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I first learned many of the details of the First Barbary War  from Ian Toll's excellent book Six Frigates , which was one of the best hi...

The Shores of Tripoli The Shores of Tripoli

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


I first learned many of the details of the First Barbary War from Ian Toll's excellent book Six Frigates, which was one of the best historical works I've ever had the pleasure of reading. It was quite the tale of a scrappy young nation deciding it was better to fight the local bully than to pay him tribute. Now Fort Circle Games has released their first board game, which captures this moment in history with a very elegant and simple design. The Shores of Tripoli is a strategy game for two players that can easily be played in under an hour. 

One player takes the side of the Americans, the other takes on the role of the Pasha of Tripoli. Each gets a hand of cards, but the actions that each player can take after that are almost entirely different. The American player has powerful frigates that they can freely move around the map, but these are very limited in number in the early phase of the game. America seeks to build up forces in the region, blockade the Barbary corsairs in their harbor(s), and potentially build an army on land. The Tripolitan player is racing against time to send their corsairs out on raids and gather all 12 gold coins before being overwhelmed. They can also win by managing to destroy 4 American frigates over the course of the game. Both players will feel stretched thin, and wishing they could take just one more action throughout the entire game. 

Sometimes things come down to a climactic battle!

The game is split up into 6 rounds each representing a year of time, and 4 turns within each year, with each player getting one action per turn. At the end of each year, the players draw more cards to refresh their hands, and potentially receive reinforcements. That means that, at most, there are only 24 actions to be had in a game of Shores. Therefore, every single action you take carries weight, and there is precious little margin for poor moves. At the same time, the game is so brief that if you do screw up, you won't have to wait long to get it over with and try again!

The cards each player has come in three flavors. Cards which let the player take a moderately powerful action, and then can be put in the discard pile to come back around later. Cards which trigger a unique event that can only fire once per game, and finally cards which can add on an extra twist to other specific events or battles. All cards can also be discarded to take a minor action (building a new small ship for both players, moving two frigates around for the US player, or going raiding for the Tripolitan player). On each turn, a player must either play one of their cards for an event, or discard one to take an action. There is also a hard hand limit, and so one must think carefully about cards they may want to hang onto for plans down the road.

While I haven't fully explained the rules, there isn't much more than that to the rulebook. Players move satisfyingly chunky ship pieces around on a relatively simple map, where there are really only a handful of spaces that are used throughout the game. Combat is resolved via very simple rules and rolling big handfuls of dice. The game can even feel very luck based at first. However, after just a few plays, another level to the strategy emerges. There are not that many cards in each deck, and every single one will filter through the game at some point. With many of the most powerful cards being one use only and very specific in their function, strategies begin to build around guessing which cards your opponent has in their hand at any given time, and noting which cards they have already played. It's definitely a game that benefits from familiarity and repeated plays.

The game includes a solo mode in which you play as the Americans against a Tripoli bot who will mostly play sensible moves, but is predictable. That said, you will still need to play very smartly if you want to find a path to victory. I lost twice to the bot before finally winning on the very last turn of my third game. While I would not recommend buying this game to only play solo, it's nice that there is a satisfying opponent in the box. 

It shouldn't be very difficult to find a live opponent for The Shores of Tripoli, as the rules are extremely simple to teach, and the game can be played in a casual manner as one learns, while still having fun. Neither player can roll over the other without extreme luck, and the quick turns keep the game moving at a good pace. My wife, an occasional board gamer at best, and certainly no wargamer, was able to defeat me on her first attempt! 

If you are looking to learn more about the conflict, this game is a great place to start. Each of the unique event cards is based on either events which actually happened or very much could have happened. Besides the rule book, the game comes with a historical supplement which offers a great deal of context for the design of the game and the cards. One nice bit of fluff in the box is a copy of the letter sent by Thomas Jefferson to Yusuf Karamanli just before the war broke out.

The Shores of Tripoli is a charming game that could fit right in on any gamer's shelf. The mechanics are simple, the game plays fast, and each side offers a unique approach. The American player will need to be active, moving ships around, attacking when the time seems right, and trying to find the balance between covering ground and spreading themselves too thinly. The Tripolitan player is racing the clock, weighing risk and benefit with each raid, all while looking for openings to exploit. If you are at all interested in the historical conflict depicted, I heartily recommend The Shores of Tripoli. 

The game can be ordered directly from Fort Circle Games or from other vendors on the web. 

- Joe Beard

Cooper Island pits one to four players against each other to reclaim and settle their own peninsula in the Island of Cooper…  It is a heavy-...

Cooper Island by Frosted Games and Capstone Games Cooper Island by Frosted Games and Capstone Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Cooper Island pits one to four players against each other to reclaim and settle their own peninsula in the Island of Cooper…  It is a heavy-weight Euro-smorgasbord of mechanisms: worker placement,  tile placement, engine builder and rondel with intricate interplay between how you score points and how the $*&# do you score points? (At least for your first few plays.)


The game plays out in punishingly-few-five turns.  Each turn consists of 3 phases, the Income Phase, the Worker Phase and the Clean-Up Phase.  Two of which are simultaneous and which give the game a surprisingly low downtime per player when you consider how much stuff you’ve got to think about on your turn.

The Harbour Master in the Second Round

There are only 8 action spaces for your workers to be placed onto, but you can also perform an almost unlimited number of five Anytime actions.  As your peninsula develops new spaces will be revealed on your player board giving additional bonuses and sometimes extra stuff for you to do.  I don’t think I’ve ever been as bewildered by a game on the first play as I have this one.  Working out how to score points was not even on my radar on my first playthroughs of this.

