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RICHARD THE LIONHEART FROM CMON GAMES In an age when a Eurogame always tends to spell quality, Richard The Lionheart produce...







In an age when a Eurogame always tends to spell quality, Richard The Lionheart produced by CMON Games shouts quality at the top of its voice.  In the days when they were known as Cool Minis Or Not {before they decided to become an acronym}, you might have guessed  that somewhere in the box would be exactly that - some cool minis.  And you'd certainly be spot on, cos here they are.
All lined up in their perfectly moulded little slots.  With a game called Richard The Lionheart, you'll certainly hope to find a model of the king himself.  In fact, you get two: one on the left and one on the right in the photo below.
What will surprise you is that both serve purely as markers on two of the game tracks.  That's right - markers.  No cardboard markers, however glossy and colourful, but nicely sculpted models purely to look good as play aids!  There are in all four important tracks: Richard's Army, Saladin's Army, King's Return and King's Treasure.  I think you can guess that the large warrior with shield and scimitar goes on Saladin's Army track, while the figure with the rather odd conical hat, clutching a money box goes on the King's Treasure track.

Your player piece may come from one of the two opposing factions in the game.  One group of models make up a set consisting of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Friar Tuck and Little John.  Hurrah!!
While another set {Boo! Hiss!} consists of Prince John, the Sherriff of Nottingham, the Bishop of Ely and Isabella.  Isabella {?} - think she might be a counterpart to Maid Marian.  At least they've given her a sword.

By now you should have guessed that thematically at least we are in the legendary struggle between the outlawed denizens of Sherwood Forest and the current "legal" power in the land, Prince John and his henchpersons!

Richard, the great but absent king of England, is away fighting the 3rd Crusade against Saladin.  Meanwhile back home, you-know-who and his cronies are seeking to empty the coffers and make sure Richard never returns, while on the opposite team, fighting for freedom by robbing the rich and giving to the poor are Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe - sorry, Robin and his merry band.  

Surprisingly, there are still a few more models to come: two named ones - Leopold of Austria and Marie of France.  One each of these is to be played as the Neutral character when you have an odd number of players in the game.  "Neutral" is rather a misleading choice  of adjective.  In fact, quite a number of players are already taking a shine to choosing this role in the game, as each turn you ally yourself with one or other faction.  Consequently your game play is significantly different from the others and gives you an opportunity to revel in an even greater degree of deviousness.  
Leopold and Marie - the "Neutral characters".

When you turn to the 4-6 player game, there are two further figures to add in: the Merchant  and the Mercenary. Now these I would truly call neutral, as they are moved randomly at the end of each turn according to instructions on the current Event card.  Ending in the same location [the only time two figures can end a move in the same place] as one of these figures gives you a useful bonus in coin or Influence cards.

The truly neutral figures: the Merchant and the Mercenary

In purely visual terms, everything complements the theme.  The game board is a stylised map of part of England with large town/city emblems, mainly linked by roads in white and a few, but crucial, rivers in blue; crucial because, just like today, the east/west journey is trickier than travelling north/south!  Here we start to depart from any history whether factual or legendary.  As a player of one of the characters, you will be journeying the length and breadth of England to these locations to use/ collect/ exchange cards/coins/prestige points. 

Rather oddly concerning these places, supporters of John are the only ones allowed to activate Grimsby and Richard's followers Bridgewater.  A few other queries have been raised about the choice of locations with the feeling that some, like Cambridge, are included mainly because they are well known internationally.  Ok hands up, how many of you reading this could have pinpointed Bridgewater on a map? 
The map you see above is for 4 - 6 players, while the one below on the reverse of the board is for 2 - 3 players.  You'll notice that in this less crowded version of the realm Grimsby and Bridgewater are no longer off limits to one side. 
Setting aside the question of the geographical choices, the actual look of the two map boards is superb and matched by the other two boards necessary for game play.  Below is the combined Crusade and Purchase Board.
A larger detail of the Crusade Board shows the attention to making this a stunning product.
The final board is the Reserve Board - a simple display, but again gloriously presented.
Added to the boards are 279 magnificent cards - Event cards, Edict cards and most numerous of all the six types of Influence cards - oh not forgetting a small addition I really, really welcome - 6 Player Aid cards.  How many games have at best two of these that keep getting passed around.  Though to be honest, they'll soon be largely unneeded, because this is a game whose rules are quick to learn and easy to remember.

Nor is the game lacking in good quality counters [two sheets worth], from Prestige Points and Coins to Faction Skills, Ship tokens and Horse tokens.
Equally attractive are the Player mats, whose pictures match the models used in the game.

A final touch to this package that is more than worth a mention is the plastic inlay to contain all the components.  This deserves an award in itself.
Looking here it may seem fairly standard, but there are just a few extra details that I think merit the praise I've just handed out.  Each and every compartment has a slightly recessed point that makes lifting out any counter perfectly easy, no scrabbling for the last one or two.  In particular, the bottom row contains three compartments for counters stacked vertically that widen out in size to accommodate each size perfectly.  Finally, while looking at the three stacks of cards and their compartments, what you cannot see is that below the clear plastic moulded tray to hold the figures are two more empty compartments so that all the cards can be comfortably stored even when you have sleeved them.  How often have you bought games, only to discover that once you've sleeved them they wont fit the designated compartments?  So, full marks to CMON for their foresight and care is designing this whole package.

