Mar 19, 2012

Pro's and Con's Review: Of Power and Glory

Format: Board Game
Designers: Allen Lamb
Distributed Through: The Game Crafter

In this review I have a look at a game from a fellow Game Crafter: Of Power and Glory. It's hard to classify this game as it incorporates elements of worker placement as well as a unique, how do I put this... European conquest simulator? In Of Power and Glory, players take on the role of noble families exerting their influences on eight kings of Europe in the hopes of supporting the right kings to ultimately win the game. This indirect influence over the standings of the kings really is the meat of this game and what makes it worth trying. Though the game is fairly deep and strategic it also plays relatively quickly, a game usually lasting about and hour or so.

So, in the usual Pro's and Con's fashion, I'll be giving you a run down of the game from a professional and consumer point of view. Read on to find out what I though of Of Power and Glory.

Professional's Take:
I think the most mechanically interesting aspect in Of Power and Glory is the way the waging of war, commanded by the territory cards, creates a sort of power struggle between the kings over the different territories on the map. What's more interesting is that the players don't directly control these conflicts as one would in a traditional conquest game but exert their influence more indirectly. Through only a few simple rules governing the outcome of combat Of Power and Glory manages to create an interesting simulation of warring nations.

The meat of the action in Of Power and Glory centres around, what is essentially, a worker placement mechanism. Yet, again, what gives this game its unique feel is the fact that even this core mechanism feels somewhat removed from the major actions taking place in the game world. As a player, you assign pieces to different castles representing the eight different kings. You try, of course, to lend your support to the most powerful kings who are more likely to triumph in battle. By doing so, you can gain a variety of favours ranging from affecting turn order, to gaining more nobles to place or even, simply, gaining victory points. The indirect influence plays well into the theme of noble families vying for status and the variety of favours you can gain by supporting victorious kings makes for some interesting choices and "aw shucks" moments as opponents beat you to juicy rewards.

One aspect that could use tweaking is the ability for players to affect the outcome of combat by changing the order of the face up territory cards. At all times, there are six face up territory cards next to the board. On each turn, battles will be fought over the first three territories. The remaining three will then be moved over to replace those and three more will be drawn. This creates a certain amount of predictability to when each territory will be fought over and the deterministic nature of the combat rules makes it possible to predict the exact outcome of each combat round. This allows players to position their nobles accordingly to reap the benefits of the outcome. Now, I believe this absolute, deterministic predictability would lead to a somewhat boring game and that the ability to influence combat in necessary, but the amount of influence afforded to players may be too strong and could stand to be reigned in, in my opinion. In addition to being able to assign nobles to the eight castles to support the different kings, players can also assign nobles to any of the face up territory cards in order to move that card, either, to the front of the line or the back of the line. Since a king's ability to win in combat completely determines whether a player gets any favours that turn, the ability to adjust which territories will be fought over and when becomes an outrageously powerful tool. As I mentioned before, this does add interest to the game, but could stand to be mitigated as a player who has gained the ability to place more nobles can essentially wait for all other players to have played before completely rearranging the territory cards in their own favour. I would suggest something like a limit of one noble per player to influence territory cards or some such restriction to help balance this powerful, all be it interesting, action.

Consumer's Take:
Of Power and Glory is a decent looking game, the board, though hand pasted, is easy enough to read and is totally functional as are the cards. The other components include a whack load of small coloured rings used to represent each king's influence and some pawns for each player. A nice touch is the way these rings are used in conjunction with each player's playing pieces representing their nobles. Each player has a number of joystick pawns. These pawns represent their available nobles. What's neat is that the rings representing each king can be stacked around the stem of the pawn. This is used to represent "titles" afforded to the various nobles affecting their ability to gain favours from particular kings. I think the mechanical functionality of it is a nice touch.

As mentioned above, there's a really good sense of the integration of the theme within game play. The fact that the actions you perform, except moving territory cards, has no direct effect on the outcome of the battles being fought on the map between the kings. This plays wonderfully into the idea that players represent noble families exerting their influence from behind the curtain.

Unfortunately, the game does require that players pay close attention to their actions and work hard not to fall behind. There are a few rules in the game that make it hard for a player to catch up if other players are able to amass more nobles. I've already mentioned how having more nobles will afford a player more possibilities for affecting which territories will be fought over each turn, which is very powerful, and further compounded by the fact that a player can not regain the use of a noble placed in a king's castle if that king does not win a battle. What this means is a player who can afford to control the outcome of the turn's battles can, not only, assure him or herself the most advantageous favours but can also keep the other players from reclaiming their nobles, seriously restricting their options on the next turn. I've seen a player nearly get shut out of playing because of a couple of unfortunate early placements that resulted in his having only one of his three starting nobles available to play for the majority of the game. I think a few modifications to these rules would help lessen this issue and give more of a fighting chance to a player who falls behind.

I think it bares mentioning that as of this writing two changes have been made to the game since its release. One, I believe, was mostly a cosmetic restructuring of the board which the most recent change sees the addition of new Kings Goals cards that introduce a new way of scoring. I feel bad, on some level, for players who, like me, haven't had the opportunity to play with the latest rules and cards as they add a welcome second avenue of scoring to the game that could help give players more options and avoid shut outs. This does lead one to wonder just how rigorously the game was tested before first being released. At the very least, I think an option to purchase or download the new rules and cards should be made available for players who may have an older version of the game.

All told, Of Power and Glory includes some really neat concepts and is, for the most part, a really fun game. It's truly unfortunate that mistakes are so hard to recover from. This also makes it a tough game for new players as it's so easy for experienced players to steam-roll them if they make early mistakes. This harshness is really what keeps this game from achieving greatness in my books. That said, I haven't tried the latest version, which does seem to add some interesting secondary goals and scoring. I would recommend this game to any group looking for a strategic game that caries its theme well, includes interesting decision making and levies harsh penalties for missteps and mistakes.

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