I came away from my first game (with a terrible score) with a numb brain and I had only just realised that my anytime actions were pivotal for any type of success in this game.  On my second play through my brain was hurting even more because I was trying to optimise my choice of actions spaces with the anytime actions that I had at my disposal.  However, I was still trying to do a little bit of everything and consequently didn’t receive too many points. 

A really close game - not my first

It wasn’t until the third play-through that I even considered trying to score points (instead of them just happening as a result of my actions) and actually have a strategy; which currently looks like - optimise to get more workers as soon as possible (by fulfilling Milestone Tokens) and then Settle and Build at the highest level possible… This could be utterly wrong, maybe exploring your peninsula or building statues is better… I still don’t really know how to do well.

The earlier you can get more workers the more benefit they will provide over the course of the game is an age-old, (well at least Agricola-old) strategy of building your engine.  However, you need to fuel that engine and your workers will need feeding, however, there isn’t the same level of jeopardy that you feel when you can’t feed you Agricola-family.  In this, you just receive an anchor token which prevents your ships moving around the peninsula.

2 Normal and 1 Special worker need feeding

So with 5 Anytime Actions, 8 worker Actions (each with their own bonus actions), 4 terrain types, 6 resource types, 18 unexplored hexes to fill, 8 sandbanks to visit, 5 ruins to explore/statues to build, 3 different types of buildings to construct and two different types of workers, 6 boats to build and a player-dependent number of Bay Water and Harbour spaces to visit; you’ll hopefully begin to understand how wide the decision tree you are faced with is at the start of the game.  However, finding good combos and synergies between your anytime actions and your workers’ actions is what makes this game tick.

The pace of this game is perfectly balanced. The first one or two rounds are much simpler, (you’ve unlocked fewer bonus actions) which helps new players to become familiar with the core actions and flow of the game and during the fourth and fifth round, your combos can be magnificent and convoluted.  Keeping track of a resource as it moves from a fourth level hex to pay for an action which gets additional bonuses and more market stock to pay for further bonus actions can almost feel like you’re doing the work, but it’s damn rewarding.

The end of a solo game - not too shabby  

The Income Phase is a simultaneous affair where you quickly take the income (shown by Terra Mystica hands) revealed on your player board.  Additional hands can be in play by building one of your Income Boats.  The standard income actions allow you to draw a double hex tile from the bag into your personal reserve and place a double hex tile onto your peninsula from your personal reserve.  The important thing to understand that any time you have actions to do (including your anytime actions) is that you choose the order of them, which adds another wrinkle to your brow when you’re trying to optimise actions.

Double hex landscape tiles and islet tiles form the core of your peninsula and they build up to an attractive looking board with nice, chunky card being placed on top of each other.  You can shim a mismatched terrain height by using one of your Anytime Cartographer actions (assuming you’ve got the necessary amount of Cartographer points).  Each time you place a landscape tile you’ll place matching resource cubes onto that tile. The height at which the resource cubes are placed determines their value.  However, once a hex is a Meadow hex, for example, it is always a Meadow hex you can’t change its hex type (unless you decide to place a settlement tile onto it). Building your landscape in this fashion (following all the tile placement rules) is like a 3d puzzle and could be a challenging game in its own right.

This looks great on the table

The Worker Phase is the core of the game and you only start with two workers to place onto the board.  Those two workers have a choice of 8 spots in the central island board to occupy.  Four of the actions will let you place additional landscape tiles into your peninsula (following the placement rules) and which gives resources.  The other four actions require you to pay resources you’ve just gained to build buildings, statues, boats, or supply some cargo which all have their own specific benefit and most importantly answer the first question of ‘how the $*&# do you score points?’.

Traditionally in worker placement games, a worker on a spot will prevent other players from taking that action.  Here, you just have to pay the player 1 resource to go on top of their worker.  This adds an unexpected boost often at opportune times.  I suppose it would be possible to determine the board state of another player to work out where they are going to place their workers, to maxims this boost to you, but my gameplay is so far from this level – I’m just gripping on to my ships pennants keeping up with my own game.  I just consider it a nice and often welcome surprise if it does happen to me.

The worker actions spaces / central island board

You can unlock special workers (the ‘square’ discs…) which provide a more powerful version of their action space.  However, to get these new workers, you’ll need to remove a normal worker but also unlocking additional victory points.  Deciding the optimum strategy of whether the new worker should be normal or special is well beyond the processing power of my brain.

The Clean-Up Phase is a blessed relief on the grey-matter, even though you have to start by feeding your workers.  It is another simultaneous affair in which you may get points and you reset your workers and market and move the round tracker.  There is a decision to be made to pay or not to reactivate an asset, however, in my experience, you only have one maybe two assets that even need reactivating and it’s nearly always worth it.  This is the easiest decision in the game.

A clear and easy to follow rulebook

This game plays in about 90 minutes to two hours.  If you all know the game 4 players can complete the game in under 2 hours which is a huge achievement for such a dense, crunchy (in a good sense) game.  Few games can provide the same level of challenge for four players in the same length of time as this does.


Some of the components deserve special praise. The landscape hex tiles are deliciously thick and create a good-looking peninsula after the game.  The player colours are standard red, green, blue and black pieces and the resources are contrasting shades of brown – wood, purple – cloth, grey – stone, pink – food, and yellow – gold.  These pieces, resources, workers and buildings are all made of wood – which I prefer.

All good here

The rulebook does a tremendous job of conveying how the game plays.  Each section is colour coded to relate to the actions. This colour coding exists throughout the game i.e. on the player board so after reading the rules, you’ve got a good idea of how the game will play.  This is an amazing achievement for such a dense game.  The rules are contained in 27 pages of very well written text and copious examples littered throughout.  Although I did find one non-game affecting typo relating to page number references.

The player boards and central island board, at first glance, contain a dizzying array of icons, but as is the case with most heavy Euros, once you’re familiar with the actions themselves, the icons provide a non-textual and intuitive prompt for what is going on, and what you should be doing.  I thought the player board with its colour-coded sections, and icon design allows a returning player to pick the game flow back up very quickly.

A bit of a table-hog.  2 Player game

I was disappointed that there is no insert of any type in the box and similarly the two-piece player boards are made from quite a thin card stock.  However, these are just minor quibbles for me as I’ll end up 3d printing an insert for this and I understand that another 3 or sheets of board stock with different die cuts would have been much more expensive.


The only criticism I have is not really fair to level at Cooper Island, as it was designed to be a complex worker placement, is that it's a complex worker placement game.  You’re not going to have a good time introducing this to gamers more comfortable with Splendor and Ticket to Ride.  However, there is a place in the market and my collection for complex Euros like this.  If you buy this I am confident that you’ve already done your research and you’ll know exactly if this game is for you or not.


I really like this game, the huge amount of actions you have over five short rounds is impressive.  I appreciate the design and all its complexities coming in under 2 hours.  However, I don’t think it will see the light of day (or game night) at the moment – I don’t think I can face continually teaching it to lots of new players.  Maybe when life is a bit more settled and less crazy I’ll feel a need to train my brain after another relaxing day in the office (/s) and I’ll pull this out for some stimulation.  However, 2020 is not that year, my work has been manic of late and I just don’t feel up to Cooper Island but I look forward to the time when life is a bit more peaceful and normal and this will become a regular on my table.

P.S. The solo mode is fun and challenging (I’ve only beat the first difficulty level) but I feel less pressure when playing this solo and not teaching the game.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. This is in stock in many stores and you can use this link to find your Friendly Local Game Store who need all the help they can get at the moment.

Designer:  Andreas "ode." Odendahl

Bgg page:

Play time:  90 minutes

Players:  1-4

"Paladins of the West Kingdom is set at a turbulent time of West Francia’s story, circa 900AD.  Despite recent efforts to develop ...

Paladins of the West Kingdom Paladins of the West Kingdom

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


"Paladins of the West Kingdom is set at a turbulent time of West Francia’s story, circa 900AD.  Despite recent efforts to develop the city, outlying townships are still under threat from outsiders. Saracens scout the borders, while Vikings plunder wealth and livestock. Even the Byzantines from the east have shown their darker side. As noble men and women, players must gather workers from the city to defend against enemies, build fortifications and spread faith throughout the land.  Fortunately you are not alone. In his great wisdom the King has sent his finest knights to help aid in our efforts. So ready the horses and sharpen the swords. The Paladins are approaching."
Rule book introduction


Paladins of the West Kingdom is not your typical worker placement game. Normally you’re denying action spaces to other players on a shared board.  Paladins gives each player their own board on which to place their own supply of workers.  A criticism often levelled against worker-placement games is one of being multiplayer solitaire, and that is definitely the case here.  However, the game is that crunchy, that I feel increasing the interaction between players would actually lessen the overall game and I am happy that my opponents aren’t able to thwart my well-considered plans (too much).  

The game is played over seven rounds in which all players will be taking multiple actions with their supply of workers.  Each player will take as many actions as their workers permit and there are often clever ways to combine effects and abilities to increase the amount of workers during your round.  If you don’t mind a bit of analysis paralysis, then you will be able to work out an optimum round. However, this game continues to reward my impulsive play; I often realise possible combinations half-way through my turn and I have been able to exploit it immediately.

Player board at the start
Aside from the player boards, there is an elongated main board which holds a variety of King’s Orders and King’s Favour cards.  Each game will consist of 3 Orders and 6 Favours and there is twice this number provided in the box.  This means that the focus and overall objectives of each game will be different.  I have played this a number of times now and in each play, the different cards and sometimes order in which they’re revealed, significantly change the game and keep it feeling fresh.

Each player has their own deck of Paladin cards from which you’ll select one to be your Paladin for the round.  The selection mechanism is quite clever as you’ll know one of the Paladins which will be available in the next round (from a choice of 3).  I’ve tried to plan current turns to optimise my next turns’ Paladin but for some reason, either lack of brainpower, or just getting sidetracked by the number of options, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to exploit this.  However, I like the mechanism and look forward to trying again.

Main Board at the Start
There is also a shared pool of Tavern Cards which are chosen individually by each player.  These combine with the chosen Paladin card to give players the workers shown on both cards to use for the round.  This will normally be 6 workers of various colours unless you passed in the previous round and kept workers to use the next round; I have started a round with 9 workers. There are a few spaces on your board which only require one worker per action, but most require 2 or more workers.  You can feel like you’re burning through workers quite quickly, particularly at the beginning of the game.

One of the best aspects of this game is that you’re able to change the requirements for some spaces through the use of Workshops.  If you take the time to Develop your board you can reduce some 3-worker spaces down to 1-worker spaces.  This is crucial to stretching your turn and giving you more actions each round.  However, you won’t get very far by just building workshops, the most Victory Points come from focusing on the attribute tracks at the side of the player boards.

Green Workshops (being ignored)
Three attributes (Faith, Strength and Influence) are measured per player and drive the whole game.  Most spaces require a certain amount of one of these attributes in order to place a worker there, however, there is usually a reward in another attribute. For example, if you wanted to attack an Outsider I would need to have a specific amount of strength and I would be rewarded with Influence.  Although this is a pure-worker placement game, the game and its actions do make sense thematically, if it is a little loose.  I still can’t quite work out why, when I pay tax I am taking money from the Tax Supply.

