Krone & Schwert
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Europe at the height of the Middle Ages: While cities with enormous cathedrals are developed, overshadowed only by the castles on the surrounding mountains, mighty princes struggle for the title of King.
There is uncertainty about the crown, also. Whoever possesses the crown is always surrounded by those who are just waiting for the right moment to stir up trouble and who want the title of King for themselves. Each player lurks in wait for the best moment to cause such an upset. Will one succeed in pulling the other players to his side and, thus attain the Kingship? That is completely possible but such luck can sometimes be of short duration, with one or more of the players quickly shifting alliances. Besides, the people are not always on the side of the King anyway.
So, you should always keep the structure of your own empire in mind, so that you can use it at any time in any situation to help yourself.
Stability or revolution? Whichever is most useful! Spend three Action Points each turn to draw multipurpose cards, or discard cards either to reserve spaces for building or to build Castles, Cathedrals, or Cities. The first player to build a Castle and a City becomes King, earning Victory Points for Castles owned at the start of subsequent turns.
One Action Point lets you revolt against the current King. Competitors discard cards to support the Rebel or Monarch. You become King if the highest total of discards supports you. Supporters of the winner earn Victory Points for Cathedrals they own. Random Event Cards increase Rebel strength in future revolts, and instability can escalate dramatically as play progresses. Other Events award points to nonroyal cities.
Play ends when all spaces are reserved or built upon. The most Victory Points wins, after bonuses are added for the current King and for owning the most connected spaces and buildings. Uneasy, indeed, is the head that wears the crown.
The idea of using an ancient or medieval power struggle as the basis for a multi-player game is one that has occurred to many designers and it is easy to understand why. You have a natural story line, lots of historical colour and a situation which supplies the objectives. The rough outline of the game is already there. Despite this the genre is one where the success rate is disappointing. Getting mechanics that work well seems to be difficult, with the main problems being how do you reconcile the essentially 2-sided nature of most conflicts with the multi-player nature of the game and how do you come up with victory criteria which keep play sensible and everyone interested. The number of games that have managed to resolve both of those is quite small and I am afraid that Krone & Schwert doesn't really add to the list.
The game board consists of a number of panels that can be assembled in several different ways so as to provide variety from game to game. It is covered in a large grid, with the spaces split into the standard terrain types of plain, hill and forest. Players acquire plots on which they can then build castles, towns and cities. Castles are built on the hills and the other two in the plains, where towns occupy one space of the grid and cities two. The forests are just there for decoration. The other building components are cathedrals and they can only be built in cities.
The game and the points scoring revolve round a recurring struggle for the crown. At the start the throne is empty and its initial occupant will be whoever is the first to build both a castle and either a town or a city. After that you settle in for a sequence of frequent revolts, as other players try to unseat the current king. Each revolt will result in victory points for the players on the winning side, with the largest chunk going to whoever has the throne when the fight is over. Reigning monarchs can also gain points by levying taxes when their turn comes round, which means that it is not a good idea to allow anyone to remain in occupation for too long.
The basic system is the familiar one of cards and action points. In each of your turns you have 3 AP to spend and can use them to take over unoccupied land, to build structures, to draw more cards, to attack other players or to start a revolt. The items vary in their AP cost and some of them, notably building, also require that you have and play the right cards. In most games combat between players will not occur very often. This is partly because of the old problem that when A and B fight, C and D cheer and partly because the only thing you are allowed to fight over is undeveloped land and the stuff is not in short supply. Revolts are much more frequent. Both types of combat are resolved by card play and in the case of revolts players, other than the king and the chief rebel, decide secretly and simultaneously which side they are going to be on.
At the end of a revolt, if the king has won, he collects 2 VP for each of his cathedrals and each supporter collects 1 VP for each of his. If the rebels win, the supporters score in the same way, but the chief rebel (and new king) not only scores 2 VP per cathedral but an extra 1 VP for each of his castles. The only penalties for being on the wrong side are loss of the crown if you were the king and otherwise just the sight of opposing players scoring points.
A few seconds thought about that scoring system and a quick glance at the list of components is enough to tell you how the game is likely to go. Cathedrals and, to a lesser extent, castles are important. There are 26 castles, which is likely to be enough, but there are only 10 cathedrals and they are going to run out by about halfway through the game. Cathedrals can only be built in cities and there are also only 10 city tiles. So your first priority is obtaining sites for and building cities. Once built they can't be taken away from you and there will be a cathedral piece available. Building castles (valuable when you launch your revolt) and towns (which feature in scoring triggered by certain event cards) is your second priority. Expansion, building and the occasional revolt to stop all the taxes going into the one pair of hands will be the pattern for the first half of the game. Then, in the second, when the board is fairly well developed, it will be a case of a revolt almost every player turn as players make sure that kings don't survive long enough to tax, and at that point it all gets a bit daft.
The game end comes with the appearance of the "Spielende" card. This is left to one side at the start of the game, but introduced when one of the players reaches a certain total of VP. At that point the whole card deck is shuffled and the Spielende card placed at a random position in the bottom 20 cards. Final scoring is 1 VP for each castle, cathedral, city and town; 5 VP to the owner of the largest connected territory; 2 VP to the owner of the second largest and 5 VP to the current king. Given that everything else is calculable as you go along, and given that players will have been choosing their sides in each revolt so as to keep the scores close, that last award is likely to prove significant. It also introduces a large element of luck into the determination of the winner, as the monarchy is likely to be changing hands almost every player turn and this card appears unannounced.
Krone & Schwert is not a bad game and it does contain some nice ideas, but the package doesn't work well enough for the game to be a satisfying way to spend the time and I can't recommend it to you. If you are looking for a new multi-player game of this type, the same publisher's Wallenstein is a much better choice.