Friday, 12 December 2014

The Staufer Dynasty

Plays: 4Px1.

Disclaimer: I didn't read the rules myself, and we learned and played the game speaking Cantonese and Mandarin, so some of the game terms I use here may be completely off.

The Game

The Staufer Dynasty is an area majority game played over five rounds. The board consists of six provinces, and the king visits a different province from round to round. The provinces have various numbers of government positions, and you want to send your officials to take up these positions. At the end of every round, one or two provinces will score, and when they do, you compare officials. Whoever has the most will score the most points and gain some benefits, and others will score fewer. Officials at scored provinces are then all fired, and go back to the general supply.

The game board is made of one turn order board at the centre, and six province boards around it. It takes up quite a lot of space, more than I had expected. That big purple pawn is the king.

Two of my officials. The big one on the left counts as two of the little ones on the right. Some spaces on the board only allow big officials.

On your turn, you have two options - hire or deploy. If you choose to hire, you are basically taking officials from the general supply into your personal supply. Your officials are your main currency in this game. If you choose to deploy, you send one official to claim one government position on the board. If this is at the province where the king is visiting, there is no transportation cost. If it is further away, you need to pay the carriage fare in the form of... your officials. These officials are placed onto the board (not the general supply). They can be claimed back into your hand in later rounds. When your new official takes up his new post, you also need to make a payment depending on the post being taken. This payment is made in the form of... officials again. They are, again, placed on the board, and similarly they will go back to your hand in future rounds. So you see, getting one person one job requires much effort and sacrifice from many people.

This table here is the round events tiles. Every row corresponds to one round in the game. We have completed the first round, so these here are for rounds 2 to 5. The first segment of each row indicates which province will score. The second segment shows the criteria for a possible second province to score, e.g. the province with the fewest remaining treasures or the province with the most number of officials. If the province that meets the criteria happens to be the same province as indicated in the first segment, then only that one province is scored, and it is scored just once. The third segment is mainly a reminder for some upkeep tasks, but one important part is how many steps the king will move, because it determines how many officials the players will claim back from the board, and also the traveling costs for the next round.

This is the Milano province. It has five spaces, and the costs are shown next to each space. The rewards when Milano scores is 10VP for the strongest player, 5VP for second place, and 4VP for everyone else who has presence. Those tiles below are the treasures. Whenever you deploy an official you get to claim the treasure(s) under his seat.

There are many treasure tokens in this game which give various special abilities. Some score points. Some give long-term benefits. Some give a one-time ability like waiving the transportation fee. When you hire officials, you can usually claim a treasure. When you deploy an official, usually you will also claim a treasure. Deciding which treasures to go for adds a layer to the strategy. Most of these treasures are quite useful, and it is fun to coordinate the right moment to make the best use of them.

Scoring is done in quite a few ways. The province scoring is done regularly throughout the game. Some treasures score points. There are also three secret objectives dealt before the game starts. They score at game end depending on how well you fulfill the conditions stated.

At the start of the game you are given three secret objectives, which are scored at game end. The first one here scores points based on the number of officials remaining on the board at game end. The second one scores points if I have majority in Strasbourg. The third one scores points for each set of officials placed to make such a pattern on the board.

The Play

I did a four player game with Ivan, Sinbad and Dith. Ivan taught the game. Playing the game is very much about tactical analysis to determine the most juicy opportunities. You can invest in some long-term abilities to help you for the rest of the game. Like any area majority game, you need to decide where to spend effort to compete, and how to fully utilise your resources - gaining the most points with the least investment. Of course this depends a lot on your opponents' actions and where they are focusing. The treasures are quite fun. They come into play when you decide whether to hire or deploy, and who to hire and where to deploy. Sometimes your decision is based more on the treasure you want more than who you really want to hire or where you really want to deploy. It is exhilarating when you get to use treasures to make big moves.

You oscillate between hiring officials and deploying them. There is a rhythm to it. Naturally you want to be deploying more and hiring less, because deploying is where you will score points (mostly). But you can't deploy when you don't have enough resources. Hiring is gathering resources. It is important to manage your pool of officials. They are your money. You need to time when to hire and when to deploy. The turn order mechanism is another layer to think of when you decide between hiring and deploying. There are many interwoven tactical decisions to make in this game.

The turn order mechanism is interesting. Each player has three secretaries here, and their positions in the queue at the centre determine when the player gets to take an action. There are only two action types - recruiting officials or deploying them. If you recruit, your secretary joins the queue on the right. If you deploy, he joins the queue on the left, and that queue starts from the other end. Once all secretaries have left the central queue, the round ends, and there will be two newly formed queues. These merge to become the new central queue, determining the turn order for the next round.

Ivan and Sinbad. Sinbad looks distressed but he's actually doing very well. He's the only guy collecting the point scoring treasures. None of the others wanted to get tied down competing with him.

The Thoughts

For me personally The Staufer Dynasty doesn't offer any new excitement. The turn order mechanism is clever, but the game overall doesn't leave much of an impression. There are many tactical decisions. There is healthy direct competition. There is no strong theme or story. It is a competently put together and passable game to me. Unfortunately there isn't anything that makes it particularly memorable. The Staufer Dynasty is designed by Andreas Steding, who designed Hansa Teutonica, a game which I admire very much. Hansa Teutonica has a paper-thin setting too, but the mechanisms and competition are much more compelling.

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