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KRETA

Reviewed by Greg. J. Schloesser

(Goldsieber, 2-4 players, ages 11 and up, 45-60 minutes; about $30)

Stefan Dorra may not be as prominent as more famous designers such as Reiner Knzia, Wolfgang Kramer or Klaus Teuber, but through the years, he has quietly been producing some wonderful games. Included amongst these titles are such games as Tonga Bonga, Medina, For Sale and Zum Kuckuck (aka Land Unter and both featured in the Fall 1997 GA REPORT), Intrige (Winter 1995 GA REPORT), Linie 1 (Streetcar, Winter 1997 GA REPORT), and my wife’s favorite game, Volle Hutte. That’s a track record of which any designer would be proud.kretabox

This year, Dorra has added two more impressive titles: Amazonas and Kreta. I previously reviewed Amazonas for Gamers Alliance (last issue), so now I complete the cycle with a discussion of one of Dorra’s best games: Kreta.

Having just completed a course on ancient Greece, which included a paper related to Crete and the fabled land of Atlantis, the island holds a special fascination for me. Kreta is set on the island, but at a time a bit more recent than the period covered by my paper – the 14th century. Players are charged with the task of settling the island, harvesting its resources, and constructing villages and forts. To the player who is most successful at these tasks comes great glory … and a victory!

The board depicts a graphic portrayal of the island divided into sixteen provinces, with 26 fortress locations at the convergence points of these provinces. Each province will yield one of five possible resources, as well as victory points to the player who ultimately has the greatest influence in the area. A few provinces also contain desirable ports, which can be used to increase influence and as shipping points for the resources.

Players each receive an identical set of seven character cards and matching pawns. Each character has a special function or ability. The characters and their powers are the central driving force in the game. As such, it is worthwhile to explain their abilities.

ADMIRAL: Allows the player to place one of his two ships at a port, or move an existing ship to a new port. Ships are required in order to harvest resources.

COMMANDER: The player may add a new villager to a province, or move existing villagers up to a total of four provinces.

ABBOT: The player may place his one abbot marker into a province, or move his abbot up to three provinces. Abbots restrict placements into a province in favor of the owning player.

FARMER: There are no markers representing farmers. Rather, the play of a farmer card allows the player to harvest a resource tile, provided he possesses at least one villager in the province and there is a ready ship at a nearby port. Resources earn victory points, and allow players to increase the number of villages they can construct.

ARCHITECT: Allows the player to construct a village or a fort. Villages are placed into provinces, while forts are placed at the convergence point where provinces meet. As such, they project influence into all neighboring provinces. Players only possess three forts, however, so they must be used wisely.

KING: Like the farmer, there are no markers for the king. Rather, the play of the “king” card allows the player to duplicate the action of a previously played card. Quite powerful when wielded wisely.

CASTELLEN. Again, there is no corresponding marker for the Castellen. Rather, this triggers a scoring in the target province. More on scoring in a bit.

Players take turns playing one card at a time. Cards are not retrieved back into the players’ hands until a scoring is triggered, so one of the major decisions to be continuously made throughout the game is when to play each card. The sequence one chooses each round can be vital.

The biggest … and perhaps only … complaint I have with the game is that there are no icons on the cards to indicate the corresponding pawn. It does take awhile to remember which pawn represents each character. However, this is easily resolved, and I’m sure a resourceful gamer will soon develop a suitable player aid card.

The entire purpose of playing cards and placing and maneuvering markers is to earn victory points. So just how is that done? Well, there is no time like the present to explain the scoring system.

Eleven of the 26 fort cards (one corresponding to each convergence point on the map) are set face-down in a row, and the first two are revealed. The cards dictate the order in which provinces will be scored. So, if the first card in the row depicts number 13, then all provinces touching convergence point 13 will be scored whenever a player opts to play his “castellen” card, thereby triggering a scoring.

Once all appropriate provinces have been scored, that card is discarded and the next face down card is turned over. The player who triggered the scoring then has a choice: he can either keep in place the newly revealed card in the row, meaning it will eventually score OR he can discard it and replace it with the top card from the deck. If he chooses this latter option, though, he has no choice once the new card is revealed; that card will be scored instead. So, is the known better than the unknown? Ahhh, the angst of having to choose!

Scoring points is a matter of influence. Provinces will yield from 2 – 6 victory points depending upon the terrain and as indicated by the graphic depicted on each province. Players will tally the value of all of their markers located in the province. Most markers have a value of “1”, with the powerful villages exerting an influence of “2”. The player with the greatest influence in the area earns the full amount of victory points depicted, while the player in the secondary position earns ½ that amount. Ties are friendly, with each player sharing the same number of points.kreta

Since the first two fort cards are visible, players can do some advance planning, placing and maneuvering their markers into the provinces which will be scoring. However, one can never be certain that the second card in the row will score, as it may be discarded in favor of an unknown card from the deck. Further, no more than seven markers may be present in a province, so players cannot simply migrate all of their markers from province to province. The presence of an abbot can also hinder these migrations, as only the abbot’s owner may place new markers into that province. Abbots do have a brotherhood of sorts, however, and do not prevent an opponent from placing or moving his abbot into the territory, thereby opening the province for that player as well.

Another restriction on wanton construction is the limitation on villages. In order to construct a village, a player must possess at least one resource marker, no matter the type. To construct a second village, the player must possess at least two resource markers. This one-for-one sequence is required for all four of a player’s villages. So, players cannot ignore the harvesting of resources. Not only do they earn victory points when harvested, but they also dictate how many villages a player may construct.

The game ends when all 11 fort cards in the row have been scored. Not all fort cards will be scored, so not all provinces will be scored. Some provinces, however, may be scored multiple times, as provinces generally have multiple convergence points. The challenge is placing and maneuvering your pieces so that you will be in majority and secondary position in as many of the provinces that score as possible.

This does cause a quasi-migration effect such as the one I mentioned earlier. Players will scurry their villagers, ships and abbot from territory to territory. Villages and forts, however, are stationary and may not be moved once placed. Such migrations must be timed carefully, however, as the timing of a scoring is uncertain and dependent upon the whims of the individual players.

At its heart, the game is a majority control game: secure majorities or at least secondary positions in as many provinces as possible. However, how this is accomplished is intriguing and challenging. There is nothing startling new in any of the mechanisms involved, but Dorra has woven them together in a fashion that gives the game a fresh and new feel. The end result is a game filled with tough decisions, formidable challenges, and thick tension. This is one of Dorra’s best, and makes every journey to the isle of Crete a true pleasure.- – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser


 

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