by Globus the Elder
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I’m a conspiracy analyst.” – Gore Vidal
When I first started writing for To Die For Games, my first review was for Fief, a medieval game of war and negotiation. It’s one of my favorites, and, like most favorite games, we played it to death. Some of group started to lose interest in it, as they felt that after the set up and opening few turns, the results became predictable. While I don’t necessarily agree, I respect those feelings, and looked for a game that provided the same feel, but added more unpredictability.
During a recent trade through BGG, Medieval Conspiracy appeared on my radar. It seemed to provide many of the elements that Fief has, but with more opportunities. Can this be the replacement?
Medieval Conspiracy is a card driven, area control and negotiation game set in the German States during the Holy Roman Empire. Player start the game with between four and six random territories, depending on the number of players (three to five profane and one clerical), drawn from a deck, one hundred ducats, two action cards, and two mercenaries and one knight. The units are placed on the map by choosing up to three territory cards, placing them face down, and simultaneously revealing where they are placed. The remaining cards are formed into their respective decks (profane territories, clerical territories, electors, Events, Action cards, and Master cards). First player is determined randomly.
Unlike many area control games, you cannot just choose to attack another area or produce more units. Most of the options available to you are determined by the Event and Action cards.
(Side note: The game refers to non-clerical territories as “profane”. As I had thought I understood what that word meant, I was confused by this usage. Google dictionary has one of the definitions as “relating or devoted to that which is not sacred or biblical; secular rather than religious.” You learn something new every day.)
The goal of Medieval Conspiracy is to be elected Emperor. You do this by acquiring Electors, who vote, either for the controlling player, or a neutral non-player. If a player has the most votes, they win. If the neutral does, the game continues.
The game rounds are divided into six phases: Income, Event card, Fate, Movement, Action card, and End Turn.
Income is determined by territories controlled (ten for profane, twenty for clerical, fifty for electoral), features added through play (such as castles, monasteries, relics, etc.), Master cards, and trade routes that exist between territories. There is also a feature, the Reichstadt, that increases trade route income.
During the Event card phase, a card is added to the Event track for each player. Each card is then auctioned, in increments of ten. Once a player wins the current auction, the card’s effect is resolved immediately. Four cards, two Death of an Elector, and two Death of the Emperor, are resolved before any others, without auction. These are distributed into the deck during setup, one of each in the middle third, and one in the last third. Event cards allow you to build Knights, attack another territory, double your income, and a host of other effects.
After all Events are auctioned, players proceed to the Fate phase. Each player rolls a six-sided die, in turn order. On a one, two, or three, a lord, bishop, or elector is killed. On a four or five, a child is born, and on a six, twins.
Lords, bishops and children are represented by control markers. At the beginning of the game, each player places four control markers, representing children, into either the profane or clerical education areas. Each territory owned at the beginning is marked with a control marker, indicating a lord or bishop, depending on the type of territory. When conquering a new territory, a child in the appropriate education area is required to become that lord or bishop.
When a bishop or lord dies, the player who owned the territory has Right of Succession, they can replace that marker with one from the education area. There are also Action cards that provide Right of Succession. If one or more players play that card, and/or the owner has an appropriate child, an auction results. After the auction, if one or more of those players has units adjacent to the territory, and they did not win the auction, they may attack that territory. After all combat is resolved, the next player rolls their die.
In the Movement phase, units can be moved anywhere on the map, ending in a friendly territory. This is done in turn order.
Each player then receives an Action card, with a maximum hand size of five. Some actions can be played only on your turn, during combat, or at other designated times, as written on the card. Card abilities include turning an opponent’s child to your side, swapping territories through marriage, and many others.
During the End Turn step, units are healed, units taken hostage can be ransomed, and the first player passes to the left.
More about combat: Wars can only occur under three circumstances, a lord or bishop dies (as above), a Reichsacht Event card is won (allowing a player to attack another territory of their choice, which allows other players with adjacent units to attack as well), or during a Death of the Emperor event (players can initiate a Feud between territories, and adjacent players can attack the initiator).
There is a combat board provided, and each player in the combat, forming ranks if able. There are six columns and three rows, and each row needs to be filled before the following one can be utilized. If one of the players has fewer units than six, they fill their front row, and the other player uses that same number of columns, filling in the rows behind, and placing any remaining units in reserve. Each player rolls a pair of dice for each unit in the front row, which is modified for various reasons (having units in the supporting rows, mercenary versus knight, castle on defense, etc.). Hits are scored on a seven or more, with two hits on a twelve. Mercenaries can take two wounds, Knight four, but get captured instead if they take a third wound but not a fourth. Either player can withdraw, but they roll one die for each unit, which is wounded on a six.
The art has that classic medieval feel. The play creates an environment where you are establishing your family’s hold, economically and politically, on a portion of the empire, and the need to have children available to succeed plays into the establishment of your house. The font used also increases that medieval feel.
Let’s start off with that font. While in and of itself, the use of Fraktur adds to the feel, the use combined with medieval spellings (n instead of y, f instead of s or k), creates a learning curve just trying to read the rules. This issue led to the designer releasing the rules in pdf format in Arial font. I admire the attempt, but don’t recommend it.
The rulebook is also unclear in some areas. Wording should be cleaned up and rewritten, and the sequence of play should be before the important game concepts section. It wouldn’t hurt to mention that many of the things you want to do appear in the decks, rather than as part of the sequence of play. There is, unfortunately, no FAQ at this time.
There also may be a bit too much “feast or famine” randomness for some play styles. While this was something I see as mitigated by choices in the game, some players felt differently.
Unless you’re like me, this game is a Pass. While there is a very good game here, until they fix the flaws, I can’t quite recommend it. If you are willing to put in the time to clarify the rules with your group, then you might want to take a second look.
Weekly Blog Schedule.
Friday - Bi-Weekly
Saturdays - Monthly
A Gloomhaven Campaign
First Sunday Of The Month