Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser
WALLENSTEIN (Queen Games, 3-5 players, 1½ to 2 hours; about $45)
Games with a “war” theme are few and far between in Germany due, presumably, to the country’s militaristic past. Even games that have combat as a mechanism usually only represent this in a very abstract manner. Thus, when I heard that Queen was going to be releasing a design by Dirk Henn (creator of Showmanager [Winter 1999 GA REPORT] and a bunch of other games) based on the Picture of ‘Wallenstein’30 Years War, I was quite surprised … and intrigued. My interest was further elevated when I heard advance buzz that the game was actually quite good and put the dice tower pioneered in Im Zeichen des Kreuzes to better use.
Wallenstein itself combines mechanisms used in several other games, as well as a few new ones I don’t recall having seen before. The end result is quite satisfying, producing a game wrought with tension and requiring careful thought, planning and decisions. Unfortunately, due mainly to its theme and intricacies, this one is likely to not have wide public appeal and appears destined to satisfy a small, niche market.
Wallenstein is played over the course of two turns (years) with three rounds per year. During each round, a player will execute, at most, ten actions. Most of these are very quick, so once the game system is learned, it should play to completion in about 2 hours.
The large board depicts a map of Germany along with several neighboring territories that have traditionally had a strong German presence (bits of present day Austria, Czech Republic, Alsace, Lorraine, etc.). There are 45 territories divided into 5 easy-to-distinguish regions. No “color” problems here. Each territory has from 1 to 3 building sites as well as a corresponding card in the deck. Also on the board are several charts, tracks and spaces for cards. In all, the board is quite functional and a perfect size, with ample room for all of the pieces and cards. It never feels crowded.
The rules describe a rather involved set-up process wherein players place their initial forces onto the board, claiming territories with these troops. However, there is also a recommended set-up, which is what we used since we were all relatively new to the game. I’ve yet to try the advanced set-up as all of my games have been with different groups consisting of folks new to the game. When playing with a group of veterans, I’d be interested in trying the ‘advanced’ set up, as it would allow players to select their starting territories and plan strategies accordingly.
Each of the two years is divided into 6 phases:
1) Year Start
Four event cards are revealed. The events on three of these cards will occur during the upcoming year, but which ones are determined at random. The card which is NOT used as an event, however, will have an impact. Each player will lose an amount of grain (food) equal to the number printed on that card. Grain loss can vary from 2 to 7 units so this can be quite significant. Players begin each year with 0 grain and must concentrate some of their actions on increasing their grain supply, lest they face a hungry – and angry – population.
This really is a neat mechanism as players can somewhat plan for the events which will likely occur and take the appropriate steps. However, one cannot be totally sure (a situation I relate to the ‘Opinion of the People’ cards in La Citta).
There are ten possible actions a player can execute during a turn. The order in which these actions are carried out are different each turn, with only 1/2 of the order initially visible. The action cards are shuffled and five of them are placed face-up on the board. The remaining five are placed face down.
Each player possesses a corresponding card for each territory they control. As they capture more territory, they acquire the corresponding card from the deck if the territory was previously unoccupied or from the opponent who previously controlled the area. In addition, each player begins the game with three blank cards.
Once the five Action cards are revealed, each player allocates ten of his cards to the various actions which are available during each turn. If a territory card is allocated to an action, then that action will take place in that territory during the proper phase. If a blank card is allocated to an action, the player will skip that action.
The actions available each turn, and their associated costs, are:
1) Build a palace (3 GP). Place a palace marker in the territory corresponding to the card played. As mentioned, each territory has 1 to 3 cities where buildings can be erected. No territory can contain more than one of each type of building and the total number of buildings is strictly limited by the number of cities present in the territory.
2) Build a church (2 GP). Same as above.
3) Build a trading house (1 GP). Same as above.
4) Produce grain. No cost. The amount of grain produced is equal to the grain number indicated on the territory card.
5) Produce income. No cost. The player takes an amount of gold from the treasury equal to the gold number indicated on the territory card.
6) Add 5 armies (3 GP). The player adds 5 armies to the corresponding territory.
7) Add 3 armies (2 GP). The player adds 3 armies to the corresponding territory.
8) Add 1 army AND/OR move armies (1 GP). The player adds 1 army to the corresponding territory and may move as many armies from that territory to an adjacent controlled territory as he desires.
9) Battle A. The player may launch an attack from the corresponding territory into an adjacent territory.
10) Battle B. The player may launch an attack from the corresponding territory into an adjacent territory.
Only after each player allocates his action cards is the player turn order determined. This, too, is done randomly, with each player’s card shuffled and dealt face-up onto the turn order chart. There are certain advantages to going early and late in a turn but a player has no control over this facet of the game. It would have added another layer of decision making if a method was used wherein players could bid for turn order. Oh, well …
At this point, the event that will take place for the current turn is chosen. The four event cards are shuffled and one is selected and revealed. The events vary wildly and are far too numerous to discuss here. Most, however, will have an impact on what the player can accomplish during his turn. Again, this is a bit random as you really don’t know which event will occur, but knowing which ones can potentially occur does help. Plus, once it is revealed, you can sometimes adjust your strategies accordingly.
