Card Game, 2-5 Players by GMT
Take on the role of a knight and join the prestigious tournaments at the king's court. Use your cards to win the jousting competitions, or fight with your sword, axe or morningstar. Rally your squires, gain the support of a maiden and play action cards against your opponents. The first player to win four or five different tournaments becomes the overall victor. The game consists of many consecutive tournaments. The player who starts the tournament determines which weapon will be used in it. A tournament may start as jousting, as a fight with swords, axes, or morningstars, or as a fight without weapons. Usually a tournament is fought with the same weapon throughout. However, some action cards allow the players to change the current tournament weapon. A player who wins a tournament receives one token of the final color in which the tournament was fought. However, a player who wins a jousting tournament may take any color token (due to the prestige of the jousting tournament). Let the tournaments begin!
++++++++++++++++++++ Counter Magazine review. ++++++++++++++++++++
2-5 players, 20-60 minutes designed by Reiner Knizia reviewed by Stuart Dagger
With the demise of Avalon Hill as an independent company, the field of wargame publishing has been left in the hands of the little companies, of whom GMT is probably the most interesting. This is in part because of their imaginative use of the Net. Recognising that the market for wargames is much shrunken from its seventies heyday and that it is all too easy for a small company to publish games on topics and in numbers that won't sell, they operate on a prospectus basis. When a designer offers them a game that they'd like to publish, they put a description on their ``500'' page and solicit advance orders. If 500 customers sign up for it, they go ahead and publish; if not, they don't. People who pre-order get the game at a discount if publication goes ahead and the company gets the reassurance that it is not talking to an empty room. Both sides win.
They have also begun to branch out from their wargames base. At the time AH went under, they were about to publish a ``more whistles and bells'' version of Titan: the Arena. This was picked up by GMT and appeared last Summer under the title Galaxy: the Dark Ages. Ivanhoe is the result of a similar process: take a simple Reiner Knizia game (in this case `Attacke') and do some further development on it of the ``extra detail'' sort that you hope will make it more attractive to wargamers.
In its new guise the game is about jousting and the equipment consists of cards and tokens. Cardplay determines the result of each joust and the tokens are used as prizes. There are 110 cards of which 70 are colour cards (14 in each of 5 colours), 20 are supporter cards and 20 are action cards. The five colours represent five different types of combat: mounted, sword, axe, morningstar & unarmed and winning a joust is a matter of winning a trick in the appropriate colour. The ultimate aim is to win one in each colour (if you have 2 or 3 players) or in 4 of the 5 (if you have 4 or 5).
A trick begins with the winner of the previous bout deciding the colour for the new one. Play then proceeds clockwise, round and round, until the trick is won. On your turn you begin by drawing a new card and then have the choice of either playing cards or withdrawing from the contest. If you opt for the former, the cards must be either colour cards of the right colour, supporter cards or action cards. You may play more than one card if you wish. The colour and supporter cards have strength values and if you play cards, then at the end of your turn the total strength of the cards in front of you must be greater than that in front of any other player. If you can't (or don't wish to) achieve this, you must withdraw from the contest. The trick is complete when all players bar one have dropped out.
The action cards disturb the arithmetic by allowing players to do such things as change the ``colour of the trick'', cancel certain cards in other people's displays, steal cards and so on.
And that is all there is to it. For all the extra development work, this is still a simple, single mechanic game. Those of you who were worried that handing it over to a wargames company would result in combat result tables and injury factors needn't have. The yea or nay on this one doesn't turn on whether it is too complicated to be fun. Though it might on whether it is still too simple.
The use of cards to compete for prizes on a Poker-style ``raise or quit, but if you quit you don't get your money back'' basis is a mechanic that is also to be found in Taj Mahal and in Condottiere. However, both those games handle it in a way that I find more interesting, which leaves me wondering whether Ivanhoe is a game that I really need, particularly in view of the fact that the other two have extra strategic and tactical aspects to their structure, which Ivanhoe does not.
In the first of these, Taj Mahal, cards are a much scarcer resource than they are here; getting locked into a fight damages your prospects for future rounds; withdrawing early enables you to build your hand and take cards you want. There are also several items being competed for simultaneously, giving you choices on what to try for. It is a package that presents you with hard decisions and scope for the use of bluff and ``my stack is bigger than yours'' intimidation. Just like real Poker. In Ivanhoe, on the other hand, everything is all much simpler. Your hand size will only go down if you play more than one card in a round, which makes the decision on whether to hang in much less painful. Whether you withdraw in the first round or play one card in each of the first two rounds and then withdraw in the third doesn't much matter. Either way you end up with one more card than you had at the start. This means that the only important decisions you have to make concern whether or not to commit your more powerful supporter and action cards to this particular fight. Beyond that is mainly a matter of sitting there and hoping that you get good cards and that the combat colours chosen by other players are ones that suit your hand.
One could claim that a comparison with Taj Mahal is unfair: it is a gamers' game, Ivanhoe is not and so one should expect that even its subgames should be more substantial than Ivanhoe's whole. But that still leaves me with Condottiere, where the playing time is similar and where the card aspect is also much the greater part of the game. There too you have the mix of strength cards and action cards, but the scope for decisions on tactics and how best to use your cards is significantly greater, making for a much more interesting and entertaining game.
Two paragraphs on why you should play something else probably has you thinking that I consider the game to be bad. I don't: I just think it's rather average. The theming works well, with some nice tie-ins for some of the action and supporter cards, the components are good quality and the artwork is very attractive. The game also works. This may be minor Knizia, but it is still Knizia and Reiner's games work. And to that you can add the fact that even if I'm not that impressed, there are a fair number of people in the States who are. At the time of writing, the Funagain website has ten mini-reviews of the game and the average rating from these is an impressive 4.1 out of 5. I find this difficult to understand, but 20 million Floridans can't be wrong. Okay, bad example.