alea has three lines of games: big box, medium box, and small box. I talked a bit about the big box series when I covered The Castles of Burgundy. The small box series currently only consists of five games, the most recent of which (San Juan) published in 2004. The medium box series, on the other hand, began in 2005 with Louis XIV, and currently consists of seven games. The games are generally well regarded – last year’s Glen More has gotten lots of good buzz, and 2008’s Witch’s Brew was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres (and is a game I really enjoy – it’s also the only one in the medium box series that I’ve actually played).
Artus is alea’s 2011 offering in medium box line. It’s a game from designing super-team Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling (collaborators on such classics as Tikal, Torres, and Pueblo, as well as last year’s Asara and Tikal II). I will say that the Kramer/Kiesling games that I’ve played (Tikal and Torres) haven’t really gotten me too excited. However, the pair has enough street cred that I’ll give their products a look. The game is for 2-4 players aged 9 and up, and takes around an hour to play. The game is set in the world of King Arthur, and involves playing cards to position pieces around the round table in order to score points.
The game comes with a board that connects together, and a round board that attaches in a way that allows it to rotate. This is reminiscent of one of Kiesling’s prior solo games (Vikings) that also features a rotating piece. There’s a suckling pig (awesome), 12 point tiles, 28 playing figures, 10 rings, 88 cards, and a plastic stand. There are rules for a beginner game (for ages 9 and up) and an advanced game (for ages 12 and up). The big difference between the two is that you’ll add scoring cards in the advanced game. Setup for the game involves placing the prince figures (silver and bronze colored) on the appropriate places around the round table, placing three rings on one of the princes (making him King Arthur), and using the suckling pig to rotate the board so the crown space is right next to the king. Each player gets 5-6 knights (based on the number of players) and a set of cards. There will be a set of knight cards, a set of King cards, and a set of scoring cards that you only use in the advanced game. You’ll begin the game with 2 knight and 2 king cards in your hand (3 and 3 in the advanced game).
The oldest player is the start player, but the player to their right begins by placing one knight on any space around the table. In a counter-clockwise direction, each player will take turns placing one knight on the board. With 2-3 players, you’ll place 5 knights, and with 4 players, you’ll end up placing four knights. The other knight goes on the 0/50 space of the score track.
The beginner game lasts 16 rounds. On your turn, you will play one card, then draw a replacement from either deck. In the advanced game, you will play two cards, then draw two new cards from the knight, King, or scoring piles. Each card allows you to do one thing.
- Knight cards allow you to move a knight a number of spaces in a clockwise direction (with one card that allows you to move backwards). These cards will give you a choice of how many spaces to move. You gain or lose points based on the space you leave. If you land on a space that is occupied, the knight that was there is displaced and must move counter-clockwise to the first empty space it comes to.
- Four of the King cards allow you to move a Prince or the King. These are neutral figures that can be moved by anyone. You must move the figure indicated by the card. Again, you gain or lose points based on the space you left. If you move the king, you get no points, but you rotate the board so the crown space moves with him. Displacement rules still apply.
- The other four King cards allow you to take a ring from the supply and add it to a prince. As soon as a prince receives a third ring, it becomes the new king. The board is rotated so the crown is next to the new king, and the old king loses all but one ring.
- In the advanced game, you also have scoring cards to play. The cards are: score all of your knights; score all of your knights oppositely (so positive becomes negative and negative becomes positive); score one knight each on green, yellow, and red spaces (or take -15 points); score two knights on the carpet (or take -25 points); score three knights on red spaces (or take -50 points); or make a choice between moving a knight, adding a ring to a prince, or scoring a knight.
The game goes until all of your cards have been played. The player who ends with the most points wins.
After looking through this game, I’m not nearly as interested as I was. It seems fine, but it seems like there’s not much you can do strategically. What you can do is limited by the cards in your hand, and what other players do will most certainly assure that you cannot plan until it is your turn. The theme is almost non-existent, and though I like the rotating board feature, I wish there was some more here. Maybe it’s great – I won’t know until I play. But for now, I have some reservations. I think it might already be out in Europe, but I’m not sure when Rio Grande will be coming out with their version (assuming Rio Grande is doing it).
I’ve been slowing down recently here – life has been chaotic, and there just isn’t a lot of new game information coming out. However, I’ve got my eye on a bunch of games, and will be fanning the flames of buzziness as they come out. Thanks for reading!