Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Board Game Review - Courtier

Alderac Entertainment is doing something I think is crazy cool. They're telling a story through games. OK, that's not new - people do that all the time - but in this case, the story starts in one game, goes to a second game, then through a third game, and to a fourth game, and if you don't get the idea by now, you probably can't read English very well anyway.

The set of games is called Tempest. It's about a city-state. Can you guess what the name of the city-state might be? If you guessed 'Constantinople,' you are mistaken. Neither is it Instabul. It's Tempest. I mean, that should have been pretty obvious. I think I was kind of telegraphing it.

The first game, and thus the first chapter of the story, is called Courtier. It's about influencing important people until they bring you money or alcoholic beverages or maybe sign bills and stuff. It should be very political, and I guess it is in the sense that you're simulating politics, but it's really more about putting your little cubes onto the right spot so you can say you control the king and the poet at the same time. Maybe you can catch the merchant in bed with the admiral and threaten to start a nasty smear campaign if they don't both start working for you. The actual specifics of how you control any particular courtier are unimportant. What is important is that the merchant and the admiral are both married men, and their wives are going to be totally up for a little revenge nookie (though the merchant's wife has a gnarly mole on her lower lip that has hair growing out of it).

Anyway, in the first story, you're trying to manipulate all the people in the city to do the stuff you want done. What exactly you want done is not all that important - you might be trying to build a new sewer system, or organize a medieval sports team, or just get zoning permission to start up a kick-ass titty bar. What matters is that you get together the right people to get your job done. And you do that by controlling certain members of the court (or courtiers - thus the name). And you do THAT by playing cards that let you put colored cubes onto spots on the board underneath pictures of important people (though it could be argued that the jeweler is not quite as important as he thinks he is).

If you just played cards to place cubes, Courtier would be kind of a lame game, story-telling masterpiece or not. But you have two kinds of cards, and where one kind of card generally lets you put out one cube at a time, the other kind of card does awesome stuff, like switch cubes with someone else or place special neutral cubes or stand in for someone else on the steering committee for the new public-school lunchroom down at the monk's academy.

As if that wasn't enough, every group of people on the board has a special ability that it grants to whoever controls it. The church will let you play twice. The guild will let you place influence wherever you want it. The artists will let you smoke imported cigarettes and drink absinthe while you pontificate about the duality of man. Controlling the right groups at the right times can make a world of difference, and sometimes you'll be trying to sway the cardinal just so that guy who is controlling the church doesn't get to keep going twice every turn.

So how is all this telling a story? Because the game ends when the queen is arrested for treason. The story continues in the next game, and you'll play out what happens to the city of Tempest after that monumental event. I don't want to completely spoil how this all goes, though in all fairness, it's not like this is Breaking Bad and you're going to be all, 'Holy Crap! What happens next! Damn you, mid-season hiatus!' You're playing out the story in a connected series of games, but the story is less important than the game.

Even standing alone, Courtier is a very original, very fun game. It is a little on the complicated side, with a few elements that might make your first game a little rocky, but once you get it down, this is a hoot. The fact that it links perfectly to the next game, which hooks up with the one after that, is just gravy. Super awesome gravy, sure, but Courtier would be a very cool game even without the continuing saga. Fair warning, though, in case I didn't describe it well enough - it's very European in flavor. The closest it comes to violence is when the queen resists arrest and the royal police have to hit her with the tazer. And even then, they're very polite about it.


2-4 players

Interesting cube-placement game with some nice twists and constant competition
Lots of interaction (just no blood)
Really cool ongoing story continues in the next game in the series

A few tricky rules might throw you on your first game
No blood (but lots of interaction)

 Noble Knight Games has a very reasonable price on Courtier. I recommend it:


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