Not only are there attribute requirements but there are also worker requirements, for example, a red space requires a red worker.  There are 6 different types of worker in the game and the right colour must be used on a coloured space.  An outlined space can take any colour worker. However, the purple worker (a criminal) breaks this rule and can go on any space, coloured or not (apropos yes?).  These colours are defined as red-fighter, black-cleric, green-scout, blue-merchant, purple-criminal and white which is a generic labourer.  These colours also are linked thematically to their corresponding action spaces, for example, the Pray action requires a cleric, (arguably the only space that you should definitely use each round).

Absolve, close-up 2 Clerics and a Merchant.
There is very little downtime for any player unless you’re the first player to pass early in a round and your opponents still have a handful of workers left.  If so, you’re likely doing something wrong and that is probably only your fault.  However, this downtime could only be 5 minutes at the absolute most.  Normally I would expect your turn in a four-player game to come round within a minute or two.  You will be involved and thinking about your turns or taking your turns right to the end of this game.   Your success and failures of the consequences of your actions alone and that is something which I like. 

The are several mechanisms through which you can affect other players games however none do so significantly.  You’re limited to just denying certain cards or spaces from your opponents, but there will usually be other cards (and spaces) still available.  I don’t think you would be competitive if you were playing to hurt your opponents instead of playing to benefit yourself.

End-game main board - there are still open spaces.
It is quite difficult to determine which player is ahead until the end-game scoring through which there is a veritable point salad available to players.  I found that games where I thought I was romping home and clearly ahead (in points) were actually much tighter.  Even if you think you’re well behind on scoring, I’ve found that the scores have been tight and I’ve not been able to deduce from glancing at all the player boards who the leader is.  Players score points from a wide variety of cards and board spaces which can really only be calculated at the end.   This keeps all players involved in the game right to the end.


The art design throughout the game shares the same distinctive style used in Architects of the West Kingdom and the third game in this trilogy, Viscounts of the West Kingdom.  The wooden components are great and there are approximately 200 of them in six different sculpts and seven different colours. There are also approximately 100 cardboard components which weren’t just standard circles and squares and they all punched cleanly.

A perfect fit
Once you’re familiar with the rules and actions there was/is little need to refer back to the rulebook. The iconography on the board is intuitive and consistent throughout the game.  Each action space is sufficiently described on the board to allow new players to grasp the rules within about 20 minutes.

What is great (in terms of components) about this game is the box size.  I have seen negative comments about the box size and some people finding it difficult to get all the components back into the box.  When the game is all bagged there is literally no free space left in the box, to my mind that is a perfect box size. However, I can understand if you’ve sleeved your cards then you would struggle.


The biggest criticism I have is one of table space.  Although the box is deceptively small, what comes out of it is ravenous in terms of its appetite for tablespace.  The mainboard is long, (but thin) and around that there will be at least six different areas for card decks and tableaus.  Each player board is a more typical size of player board but again you’ll need space around the sides to place recruited Townsfolk cards, converted Outsiders and any successful attacks in their own face-down deck.  That's without storing your workers, provisions and money. I can’t recommend this game if you’re table is on the small side.

A deceptive table-hog.


This game ticks a lot of boxes for me; it’s fairly crunchy with lots of interactions between your own resources and attributes.  Affecting them in positive ways and the decision to focus your efforts on one over the other is a nice decision space.  Fortunately, other players aren’t really able to affect your own path to victory too much and in this game, that is a good thing.  It would be intensely frustrating to have your plans ruined by another player's actions purely by chance, and in this game, I feel that you’re not able to play to hurt your opponents; there’s too much going on, on your own board to be concerned with your opponents. 

There is very little downtime throughout the whole course of the game and after two hours you do feel as if you’re brain has had a good work out.  Of course, you could just go along for the ride and select actions with no clear purpose, just to see how the game works, but I guarantee that you’ll do terribly when it comes to scoring.  This game rewards, clever play and finding combinations to extend your turn, getting additional workers is critical for success. 

Set up takes about 10 minutes.
There are a finite number of components that will fit in any box and I’ll admit I’m amazed at how much they’ve managed to cram into this box.  But due to the King’s Orders and Favours changing each game, the tactics and strategy that were successful in your previous play won't necessarily be successful in your next.  After your first game, which will just be a learning game, you’ll have a wide array of tactics to consider each turn which will be different each game.  This game has high replay value. 

I’d like to thank Asmodee for sending this review copy.  Many local game stores will still have this in stock and you can use this link to support your FLGS or use their online shopping web store. 

Publisher: Garphill Games
BGG Page:
Players: 1-4
Designer: Shem Phillips, S J Macdonald
Length: 90-120 minutes

Does anyone else think the Queen looks like Cersei? Crusader Kings may be familiar to readers of this blog from a computer game of th...

Crusader Kings Crusader Kings

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Does anyone else think the Queen looks like Cersei?
Crusader Kings may be familiar to readers of this blog from a computer game of the same name.  Free League Publishing and Paradox Interactive have tried to distil the essence of the long, expansive, crunchy computer game into a much shorter a play-in-an-evening board game.  Have they been successful? Read on…

The title ‘Crusader Kings’ is a bit of a misnomer for this game.  The whole Crusades aspect of the board game is largely abstracted away into a progress track at the bottom of the board.  What this game should be called is Family Fortunes – Medieval edition.  Your prime focus is making babies, marrying off your heirs and spares and expanding into rival territories, through subterfuge or direct conflict.

