Knights of Charlemagne
English language edition of Tabula Rasa
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The forces of Charles the Great are yours to command in Knights of Charlemagne. Deploy knights to the various estates, taking control from your opponents. Only certain knights can be played to each estate, but be careful not to spread your forces too thinly or you will be overpowered!
Timing, strategy and resource management all come together in this knightly game, as every move you make brings you closer to earning everlasting glory!
Reiner Knizia tends to create games in phases--his tile-laying games, his auction games, and even some of his card games. I never understood why one of these games will get a lot of press while another gets ignored.
This close cousin to Lost Cities, Schotten-Totten, and Battle Line is an excellent game. It also has the advantage that it can be expanded up to four players. While the stacking rules in Lost Cities reminded me of Racko, and those of Schotten-Totten and Battle Line were based on poker, the stacking rules here seem to allude to Uno or Crazy Eights.
Like the other two games, there is some luck involved, yet skillfully card play is also in order. Other than a runner-up nomination in Games magazine, this game hasn't gotten much press, but it's certainly better than many card games being touted about lately.
I just recently did a bit of research on Reiner Knizia - one of the most prolific designers of our times, if not the most - for the Dice Tower. When going through his games, I discovered that he's done quite a few excellent games for two players from Lost Cities to Battleline to Spy, etc. After reading the rules for Knights of Charlemagne (Playroom Entertainment, 2006 - Reiner Knizia), it seemed very similar to these games - especially Spy. After playing the two player and four player game, I enjoyed the game; but it felt a little easy - a bit simplistic.
And I would have relegated Knights of Charlemagne (KoC) to the "nice, but nothing special" category. Then, I played it with three players, and my opinion of the game completely changed. With three players, KoC became a tremendously good, albeit still light game - almost a "Lost Cities for three players". I was even more surprised to find out that while Playroom is releasing the game this year, it had already been produced in 1995 (it's also known as Tabula Rasa). A good two and four player game mixed with a truly entertaining three player game makes KoC an excellent addition to my collection.
The game is made up of a deck of fifty cards (which are numbered from "1" to "5" in five different colors: red, purple, blue, green, and yellow - two of each card) and twenty tiles. Five "manor" tiles, numbered from "1" to "5"; are placed in a row, separated from another row of five "city" tiles, each numbered "5" - but showing one of the five different colors. One treasure tile (numbered "1") is placed next to each of the manor and city tiles, and a five point bonus tile is placed at the end of the row. The deck is shuffled, and two of them are secretly removed from the game. Each player is dealt eight cards, and the game begins.
On a player's turn, they play any card from their hand to either the matching manor tile (same number) or the matching city tile (same color). Players place the card on their side of the tiles (in a four player game, players are paired in two teams, and in a three player game, the third player places their cards in between the manor/city tiles and treasure tiles). They then draw one card, and play passes to the next player. Players may place as many cards per tile as they like, and the game continues until all cards have been drawn and played.
At this point, each tile is scored. Starting with the manor tile "1" and proceeding down the row, players check to see who have the most cards there. The player with the most cards takes the manor/city tile, with the player who has the second most taking the treasure tile. If there is a tie for first place, the manor/city tile is flipped over, transforming it to a one point treasure tile, and each player gets one. The first player to win two manor tiles receives the bonus five point tile. After all tiles are handed out, the player with the highest total points from the tiles is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: As usual, Playroom Entertainment does a stand up job producing the game, and the fabulous cards are a testament to that fact. Each color shows a different (nicely done) pose of a knight, helping differentiate between colors, and the cards have a high quality vinyl finish. This finish is also applied to the large, easy to see and handle tiles, which fit (along with the cards) inside the smaller box (although possibly too big). All the artwork is top notch, and the game can take a bit of play before showing any wear.
2.) Rules: The rules for this game are actually quite simple and are summarized on only three pages in the rulebook. Everything is quite clearly explained with pictorial references, and a few key rules are highlighted. One rule in particular may take players a bit to get accustomed to, and that's that the numbers of the Knights do not refer to point values. Even with this in bold, I completely missed it in my first playing, and it does make a difference (reduces luck factor). Really, though, it's an easy game to teach and learn - even less complicated than most of Knizia's games, I think.
