for the winter season. In the winter, the last event card is looked at, but instead of the event on it, the number shows (0 -7) - which corresponds to the grain loss that winter. Each player must subtract that amount from their grain scale, as well as one grain for each country they control. If the player runs out of grain, revolts occur in certain territories, according to a chart printed on the table. Players then score victory points - one for each country and building they control. Each of the five large regions is also scored - the player with the most palaces in each scores three points, most churches score two points, and most trading firms score one point. All revolt markers are removed from the board, and the next year begins - if it is the first year, otherwise the game ends. At game end, the player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: The components for the game are excellent, and even in a huge box, they barely fit in. Of course, a lot of this has to do with the huge cube tower - but it is a central piece of the game, and I cant imagine Wallenstein without it. The cubes are small, but they are bright and rattle through the tower well. I really enjoyed using the wooden chests for money - the orange for five gold, and the tan for one gold. They were not confused with the cubes, being a much different size - and were easier to handle than coins. The cards were nice, but the massive amount of German text, especially on the event cards, caused me to print out some card paste-ups from the net, which worked exceedingly well. The tiles for the buildings are of a nice thickness, and are - gasp - doubled sided! The board is HUGE, but absolutely beautiful, and the colors and territory divisions are clearly marked - we never had an argument over what went where. Everything fits well in plastic inserts in the box - although because I have a fetish about bagging everything - so the bags didnt fit in the game quite as well.
2.) Tower: Wow - its a fantastic addition to the game. Ive always liked dice towers, and this one is so much more fun. I enjoyed throwing the armies into the tower to see which ones fall out and which stay in. The same odds could probably be calculated with dice and charts, but the tower is so much more fun. One thing that we did, however, was to designate a Tower Table. Leaving the tower at the main table could cause cubes to fall from it when it was jostled - leaving players irritated at the jostler. So we put the tower at another table, and since battles arent that common (a player can only initiate twelve a game - and probably wont), it makes the battles more unique and exciting. And, no one knocks it over. The tower, made of cardboard and plastic parts, is a very cool centerpiece to the whole game.
3.) Rules: The rules, like the cards, are printed in German, but I was fortunate to find an exact English translation on the internet that included color illustrations and examples. This was helpful and quite nice, but I really didnt like how the rules were laid out. Game setup was in the middle, and the rest of the rules seemed to be listed in a slightly haphazard order, rather than in a more flowing fashion. Also, for the amount of pages of rules - only seven - coupled with the large illustrations on each page - made it so the rules were stated only once, and not everything was emphasized. I read the rules several times, but still wasnt quite confident with them - but once the game was taught to me, I understood it easily. I found that the game isnt too difficult to teach, although many people dont get it until the first years scoring, which is often too late. Many of my new games last three years - a practice year, and then the real game.
4.) Theme: Im not an expert on the Thirty-Years War, but I did appreciate the amount of detail the game represented. There was even a small book talking about the characters in the game (faithfully translated on the web.) The game was slightly fascinating from that aspect, and the real chaos from these years made the game that much more thematic.
5.) Randomness and Strategy: The game really throws in a bit of randomness with the cube tower. This is not like it first appears, however. First of all, battles are rare, and only are usually fought when the attacker has overwhelming odds. Secondly, the strategy in the game almost ensures that the best player will win. The player who best allocates the actions amongst their countries will win, and the game has a very fun tactical feel, as players adjust to the different order of players and actions each turn. Getting a lot of buildings is important, although Ive seen many players miss this on their first game (thus the reason we usually play a practice year.) The game is not so deep that teenagers cant understand it; on the contrary, they seem to adapt well. But the strategies involved are very intriguing to people, who like deeper games; and I enjoyed this part of the game a lot. The entire action card allocation is one of the best mechanics I have ever seen in a game.
6.) Time and Players: The game seems to scale well from three to five players, but I most enjoy it with five, as I like to see the alliances shift in a group of that number. The game can take up to about two hours, but once players get the hang of the game, it can be shorter than that.
7.) Fun Factor: I really enjoyed this game. It took a lot of the Huzzah factor from other light war games of this type, and mixed them with some serious German mechanics. It reminded me of El Grande a bit - and while not as elegant as that wonderful game (another in my top ten), I found it a little more fun. Much of this, of course, has to do with the cube tower, but just as much has to do with figuring out where to put my country cards on the action board. Every time Ive played this game Ive enjoyed it immensely, and I dont see it getting old anytime soon.
Well, its obvious from above that I adore this game - it packs much of what I like into one (big) box. The theme is good, the components are great, there is luck involved, a cool game part- the cube tower, and excellent mechanics. Everyone Ive introduced the game to has enjoyed it - and even war gamers arent too put out by the game. Its a hybrid, bringing war gamers and Euro gamers to one table - and usually all enjoying the game (rather than merely tolerating it). If I had to get rid of my game collection, this would be one of the last games I get rid of. Im not sure of its appeal to casual gamers, but to anyone looking for a game that has (mostly) it all - this is a solid bet!