Four Player set up

At the start of the game, each player is given a historical family and King to rule over, for example, The House of Normandy led by William the Conqueror.  Managing your King and their children and siblings’ Traits (positive and negative); i.e. making sure your Dim-witted daughter marries the Lustful Son of an opponent, differentiates this game from the crowded medieval Europe dudes-on-a-map archetype.


The game is played over three Eras, each comprising three Rounds, which again have two turns…  This is fairly standard fare for most Euro gamers but is a bit of a departure from a wargamers UGOIGO experience.  In a turn, one Action Card per player is resolved and it is the selection and playing of these cards (during a Turn) which really drives the game forward.  The game will normally end after 18 turns for each player or if any player reaches the Jerusalem space of the crusade progress track before then.
The Crusade Track in all its glory...
The slowest part of the game, but arguably the most important, is the beginning of each round, where each player attempts to make a marriage for a member of their family and chooses two of the eight action cards in their hand to play on their turns.  They must also choose the order in which they’re played during the turn, which does have significant consequences.  Once all players are familiar with the different actions there is little down-time between your turns as every other player's Action card may also affect you in some way.  

Your starting King and family will have specific traits, but thereafter every character in the game, has a randomised trait that is either positive (green trait – example: Strong, Honest, Pious, Scholar etc.) or negative (red trait – example: Imbecile, Deceitful, Lunatic, Lustful etc.) which will gradually feed into your trait bag and are used to check whether any attempted action throughout the game is successful or not via a Trait Check.
5 Player - 2nd Era, things are getting busy

Trait Checks are the unique selling point of this game and provide the jeopardy and a lot of the story which this game tells.  A Trait Check is where a player draws traits from their bag hoping to draw a green (success) trait in order to complete the chosen action.  Every action also has a Critical Trait – if that particular trait is drawn during the check then a green trait is actually treated as a failure and red as a success. 

For me, the addition of Critical Traits provides thematic immersion and also an element of strategic thinking.  For example, if am attempting a Build Action which has Critical Traits of Humble (Green) and Ambitious (Red) and I draw any green except Humble I am successful and can plonk a castle down in a territory I control. If I draw Ambitious, which on any other Trait Check would fail, I can still build my castle as it is the Critical Trait for Build.
Invest to draw an extra Trait.  Lucky that a Critical Trait (Deceitful) was drawn

Aligning marriages to reflect the traits and critical traits that you want to further your families influence is where the strategic piece comes in.  Often you are desperate to make sure your ruler has an heir that any marriage will do, but it is a sweet feeling when you’re able to snag first player (by successfully crusading) and marry an available partner with the Cruel trait.  Although this is a negative trait it is considered critical for Crusading and Invading and you can choose more of those actions in future knowing you’re more likely to succeed.

I like games where I don’t have absolute control of the units in my command.  It seems fitting to me that even if I order something to happen in my territories, it doesn’t necessarily occur.  I wouldn’t appreciate this aspect in an economic game but where I am trying to control a lunatic son or imbecilic daughter as part of my dynasty it feels apt.  Often in this game, it is the memorable failures that develop the story of your dynasty more than an automatic Tax action for example.
Child  #1 needs to die

During each Era, every player will play 6 of their 8 actions cards.  The action cards are drawn from 5 decks and there are a specified minimum and maximum number of draws for each deck.  For example, you can’t just draw 8 Realm cards that allow you to Build/Develop on your turn.  The only mandatory card draw is at least one from the Crusade deck (which incidentally is a good way to kill your Drunkard King in favour of his Brave son).

Aside from the Crusade Deck, the other Action Card decks are the War deck (moving and invading with your army), Intrigue Deck (Plotting and Overthrowing other players control of territories), the Realm deck (building castles and giving your dynasty additional powers) and finally the Tax deck, which are the only action card which don’t require a Trait Check and provide the main source of income in the game. 
The box all packed up. Game will start in 30 minutes...
Each Action Card also has an event which will be triggered after the chosen action has been resolved. Generally, the events on the Realm, Intrigue and Tax cards are bad for the acting player or good to the other players.  Whereas the Crusade cards events are generally good for the acting player and bad for the others.  However, the risk of going on a crusade shouldn’t be underestimated. Your ruler could easily be killed triggering a succession, or crisis if there is no heir (a terrible outcome for your dynasty).
The 5 Action Decks
There are a variety of pitfalls in this game for the novice player and it does definitely reward repeated plays.  The game manual has even gone as far to advise new players not to crusade without an heir – which was something I didn’t appreciate on my very first teaching play through and immediately failed on a crusade.  I learnt not to do that again and we all agreed to reset the board state.  Don’t be like me, a Succession Crisis is not something you can come back from.
4 Player Initial Setup
In my very unsuccessful attempt to play the computer Crusader Kings II several years ago, I realised how important Casus Belli was in order to attack another kingdom.  The same is true in this game and War is an exercise in politics and logistics before actual combat, which is unfortunately abstracted out of the game to a quite disappointing Trait Check.  Albeit one in which the affected player(s) will invest in an attempt to sabotage the check.  In the plays I’ve had of the game, direct conflict almost seems like an after-thought.

