Wednesday, 22 September 2010


The Game

Grimoire is a Japanese card game that Han bought on his recent business trip to Taiwan. Components are bi-lingual. We played it for the first time when we visited Allen. This was the first time we did a game session at Allen's place. It's very near my home, so it's convenient.

Grimoire means spellbook in French. Everyone starts the game with a spellbook and a bookmark. Every round you use the bookmark to select a spell you want to cast that round. At the start of every round a number of cards are dealt to the centre of the table, all but one face-up. Players will take turns picking up a card. Turn order is determined by the spells cast. Smaller numbered spells are usually weaker, but they let you go earlier. However if two or more players pick the same numbered spell, they will all go after all other players who have picked unique spells.

The spells let you do various things, e.g. collect victory point (VP) chips, rob another player's VP chips, rob another player's character card, protect yourself from attacks, buy an item card, meddle with turn order. The cards collected every round consist of two types - characters and treasures. Characters are played face-up in your area and provide various benefits, some related to scoring, e.g. collecting 1VP if you are last in turn order. Most are also worth VPs themselves. If anyone collects 10 characters, the game ends. Treasure cards are basically copper (1VP), silver (2VP) or gold (3VP) coins. They are kept face-down in a stack in front of you. Similarly the game ends when one player has 10 treasure cards. Most item cards provide some benefit, but there are some junk item cards. However the player with the most junk item cards at game end scores 5VP, so they can turn out to be valuable.

My spellbook and bookmark. The spellbook is bilingual. The left page is Japanese and the right page English. This is the number 1 spell.

The Spy card allows you to peek at the face-down card at the centre of the table. Every round there will be a number of cards placed at the centre of table to be claimed by the players. One of them is always face-down. Spy gives 1 victory point (number on lower left).

So there are three main ways of gaining VPs - treasures, characters and their powers, and VP chips. The tools you have at your disposal are your spells, your characters, and your items. Which kinds of tools to use, and how you want to score, will determine and restrict your strategy. E.g. I had a high valued character card, but it penalises me for having VP chips. So I wanted to avoid collecting VP chips. One of the character cards rewards having sets of copper + silver + gold, so if you have it, it'll affect your decision when selecting cards.

There is a bit of a story arc to the game. At game start, less than half of the spells in the spellbook are available to be chosen. With each subsequent round, one more (usually more powerful) spell becomes available.

The Play

We did a four player game - Allen, Yee Ling, Han and I. Up front I decided to go for a character-heavy approach. I had the Prince character which rewarded having many characters. I also had the Rogue card, a 6VP card, which penalised me for every VP chip earned, so I tried to not get any. However, I somehow got myself the Mercenary card, which gave me one VP chip every time I selected the same spell as another player; and I kept earning VP chips because of him! Since I had many characters, I was quite worried about attacks against my characters, so I kept choosing defensive spells.

Allen went for items most frequently. Han mostly went for VP chips. Yee Ling mostly went for treasure cards. At game end, I managed to achieve my goal of reaching 10 characters. The VP chips I earned caused my two Rogues (there are 3 copies of each character card) to be worth 0VP. Thankfully I had the King character card, which awarded 5VP per 5VP worth of VP chips. I had 10VP of VP chips, which meant a bonus of 10VPs! Unfortunately that was not enough to beat Han's score. He had 41VP, I had 40VP. Allen and Yee Ling both had 37VP.

My play area at mid game. I have collected 6 characters. Characters are always displayed face-up in front of you. Treasure cards are stacked face-down so that other players cannot see what they are or count how many there are. I have turned one of the Gold treasure cards (3VP) face-up for this photo. The white round discs are victory point chips. So here are the 3 main forms of victory points - characters, treasures and VP chips.

Thief and King. King is very powerful if you are going with a VP chip strategy. He gives 5 bonus VPs for every 5 VPs you have in VP chips. The artwork of the game is quite good and very Japanese manga style. However the box cover is surprisingly bad. I wonder what they were thinking.

The Thoughts

It's a double-think game. You are trying to guess what spells other players will choose, and hoping they don't foil your plans. You try to build a consistent set of characters and items that will help you score well. By reading other players' play areas you can try to guess their strategy and the likely spells they will pick. Do you want to play offensively or defensively? Will someone be trying to attack you this round?

The game feels polished. The various aspects are well integrated. I feel that every decision made impacts how I do later in the game. You interact with other players via the offensive and defensive spells, and also in the manipulation of turn order. It is important to watch what your opponents are doing.

My only problem with the game is it doesn't have a hook for me. Nothing really grabs me. I don't see anything wrong with the game. There is strategy. There is interaction. There are meaningful decisions. There are card combos. The spellbook is a novel idea, and it does work well. Much better than having to manage a hand of action cards. Maybe I am turned off by the offensive spells. I may be too conservative. During the game, when I found myself in a vulnerable position, I tended to play solely the defensive spells to avoid getting attacked. This approach took away a lot of the fun in the spell selection part of the game. So, maybe I'm the problem, not the game.


Bri said...

I would like to inform you that your excellent blog has been added to our little BG blog aggregator:
greetings :)

Brian said...

I don't suppose that each Grimoire is different, with different spells? That would be amazing, but too much to ask.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Bri, thank you for the honour.

Brian, the spell books are identical. I guess it's possible to make them a little different, but I imagine it can be tricky to balance.

Keith said...

Been doing a lot of research on this game as it looks superbly awesome. Looks like it's been picked up by a US publisher and should be released in the US sometime this year.

Keith said...

Oh, and no, this is not an April Fool's joke (just realized the date of my post).

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Keith, yes, I think Z-Man Games is the US publisher.