Sunday, 7 April 2013

Stone & Relic

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Stone & Relic is a tableau card game by John Clowdus (Small Box Games), designer of Omen: A Reign of War. Every player builds his own kingdom by playing cards into his own play area. Cards played are province cards, and each has some special ability. They can be upgraded to cities, but when you do so they are flipped over and lose their special abilities. However cities are worth 3pt each and also has a resource value of 1. In addition to playing province cards and upgrading them, other actions you can do include playing cards to compete for the current trophy (I forget what it's called, but I think of it as a trophy), playing cards into your treasury, and casting magic spells.

At any one time there is always a trophy of a specific resource type revealed, and player can use an action to play a card (preferably of the matching resource type) face-down next to it. When the total number of cards played reaches eight, they are revealed, and the player who has committed the most resources of the matching type wins the trophy, which is worth points. After that a new trophy is revealed to be contested. The treasury competition works in a similar way, but resource type doesn't matter, and scoring is done only at game end. Casting a magic spell is just using the single-use special ability of a card and then discarding the card.

The game ends when a player reaches a certain kingdom size.

The number (or question mark) at the top left is the point value at game end, if the province card has not been flipped over by then to become a city. A city would be worth 3pts. The blue circles at the bottom are the resource value, which is used for competing for trophies and largest treasury size. The icon inside the circle in the middle indicates the resource type, which is applicable when competing for trophies. Text in italics are the single-use special powers.

Right at the top are the two awards which are given out only at game end - largest kingdom (5pts) and largest treasury (7pts) respectively. Just below that is the current trophy card - a green bar thing. There are already 8 cards next to it, which means it is time to see who wins this trophy. On the left and right of these are Allen and my treasuries, with face-down cards stacked together. In the lower half of the photo are our kingdoms.

The Play

The game reminds me more of Irondale than Omen: A Reign of War, which is probably not a good thing because I liked the latter but not the former. Stone & Relic is not as tedious in the checking symbols department as Irondale though. It also has the spatial element. Many province abilities are triggered by having a new province played next to it, or having an adjacent province upgraded to a city. So it's important to plan the development of your kingdom - i.e. the placement of your cards. Sometimes you can make a fancy chain reaction, e.g. playing one card which triggers the ability of an adjacent province which allows you to upgrade a province to a city which in turn triggers the ability of another province which gives you an extra magic spell action which you then use to steal a card from an opponent to add to your treasury.

Planning and timing when to upgrade provinces to cities is important. 3pts per city is significant, and the resource value of cities is counted towards competing for trophies and the treasury size.

One interesting twist is the player with the smallest kingdom gets to draw more cards. So you need to plan your expansion carefully and not let the "trailing" player gain too much from this catch. Some province cards (a type called terrains) count as size two. They are usually attractive, but they make you think twice because of the size consideration. There is also a consideration of when to upgrade them to a city to reduce your kingdom size by one. Or maybe you want to play some terrains near game end to boost your kingdom size because there is a big-is-better award at game end.

Creating synergy among your cards is desirable. You want to maximise the potential of every card. You pick some to build your kingdom, and use others for the trophy and treasury competition. You can also save some cards to be used as magic spells when the time is right.

My kingdom. I have two cities at this point.

The Thoughts

The game felt rather bland to me. It seems mechanically sound, but I get a nagging feeling of "what's the point?". The game feels mechanical. I don't get the feeling that I'm building a kingdom. I just feel like I'm maximising the card powers to score in various categories. I like tableau games, e.g. Race for the Galaxy, San Juan, Glory To Rome. Maybe the difference is in these games I see various long-term strategies that jive with the themes, whereas in Stone & Relic so far I see mainly short to medium term tactics that are just game mechanisms. I sound like I'm complaining about a pasted on theme, and it is arguable that those tableau games that I like have pasted on themes too. However I think it's more than that. It is also the less interesting user interaction, fewer challenging decisions and the depth of the strategies. If you are looking for a portable, medium weight tableau card game, you can give it a try.

No comments: