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Take on the role of King Arthur's knights attempting to defeat Mordred. Build towns and castles, and wage war against Mordred. In the end, the victory condition depends on whether Mordred has more or fewer towns & castles than King Arthur.
Only one thousand copies of this edition of Mordred have been printed. There will be no reprint of this game. Martin Wallace has already turned down offers to produce a new version.
Mordred was a quiet Essen 1999 release from Martin Wallace. The box sat on my shelf for a while before being tried, but lately it is getting pulled out fairly often since it is an interesting game with some subtle strategic points. You roll a lot of dice, and while this may make some cringe, it is clear that the strategy throughout the game more than offsets the randomness of individual rolls.
The game takes place in Wales and players take the role of Knights of the Round Table to claim Wales for King Arthur. Arthur's foil, of course, is Mordred, who wants Wales for his own. For the players to claim and defend more territory, however, they also increase the odds of Mordred's growth. This balance, along with a very clever set of winning conditions, defines the tension of the game and it comes together nicely.
The board shows Wales with a series of connected spaces, defined pictorially as either forests or hills. Mordred begins occupying his castle in the North. On a player's turn, they roll dice that result in two outcomes: points they use for their own expansion, and attacks that Mordred must make. The first clever twist on the dice rolling is here, in that you can roll dice against one of three different charts. The first gives very little chance for Mordred to attack but also very little upside for your own development. The third gives large upside for growth points but also at the risk of giving Mordred plenty of his own expansion opportunities. The second chart is between these two extremes.
All of Mordred's attack points are used first after the dice roll. The player who rolled the dice decides how Mordred will attack and the number of attacks provoked is recorded on a track on the side of the board. In this way, it is clear the amount to which each player has helped Mordred expand, thus thwarting the efforts of the Knights in their own goal to capture Wales. As Mordred attacks, he can occupy adjacent empty territory, displace a player from a territory if it is unprotected, or attempt to displace a player from a protected territory by rolling dice.
After Mordred completes his attacks, the player can spend any points they earned from that roll along with any saved from earlier rolls. Points are used to expand into new adjacent territory, protect existing territory by building castles, or attempt to displace Mordred by rolling dice from one of his adjacent castles. If the player successfully defeats Mordred at a location, his marker on the "Mordred track" is moved back one space since he has proven that he is less supportive of Mordred's growth.
The game continues like this until a victory condition is met and there are three ways to win the game. First, if a player captures Mordred's home island, he wins outright. This is a risky strategy and one that likely precludes the opportunity to win in one of the normal ways if unsuccessful. If the game does not end prematurely this way, at the end the total number of counters from both the players and Mordred are examined. If Mordred holds more territory than all the players combined, the player who has helped Mordred the least, identified by being in the lowest position on the Mordred track, is the winner. If the players hold more space than Mordred, King Arthur has won and thus the player who individually holds the most territory wins the game. This is a very clever winning mechanism as it forces strategy throughout the game to evaluate the likely winning condition and thus which terms to optimize. Ideally you'll have a lot of territory and be low on the Mordred chart, but in practicality it is difficult to do both.
The timing of the game end is also conditional and this too works well. The games ends as soon as someone reaches the "14" space on the Mordred track and since Mordred attacks are recorded as soon as the dice are rolled, this will happen before that player has a chance to use their points. It also makes rolling on the riskier charts quite dangerous when you are already high on the track. The game also ends when the point chits are exhausted, meaning that a player cannot retrieve the number of points he earned from his die roll. As players use points, the chits are removed from the game, so like Durch die Wüste you must keep a close eye on the stash to estimate the pace of the game. The constant tension among game ending conditions and the variable winning conditions requires sound thinking on each roll.
The dice battles are straightforward and allow for simple odds calculations. To defeat Mordred, you must roll a four or higher on a die. But, you can choose to roll a single die for one point to get your number, or pay three points to roll two dice and hope for a 4, 5, or 6 on either one. The latter choice is often appealing, since only one attack can be made each turn for each "level" of adjacent castle. Castles are built by putting small chips, up to three, under an occupying pawn. Defeating Mordred in several spots on one turn requires prudent use of the limited attack possibilities. Building castles also makes it difficult for Mordred to displace you as well. Mordred (meaning the player directing Mordred's attack) must roll a three or higher after subtracting the number of castle chips to displace a castled space. So, with the maximum three positions built only a six is successful. The offset to this is that Mordred can attack the same spot repeated times up to his total number of attacks.
The last nice design feature in the game is the spaces themselves. It costs only three points to expand into a forest, but also costs three points for each level of castle. It costs five points to expand into hills, but only a single point for each castle level. Thus you can expand more quickly into linked woods spaces, but protecting those spaces from easy attack is ultimately more expensive.
The game play of Mordred is dynamic given the constantly changing variables and dice rolling. I have seen all three winning conditions met during different games and none is so obviously superior that it can be pursued without risk. One possible weak link is the fact that you can expand to a non-adjacent territory by paying one extra build point. This makes it risky for you to spend your points defeating Mordred in spots close to his home and thus leaving an opening for the next player to "beam in" close and go for the instant win.
Mordred is produced in a very dry DTP style plus plastic pawns, including just a black and white label on the box. The game plays in under an hour and provides plenty of interactions and decisions that make it comparable to Web of Power on some level. It is a game that I believe would have wider appeal were it published with a lavish map and components more fitting to the theme. Don't let it sit on your shelf, like I did, or you'll be missing out on an interesting play.