OK I've waxed lyrical about all things practical, physical and artistic about this game.  So, how well does it play?  At its core the rules and mechanics for Richard The Lionheart are very straightforward and clearly set out, explained and illustrated in the beautiful rule book.  You should have no problems understanding and following any aspect of the game. 
The sumptuous Rulebook

There are three main phases that the players have control over.  As I've described in dealing with the map board, each player moves to a location mainly to use/collect/exchange cards/coins/prestige points.  Below each location is a banner containing a language-independent explanation in icon form of what you can do there. 

Here there's a need for a brief, but I think important digression. Personally, I have found some physical difficulties being able to recognise some of these from across the gaming table.  This is easily dealt with by referring to the very useful two page appendix which lists and explains them all and I have made several copies of these to help other players while we're gaming.  However, a less easily solved problem and one which has been a major question raised already by several players is the extensive use of red/green as the basis of  the colours for the cards, the icons and the models themselves. 

So, back to the rules. You can move up to 3 locations, but can never end your move where there is already another player's figure.  You may, however, pass through a location where there is a player figure of the opposing faction and steal a random card from them!

Next each of you has a chance to buy one item from those available on the Purchase Board.  This is where you can acquire such assets as a boat to allow you to navigate those important few waterways or a horse to increase your movement rate to 4 locations.  Or you may like to buy a skill applicable to your faction or a specific card from the reserve Board. 

Finally, in the third phase, every player may contribute up to 2 Influence cards to the Crusade Phase, but for each card that they cannot or do not want to contribute they lose a Prestige point.  Safe to say Prestige points are the victory points of this particular game.  These cards are added to the Influence cards in the Crusade Deck, shuffled and the number of them drawn is twice the number of players in the game.

For me, this is one of the high points of the game.  These cards are now revealed and affect the movement of those four figure-markers on the Crusade Board tracks.  How they move depends on how many of each of the six types of Influence card there are and how they stack up in specific combinations of each faction. 
My table set for a 3-player game

In essence that's it, so far, so simple.  So what makes this quite such an engrossing and, for me, an exciting game.  First of all, I love games that have players lined up in factions against each other with conflicting goals, BUT where only one player can ultimately win. 

Here I must clearly state that I believe the game gets infinitely better as the number of players increase.  For two players it is enjoyable, but frankly there are so many two-player games out there that are better.  Three players is good, because it introduces the added complexity and uncertainty of the Neutral player.  But the game really shines from 4 players upwards.  

Here is where those four tracks are all important, as they determine both the winning faction at the end of the game and when the game ends.  As soon as the marker on at least one track has reached the end of it by the completion of a turn the game is over.  So, if you are a character of Richard's faction  then you are striving to push the marker to the end of Richard's Army track or the King Return's track first - if you are of Prince John's faction you want to be the side to get a marker to the end of Saladin's Army track or the King's Treasure track first.

There are a further two wrinkles in the victory conditions that make this game very appealing to me.  One is that if the game goes the full ten turns, then victory is determined purely on which player has the most Prestige points.  The second is that if more than one track has reached its end point by the end of a turn, then there the lowest of those Tracks on the table is judged to be the one which decides the winning faction. 

So, you generally need to make sure you're on the winning faction.  Well if there's only two of you playing that's all you need to do.  Hence my view that 2-player is only satisfactory.  Any other number of players and you have to be both on the winning faction and have the most Prestige Points.  

The 3-player game is good because you are in something like the stand-off at the end of film, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. As the Neutral player, you have to make sure you end up allied with the winning side when the game concludes.  The only drawback is if the Neutral player decides that their best chance of winning is mainly to ally with one side and race them to get the most Prestige Points.  However, the Neutral player is more likely trying to play off both opponents.

The reason for this is that at the beginning of the game each player draws an Edict card that they keep secret.  This provides a personal end of game target and a small, but extra detail of uncertainty.  For the Neutral player his/her target usually involves gaining points by having the markers in very balanced positions on their tracks.  In addition, the Neutral player also gains a bonus of 3 Prestige points if the game plays out to its full potential of ten turns.

Once 4 players are involved then most of the game's machinations and back-stabbing come to the fore, as you aid your partner in making sure that your faction wins, but want to make sure they don't end up with more Prestige points than you do.  With 5 players, the game hots up even more and all elements of the rules come in to play.  With 6 players, I'm sorry to lose the uncertaincies and balance produced by the lack of a Neutral player, though it is replaced by the tension of having three people on each faction all trying to make sure that their side wins, but with each needing to come out on top of the heap for Prestige Points. {One possibility not in the rules that I'm hoping to explore is having a 6 player game with two of each faction and both Neutrals in play.}

other key element that makes for this game's appeal is the combination of simple rules and actions set against the complex interaction of other players' choices.  Choice of where players move to, which may frustrate your intended destination; choice of which cards to draw; choice of which cards to play in the Crusade Phase; choice of when to stop cooperating with your ally and start to make sure that they don't come out ahead of you in Prestige points and so it goes on.

Really important too is the mechanic
of directly contributing to how soon the game ends.  There are other games where there may be a target to bring the game to an end, as with Scythe's achieving six stars ends the game, but few where game play focuses so much on the balance between balancing timing the ending the game, being on the winning team and having the most victory points.

Finally, I like the game because, though you are all directly attempting to influence how the game works out, there is also a fair degree of uncertainty {especially in the Crusade Phase} as to how each player's unknown choice of cards is going to interact and effect those crucial tracks. 

So, there you have it.  Excellent visual production that matches the theme, some simple and some intriguing game play mechanics, but not for those who can't stand working with another player in order to beat them to the winning post at the end!

Once again many thanks to Esdevium for providing the review copy. 

RRP – £69.99
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