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Richard I

Reviewed by: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

(District Games, 3 to 8 players, ages 12 and up, 60 minutes, about €30)

richard12014 was a “golden year” for designer Andrea Chiarvesio with 4 games released: Hyperborea, Kingsport Festival, Drizzit and Richard I. The clamour around Hyperborea (published by Asmodee/Asterion/Yemaia and featured this issue) and Kingsport Festival (Giochi Uniti/Kosmos) was great. Drizzit found a huge fan base as well. Richard I was probably the least awaited because it was from a small company, District Games, not yet known in the boardgames market but I think Richard is outstanding, expressing what I like most of Andrea’s designing style: the capacity to develop great core mechanics well merged with theme.

Richard I takes place in the time of the great Richard the Lion-heart when, off on his crusade, Prince John lays claim to his throne and players need to decide which side to take/assist. In the beginning, each player will publicly choose his side, Richard or John, and that will affect how he/she will play the game and the final score. Players are divided as fairly as possible (with an odd number of players, one side will have one more follower) playing, more or less, as a team but in the end just one single winner.

The game plays around four tracks: Crusader military strength, Saladin military strength, Time and Royal Treasure. Counters on these tracks will be moved every turn according to randomly revealed cards from the Crusade deck: every player will play cards in the Crusade deck, trying to push events in the “right” direction. During the game, there will be many ways to score points and, of course, you have to watch both your opponents and your teammates if you want to end the game with the highest score. Now we go into the details.

To start, the Crusade deck is created from some initially known cards and a random assortment of cards of each color. Players’ resources are cards. Cards come in six different colors: Green for Saladin, Red for Crusaders, Yellow for Treasure, Blue for Trade, White for Alliance and Purple for Time. All players will start with some cards. Going clockwise, every player will influence one of the eight different characters, displayed on the map (something like the core mechanism in Kingsburg [Spring 2008 GA Report] but without dice). Every character will offer cards (in different amounts and colors) and/or a different way to score points. For example, influencing the “Exciseman” (Tax Collector) will give you two yellow cards and a random card OR let you request a “tax collection” actually giving three victory points to the player discarding the highest amount of yellow cards. The Merchant will give you two blue cards and a random one OR three victory points and two random cards in exchange for two blue and two white cards. There is a character focused on each color and two “special” characters: the Chancellor (offering the possibility to take special cards) and the Bandit (only used in games with 6 or more players).

richard12Which character to influence and whether to take cards or get points are demanding decisions you have to take turn by turn. Things can get complicated by the rules preventing you from influencing the same character two times in a row and prohibiting two or more players to influence the same character in the same turn. Of course, going last is not good but, every turn, the first player will move in clockwise direction and players going last do receive some compensation (in the form of two extra cards). At the end of the turn, each player has to add two cards to the Crusade deck and then, from this deck, two cards for each player will be randomly revealed..

In addition to using cards to get points by influencing the right characters, cards also play a role in the Crusade deck to influence the Crusade. Every turn, the same amount of cards will be added and revealed from the Crusade deck but there are some random cards in the deck so you can’t be sure that a just played card will influence the crusade this turn or one of the following and you don’t know what cards have been added by the other players. How the crusade evolves, ends and the final score are the last things you need to know to catch the essence of the game.

In the beginning, the Crusader army and Saladin army have equal forces. If more Crusade (red) cards are revealed than Saladin (green) cards, the Saladin army is reduced by one point for each red card in excess; if there are more green cards, the Crusade army will be reduced. If one of the armies reaches zero, the crusade (and the game) is over. If Saladin wins, John’s followers will divide equally 8 points. If the Crusade wins, Richard’s followers will divide equally the royal Treasure (indicated by the yellow track).

Every turn, the counter on the Time track will be moved one step (going toward zero). If more Time (purple) cards than Alliance (white) cards are played, it will move one step more; if more Alliance, one step back. If the counter reaches zero, Richard will be back from the Crusade and Richard’s followers will divide equally half of the royal Treasure. Finally, we have to check what happens to the Royal Treasure: it grows if more yellow cards than blue cards are revealed and reduced if blue cards are more than Yellow.

The last thing to mention are the special cards. Each player starts with one special card and will get a new one if taking the Chancellor character. Special cards usually award some benefit (points) during or at the end of the game, making the final outcome uncertain. Some cards let you change sides! In the advanced game, there are also event cards, revealed in the beginning of a turn and resolved later, that can “rock the boat” a bit but are not really needed.

The essence of Richard I is trying to use your cards at their best, trying to balance the need to make your side win with the need to score points. You have to properly manage your hand, trying to alternate scoring actions and refilling; nothing is worse than going down with cards limiting your choices.

I really like the continuous switch between team-play and solo-play and the fact that it is easier to control players on the opposite side, easier because you know that making your side win will get you some extra points your opposition is not allowed to get, allowing you to pass some opponents when endgame points are calculated. Of course, you will know how many endgame points will go to your teammates too so you have to be sure to have more than they do before the end of the game. It could happen that you will be able to win the game even if you are on the losing side but usually the final boost of points is essential. You have to closely look at what other players are doing and you need to wisely plan which character to influence. For example, it is not easy to win if you ignore The Regent who will give you a sure 5 points (unlike other characters who MAY give you 3) so you have to use it at least once during the game. This means gathering one card of each color at the right moment. It is also essential to have a special card in the hand to make opponents unaware of your real score. Special cards are great but are only linked to one character.

Richard I is, for me, one of the greatest surprises of 2014. It works very very well with 7 and 8 players, something that is not common nowadays. Richard I is a classic strategy game that I’m sure will excite most fans of the “German” style of play without disappointing lovers of the “American” brand of gaming!


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