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DYNASTIES

Reviewed by Kban

(Jolly Roger Games, 2 players, ages 10 and up, 30-60 minutes; $21.95)

 

If this were a court of law, I’d have to recuse myself for being friends with the author. Al Newman, along with GA President Herb Levy and I, are the heart and soul of LI Gamers, the playtesting arm of GAR. But truth be told, I hate playtesting any game prototypes, regardless of whether or not I know the author. I realize that some avid gamers get a certain thrill out of seeing a game in its formative stages. All the inevitable changes in theme and/or mechanics from germ of an idea to a cohesive whole drive me nuts, especially if the author obsesses over perfection.dynasties

I likely played an earlier incarnation of Al Newman’s Dynasties when it had a different theme. I guess it’s the endless critiques, tearing the game apart and reconstructing it until it finally works, that’s akin to giving birth… and makes it painful for me to watch.

Dynasties packs a rather large wallop in a small package (kind of like Al himself come to think about it). Jim Dietz & company did a nice job on its production values. The rules (in both English and German), cards (nice stock), board (map of China with 5 provinces and scoreboard) and artwork are first rate. My only quibble was that the diameter of the players’ scoring pawn is too large; it should have been translucent and/or smaller.

Dynasties is an area control majorities game stripped down to its very core and then embellished by clever influence cards that encourage both skillful play as well as bluff. In the basic game, players start with 21 area control cubes in their color and 18 influence cards. Six of the cards (1-6) are re-usable and color coded in yellow. Four of the remaining cards fill out the starting hand with the remaining 1-time use cards (indicated in white letters/numerals) placed face down and utilized for eventual replenishment. One large pawn is used to indicate the current turn from 1-9. The other pawn starts in a neutral position and is used to indicate the current score.

Each turn of Dynasties, players place five of their influence cards face down, one designated for each of the five provinces on the map board. Players then reveal the cards and compare the cards each played for each province.

Combat is resolved by calculating the difference between the cards played – so if my opponent plays a `6′ and I play a ‘2’ in Mandarin province, he places 4 of his cubes in Mandarin. All 5 provinces get resolved in similar fashion. In subsequent turns, the cubes are adjusted to reflect the new balance of power. After the 3rd, 6th and 9th Dynasties scoring takes place. There are mini El Grande-like scoreboards next to each province – indicating the victory points to be gained for each province for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd scoring interval. This variable scoring turned out to be a suggestion made by Herb Levy.dynastiesboard

After each Dynasty is resolved, players replenish by drawing the top two cards from their draw pile and get to add one to their hand and the other to the bottom of their draw pile. If a player played a card with a value of ‘1’ the previous round they can draw 3 cards and keep 2 of them, cycling through their 1-time use cards quicker and having more options. This subtle nuance of sacrificing by playing a low card in the current Dynasty in the hopes of future gain in the form of a higher or special card for a scoring round works very well.

There is a wonderful mix of resource management (limited supply of cubes), card management (save those 1-time use cards for when you really need them) and bluff involved. If you go heavily after one of the provinces, your opponent can throw you a curve by playing a low card and tying up your armies in one province.

The `6′ cards can only be played once to each province and further tie up resources. This is all well thought out and leads to a tense 2-player game. Some of the other 1-time use cards allow a player to win or lose by 1 point (as if they had just played a card that was one value higher or lower than their opponent) and there are Plague cards that result in loss of half the cubes in the affected province (rounded down) regardless of the card played by your opponent.

After the 3rd, 6th and 9th Dynasty, the scoring pawn is moved the net difference between the influence points earned for each player. If either player reaches the extreme end of the scoreboard, the game ends immediately, otherwise whoever has the scoring pawn on their side after the 9th Dynasty wins the game.

The game plays quickly; the 9 rounds take around a half hour to complete. The expert game, adds “+2” and “+3” 1-time use cards for suicide attacks and ‘Sun Tzu’ or ‘King Shao’ Warlord cards, which allow one-time special actions. The expert game also reduces the starting number of army cubes to 18 for each side, making for a contest that is even more intense.

Of all the 2-player games I’ve played in 2005, Dynasties is my favorite. – – – – Kban


 

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Fall 2005 GA Report Articles

 

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