The game provides six scenarios, the first five loosely describe a chronology of some of the notable crusades from history.  The sixth scenario is a tournament scenario designed for four players whom each starts with Casus Belli against another player.  This is designed for more direct conflict and succeeds to an extent but resolving battles feels almost as light as vanilla-Risk and consequently unsatisfying.
Rules book - is a little loose


This game has come through a successful Kickstarter campaign and subsequently, all of the components and art look top quality.  I think the board and card art aesthetic is spot on.  The player boards are of normal card stock but are perfectly fine. The miniatures, although they are almost superfluous, look good albeit a bit large for my tastes.  And you get 6 good-quality drawstring bags in individual player colours. The level of quality in components is largely indicative of most Kickstarters these days in all but one area…
Lots of tokens and bits to play with

The tokens throughout the game were impossible to get out of the counter sheets without some tearing.  Some of the counter sheets were better than others but I had a distinct problem with two of the five sheets.  Even in the good sheets there was some tearing.  This was disappointing but I’ll put it down to a bad batch – glue running out, or punch out tool needed sharpening as the cause. As the rest of the components, even the insert, were of a high quality.

The rules provide a bot player to use when playing with fewer than 3 players.  Although I am pleased to see the inclusion of a bot for solo or 2 player use, due to the light tactical element and story-driven narrative I can’t see myself using or enjoying playing against the bots.  I just don’t think there’s enough mechanically to justify the time.  The game is best with three of four other opponents around the table and I hope that I can explore a bit further in those circumstances.


Mechanics are a little loose for my tastes and the combat is a bit disappointing.  I really like the theme and the story is, as other reviewers have suggested, really where this game shines.  The publishers have by necessity condensed the crunch and tactical weight of the computer game down into 2-½ - 3 enjoyable hours that can be easily finished in one sitting. 

The main strategic element of this game is building your trait bag.  This is a fun element and significantly drives the narrative, e.g. choosing the right spouse and murdering the wrong spouse to find a more suitable match but the strategy is limited in other areas of the game.  The crusades are more of a game timer than a viable strategy, although a successful crusade does provide additional powers.
Nice bags
The miniatures feel a little tacked on as well.  I imagine these were a stretch goal of the Kickstarter campaign, but in reality, the Control Tokens -represented by a large cavalry miniature serves to distract a little from the foot-soldiers of your actual army.  


This is a game that borrows my favourite mechanic from a wide variety of other games and remixes them into an enjoyable but less-coherent experience.  It takes the dual-natured action cards from Gloomhaven, the bag-building and chit-pull mechanic from Quacks of Quedlinburg, the pre-programmed movement from Colt Express and the theme of medieval European wars from so many other games.  If I had to pick a favourite element from those games then Crusader Kings has borrowed them all but unfortunately, it’s not quite the sum of its parts. 
Uggh - tear down is a right pain
The narrative arc that is played out is as good, and often as funny, as any I have experienced playing board games.  I will come back to this game and will enjoy subsequent plays of this for the story and inter-relationships that happen between mine and my opponents’ dynasties.  However, if I’m looking for a crunchy, tactical, bewildering experience that I experienced when faced with the computer game then this isn’t it but I am looking forward to seeing what the next video-game to board-game adaption is.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a plethora of board games be converted into digital form and come with companion apps, it is not so common for a computer game to make the transition into the cardboard world.  From recent memory, we’ve had Doom, XCOM the most successful mover has been This War of Mine.  However, I think we’ll continue to see more fusion between the two formats and I’m excited to see what that blending will look like in 5 years time.

Publisher:  Free League
BGG Page:
Players: 3-5
Designer: Tomas Härenstam
Playing Time: 3 hours

Overview Fury of Dracula is a one against many cooperative deduction game in which the team are trying to find and defeat the one who i...

Fury of Dracula Third Edition Fury of Dracula Third Edition

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!



Fury of Dracula is a one against many cooperative deduction game in which the team are trying to find and defeat the one who is playing Dracula.  To win, Dracula is attempting to prey on the weaker hunters and increase his influence throughout Europe.

The game is played out on a map board containing 70 locations in which Dracula can hideout and players can search and recover, amongst other things. The game has elements of deduction, bluffing and combat, all wrapped up in a deliciously-dark and thematic experience. 

You can watch my unboxing video of the Third Edition of Fury of Dracula from Wizkids below:


The game will be played over a series of rounds until either Dracula has been defeated/killed? (the players win) or he has achieved a total of 13 influence points (Dracula wins).  Players' primary method to defeat Dracula is through finding his current hideout, fighting and wounding him. Dracula can be quite vulnerable and will take significant damage when multiple hunters attack him. However, Dracula's influence comes from a variety of sources which also includes fighting hunters.  There is a delicate balance for both teams (the hunters and Dracula) to consider in this game.
Game ready to play
The game consists of a Hunter Phase and a Dracula Phase until the victory conditions have been met. During the Hunter Phase, players will all take a day action, and once the day is over, they will take a night action. Effectively each hunter has two turns in which to prepare for the Dracula phase, in which he simply moves to a new location. 

Every time Dracula moves, he places a new Location card i.e. where he's moved to, and an Encounter card onto his Trail. From the start of the game, the trail will grow from just 1 location to 6 locations indicating where Dracula has been and currently is. If the Hunters haven't found the first location placed it will slide off the board and the encounter card will 'mature'. A maturing vampire encounter card will cause Dracula's influence to increase by 2.  
'Learn to Play' book
Every time a hunter travels to a location which is on Dracula's trail, Dracula may immediately Ambush the hunter by revealing the Encounter card in that location.  This will discard the encounter card and prevent it from maturing later. If Dracula doesn't Ambush the players may surmise that it is a baby vampire and searching for it will prevent Dracula's influence increasing at a later date. However, Dracula has lots of opportunities to dupe the hunters in how he reacts to his trail being revealed. 

