A majority of the original reviews were submitted by Charles Bahl and Robert Waters...Thanks!!!
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Game: Carolus Magnus (Rio Grande Games)
Submitted By: Charles Bahl (The Quake Coast Game Club, San Jose, CA)
One of my favorites of the new spring offering from Rio Grande Games is Carolus Magnus by Leo Colovini. I bought this game for two reasons. First, because of the designer. I had played Europa: 1945-2030, co-designed by Colovini, and was fairly impressed by it. And second, because Carolus Magnus is marketed as a two-player geographical-conquest game, a fairly scarce commodity in my collection. Granted, these are not the most scientific justifications for a purchase, but the goddess of cardboard pushers smiled on this particular acquisition of mine because, as it turns out, Carolus Magnus provides a very satisfying and, in many ways, unique gaming experience. In fact, it is not quite like anything I have played before, although it contains some intriguing elements more closely related to African/Asian pit-and-pebble games like Wari, than to Risk or Vinci.
On that point, let me say as a caveat, that Carolus Magnus does not really have anything to do with geographical conquest at all. On the contrary. Although it supposedly represents dynastic conflict among the heirs of Charlemagne, and although its artwork provides a certain flavor of the Dark Ages, it could have just as easily been designed as a completely abstract game. If you are
looking for some kind of historical simulation, even a very lightweight one, like Vinci or History of the World, you are almost certain to be disappointed. (I'm not implying that Carolus Magnus is unique in having this characteristic; many games do. I just want you to know what you'll be getting before you open the box.) That being said, I found that, from my point of view, the theme and artwork did not detract at all from the fun, and in fact, enhanced it quite a bit.
Carolus Magnus is not played on a board per se, but on fifteen cardboard tiles that are laid out on circle on the table. The tiles are printed with Medieval-looking artwork--mountains, towns, rivers--in sepia ink. Although the artwork has nothing to do with the game, the tiles do look like cool little kingdoms from the Middle Ages. The remainder of the components--castles, paladins, and the emperor--are all painted wooden pieces. In general, the whole package is quite nice, in the best tradition of European games.
Your goal in Carolus Magnus is very simple. Be the first player to construct ten castles and you win. You can build a castle every time you move the emperor to a tile (territory) where you control a majority of the paladins present. Sounds easy enough. But it's tough getting control of the territories you want and also tough to get the emperor to move where you want. Sometimes very tough!
Opening Phase. You and your opponent begin a turn by selecting one of the five numbered disks that are
distributed at the beginning of the game. These numbered disks determine two things: turn order and emperor movement. If you play a disk with a lower number than that of your opponent, you take your turn first, and during the action phase you will be able to move the emperor the number of territories corresponding to the number on the disk. Choice of disk is a difficult and important decision. You must think about the territories to
which you would like to move the emperor, about where your opponent may move him, about what disks you might want to save for future turns, and how changes in the control of the paladins may affect all these choices. This is no
Action Phase. On your turn you perform two actions. First, you put three paladins into play out of your reserve of seven. You can place them freely on any territories or in an off-board area called your "Court." Paladins come in five colors and you only control a particular color when you have more of that color in your Court then you opponent has. Thus control of the paladin colors can (and often does) change. Placing paladins a tricky business. You may want t