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TOLEDO

reviewed by Herb Levy

Mayfair Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 90-120 minutes; $49

 

The Emperor likes his swords. In Toledo, the new game from designer Martin Wallace, players attempt to satisfy that liking as they take on the roles of members of Spanish families renowned for their expert production of this weaponry.  In order to make those swords, you need to combine steel with gems in certain proportions. And, if you can pick up a little El Greco artwork along the way, all the better.toledo

The board of Toledo is actually an ascending winding track which can be considered to separate into three levels. Each player begins with 5 tokens as well as a set of 8 business tiles in their chosen color. On a turn, a player may choose one of several actions: take 2 movement cards, place 1 business tile, move 1 or more of his tokens and trade with them or voluntarily move a token back to start (useful if you find yourself in a position where you need a certain commodity and have already passed all of the sources for it).

Tokens are moved by playing Movement cards. Movement cards (ranging in value from 1 to 6) allow a player to move ahead any of his tokens the precise number of  spaces shown on the card. In addition, more Movement cards of the SAME value may be played to move the same (or a different) token again.

Business tiles can be placed on any empty space on the board. Businesses may provide gems, steel and the smith needed to fashion a sword from those raw materials. They also serve as the source for fencing skills. (Other “stops” on the path include taverns allowing you to pick up more movement cards and El Greco offering the chance to pick up one of the Master’s paintings – and its up to 3 Victory Point value – for the cost of a 3 or higher Movement card.)

Each business has one or two spaces. Players landing on a claimed space will have to pay for the privilege of using that business.  As long as at least one space is empty, a player may land on that business and acquire (“trade”) for the item(s) that business can provide. Trading with a business of your own color is free; trading with another player’s business requires you to give that player a Movement card equal to or greater than the level of that business establishment. (For example, landing on a player’s business on the first level requires payment of at least a 1 Movement card; landing on a business located on the third level costs a Movement card valued at 3 or more.) Once done, you pick up whatever is available there, be it steel or gems or a fencing skill tile. But what if there is no vacant space on a business? In that case, you either keep on moving (by playing another Movement card) or duel.

Duels are made of, at most, three fencing “rounds”.  A round consists of drawing the top card from the Movement deck. Along with a movement value, Movement cards also display fencers with either the attacker or defender winning. The player who wins two (of the three) rounds wins the duel.  Three of the fencing tiles serve as duel modifiers (in brown, orange and purple). A player with the fencing skill tile matching the color of the drawn fencer display wins that round regardless of whether he is the attacker or defender. The token of the player who loses must immediately go back to start. But the fourth fencing tile operates differently.

The fourth fencing skill tile allows you to bend the movement rules. With this tile, a player may use one Movement card of a DIFFERENT value when advancing his pieces. So, for example, a player may play a 3 Movement card, another 3 Movement and then a 6 on a single turn. This greatly aids in traversing the board and maneuvering onto spaces of interest but at a cost. This tile is worth MINUS 2 points if still in your possession at game’s end. (Players may hold a maximum of THREE skill tiles so, if you manage to get a third fencing skill tile you may jettison the movement tile and avoid the penalty.)toledopcs

When a player has moved a token to the top of the path (to the Alcazar), he may present any sword he has created enroute by placing the sword tile underneath that token. That player’s token is now out of the game and the presented sword worth its full value in Victory Points. Play continues until someone has moved THREE of their tokens into the Alcazar. At that point, everyone takes one more turn before final scoring.

Sword tiles presented at the Alcazar are worth full value; swords held by players that did not make it to the top of the path are only worth HALF their points (rounded down). You also receive points, as noted, for any El Greco artwork card held, 1 point for every 2 gems left in your holdings and a loss of  2 points if still having a Fencing Move Skill tile in your holdings. The player with the highest total wins! (Tie-breaker is the most Movement cards in hand and, if necessary, the highest value of Movement cards.)

Toledo is a mildly deceptive game in that there is more going on here than meets the eye. Placing businesses is a key factor, not only as the place to get valuable resources but also to generate those all-important Movement cards without spending a turn to draw them. It is a great advantage to be able to play a series of like-numbered Movement cards. In essence, this becomes a multiple turn, making it easier to accumulate steel and gems to create high scoring swords. Getting those necessary materials and access to the sword smiths make those Fencing Skill tiles important. You can force yourself into a blocked business as they increase the chances for dueling success by skewing the odds in your favor. While there is an undeniable luck factor here, card drawing is fun and those skill tiles modifiers lessen the vagaries of chance so you are not entirely at the mercy of bad draws. The Movement Skill tile is an interesting addition too. The flexibility it provides in movement cannot be overrated but you have to know when – and be able – to get rid of it. While the penalty is only two points, those two points can have a significant impact on the final standings. Underlying it all is the fact that there is a racing element here. Getting three of your tokens to the Alcazar first with completed swords can put your opponents at a decided disadvantage as you get FULL value for your swords and your opposition will not.

Speaking of scoring, you need to keep an eye on available sword tiles. Sword tiles come in limited and specific configurations, demanding a certain amount of steel or steel and gem combinations. Fixate on getting a big point sword tile and you might find it already gone when you’re ready to cash in! More sword tiles in more varieties would be a welcome addition (or perhaps, the basis for an expansion).

Martin Wallace is a bit of an enigma. On the one hand, he has managed to design some of the most celebrated hard core “gamers games” including Age of Steam (Winter 2003 GA REPORT), Princes of the Renaissance (Winter 2004 GA REPORT), Struggle of Empires (Spring 2005 GA REPORT) and more. On the other hand, he has shown a deftness at creating lighter fare such as La Strada (Spring 2004 GA REPORT). With Toledo, Martin revisits his lighter side in a design as sharp as those fabled swords of Spain.  – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

SUMMER 2008 GAMERS ALLIANCE REPORT

 

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