Finally, the actions are carried out in turn order, one-by-one. As each action is completed, one of the face-down action cards is revealed. (This mechanism is virtually identical to that used in Leo Colovini’s Doge.) The order is which the actions are executed can be critical, as is the turn order in which they are carried out. Some of the actions (1 – 7, in particular) can be performed by all players simultaneously. Actions 8 – 10, however, MUST be carried out in strict turn order.
Most of actions are self-explanatory and fairly easy. They involve the placement of a building counter or troops, or the acquisition of grain or money. However, when farming or taxing an area (food & money), the peasants naturally grow quite resentful and the tension level in that area increases. A revolt marker is placed there, which could potentially lead to trouble. If one or more revolt markers are present in a territory when the player attempts to farm or tax it, the angry peasants will rise up in revolt and a battle must be fought. Further, if two revolt markers are present in a territory, the peasants will no longer come to the aid of the controlling player if that territory is attacked. And if that isn’t enough, they may well rise up in revolt again if there is not enough food to adequately feed that territory’s population. Those testy peasants are difficult to satisfy!
Combat is quite fun, as it uses the dice tower. The attacker moves in as many troops from an adjacent area as he desires, but must leave at least one troop marker behind. (No territory can voluntarily be left vacant). The defender then scoops up as many of troops in the invaded territory and places them together with the attacker’s troops. To this total are added any cubes that are in the dice tower tray. If the attacked area has only 1 or fewer revolt markers present, then the farmers fight on the side of the defender. Otherwise, any green (farmer) cubes in the dice tower tray are NOT added to the mix.
All of the cubes are then tossed into the top of the dice tower and players watch with anticipation as numerous cubes tumble out into the tray. Many cubes, of course, will be lodged inside the tower, possibly emerging in a later battle. The cubes that emerged are examined to determine the results of the battle. If the attacker had more cubes emerge than the defender (and any allied farmers), he is victorious. The defender returns any of his cubes that emerged back to his supply, and returns any farmer cubes (if they were allies) to the farmer supply. The attacker returns an equal amount with his surplus cubes being placed into the newly conquered territory. He now confiscates the corresponding territory card from the defender.
Although the dice tower is certainly random, one can play the odds. If you have more cubes lodged in the tower than your opponent and/or more cubes in the tray, then the odds are that more of your cubes will emerge in the resulting combat. This certainly isn’t a guarantee, but the odds are, indeed, in your favor. This knowledge will certainly influence the actions you plan to take. Of course, the turn order can ultimately upset this balance if battles are held prior to your turn and alter the mix of cubes in the tower and tray.
If a player invades a non-player controlled territory, the farmers will defend their homeland. However, pitchforks are generally not very useful against steel and muskets, so only one farmer is added to the cubes tossed into the tower, along with any that might be present in the tray. If the player is victorious, he takes the corresponding territory card from the deck.
After all ten actions have been performed by all players, the game progresses to:
3) Summer. This is EXACTLY like the Spring phase.
4) Autumn. Ditto. EXACTLY like the Spring phase.
5) Winter. At this point, all players lose an amount of grain equal to the grain loss number indicated on the fourth and final event card. After this deduction, players determine if they have enough food remaining to feed their people (La Citta again!). Players must have one grain for each territory they control. If they do, they are viewed as benevolent and wise rulers and the people are happy. If not, however, there is a potential for revolt.
Depending upon the food shortfall, a certain number of territories will rise up in revolt. The number is listed on an on-board chart. The actual territories are determined at random, with the appropriate number of cards being selected from the player’s territory cards. Then, a number of farmers equal to the figure listed on the revolt chart are added to the troop cubes the player has present in that territory. These are tossed into the tower and the emerging cubes examined to determine the victor. If the player wins, then the revolt has been suppressed. If, however, the farmers win, then the player must surrender the corresponding territory card and any buildings that were erected in that territory are looted, sacked and burned by the rampaging villagers. After all revolts have been settled, ALL revolt markers are removed from the board and returned to supply.
Finally, victory points are tallied for each player. Victory points are awarded as follows:
1) For each territory and each building a player possesses, he earns 1 Victory Point.
2) Each of the five regions is examined. The player who possesses the most palaces in a region receives 3 VP. The player who possesses the most churches in a region receives 2 VP. The player who possesses the most trading houses in a region receives 1 VP. If there is a tie in a majority, the tied players each receive points, but at the next lowest level.
Thus, conquering territory is important, but the most critical points come from the erection of buildings and capturing the majority in building types in the various regions. When going into battle, the wise player will attempt to conquer territory that already possesses buildings that were erected by an opponent, especially if control of these buildings will sway a majority or two in your favor. Conquering territory that doesn’t aid in this majority battle is certainly not as productive.
After the conclusion of this first year, the process is repeated again for a second year. At the conclusion of the second year, victory points are again tallied and the player with the greatest cumulative points from both years emerges victorious.
Wallenstein is quite a game. Lots of decisions and choices to be made, a nice dose of uncertainty and randomness, and considerable tension throughout the process. Does this really ‘feel’ like the 30 Years War? No. Probably not even close. However, the game is a ‘rich’ experience and should continue to provide enjoyment far into the future. In my book, it may just be one of Dirk Henn’s best and one of the best releases of 2002. Now, however, my interest in this time period has been piqued. Looks like I’ll have to get to work translating the historical booklet that comes with the game! – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
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Fall 2002 GA Report Articles