3.) Players: As I stated at the beginning of the game, I think that play is optimal with three players. Usually I have lesser feelings about this in games, but in KoC three players is almost twice as good as two and four, simply because it adds a better dynamic to the game. Second place means something now at each area, and players must pick and choose their battles with greater care.
4.) Choices: One thing I really enjoy about KoC (and it's something that Knizia manages to lace his games with) is that there are only a couple of simple choices to make each turn. Each card can only be played in two different places, so the more important choice is the order that the cards are played in. The truly excellent thing about this is that kids and teenagers will easily understand the strategy and can hold their own against adults. KoC is an excellent game about teaching folk how to allocate their resources in a simple, fun way.
5.) Lost Cities/Battleline: When compared to Knizia's two most popular card laying games, I'm not sure how KoC should be rated. Both Battleline and Lost Cities offer more choices, but at the end it would appear that the strategies are the same. In KoC one can count the cards (although with the two cards removed, it's not perfect information), and there's slightly less tension as in the other two games. In Battleline and Lost Cities I often hold onto cards, simply so that my opponent won't get them; in KoC I'm going to play every card I can get my hands on. I think that both Battleline and Lost Cities are superior to KoC but that KoC can handle three players well, making it a keeper.
6.) Fun Factor: The most enjoyable feature of KoC is how light the game is. It's fascinating, though, how the game has a degree of luck (the cards players get), but that the order players lay their cards is of great importance. I can explain and play a game with folks in less than ten minutes - and often play several "rounds", adding scores together.
Knights of Charlemagne shows what Knizia does best, taking some simple mathematical mechanics, and making a small but excellent game out of them. It has tremendous components, is easy to set up and play, and is one of the few games that caters exceptionally well to three players. The theme is basically nonexistent, but the gameplay is light enough that no one will likely care, and you'll see this game often appear in my gaming bag.
"Real men play board games"
It's a well-known--though perhaps apocryphal--fact that Reiner Knizia develops his games in threes. There is his 'tile-laying trilogy'--Euphrat & Tigris, Durch die Wste and Samurai; his 'auction trilogy'--Modern Art, Medici and Ra; and his 'multiple paths to victory' trilogy--Stephensons Rocket, Taj Mahal and The Merchants of Amsterdam. When Lost Cities came out, then, it was just a matter of digging around to find its relatives. It doesn't take any more than a glance at the short rulebook to this game to instantly recognize Tabula Rasa as one of them. (For the record, the third in this particular trilogy is Schotten-Totten.)
The theme of Tabula Rasa apparently involves knights contesting regions of England, and it all looks very medieval; but the fact is that--like most games from Reiner Knizia--the theme is paper-thin and really doesn't enter into the gameplay at all. I'm going to ignore the theme in my description, as you doubtless will when you play it.
The game consists of fifty cards--two each numbered 1 to 5 in five suits--and several tiles, worth from 1 to 5 points. It is the tiles which players are trying to capture, with the biggest sum of tiles determining the eventual victor. Five of the tiles are coloured, the same as the card suits, and are worth five points each. Five more tiles are not coloured, and have points that vary from one to five. In the two-player game--which is how the game is usually played--all ten tiles are laid in a row between the players. On your turn, you play a card in front of one of the ten tiles, then draw a replacement card, if there are any left. The game ends when both players are out of cards. Each tile is then won by the player who had the most cards played in front of it. The highest sum of tile points wins. And that's the entire game.
Well, almost. There's one restriction on how you play your cards--you can't put any old card in front of any tile. This is where the tiles' numbers and colours come in to it. Say you have a blue three card in your hand. You can play this card to either the blue tile (worth five points) or the three tile (worth three points). Nowhere else. This is where the delightful Knizia-esque dilemma comes into the picture. It means that you have to plan your placements carefully to beat your opponent while keeping your options open at the same time. Because there are a fixed quantity of cards of each colour and of each number, your opponent also has a pretty good idea of what's winnable and what's not. And you can bet this information will be used against you. (To a point. Card-counting isn't infallible in Tabula Rasa because two cards have been removed from the deck sight-unseen before the game.)
