Thursday, August 14, 2008


I got a copy of a prototype from my friend Dwight Sullivan (Xaqery on BGDF). The game is called Noblemen, and is about building up your family name in midevil England. From his rulebook, here's a description of the game:

You are the head of an old and noble family. In this game you will grow your family’s estate, earn the Queen’s favor, bear witness to scandalous behavior, gain influence with the church, and push around your political weight, all in an effort to ensure your family’s rightful place in history. You will play the head of one of five families: Tudor, Howard, Seymour, Dudley, and Grey. The winner is the player with best family name at the end of the game. During the game players will build their estates one piece at a time. You will play four types of land tiles and then place buildings or follies on them in an effort to out-maneuver the other players using the only two real powers of the day politics and wealth. In this game there are three areas to concentrate on;lands, wealth, and prestige. Each component will help on your path to victory. Playing woods will help gain more land. Playing farms will help gain more money. Playing ponds will gain you more prestige.

The player board is laid out with various tokens and markers on it - some number of buildings (Churches, Castles, Palaces, and Follies); 2 tokens each for Bribe, Masquerade Ball, and Donate Land actions; 3 Round markers; some land tiles and 4 Scoring counters. Near the board should be a supply of money, buildings, a Crown marker, and a bag of land tiles.

Each player gets $10, 2 Men at Arms (M@A) tokens, 2 M@A markers, 2 Tax tokens, 2 of each land type plus 4 lands at random from the bag, 1 Scandal card, 1 Castle (to be placed on a Clearing in play), a player shield, a Baron title, and markers for score and prestige.

The game is played in 3 rounds, and each round consists of players taking turns doing 1 action at a time around the table until either the last Church is built, or until someone takes the "Scoring Round" action. That action cannot be taken until all 4 Scoring markers have been removed from the board, and at the end of each of your turns you have the option to remove one if you wish. The actions you can take are...

Place Land: Place up to 3 land tiles into play. All land must be orthogonally adjacent to other land tiles. Completing a 2x2 square of like land tiles creates a Feature (Wood->Forest, Farm->Plantation, Pond->Garden), and you immediately get a reward for that (Forest-> Draw 2 land tiles, Plantation->$2, Garden-> Take Crown marker)

Acquire Land: Take any 2 land tiles from the board, plus bonus tiles at random from the bag equal to 1 per Wood tile you have in play, and 2 per Forest you have in play. A Forest is a 2x2 arrangement of Wood tiles. Instead of all that, if there aren't tiles left on the board, you just get exactly 1 tile at random, no bonus tiles.

Donate Land: There are 2 Donate Land tokens on the board, so this action can be taken at most twice per round. Donate up to 5 lands for 1vp apiece by placing them in the indicated place on the board. Only 3 of any given type can be donated per action (there are 4 types of land). Then the next player in turn order can do the same, and so on. Once there are 3 of each land type, or everyone's had 1 turn to donate, the action is over and all the donated land is returned to the bag.

Tax: You have 2 Tax tokens, so this action can be taken at most twice per round. Collect $1 per Farm and a bonus $2 per Plantation.

Men at Arms: You have 2 M@A tokens, so this action can be taken at most twice per round. Place a men at Arms token on an open Feature on any player's board, or you can displace an opponent's M@A token on any board except their own. When placing on an open feature, take the bonus (2 land tiles/$2/Crown) from that player, if they have it. In the future, when that player takes a tax action, your M@A token on their Plantation will steal their $2 bonus(you'll get it instead of them). Same for Tiles during the Acquire land action (if your M@A is on their forest), and Prestige during the Masquerade Ball (if your M@A is on their Garden).

Bribe: There are 2 Bribe tokens on the board, so this action can be taken at most twice per round.Spend money to buy VPs at $3 apiece. There are 12 VPs available, and starting with the player who chose this action, they can be purchased for $3 apiece. Players get 1 chance each (in turn order) to buy VPs in this way until all 12 are gone.

