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Artus

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Alea/Ravensburger, 2-4 players, ages 9 to adult, about 60 minutes; $34.95)

 

artusboxOne of the most romantic eras in human history is the Age of Knights and Chivalry. Novels and films abound that are set in that time. Games have also found this time to be a fertile area to explore as knighthood has served as the theme for many of them. When you think of knighthood, you almost always think of King Arthur and Arthur and the knights of the Round Table are the focus of the latest small box game in the Alea line (number 7 if you’re counting) from the design team of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling: Artus.

In Artus (appropriately subtitled “… and the Knights of the Round Table”), players command a group of knights on a quest to amass the greatest prestige at King Arthur’s court. They will do that by maneuvering their seating positions at the Round Table and, in the “Advanced Game” (the version most recommended), by completing various assignments.

The board depicts the Round Table with a rotating surface at its center. Around this rotating surface are “seats” (spaces) where knights will take up their positions. These spaces come in three colors: green (worth positive points from 1 to 10), yellow (worth 0 points) and red (worth negative points from -1 to -15). At the top and bottom of the board, three spaces each (six in total) are the “red carpet”. Four “Princes” (two gold and two silver pawns) are placed in their marked areas (shown by crowns) on the perimeter. Three of them begin with one ring placed on them; the fourth is given three rings. The three-ringed prince is the King and occupies the large crown space on the board. Now, players draw their opening hands.

Each player has their own identical deck of cards divided into three types. These types are separated and shuffled to create three draw decks. For the first turn, players draw (in the Advanced Game) three Knight and three King cards.

Knight cards will move a knight ahead around the table a specified range of spaces (say, from 7 to 9 spaces at the player’s discretion). One of these cards allows backward movement.

Some King cards will move the gold or silver prince pieces (color depending on the background color of the card) in a similar manner; others allow you to place another ring on a prince piece. The King piece is “full” so no additional rings may be placed on that piece. Assignment cards (only used in the Advanced game) offer additional scoring opportunities and may only be drawn after the first turn.

artus2Once players have their starting hands, they place their Knights, one at a time in counter-clockwise order, around the Round Table. Once all knights have been placed, the game begins with turns taken in clockwise order.

On a turn, a player plays TWO cards in any order. Moving a Knight onto a space earns a player the number of Prestige Points equal to the number on the space. Negative number? Then LOSE that number of points. (Prestige Points totals are kept on the the board’s scoring track.) Knights may move over other pieces. If a Knight lands on an occupied space, then the previous tenant is dislodged and moved back to the next open space. If a Prince is moved, the player receives the value of the Prestige Points equal to the number found on the space the Prince has LEFT! Placing a ring on a Prince earns that player the number of PPs equal to the space the Prince occupies. Should any Prince receive a third ring, he becomes the new King and the board ROTATES so that the table’s large crown faces the new King thus changing the values of all the pieces sitting around the Round Table! (The old King loses all his rings but one.) But the biggest chunks of scoring are reserved for the Assignment cards.

Each player has six Assignment cards in his deck and they trigger different scoring configurations. One card allows a player to score ALL his knights (based on their current positions), another to score all of his knights but REVERSING their +/- values! A third card will score one knight each on the yellow, green and red spaces, the fourth to score 2 knights on the “red carpet” (or lose 25 points if unable to comply). The fifth card will score 3 knights on red spaces (or lose 50 points) while the final card shows some flexibility by providing three options: move ANY piece 1-3 spaces OR add a ring to any prince OR choose score 1 knight of that player’s to score. Once two cards have been played, the player draws two cards from ANY of his three stacks of card types to replenish his hand and it’s the next player’s turn.

After 11 rounds, all cards have been played and positions on the scoring track are compared. The player with the most Prestige Points is the victor!

Artus is essentially an abstract game with only the slightest flavor of theme and, at its core, extremely tactical. Its nature makes for indirect interaction as no card will directly target an opponent. Instead, players must concentrate on their own positions and possibilities to maximize scores. As the game progresses, the King’s position will continue to shift so that values and positions of Knights change. This constant fluidity of positioning can wreak havoc with a player’s plans making a long range strategy difficult if not impossible. Gamers who fancy themselves “grand strategists” should stay away from this one. However, several factors prevent the game from sinking into complete chaos while giving it its own distinct appeal.

First is the fact that EVERYONE has the same set of cards and ALL cards will be played and have an effect. Second, YOU choose which cards to draw to complete your hand each round. While it is true that you can’t be sure when particular cards will appear, you know they will and can guard yourself (or, at least, try to guard yourself) against situations detrimental to your prestige scoring. In particular, I’m thinking of the scoring card that forces you to score THREE knights on red spaces. Since all red spaces result in negative points, you are guaranteed to lose points with this card. A smart player, however, can try to draw and hold this card, ready to be played when three of his knights are on the lesser negative spaces. For that reason, it is a good idea to draw scoring cards relatively early (to be prepared to optimize scoring situations when they present themselves) and to keep one or two Knight cards in reserve so that you can exert some control over the movement of your pieces and are not solely at the mercy of board shifts. Third, on each turn, a player plays TWO cards. This also gives some control and allows a player to set up a situation with the first card and then deliver a powerhouse blow with the second (like a championship fighter in a title fight).

Artus is a game that rewards the ability to think on your feet, pounce on situations that open up rapidly (and disappear just as quickly) and manage your cards to maximize scoring potential. These characteristics of game play are aspects I enjoy. If this is something we share, then you will find Artus a royal treat!

 


 

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