I’m a sucker for historical games, which leads to a very specific problem many board game collectors face: Historical games, while beautiful in depth and scope, take more than a few hours to play. Many game groups just don’t have that time or attention span. In part it’s a holdover from our gaming past. Wargames, and all of their big, bulky, hex-based goodness, were massive affairs where you kissed your kitchen table goodbye for a long weekend. These are games of epic conflict, where you push your stacks of tile soldiers around the battlefield and roll for damage on Column F of Chart D. It’s a very specific kind of fun for a specific sort of gamer.
It’s a misconception that historical games aren’t wargames, but they are often lumped together. Out of the box, they’re frightening; sheets of cardboard components, fistfulls of dice, and record sheets larger than my high school report card. Reading the rules makes you question your base understanding of how language works, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to figure out how to set up the initial, single player scenario in under an hour.
That was then. This is now. Historical games have come a long way in the last ten years, partially because of the growing diversity of the tabletop gaming community. Yes, big, bulky beasts in a box still exist, and I’ve backed my fair share on Kickstarter, but they aren’t the only flavor of historical games that are out there. This month I found three that I want to mention, and if anyone has six hours to kill and wants to play Age of Renaissance, let me know.
Let’s get ready to trade war! #TeamBorgia
Back in 2003, I was fortunate to play Princes of the Renaissance when it was initially released. It was love at first turn. Yes, I know way too much about the Italian City-States, and I’m totally easy prey when it comes to pretty art, but it was more than that. It was a board game I grasped just by listening to a rules read through, which is an insanely rare, beautiful experience. Unfortunately, that initial, small run of the game was it, and if I wanted to pick up a copy I’d have to shell out some serious money. Kickstarter is a wonderful thing. It’s brought us to the reprint.
In Princes of the Renaissance you control one of six noble families vying for control of the Italian peninsula. It’s all about influence amongst these merchant princes, where you buy friends and pay off enemies. It’s a game where everything is for sale, including the papacy, and you bid against your rivals at auction for control. The more you own, the more influence you exert, and victory will be yours. If only all trade wars were so easy?
As far as historical games go, Princes of the Renaissance moves fast. The game is over after three rounds, which doesn’t afford you the opportunity to play it safe. If you’re familiar with bidding games you should be able to pick up the mechanics pretty easily. Otherwise there is a slight learning curve which can be frustrating to new players or anyone looking for a quick game. Yea, I know I said this game moves fast, but that’s in comparison to other historical games. This game is a lot of fun, but it’s not light fare and may put of casual gamers.
Princes of the Renaissance
Reprint By: Mercury Games
Players: 2 – 6
Skill Level: Intermediate
Base Pledge: About $55 U.S.
Project Ends: June 17th,, 2016
Ship Date Estimate: November 2016
Everyone wants to be Robin Hood, but they forget; Robin Hood was kind of a dick.
I spend a lot of time talking about co-op games, where everyone gets to play as one group striving towards one ultimate goal. Highwaymen is like that, until it isn’t. You begin as a team of outlaws, robbing a carriage packed to the brim with gold while fending off its armed escorts. It’s all about the loot, working together to get as much gold as you can. Eventually each player realizes that their merry band of outlaws has acquired enough gold to make their escape, and the inevitable betrayal begins. He who has the most loot wins, and there can only be one winner.
Yes, in Highwaymen, everyone you work with to gain all your loot will betray you, and you know it as you sit through every turn. It’s not avoidable. You know it’s coming, and all you can do is sit there and wait or make the first move.
Games like Highwaymen are built around tension, which given the right group, can be amazingly insufferable. Incorporating trust and the potential for betrayal add a completely new level of depth to any game, but it’s not something all players come to easily. You need to have the right group, which can be difficult. While part of the fun of Highwaymen is robbing your fellow players blind, there is also a co-op mode, allowing you to play as one big merry band of outlaws.
Highwaymen by Fat Chance Games
Players: 2 – 4
Skill Level: Intermediate
Base Pledge: About $39 U.S.
Project Ends: June 30th, 2016
Ship Date Estimate: December 2016
Who knew a game about blood and treasure could be so civilized?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be “Calico” Jack Rackham. The Pirate Republic has made this possible in a strategic game of exploration and exploitation. Set in 1713, you take the mantle of one of four historical pirates, sailing the Caribbean for fun and profit. Every player has their own secret mission, which they must keep in mind while collectively working with the other pirates to strike against the European powers. It’s about as close to co-op as a pirate game can go.
The Pirate Republic leans heavy on components, which can seem off-putting to casual fans, but from glancing over the rules, the mechanics look to be relatively straightforward. Every pirate captain assembles a deck of cards, which are played throughout each round to battle the European powers, rival pirates, and the colonial forces guarding each port of call. With a random draw at the start of every game, it allows that no two games of The Pirate Republic starts the same.
From what I’ve seen from their Kickstarter, The Pirate Republic shares a lot in common with Dead of Winter, which is one of my all time favorite games. It also portends that this game could end up very competitive very fast. From the board layout to the player cards, the tentative art looks solid, and as I mentioned previously, this game isn’t skimping on the components. All said, The Pirate Republic looks to have a ton of replayability, which is always something I keep in mind when picking up a game to add to my collection.
The Pirate Republic by Green Feet Games
Players: 2 – 4
Skill Level: Intermediate
Base Pledge: $55
Project Ends: June 25th, 2016
Ship Date Estimate: February 2017