This is a very nice mix of light wargame (12 attacks max per game per player) and German-style game, with great mechanics. From every territory you occupy, each turn you can do ONE action there (e.g. reinforce, harvest, build, attack from, etc.). You'll WANT to do 3 or 4, but you're limited to one. Furthermore, each round you only know half of the action order (i.e. attack phase, gold phase, build phase[s]), so it does a good job of recreating uncertainty. And the battle tower... it's cool and it's quick. No dice rolling, but a bit of randomization--however, the difference is with the tower, it all evens out for everyone. This is because if you throw in 10 guys against 5 guys and only 4 of your guys come out and you lose, the other 6 are still in the tower and will come out later. Clever and more fair than dice. This is a good game for a Risk fan who'd like to transition into something a little more advanced. Very fun, very different. Hopefully there will be more to come like it!
Great Euro/Wargame from Queen. Wallenstein is a beautiful game with fantastic production value, including the much talked about 'Battle Tower'. It is not, however, a historical simulation of Wallenstein's various campaigns. In fact, it is a bit like Risk, but much much deeper. I just wish I could find people to play it. Many people are scared off because it looks complicated.
Five German states with 45 Counties, all ripe for the conquering, make this game irresistible. You begin with control of a set of Counties, occupied by troops (cubes) in your color. Each round, the 10 Action Cards are laid in random order with the first five faceup. Players secretly choose a County in which they will execute each Action: acquire the County's gold or grain, buy armies or buildings, or attack a neighbor. To fight, you throw the contenders' troops into the novel Combat Tower. The dominant color that emerges prevails, and the successful attacker usurps control of the County. Players in turn execute each facedown Action, which is revealed as it is reached. The player with the most points--from Counties owned and buildings constructed therein--wins after eight rounds. With only one Action per round permitted in a County, and the fearfully uncertain order of the facedown Actions, this interactive game promises decades of challenging choices.
Dirk Henn and Queen obviously have a good relationship, since Queen has remade several of Henn's self-produced games including Showmanager / Atlantic Star (were Premiere), Stimmt So (was Al Capone), and Metro (was Iron Horse). Wallenstein was never produced as a private db-Spiele label game, and to my knowledge it is the first Henn game to go straight to the big time. This is encouraging since, as much as db-Spiele's productions are well done, Dirk Henn has enough credibility to get notice from the big boys.
Wallenstein is as close to a war game as you see come from Germany today, but if that scares you off, keep reading since it fits right at home next to the likes of El Grande. It also uses the exact same cube tower first featured in Im Zeichen des Kreuzes, a game that has received generally poor reviews despite the novel new mechanism. It's almost as if Queen had a bunch of these towers left and looked for a design that could make good use of them. For the uninitiated, the tower is a 3-D structure with a series of baffles inside that can trap small wooden cubes. When you dump a set of cubes into the tower, not all of them will emerge from the bottom but some that were previously stuck will be freed.
The scene is the thirty-year war, but thankfully the game finishes after just two 'years'. Each player represents a leader from the era and attempts to control as many of the 45 small countries as possible, while having regional dominance in religion, trading, and politics. The countries are occupied by armies of wooden cubes in the player's color, and each country has a fixed number of spots for one of three building types (churches, trade houses, and palaces). Each leader begins with control of up to nine countries using an interesting initial country assignment with a card-selection mechanism similar to Web of Power.
Each of the two years consists of four seasons. In spring, summer, and fall, the normal actions are taken. In winter, no actions are taken but the troops must be fed lest revolts occur. The actions for each season are determined in advance on individual player mats. The order that the actions will be executed, however, is determined by a set of cards laid out at the season's beginning with the first five showing and the last five covered. As the first action is taken by all, the sixth action is revealed, and so on, just as it is done in Doge.
Country cards and the action mat make the heart of the decisions process. The action mat shows ten separate actions, broken down into four types:
Each country has a card associated with it that shows three things: the country name, an amount of gold, and an amount of grain. Like Henn's Yukon Company, the cards have multiple uses. At the beginning of each season, every player fills their action card by placing their country cards face down on their action mat, planning their strategy for the season based in part on the partially-revealed order of execution. On all but the Gold and Grain spaces, the card placed determines where the action will take place. For example, if I control the Breisgau country (and thus hold the Breisgau card), I would play it face down on the Palace Building spot to declare that I want to build a palace there. When the Palace Building action comes up in the action order, everyone reveals the card they played on this spot and then builds a palace by paying the appropriate amount of gold.
Similarly, playing country cards on the supply spots indicates the areas where one will deploy new armies. Playing a card on the Gold or Grain spots means that the Gold or Grain indicator on the card is used; the country is irrelevant. Playing a card on the battle spots indicates the country from which you will attack. You don't have to decide which neighboring country will get attacked until you execute this action. Thus, the order of the actions is very influential since battle choices can swing greatly if army deployments happen first. Also, you may not have the money to buy your buildings or armies if the Money Action comes late in the sequence.
