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cities and knights

I've only played this a handful of times, but it's a pretty fantastic expansion to the original Settlers due to creating multiple avenues to earn big points, thus reducing to some degree the random dice roll variance along with creating the ability for someone who in regular Settlers would have no chance to catch up from an early poor start to become competitive late in the game.

In the game that i played yesterday (with three other people), there was a point when Danny had 11 points to my 6, Caylie's 5, and Josh's 4. From a Settler's perspective, i was in pretty dire straits because my attempts to connect two of my segmented roads into a single road got blocked on both sides by Caylie and Danny. In regular Settlers, this would have pretty much sealed the deal - Danny probably needed two turns at most to get to his 13 point win, and there would be no way for me to build settlements and cities and/or development cards for the Largest Army card fast enough for me to catch up.

But with Cities and Knights, i had done a decent early job of building my City Upgrade Calendar to the point where i had one metropolis and was poised to steal the metropolis that Danny had - doing that would have been a four point shift (since Metropolises are worth 2 points). Josh, who had early in the game lost his city to a barbarian attack and was thus struggling to build anything in the early and mid-stages of the game found a way to build a settlement and then a city on a resource with an 8 dice roll, and from that he suddenly surged the ability to do a City Upgrade that gave him the third metropolis and the ability to take a resource of his choice from the bank if nothing rolled his way. In the span of a single round, then, Josh was able to build multiple roads to take away Danny's longest road, and in the next turn i was able to use my permanent 2:1 trade in from my first City Upgrade to do the Upgrade that would steal Danny's metropolis.

It was around this point when we had to cut the game off early because we had already been playing for about three hours and Caylie and Danny had an appointment, which was a shame because the dynamics had shifted so much that the game was starting to get really interesting. Because of all of the shifts, I ended the game with 9 points (two cities, two metropolises, one settlement) and was working towards the two simultaneous goals of beefing up my knights to earn victory points from barbarian attack and seeing if i could get to the point where i could steal the third metropolis. Danny ended the game with 8 points, which i think was 3 cities and two victory points he earned through barbarian attack. Josh, who had spent most of the game at 3 points, ended the game with 6 points, and i think Caylie also ended the game with 6 points.

And with my nine points, i had built only four roads total.

Having multiple avenues of early development with great returns in the late game and having to monitor all of those things creates a pretty fascinating depth to the game and its strategy. The barbarian adds a great sense of urgency to the whole thing too, something else that you have to make sure you allot resources for to successfully defend so that you don't lose a city and to try to gain easy-ish and permanent victory points.

One thing that we all felt was that four people makes the regular board feel very crowded. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it did force early strategy to be less about building on the board vs trying to get lucky with my city upgrades and deploying and activating a lot of knights.

The other thing that i feel is that the game needs a method of victory point tracking. With the many different ways to point earn and with how critical that is for certain progress cards which affect, for example, "anyone who has the same or more victory points than you", i want to look at some sort of scoreboard as opposed to having to recount cities, metropolises, random victory points, etc. every time. I may try to come up with something like that, along with doing something more sensible with the knight representations for easy knight strength/activation tracking and barbarian strength tracking. I kind of want to replace all of the knight pieces with a single six sided die (inactive basic, strong, and mighty, and active basic, strong, and mighty). I'm not sure about the point and strength tracking. We'll see what i come up with.

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