If the Hunters are ever in the same location as Dracula, they will have a combat round. Combat is resolved after the Hunter's Day actions have been completed and then again after Dracula's actions have been completed.  The timing of the combat rounds needs to be carefully considered for when players elect to supply, rest and move.
Three rounds of combat, Dr John Sewards combat card has been blocked by Dracula (matching icon) another combat round will begin.
Combat is resolved similarly by both sides; they take a certain amount of combat cards into their hands and reveal one card. If the icons on the revealed cards don't match then Dracula will perform his cards action, and then the hunter's action will resolve. If they match then only the hunter's card will resolve. Dracula will never stand toe-to-toe with a hunter for long though, eventually, he must escape from combat, unless he is going to defeat the hunter else he will lose the game

There are a myriad of extras rules that I could explain but this review would get far too long without actually reviewing the game.  The gameplay does suffer a little bit from a slow-burn at the beginning but once it gets going it is one of the most cinematic experiences I have ever had with a group of players playing a board game.  The tension inexorably ramps up to the endgame which, in my plays up to now, have always been very tense, due to the fact that Dracula or the Hunters had victory just within their grasp.
Where is he?
There is a fair bit of downtime for the Dracula player between his turns but as the Hunter players are openly discussing their plans it is not really downtime. In fact, it is a perfect opportunity to listen and goad the Hunters as they stumble around the board.  There is as much gameplay off the table whilst discussing plans as there is on the board. Many cooperatives have this feature but I have never played one in which I found myself pseudo-roleplaying my role just a little bit. That is a testament to the high-level of immersion that this game has.


The fourth edition is printed by WizKids and comes with painted miniatures which as far as I can tell is the only difference between the third and this version.  

Any time a Hunter takes a supply action, a card is drawn from the item deck. During a day supply action, this is from the top of the deck where players will see whether it is a Hunter card or not. If it is a night action the card is blind-drawn from the bottom of the deck. If it is not a Hunter card then the card will be given to Dracula and may also resolve immediately. There is an element of push-your-luck as well in this action and it keeps the Dracula player involved even more during the Hunters turns. However, in my copy, the backs of the two card-types have vastly different colours so we needed to keep the cards very neatly stacked to prevent the Hunters from seeing which card type was on the bottom. 
Should be the same colour
The rulebook comes in two parts, a Learn to Play and Rules Reference which I do like. I think you can get up and playing much quicker by having rulebooks like this. The Learn to Play is very nicely illustrated with a large number of examples included.  The reference book is just dense walls of text but it is perfect for looking up edge cases not covered by the rules.  I can't think of any time that a gameplay question wasn't resolved by either the learn to play (most commonly this) or the Rules Reference (mostly just for clarification).

The artwork throughout the game and all components are nicely thematic and if you're a fan of the original novel or the vampiric-genre then you should appreciate not only the artwork but the chosen Hunters and their special abilities. Van Helsing is included and he is the Hunter's primary damage dealer; Mina Harker is also a hunter but should rarely be in combat against Dracula but her special ability lets her work together i.e. in the same location as another hunter, to quickly whittle down the possible locations of Dracula.
Cards and Components

I also had a printing error on the player's boards regarding their hand size, but this is easily remembered.


The game can drag for the first few turns. This is when Dracula is still building the Trail and there is little for the Hunters to work with without an element of luck. What makes this game really shine is tension, which is largely absent for the first 20 minutes or so. There's still plenty of things for all players to be doing, i.e. collecting item cards, getting tickets, incubating vampire babies etc. but in the first game I played with a new group they almost bailed before it got going. They were glad they didn't/I forced them not to.

The game does stay on the table for a while. If both the Dracula and Hunter players are familiar with the game, it will probably take the full three hours with both teams finishing within one point or so of each other. If one side doesn't know what they're doing it will probably still take three hours but finish much earlier in game-play terms i.e. early on week 2 instead of week 3 or later but after three hours have elapsed.


There is a reason this game has had three reprints after the original release in 1987. It is an excellent game that combines many popular boardgame mechanics into a finely balanced gameplay experience that plays best with 5 players.  It is also good with 3 players and playable with 2.  I didn't like it as much with 4 players though as one player is controlling more Hunters than another which unbalanced the game a little. 

Lots of games have tense endgame but I haven't experienced one as dramatic as this one. Often in a standard 'euro game' the tension comes from adding on your Victory points and bonus VPs on the score track at the end of the game. In this game (definitely not a euro game) the tension starts about 30 minutes in and steadily ramps up to the conclusion 2 and a half hours later.  It is an intense experience. I would even say that it is a high-stakes game...

The game arguably provides a more cinematic experience than going to the cinema and more suspense than any whodunit novel. It just may be a perfect blend of board-game where you're constrained by rules which tells a story without any narrative.  After you've played you will feel exhausted just as you would having traipsed across Europe for the last three weeks hunting and being hunted by Dracula.

Most game-stores will have a copy of this game in and even if you're not interested in this game, you can use this link to find your nearest game store.

Publisher: Wizkids
Players: 2 - 5
Designer: Stephen Hand
Playing time: 2 - 3 hours

Mark Walker\ Crowbar Interview Transcript  AWNT received a package containing two tape recordings of what appears to be the in...

Interview with Mark Walker Interview with Mark Walker

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Mark Walker\Crowbar Interview Transcript

 AWNT received a package containing two tape recordings of what appears to be the interrorga..sorry interviews, of two people. Below is the transcript of the first recording. Though not all was clear we have done our utmost to record as precisely as possible what is being said on the tape.

Interview of Mark Walker.

