Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Marc André


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Over the last few years MATAGOT has presented several magnificently equipped boardgames which give the players a quite stunning impression when they have been set up on the gaming table. Games like Giants, Takenoko, Cyclades or Kemet come with beautiful playing pieces, and together with the nicely illustrated gameboards such games have become a trademark for MATAGOT's line of products.

In this company the new MATAGOT game Barony by Marc André stands out, since the game features an assortment of wooden playing pieces, and also the modular gameboard is different than the big, illustrated boards found in other MATAGOT games. Mind you, the wooden knights, villages and cities which can be found in Barony are quite nice and big when compared to the wooden components of other boardgames, but nonetheless the whole appearance of the game seemed a bit "traditional" if compared to many other games of this year.

However, a more traditional look does not always imply that the game itself is outmoded, and indeed Barony can score with a quite straightforward but nonetheless challenging set of rules. The game indeed deals with the traditional thematic background of medieval combat and conquest, but quite interestingly it turned out to be a purely tactical challenge with no factor of luck.

When the modular gameboard has been set up in a random fashion, each of the players is allowed to claim three hex-spaces as starting regions, and the players will place one each of their cities and knights into each of these regions. To mitigate the advantage of the starting player, the choosing of the starting regions follows an alternating player order which makes the last player the first to place all of his cities, and if everybody choses his starting regions wisely none of the players really will gain an advantage from his starting position. With the regions chosen, the game if ready to begin, and the plain straightforwardness of the whole playing concept becomes visible when looking at the composition of a player's turn.

During his turn, a player just may perform one single action, and so the game will move forward with considerable speed since not too many things will change on the gameboard between two turns of a player. The available actions are as follows:

  • A player may recruit up to 2 of his knights in one of his cities. This may be increased to a total of 3 knights when the city is adjacent to a lake.
  • Knights are the only playing pieces moving on the gameboard, and so a player may use his action to move up to two of his knights. When moving knights, the active player will try to bring them into suitable positions to destroy other players' knights and cities, or to turn them into new villages in order to gain resource tokens. Destroying another player's knights or villages is done purely on the basis of majorities, and so the active player just needs to move two of his knights into a space containing just one village or knight of one or more opposing players. In this case the two knights will destroy the single playing pieces of all present opponents, plundering a resource token for each destroyed village. Spaces containing two or more pieces of any player are off-limits to all other players - it's really that simple!
  • As indicated, knights can be turned in to gain a village in the space they are removed from, and apart from playing the village the player also will gain a resource token. The value of this token depends on the type of landscape the village is built in, and these tokens will be needed to purchase titles of nobility.
  • An action also can be spent to turn a village into a city, and apart from granting its owner an additional 10 victory points a space with a city cannot be entered by any opposing knight.
  • Quite nasty is the expedition action which a player can use to place a new knight anywhere on the outer edge of the gameboard. Even a player with a strong defensive setup behind impassable lakes can be attacked this way, but it comes at the price that the player performing the expedition has to remove one of his knight pieces from the game, returning it from his reserve into to gamebox. With only 7 knights available for each player, this is a quite harsh price which the players usually are reluctant to pay.
  • Finally, the players may spend resource tokens to advance their noble rank, and the better the rank the higher its value in victory points. Tokens which cannot be used during the game will count as victory points when the game ends, but they are much better invested into a new rank of nobility.

The game is over when a player has reached the rank of "Duke", and when the round has finished all players will add up their victory points from ranks of nobility and remaining resource tokens to see who has won the game.

Can a game be traditional and modern at the same time? When first going through the rules of Barony I was doubtful whether the game really meets up with today's expectations concerning innovative rules and mechanisms, but already the first test game really woke up my liking for more. Even though the general conquest setting reminds of early-age computer games, the incredibly high pace set by the "one action per player" rule gives the game a rather unexpected addictiveness. Players with a liking for quick calculations and a good eye for tactical advantages certainly will perform quite well in a game of Barony, but especially in games with 3 or 4 players there will be some shifts in leadership since temporal alliances may form to show the leader his limits. This is more difficult in the two-player game since a player who has gained an edge over his only opponent is quite hard to catch up with.

However, irrespective of playing with a cast of two, three or four players, Barony is a game dominated by a player's ability to see tactical opportunities to gain valuable resource tokens which can be turned in for ranks of nobility. Apart from the position of a player's knights on the gameboard, there is also a high dependence on timing since a player must hold onto his resource tokens (i.e. not lose any villages) until they can be turned in.

If both timing and tactics are one of your favourite features of a good boardgame, you should go for Barony since it is a well-designed representative of modern strategy games!

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany