Monday, December 21, 2015

Gaming Our Way Through History… Part 2 the Middle Ages


Back in July I posted Gaming Our Way Through History: Part 1 - an article about… well…  gaming my way though history with my kids as part of their studies in world history using The Story of the World series of books by Susan Wise Bauer (from Peace Hill Press). Gaming Our Way Through History: Part 1 covered the ancient world and corresponded with Volume One of the series of books. This second part corresponds with Volume Two of the series, which covers the medieval world from the fall of Rome to rise of the Renaissance.


To quickly reiterate I was looking for games to supplement and reinforce the readings – preferable with a strong thematic elements, ideally games with maps showing the region, and some way of portraying the dynamics of relationships and interactions between different peoples and cultures, the relationships of power and authority within those various societies, as well as understanding the decision-making processes concerning the distribution of resources, etc…

We actually finished the book months ago but a clever combination of procrastination and hope that I might get to play a few games I’d hoped to play but didn’t at the time we were reading about it kept me from getting this done. As we’re about to finish up the third Volume this afternoon, I thought it best I get to posting this as I’ll have one for Volume Three to finish up shortly!


There wasn’t really any mention of Ireland in the books so far – but Volume Two did start off with Early Britain after the Romans left… and that fairly close…?

The object of this game is to promote your candidates to be the Ard Ri (High King) of all Ireland. This is done by controlling two of the four kingdoms (though for a three player game we only played with three). It's fairly easy to control one kingdom and each player generally controls one by the end of the second round. After that it becomes a bit of a hard, nasty slog as you try to simultaneously try to unseat another king while trying to defend you own. The frustration this caused reduced the kids to tears on a couple of occasions. It may be tricky to talk them into playing this one with me again any time soon... Usually I seem to play new games with the kids and then sometime later in the week we play it again with Amanda in the evening. I played this with the kids in June and still haven’t played it with Amanda…





While most of these games were played at the time we were reading about the relevant period of history, this one was not… it was one of the last ones we actually played and didn’t get to play it until we were well into volume three – this is because the game wasn’t released until late September. The game is  Osprey Publishing's first foray into boardgames. In the game King Arthur (the “historical” King Arthur) has just died and the players represent members of the King's court trying to gain influence among the Welsh, Scots, and Romano-British to unite them against the invading Saxons (and, ultimately, get themselves crowned King – or Queen!).

Well... that's the fluff anyway... It had a nice map showing historical political regions of the period.  While I thought the game was really interesting, the play itself was quite a bit more abstract that I was expecting from Osprey. The decisions being made weren’t decisions a noble member of a royal court would be making, they were about which card to play when to get the most coloured cubes in an area.





This game tied in nicely with our reading about the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire and how Constatninople surpassed Rome and for a time became the most prominent centre of trade and culture in the West at the beginning of the time period we were covering. The players are merchants in Constantinople that win, ultimately, through gaining victory point which can be gathered through different means – building stuff, shipping goods, donating stuff to the government… There are a lot of different ways to win and lots of options and ways to spend money in an effort to produce more goods and make more money…  



We played it a few times.

The game itself seems fairly deterministic – there is very little randomness (other than the draw of shipping cards) and very little player interaction – you never trade with each other and there is virtually no way to mess with what other players are doing – other than scooping up limited properties before other players can. Everyone starts with the exact same stuff and just tries to gather as many victory points as they can before the game ends. While we’ve played it a few times and been able to try out different strategies, I feel eventually one would figure out the best way to do it and there would be little else one could do.

I would have loved to have tracked down a copy of  Justinian to try out while we were reading about Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire (as an entire par tof a chapter was devoted to Justinian and Empress Theodora … alas, I was unable to…


Samarkand: Routes to Riches


This is ostensibly another merchant/trading game but not like other trading games – like Parthenon or Ostia or Constantinopoilis (all of which we had played previously) where there is a lot of actual trading going on either between players or within the game and managing money and stuff… this is more about area control (building “trade routes” to sources of material goods) and marrying into the right families…

 

Still… had a great map of the middle east and gave a sense of the relative location of different peoples and the trade routes that were developed to carry goods back and forth and that the people of the middle ages DID do a lot of trading back and forth (and weren’t always fighting WARS!)


Knights of Charlemagne


Thematically pretty light… but I had the game (picked it up for $5 years ago), and we did read a chapter on Charlemagne… There were some names of actual French Cities and castles on some of the cards…? Play is fairly abstract – as with most Reiner Knizia games. (I’m not saying abstract games aren’t good – I did enjoy playing this game – as I do most Knizia games – but there wasn’t a lot of history to be learned from it…)

There are cities and fortresses with numbers and colours associated with them. Players have a handful of cards with a colour and number associated with each. They take turns playing these cards, deciding whether they want to play it on the associated city or fortress. The player (or side – as in a four player game there are simply two sides) with the most cards on the city or fortress wins it and claims the points for them. The player (or side) with the most points wins…

In addition to the chapter on Charlemagne, we’d read Charlemagne and the Paladins - one of Osprey Publishing’s Myths and Legends books – which do a pretty good job of looking at various versions of the legends they cover and tying them into the actual historical events that may have inspired them.


Tales of the Arabian Nights



While not at all historical we did read about the Tales of the Arabian Nights in The Story of the World - when we read about Abu Bakr and the spread of Islam and Bagdad becoming the center of the Islamic Empire. It was a very LONG game in which we each took on the role of one of the Heroes or Heroines of the tales and went on adventures around the world that was known to the traders and explorers from  the middle east. We played it in the summer and I made no notes at the time - I remember it being fun, but taking a LONG time to play. You had to gain a certain number of some sort of points before returning to Bagdad... I remember thinking we could have played to half the number of points and it still would have been a fun and challenging game, but wouldn't have taken so dang long!


King Arthur: the Card Game


As with Knights of Charlemagne this was thematically pretty light and fairly abstract… based more on legend than anything historical, really - but we did read about King Arthur in The Story of the World, so....  It is a card game where you take turns playing cards in sets of matching colours of a number equal to or greater than the foe you want to beat (many of the foes are mythical creatures – Dragons, etc…). once you have defeated foes you can use them to gain trophies, which get you victory points, which determines the winner at the end of the game.



Not every game I break out to play with the family is a winner... Yeah... that's my kids crying...

The game is supposedly set in the 1265 (Second) Baron's War where a number of Barons led by Simon de Montfort rose up against the King of England in an attempt to reassert the Magna Carta.

In the game player's play a Baron and their retinue and basically try to kill their opponents and control cities around Evesham to gain victory points... the board is modular (and thus could be different every time you play – which might be great for replayability, but not great for learning historical geography) and theme is pretty weak and there's this totally random, plan-wrecking, plague/fog phase that utterly frustrated everyone.

When the plague or fog wrecked the plan I had had at the beginning of a turn I would just sit back and go "well... how to I minimize THIS disaster..."and moved forward - and very quickly I came to realize that you can plan all you want in the strategy phase, but half the time that plan will be wrecked by the plague/fog phase and you just had to roll with it... The kids spent so much time planning in the strategy phase and would have their plan all sorted out... and when the plague wrecked that plan they just couldn't see past that and readjust their plan to lessen the impact of the utterly craptastic situation they then found themselves in...


Dominion



One of our most played games this year was Dominion. I've included it here because we played it while we were reading about medieval times and it has a medieval theme... sort of... you are supposed to be a monarch and trying to gain control over lands and titles.



But the history-learning value of the game is just about zero. it's about drafting cards for their effect in the game and ultimately gaining vicotory point  cards to win the game - while the cards are called "Estates" and "Duchies" and "Provinces" and all the other cards are ostensibly improvements you can make to your kingdom "Villages", "Markets", etc. They could easily be named anything else and be just as playable...



Great game - played it lots - not much history there. 



Looking to the east we read a bit about the Ming. This was a fairly abstract game Where you had to draft cards you would then use to move your diplomat around the kindgom trying to gain influence in towns and regions. 



San Gimignano - playing the heads of aristocratic families trying to build the most towers in the medieval town of San Gimignano... (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
The game plays super quick - so we played it twice! This, our second game, was much higher scoring and much closer – The Boy eked out a win with 8 towers to the 7 towers that both The Girl and I managed to build. The theme was pretty weak and the game really just a fairly abstract strategy game involving area control through placement of tokens representing the families influence in the guilds and building of towers when you have influence in four different connecting guild areas.

I’d posted this picture on facebook and my sister commented that she’d actually BEEN to San Gimignano during her trip to Italy a few years ago – they apparently have really good Gellato there…?



This we ended up playing a little later – long after we were done reading about the period. Amanda and The Girl didn’t get to play this one as they were at dance class the afternoon I got around to organizing a game.

The game isn’t tied to a specific historical event or location. It takes place in a non-specified kingdom in which the king has died leaving no clear heir and the players represent the houses of various noble families within the kingdom with a claim to the throne – which is something that happened and we read about. While the Kingdom isn’t named, the map looks somewhat like Northwestern Europe and has names that sound like they could be French-ish cities… and the overseas areas you can send troops on crusades to (Constantinople, Syracuse, Acre, Jerusalem, etc) and place you can send expeditions to (Ceylon, Spice Islands, China) are all historical locations.

In the game you have to end up controlling half the cities in the kingdom or have the most Influence points at the end of a set number of turns or when the influence pool runs out. Influence is gained mainly through controlling cities, but I have a feeling it could be gained elsewhere (it’s been a month since we played…). While there is a strong military component – gathering resources through taxation, building armies and trying to conquer cities, there is also a strong political element where players vie for various titles within the realm at the assembly of Barons – where various laws and titles are voted on by the players, which then have an affect on the game. Being the head of the Assemble – or the Head of the Church have considerable advantages.



Playing out the Hundred Years war with Joan of Arc. The Girl was France, The Boy played England and I Had Burgundy.

It can be played with up to six with the additional players being Flanders, Brittany, and Navarre - which would be a really fun game!! The long game (10 turns) with six players would be an all day event... but it would be wicked fun!

We played the short game and The Girl utterly crushed us! She had 31 Pretender Points at the end, The Boy had 30 and I had 20!? I took a large chunk out of Flanders in the last turn, but there was no way to catch up to the points The Girl had accumulated throughout the game holding Paris as long as she did....



Basically worker placement and influence gathering with a fairly strong 15th century theme... Henry V trying to consolidate power in England and go fight in France to win back lands lost earlier in the Hundred Years War.

I though the game was fun and there were lots of choices and potential paths to victory. I started out really slow - but gathered up lots of friendly nobles, built up my knights and castle - all of which counted for HUGE points in the final tally... though it looked like I was trailing for the longest time because I wasn't going after quick points for fighting in France.

We also have the Lancaster: Henry V expansion, but haven’ had a chance to play it yet. I’d like to play just the base game a few more times before adding to it.



This was a fairly complex (but fun!) game of planning, resource management, influence gathering and area control set during the Wars of the Roses. So much going on!

Cards were drawn at the beginning of the game to determine who everyone would be. Amanda and I were Lancasters and the kids ended up being the Yorks (I think I was King Henry VI and his followers, I forget who everyone else was... Edwards or Richards, I suppose...). So you kind of end up playing on a team, but points are tracked individually and there can be only one winner.

Though, technically, a Lancaster was king at the end of the game in 1500 (Henry Tudor, I guess?), the kids crushed us in the points race - Finnegan was miles ahead of everyone, Keira also had over 100 points and Amanda and I were back in the 80-90 range (me, being dead last)!?

There was a clever system of resource allocation - which was done on an individual player board behind a screen so your foes could not see what you were up to.

It’s been a couple months since we played it, but I recall the combat seemed a little deterministic. If I recall correctly it was basically who ever had the most stuff in the area won. While I despise combat mechanisms that seem completely random, I do like a bit of chance and randomness built into a system. There have been plenty of historical examples of smaller forces beating much larger forces through some combination of good leadership, guile, bravado, well-drilled troops able to execute precise maneuvers, and blind, dumb luck!



This was a fun game of building roads and cities and temples in Peru prior the Spanish invasion. The box description may be a bit off - it said it should take 1.5-2 hours to play... took us closer to 3.5... I realize it was our first game and stuff and it takes more time when learning a game... but after the first round everyone pretty much knew what they were doing and I can't imagine getting it down 1.5 hours!? It was fun enough to keep us all up to 11pm to finish it off!

What was really neat was the very same day we were reading about the Inca, a fellow whose blog I follow posted about his trip to Ollantaytambo - which was pretty cool to see! I never cease to be blown away by the feats of engineering and manpower ancient civilizations managed!



In The New Science we played scientists in the 17th Century competing to gain the most Prestige points to become the first President of the Royal Society. It's a very strategic game as you have to research and experiment areas of science to make discoveries - then you need to decide when to publish - publishing gains you prestige points needed to win the game, but also makes the information/technology available to other players who can then use it to further their own endeavors. And if others are researching the same field they might publish before you and then all that work was for naught as they get the Prestige Points... I played Gottfried Leibniz, The Girl played Johannes Kepler, Amanda played Gallileo Galilei, and The Boy played Athanasius Kircher.

I liked it a lot. Each scientist has three "energy" points each turn and decides how they want to spend their energy - researching new areas, experimenting/testing areas already researched, writing up and publishing findings, gaining influence in four areas (Religion, Government, Enterprise, and Science - publishing findings for certain things requires some influence in these areas - for example to publish Heliocentrism you need to have 3 influence in religion - because otherwise you'll be excommunicated and forced to recant your findings - like Gallileo was). Moving on to other levels of research required knowledge of lover levels - either through having researched and experimented yourself or other people publishing it.

More importantly My partner Amanda - BSc (Honors, biology), Msc (Toxicology) and a research administrator at the University of Saskatchewan - liked it and thought it was a fairly accurate representation of how research works...

The only odd this, historically speaking, is some of the scientists weren’t actually contemporaries; Galileo Gallilei and Isaac Newton are two of the scientists that can be played – Isaac Newton was born the same year that Galileo died!  But it was a fun game that captured the essence of what was going on and had lots of things we could discuss – about how the printing press and the ability to publish findings really made all this scientific advancement possible.



As we’d read about Magellan’s journey around the world and Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India and the opening of the East to sea trade I thought this game might fit right in. ostensibly it is supposed to be a game of up to four rival European trading companies vying to control the trade in an extended (fictional) archipelago in the Southwest  Pacific. Once I opened it I discovered it was supposed to be taking place in the 1800s… ah well, it’s a fictional archipelago – we can just as easily pretend it was taking place in the 16th century!? The theme was pretty weak and the game really just another fairly abstract strategy game involving area control through placement of towers determined by drawn cards… It wasn’t terrible. I didn’t go out and buy this one specifically for this history program (this was yet another of my $5 ebay finds from a number of years back which were generally bought with the idea of using games as part of a future homeschooling plan…).



A medieval-themed game of tile-laying where you build cites and roads and score points for the completion of said cities and roads. A fun game and great for developing an ability to see patterns and find the most optimal use for a tile that you draw on a turn. But of limited history-teaching value.



In this game players represent one of our powerful families in late medieval/early renaissance Italy. In our first game I played the Medicis, The Boy played Gonzaga, and the Girl played Este (The Visconti are the other option).

Multiple paths to victory – simply taking tiles and expanding your territory worked out really well for The Girl gaining her a considerable resource base while the Boy and I were building armies – though somewhat conservatively and not making much use of them – other than to hold onto them for defence. 

The combat seemed a little deterministic. There was a strict procedure to follow and you could tell before entering a battle if you would win by looking at what your opponent had there.

I think the game’s meant to be played considerably more aggressively than we played it.



This is a quick little card game where players take in the role of a rich family in a late medieval/early renaissance (fictional) European city of Tempest (I imagine it in Italy…) vying for prestige by being the biggest patron of the arts, science, religion, and exploration… (I like any game where patronizing the arts is a good thing!) I thought it fit with our medieval/renaissance theme…  The play is a fairly abstract and involves collecting of little coloured wooden cubes (which represents “accomplishments”) and cards (which represent “protégés” or fame gained through accomplishments?) which provide varying amounts of victory points which are tallied at the end of the game to determine the winner.



The ones we didn’t quite get to…


Lion rampant is a great tactical miniature game of medieval combat. I had really hoped we’d get in a game or two while reading about the medieval period. I spent a fair bit of time painting up forces to use (Here’s one: Under the Bunny Rampant Banner) we just didn’t get to sitting down for a game (for whatever reason…).

We did play the game BEFORE we started reading about the medieval period – to try it out when I first got it: Lion Rampant – First Game. Hopefully we’ll get to playing it again sometime.

(Also a new game from the same author called Dragon Rampant has just been released this week. I pre-oredered it and expect it should be arriving shortly. It includes fantastical units – orcs, elves dwarves, dragons, etc.)


It would also have been fun to get some smaller scale skirmish games in using Song of Arthur and Merlin or A Song of Blades and Heroes - or larger scale ones using De Bellis Antiquitatis, but again… we just didn’t get to it…




Set in 1338, you apparently start out playing peasants and work your way up to being par of a rich trading family. It looked interesting. We sat down to play it one afternoon but didn’t end up having time to play it. We didn’t even end up reading all the rules. It felt very much like they were written in some other language first and maybe something was lost in the translation. I’d like to have a go at it sometime, we just haven’t had a chance yet.


Another game I have that I've wanted to play for some time but we just didn’t get to. It’s a two player game, so… not so useful when there are three players... 


I also would really have liked to find a game about the conquests of the Mongols or one about medieval India... 

6 comments:

  1. Wow! That is a gaming Tour de Force! The New Scientist sounds interesting to me.

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    1. It was definitely a lot of games to play. I'll have another similar post of all the games we've played along with Volume Three (~1500 - 1850) in the next week or so as we're just finishing up the reading for it today - and I hope we might get in one or two more games for the period!

      The New Science was definitely one of my favourites. We started a little late in the evening and the kids were getting tired and frustrated by the end of it, which I think has cast a bit of a dark shadow over their memory of the game - so I haven't been able to convince them to sit down for another game yet... We'll get to it again though some day - I hope!!

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  2. So many beautiful games and so little time! I only know Carcassonne...but they look superb and interesting...

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    1. Thanks Phil! Most of them were pretty fun!

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  3. Thanks for sharing. It's always fun to learn about games you've never heard of.

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    1. Thanks Joakim! It took a lot of searching to find some of these. Searching by theme on BGG doesn't always turn up everything you're looking for! Some I just stumbled across in my FLGS in teh bargain bin or hidden on the bottom back shelf, others on ebay while I was looking for something else entirely!

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