 Mark Walker first of Lock n Load boardgame fame and now the man behind Flying Pig Games needs little introduction within the Wargaming community. His games, mainly at the tactical scale, cover a wide range of conflicts (both historical aswell as sci-fi) are well loved and well known. This man of many gifts is also a prolific author of a genre he has made his own, it’s military fiction crossed with the supernatural.

Now onto the transcript…

Hello Mark, please don’t panic. Let me quickly explain. We tried, oh we tried to do this the proper way Mark. We really did. Not only did we send you an email requesting an interview we also messaged you on that facethingymajig. We waited, yes, we waited three days!! Nothing. So this was our last resort Mark. So now, all you have to do is answer a few little questions and we will put you right back where we, er, picked you up from. OK.What’s that..oh sorry (background..”he still has tape on his mouth, take it off you cretin….”). Painful tearing sound. Sorry about that, now OK to start? One thing, just ignore the wires. You’re connected to ACME 1555 1\3 lie detector, just so you know. OK here we go.


Uh? Mark (base line stick with it)


As young as I feel on any given day. In general, my wife claims that I’m a large nine-year old.

Current Location? 

South-central Virginia.

Favourite TV program?

 Castle Rock

Favourite Music genre? 

Alternative Rock

Favourite band\musician?


Favourite Film?

Sucker Punch

Favourite period of history? 


Favourite Superhero?

Forever Carlyle

Favourite colour?

Blue over tan, like the beach.

Favourite animal? 


Lucky number?


Hurricane or BF109? 

P-51 Mustang. (clever)

WW2 or Vietnam?

WW3 (like it, leftfield)

Werewolf or Vampire?

Katarina (interesting)

Tactical or Operational?

Tactical (me too)

Patton or McArthur


Excellent! That’s the levels sorted, sorry I mean the, we know you better, part done.

When did you first get involved with wargames and at what point did you decide to make a career out of it? 

First game I played was TAHGC’s Gettysburg when I was 9. Decided to make a career of it in 2006 when I opened LNLP.

How difficult was it to get off the mark with your first product? Trying to get this website out there to the communities that would be interested has been the hardest part by far with regards to AWNT. I imagine trying to make a living out of your venture adds the pressure ten fold with regards to getting your name out there. 

It was difficult. I remember the first screen shot I posted of a village in Forgotten Heroes. It was on Consimworld. Some smart ass said, “Where’s the cocktail waitress.”

What was your first successful game design?

I’m not sure any of my designs have been successful. My first published designed was Lock ‘n Load.

Looking back at your game releases what if any are your standout games? Not necessarily from a profit viewpoint but more from a personal view and why is that?

Dark War RPG, because it’s my first RPG and the game everyone wants to play when they come over to my house. Of course, Lock ‘n Load was a lot of fun too. Strange thing about that game was that it worked right away. Some games, like ’65, take quite a while to make click. I like ’65 and Night of Man because of the way they play. The card-driven mechanism makes them feel bigger, richer than a typical tactical game. And World at War? Geez but I love me some WW3 gaming.

Your games go from historical through to WW3 horror and lots in between! Do you have a favourite with regards to the design process?

Not sure I understand this question, but… if you mean a favourite era/genre, it would be military horror. Like Dog Soldiers.  (great film)

What scale is your favourite to design for? I’d love to see man vs man scale, does that scale ring your bell so to speak?

Well, Dark War is man vs man/woman/beast/demon. I guess that squad-level is my favorite scale, but platoon-level is a close second.

What’s your thoughts on Solo games? Many struggle with regards to finding an opponent so solo wargames suit them. Have you thought about designing solo only boardgames?

Although I didn’t design it, we have an excellent solo wargame, Crowbar! The Rangers at Pointe du Hoc, on Kickstarter right now. I like solo wargames, or I guess that I mean that I like the idea of solo wargames, but I find it difficult to find time to solo game. It’s when I get together with friends that I make myself sit down and game.

When did you first come across Herm Luttman and the Crowbar! Tabletop game?

I’ve known Herm for a few years. He suggested Crowbar! To me and I said, not yes, but hell yes. If Herm designed a game about dog poop, I’d publish it. Fortunately, Crowbar! Isn’t about dog poop, it’s an immersive game about the Ranger’s assault on Pointe du Hoc. It’s a push-your-luck type game. The longer and harder you push your luck, the greater the chance for a big fall.

The KickStarter has done extremely well. How pleased are you and Herm about how successful it’s been?

Very pleased and I think there is a good chance to unlock more stretch goals as we approach the finish. It’s exciting stuff.

As mentioned earlier I have an interest in Solo wargames and for me there is always room for solo tactical wargame. What was it about Crowbar! That grabbed your attention? Did the Solo aspect have any say? 

I love the way that Herm puts story into his games. I had played In Magnificent Style and I loved the game.

Will we see expansions or new standalone releases? If so I do hope we get to play as the Germans..pref in Stalingrad pretty please? 

Sure, there are expansions included in the Kickstarter, and yes you get to play as the Germans. 😊 (colour me excited!)

DO you have any tactical advice for the future players of Crowbar?

Don’t push your luck too far! 😊

Finally it’s been a pleasure speaking with you, Just sit tight I’m sure the good men about to burst in are now expert at untying people strapped to a chair..(loud smash) been tickety bo..must dash..bye…(sounds of footsteps and cursing fades into distance. Possibly Marks voice thanking someone and something about unhinged and need treatment..tape ends)

Crowbar the tabletop game has just had a very successful Kickstarter. I highly recommend you go check it out. Mark hasn't let us down yet, and he hasn't dropped the ball on this one either!

Good luck to Herm and Mark!

Coming soon Herm Luttmans interrogation!