Another thing you should keep in mind is that there is a prize for second place in each of the ten columns. The player with the second-most number of cards played in front of a tile earns a one-point consolation prize--even if it was from playing just one card. If two players tie for first, both players get just one point. The final scoring opportunity encourages you to go for the less lucrative number tiles, rather than the five-point colour tiles: counting from the one-point tile to the five-point tile, the first player to win two of them outright (this could be no one if there are draws) gets a five-point bonus. These balances make it only slightly more lucrative to go for the colour tiles than the number tiles, but then both players know that, so any advantage is cancelled out.
As a two-player game, Tabula Rasa feels a lot like Schotten-Totten, and a little like Lost Cities--you don't want to commit a card yet, but you have to before you can draw another card. Information is very precious, and the longer you can deny it from your opponent, the better shot you have at winning. Where Tabula Rasa has a big plus over its two siblings is that it can be played as a three-player game--with just the same rules--and loses none of its charm or playability. (There are also four-player partnership rules which I am not so thrilled with.) Schotten-Totten is strictly two-player, and while Lost Cities has three- and four-player variants, they feel like quite different games to me than the original.
Tabula Rasa is produced by one of the smaller game companies, but it has not lost any production quality from this; the cards are still strong and thick, and the tiles are healthy chunks of cardboard that are never going to bend. The artwork is a little repetitive and boring, but since this card game doesn't really have much of a theme, I don't perceive this as a significant loss. Tabula Rasa is perhaps the least known of its trilogy of influence-based card games, but I think it is certainly as good as its relations--indeed better in some aspects--and definitely worth a look.
Is there any end to Dr. Knizia's talent for dreaming up deceptively simple games that leave us in the throes of indecision? You will wonder exactly that as you use Knight cards to joust for control of 10 Estates--five uncolored Estates numbered 1 to 5, and five colored Estates all numbered 5. Knight cards are also numbered and come in five colors. On a turn, play a Knight card to an Estate matching the card in either number or color, and draw to replenish. When all cards are played, score the Estates. The player with the
highest value [greatest number] (*) of cards on an Estate gains its number in points, with one consolation point for second place. In ties, each gets one point. The first player to gain two uncolored Estates earns a five-point bonus. Only in the heat of battle over such a large front can you realize how difficult it is to decide where to place cards.
* Editor's Note: The original GAMES Magazine review was in error: the winner of the duel is actually the player with the greatest number of cards played, not the greatest total value of cards.
Or "Son Of Lost Cities", as we swiftly dubbed this excellent 2-4 player game (although I suspect it will be played exclusively as a two-hander).
The bounty in Tabula Rasa are Estates, either valued as numbers (rated from 1-5) or colours (all worth 5). The tiles are placed in a row (l-r) from 1-5 (numbers) and then the colours, with each tile having a treasure card beneath (all deemed '1'). In turn, participants play a card from their hand, which must either match the number OR colour. All cards are played, apart from two withdrawn before the start of the hand. In the final tally, it is the number of cards played adjacent to each estate (and NOT the value) which determines the benefactor. For example, Yellow '5' has two cards worth '4' and '5' placed by Harry, whilst Dave has laid three cards, '1', '2' and '3'. Dave wins, hands down (naturally) and takes the yellow '5', whilst Harry grabs the consolation '1' gold. Note: you need to have a presence on each estate in order to earn either card.
In addition to the distribution of Estates, a bonus tile of '5' is taken by the first player to have secured two of the numbered (1-5) tiles, although this is negated in the event of ties, which, in normal play, provide '1' gold each (as pictured on the reverse of the Estate tiles).
Once discovered, Tabula Rasa caused a flurry of activity on the Spiel Spass stand, the company obviously taking the view that at their best, Reiner Knizia's games are peerless, and when they don't particularly appeal, they are still better than most of the opposition. My music background forces me to ask the question "Why doesn't someone sign to him to an exclusive contract?"