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MACHT & OHNMACHT (POWER & WEAKNESS)

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(MOD Games/JKLM Games, 2 players, ages 12 and up, 45 minutes; $39.99)

 

The time is England in the 5th century with Saxons and Celts clashing for control. In Macht & Ohnmacht (Power & Weakness), the struggle within the struggle is critical as not only knights but magicians too, operating in cycles, will determine which side will win.

Macht & Ohnmacht (Power & Weakness) is an Andreas Steding design. The small box contains a mounted mapboard of England, Wales and southern Scotland, divided into 15 regions. There are 64 orange and white wooden pieces consisting of 16 cubes symbolizing knights and 16 discs representing wizards for each player. There are also Action tiles, region markers in four varieties (yellow castles, red armor, blue tents and green keys), “time tokens”, and gray pieces.

The region markers are mixed up and one is randomly placed in each of the regions on the board. Each player takes three of his magicians (discs) and three of his knights (cubes) to create his initial reserve. Remaining pieces are set aside as his stock. The large gray disk is placed on the board to indicate that the first cycle of the game is a magic cycle. (Cycles alternate; the next turn will be a sword cycle.) Four gray cubes are placed on the sandtimer board space and seven action tiles, randomly drawn, placed face up next to the board. Each player places his scoring marker on 0 and now the game begins.powerweakness

Each turn, both players start by taking two active pieces from his stock into his reserve. (During the magic cycle, discs are the active pieces; during the sword cycle, cubes are active.) After the first turn, a time token (showing a number from 3 to 8) is turned over and that number of cubes is placed on the sandtimer. (As mentioned above, the first turn is standardized with four gray cubes placed.) The time token number PLUS THREE action tiles are now turned over and are now available to be claimed.

Generally speaking, on a turn, a player must choose TWO actions from a menu of four. (The same action may be repeated.) Some of these actions cause a gray cube to be removed from the sandtimer. The round ends when all cubes have been removed so it is important to plan your moves accordingly. The actions are:

1. Take ONE of the face up action tiles. These tiles may be used on a subsequent action. However, should the tile have a “lightning bolt” on it, that tile must be auctioned and played immediately. Auctions require both players to bid any number of ACTIVE pieces from their reserves. High bidder loses the pieces bid (they go back into the reserve) while the losing bidder gets his piece back. Once done, a gray cube is removed from the sandtimer.

2. Place ONE active piece into an empty region or a region you control. (Regions have a stacking limit of four pieces.)

3. Recruit PASSIVE pieces. The player may take three (if he is the first to recruit this turn) or two pieces from the cycle NOT in progress from his stock into his reserves and a gray cube removed from the sandtimer.

4. Use an action tile which removes a cube from the sandtimer. Use of the action tiles is a key component to the game. Since action tiles are so important, it might be a good idea to discuss precisely what they can do.

Action tiles can be generally classified as “specials” and region influence tiles. Specials can be deadly. Special tiles that are auctioned include an immediate gain of 1 VP (very important when you only need 12 to win), rebellion (enabling you to remove up to two enemy pieces from an area), change a region marker (potentially a pivoting factor in determining neighboring regions – more on that below). Other Specials have dual abilities. They can increase your offense and defensive ratings, rearrange pieces, move pieces via the sea and serve as ANY type of influence tile. Alternatively, these tiles can simply be used to recruit more pieces to your cause. Region influence tiles display the same symbol as the region markers (yellow castles, red armor, blue tents and green keys). Playing them allows a player to reinforce or takeover in a region with a matching symbol.

Reinforce is somewhat similar to placing a piece. The difference is that you can place several pieces (assuming you have enough tiles and there are enough gray cubes remaining in play), even exceeding the stack limit of four and, because playing an action tile uses up gray cubes (the placing a piece option doesn’t), you can control the tempo of the turn. Takeover is the game’s version of combat.

A player may attempt to takeover a region with the same symbol as his action tile. A takeover is successful if the attacker manages to achieve a majority of active pieces in his and NEIGHBORING regions. It’s this neighboring regions thing that is both clever and different.

The definition of a neighboring region differs depending on the type of attack. If attacking with knights, a neighboring region is a region that shares a border with the area under attack. This is a pretty standard definition. However, if attacking with magicians, a neighboring region is ANY region on the board with the same type of region marker! Thus, in a magic attack, areas in the north and in the south, at one end of the board and the other, could be considered as neighboring for combat purposes. Regardless of the type of attack, the attacker counts his active pieces in all neighboring regions versus the number of active AND passive pieces in the defender’s region PLUS active pieces that defender may have in neighboring regions. If the attacker has a higher value, the defender must leave the region. One piece may retreat to an empty or friendly region. The rest of the pieces go back to stock. (The attacker sustains no losses!)

Play continues until the last cube is removed from the sandtimer. When this happens, the action started is completed but the round is over – even if the player is in mid-turn. Now Victory Points are calculated.

The player with control of the most regions receives 1 Victory Point and the VP token is moved along the scoring track. (Ties are friendly. If a tie, BOTH players get a VP.) Added to the players’ VP totals is the number of ACTIVE areas each player controls. If the number for either player reaches or exceeds 12, that player has won!

The core of the game – and the beauty of the game’s design – is the shifting cycles. With game turns alternating between Magic (where only the discs exert power) and Sword cycles (where only cubes are active), players are faced with the challenge of setting up a seesaw strategy between what is currently happening and what will/may be happening in the next cycle. Too much of the “now” will leave you vulnerable to the future but too much future planning will leave you open to attack and defeat in the present. Reading your opponent is important in every game but extremely important here. Nowhere is this more evident than in the auctions for tiles. If choosing one of these, you had better be certain that you can afford the cost (if you really want it) OR be sure your opponent will overpay for a tile you know HE wants and you can afford to let go! Since you bid in ACTIVE pieces, the payoff for having the tile has to be worth limiting your forces for the turn; often, a difficult choice. Despite the fact that the game plays in less than an hour, there is a surprising amount of depth and strategy in the design.

If the goal is truth in advertising, then Macht &Ohnmacht scores high marks. From turn to turn, players are forced to chart a course between power and weakness, always maneuvering to build up their strengths and defend against weaknesses in two separate and distinct combat arenas. This constant ebb and flow makes for a powerful and completely engaging two player game. – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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