Battles use the cube tower in a similar way to Im Zeichen des Kreuzes. The attacking player's pieces, along with as many armies as the defense has available and wishes to use, are dumped into the tower together. Whoever has more of their color expelled from the tower wins, but the winner loses as many armies as the loser. Thus, if I attack you with five against three in defense, and four of my armies come through against two of yours, I will return two in victory to the country and take control of the country card. If this card is still unused on your action mat, you will lose that action since the card is turned over at the time of victory. Since battles are won in whole and armies can only be deployed by using the country card, it should be obvious that only one army controls a country at any given time.
The cube tower is unpredictable of course. At the beginning of the game, some of each player's pieces are 'seeded' into the tower along with neutral 'farmer army' pieces. As cubes are tossed in, some stick and others are freed to drop. It is possible, thus, to toss in a significant majority and still lose, or to end up with more armies than you started with in a country. It helps to keep count of how many armies you and your opponent have lodged in the tower. Armies not participating in the battle that emerge from the tower are left in the cup at the bottom, but with each toss all of the armies in the cup are added to the fighting mix. This has the effect of making each toss more volatile.
When attacking an uncontrolled country, the player is fighting the local farmers and thus must emerge with more cubes of their color than the green farmer armies. When attacking a controlled country, the farmers will generally side with the defenders (the devil you know is better than the one you don't, I guess), so the attacker must consider the farmer armies in the odds estimation.
Revolts add to the fun and must be considered. A revolt marker is placed in a country if it is attacked when neutral (the farmers revolt against their attackers), or if the land is used to extract money or grain. Multiple revolt markers will lose the defenders their farmer support, and also add to the number of farmer armies tossed into the tower if a revolt occurs. Revolts occur in the winter if all of the deployed armies cannot be fed. Grain for each player is tracked on a table on the board, and any shortfall in need determines the number of countries that will revolt and the number of extra farmer armies that will fight. Revolt markers placed during the first three seasons add further to this total.
In addition to the cards mentioned, the game includes a set of event cards. For each of the two years, four event cards are chosen, and for the most part they modify one or more of the actions. For example, one card makes army deployment less effective, while another will add to the gold earned in a specific region. Each event card shows the event itself, and also shows a grain number. As the season begins, the event cards remaining are shuffled and one is chosen for the season. For the first three seasons, the event is implemented. In winter, the grain number only is used and this is the amount that each player must reduce from their grain supply before determining if they've met the food needs for their armies. Thus, knowing which event cards are still available helps to determine how much grain you may need. The game includes many more event cards than are needed so it is will be rare to end up with the same events over multiple games.
The decisions in Wallenstein are significant, as each of the actions have their uses and yet can be taken in only one country per season. With only six 'acting' seasons, this puts a limit in how much building can be done and how many armies can be deployed. Using a country card for money or grain, both of which are essential, makes it impossible to develop or build up that country in that season. Since ten actions must be planned but it is very possible to control fewer than ten countries, each player also has blank cards available. Thus deciding which actions not to take, and which actions your opponent's may pass on, also adds some tension.
Victory points are earned for countries controlled, buildings owned, and dominance within building type for each of the six regions. Scoring happens at the end of each year, with each country and building worth one, and majority of building type by region worth three, two, or one depending on the type of building. As the seasons progress, then, players are trying to control more countries, build the right buildings to earn the dominance bonuses, and keep enough armies alive to survive the erratic tower. As buildings are constructed, they belong to the country. Thus as control of the country changes, so does control of the buildings that have been constructed there. As a result, building early helps ensure that others will be attacking you, but waiting too long to build can result in lost points.
A lot goes on in this game and there is plenty of interaction. I simply do not like the tower, however, as it adds an element that is far too random for an otherwise excellent set of mechanics. Planning a strategy while taking into account each country's geographic and wealth attributes (some countries generate more gold or grain, for example) and considering the action order justifies a more logical and consistent battle mechanism. While battle randomness is not necessarily bad, it is possible to have many of your pieces stuck in the tower which then creates an imbalance for future fights. This can be considered a balancing mechanism, but in practice it creates odd results more often than not.
Wallenstein is a beautifully produced game with a big colorful board, nice cards, and plenty of wooden bits. Oddly, however, Queen did not include a victory point track along the border so despite the large box and wealth of components, you must keep a pencil and paper nearby. Dirk Henn's skill with card use, interesting interlocking mechanisms, and familiar-feeling yet unique ideas are all apparent in Wallenstein, and it is unfortunate that the cube tower creates such a weak link. The games is still well worth playing, however, as you may be less bothered by the tower or find it less erratic. Either way, the ideas and decisions in and around the battles are all first rate.