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FLASHBACK: LOWENHERZ

(In this issue, we featured Domaine, a new version of Löwenherz. So, we thought it might be interesting to “FLASHBACK” at the feature treatment we gave Löwenherz way back when – in the Spring 1998 issue of GA REPORT to be exact. So, here it is!)

Reviewed by Steve Kurzban

LÖWENHERZ (Goldsieber, 2-4 players, 60-90 minutes, 1997; out of print)

 

After the tremendous success Klaus Teuber had with his 1995 German Game of the Year, The Settlers of Catan (Fall 1996 GA REPORT), there has been an air of expectancy for each succeeding design. Entdecker (Discoverer) in 1996 fell far short of Settlers despite being marketed as a prequel. It received criticism for being a bit too random and luck-driven for most gamers’ tastes.loewenherzbox

In contrast, Löwenherz (Lionheart) was nominated for 1997 German Game of the Year and, inexplicably lost to Mississippi Queen (Winter 1998 GA REPORT). It did, however, win first place in the prestigious German Game Prize voting. Löwenherz is extremely accessible to English speaking players as the overwhelming majority of the cards required for play have very self-explanatory icons to represent the choices for actions. The only important German text is on 13 politics cards of four easy to remember varieties. Rio Grande Games is scheduled to publish Löwenherz, with the same basic components but with English cards and instructions, later this year. [Editor’s note: Rio Grande did, in fact, publish their edition in 1998.]

Löwenherz is a two to four player game (four plays best by far) of territorial control and power. Power points awarded are kept on a scoring track that runs along the perimeter of the board. Each player receives a power stone, represented by a wooden marker, in their color. The game board resembles aSpiel Löwenherz_2 von Klaus Teuber/Goldsieber frame. Six map squares fill up the frame, arranged in a pre-determined pattern for the basic game. The map squares have varied terrain representing clearings, forest, mines and towns. In the advanced version, variable construction, resulting in different set-ups each time, is allowed, Players start with three castles and three knights of their color on the board as well as receiving six money cards totalling 12 ducats. Each player has three decision cards to declare their actions each turn (as in Teuber’s 1990 Game of the Year, Adel Verpflichtet, also known as By Hook or Crook and featured in the Winter 1992 GA REPORT).

The key game mechanism in Löwenherz is the deck of Action cards. Most of the 31 cards have pictures of three actions labelled “1, 2 and 3” that get carried out in that order. These actions allow a player to:

1. receive additional ducats from the bank

2. place wall markers as territorial boundaries

3. place Knights and/or expand claimed territory

4. take a politics card

Conflict arises on most turns as four players vie for three actions. If two players choose to receive ducats, they split the money and conflict is usually avoided. For all other actions chosen, there will usually be a conflict resulting in a “Power Trial”. Whoever bids the most ducats wins the Power Trial, gets to perform the action and pays the bank. No change can be given out but deals can be worked out if both parties are agreeable. The losing player keeps his ducats but is shut out of actions for that turn.loewenherz2

There is considerable strategic tension in choosing among the allowable actions for a turn. Players would like to take all or most of them but must decide which is most advantageous for their current and future positions in relation to turn order and standing. Difficult choices to say the least. We’ve seen this before from Herr Teuber in Adel Verpflichtet/By Hook or Crook but it is executed far better in Löwenherz.

In addition, there are several Silver Mine event cards that temporarily interrupt play while players are awarded additional power points for each silver mine held in a player’s enclosed territory.

The 13 politics cards are separated into two face-down piles at the start of the game. If a player chooses politics as his action, he selects one card from among those in one pile. These cards can prove quite beneficial as they can result in treasures (larger denomination ducat cards), secret power points (redeemable at game’s end), alliances or Renegades to remove opposing Knights.

Scoring takes place whenever walls (boundaries) enclose a castle with neighboring Knights. The number of board spaces enclosed are cross-referenced on a table to determine power points to be awarded. Each town enclosed results in an extra five power points. When a territory is expanded (only possible when the attacker has more Knights present than the defender), additional points are awarded (as well as subtracted from the territory that shrinks). The walls are two-edged swords, serving your neighbor as well. They stake out territory but can also result in future contraction due to the efforts of a belligerent player. Moving previously placed boundaries combined with Renegade cards can prove lethal in bringing down an opponent.

The game ends when the “King is Dead” card is turned over in the last grouping of Action cards. Players then add points for each silver mine enclosed and any secret power points held, advancing their marker accordingly. The player furthest advanced on the scoring track is the winner.

Our playtesting group has tried Löwenherz on five different occasions with a wide mix of players. Everyone has had very positive evaluations with no dissenters. Finishes have been close and exciting with secret power points deciding things several times.

We’ve come to the conclusion that Löwenherz is a nearly perfect game. Once again, Klaus Teuber has successfully combined seemingly disparate mechanisms that manage to mesh well together. He has made an essentially multi-player abstract game work and work well despite only a thin veneer of theme. The 75 to 90 minute playing time is just right and there is virtually no down time between turns. Highly recommended. – – – – – – – – – – – – – Steve Kurzban

Copyright © 1998, all rights reserved.


 

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