Masquerade Ball: There are 2 Masquerade Ball tokens on the board, so this action can be taken at most twice per round. Each player in turn order determines their Prestige and marks it on the Prestige track (on the board). You get 1 Prestige per Pond tile, 2 bonus prestige per Garden (may be stolen by a M@A), and 2 Prestige per Palace. On your turn you can discard Scandal cards for 1 Prestige each (1 gives 3 Prestige as its ability), and the player with the Crown token my discard it for an additional 2 Prestige. If 2 players have the same amount of Prestige, the later player to go must bump down to the next available slot on the track. In order from most Prestige to least, players may upgrade their Title. Players start out with the title Baron, but can upgrade to Viscount (2vp), Earl (5vp), Marquess (8vp), and Duke (12vp). There are a limited number of each title, and you can take the title away from the player who has it (downgrading them to your title) if you go before them in choosing. You can only upgrade 1 level at a time, and you have to have at least as much Prestige as the vp value of the title you're taking or you don't get it.

Buy Building: You can buy a Castle, Palace, Folly, or Church for $5, $7, $10, and $X respectively. The Churches get more and more expensive as they are bought up. A Church comes with a Scandal card. When you build Palace, you take the Crown marker. Follies have prerequisites to buy them (you must have 2 like Features, or 1 of each). These buildings will be worth points during Scoring rounds, except for the Follies, which are worth 8/7/6/5 points when you build them - there's only 1 of each type available, and so being the first to build one means you get more vps than the next guy.

If the last Church is purchased, the round ends and there is a Scoring Round. Note: Palaces are actually upgrades of Castles already on your board, and Castles cannot be placed adjacent to other Castles. Also Churches cannot be placed adjacent to other Churches.

End Round: If all 4 Scoring tokens have been removed then you can take this action to end the round, triggering a Scoring Round. You also get a bonus 1/2/3 vp for ending round 1/2/3. After round 3, the game is over.

During a Scoring round each Castle scores 3 points plus 1 point per adjacent Church, each Palace scores 5 points plus 2 points per adjacent Church, and your Title scores the number of points printed on it (2/5/8/12). Note: Castles and Palaces must be completely surrounded by land to score at all.

On your turn you first get 1vp if you hold the Crown marker. Then you take one of the above actions, and if you want you can play 1 Scandal card. The Scandal cards do something like let you take another action, or a specific action, or are worth 2 points at the end of the game, or various other things. Then you can remove a scoring token from the board if you wish.

The game plays like multiple games of chicken. While it doesn't present itself like a worker placement game, I think it really behaves like one - most of the actions are limited, and doing one thing has the opportunity cost of potentially being shut out of another.

There are 3 major strategic paths - Land, Cash, and Prestige. The land tiles support each of these with Woods/Forests, Farms/Plantations, and Ponds/Gardens. You also have Clearings which you need to build buildings on. There are actions in the game that allow players to translate each of those paths into VPs - Donate Land turns excess land into VPs, Bribe and Building actions turn money into VPs, and the Masquerade ball turns Prestige into VPs via a sort of majority mechanic. as a player you concentrate on 2 or all 3 of these aspect to some extent in order to score well.

In theory, as you play lands onto your board, you will develop either a lot of strength in one of those aspects, or else a little strength in each. This pushes people into various strategies as they go. In theory you could keep playing land so that you're strong in all strategies, but that should cost a lot of Acquire Land and Play Land actions which could have been used for something else (this would matter more if turns were limited I think).

The game is pretty solid in theory, but many things I noticed were not balanced well. Obvious examples are the $10 Follies which are worth at most 8 points, while a $5 Castle by itself can be worth as many as 9 points. Also the bribe action converts $3 to 1 VP, while a Castle converts $5 into at LEAST 3vp. Of course you do have to play land and surround the Castle to score it, but note that it could score as many as 9 points plus more for Churches. I'll make a new post about my first play of the game, comments from that, and changes I'd consider... then a 3rd post about the next playtest session I had where we tried various things, and what I learned.

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