Dale Yu: Review of The Staufer Dynasty

 

The Staufer Dynasty

  • Designer: Andreas Steding
  • Publisher: Z-Man/Hans im Glueck
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 13+
  • Time: 20 min/player
  • Times played: 2 with review copy provided by Z-Man, 1 at Gathering of Friends with Hans im Gluck final prototype

staufer box

Generally, when I see that Andreas Steding is releasing a new game, I’m immediately interested.  His games tend to follow the same pattern – medium to heavy in weight, classic Euro-game style often leaning on worker placement, solid mechanics with a mostly pasted on theme.  Going all the way back to Kogge, which was one of the first games I ever picked up in person in Essen, and continuing on with Power&Weakness, Hansa Teutonica, Firenze, Norenberc, and Five Points – you can see these characteristics shine through.

His newest release is The Staufer Dynasty, published by Hans im Glueck in Germany and being co-produced in English by Z-Man Games.  It is a complex affair with a modular board and lots and lots of chits.  I first ran into the game at the Gathering of Friends in the spring of 2014 with a mostly finished prototype from Hans im Glueck.

The board is made up of 6 separate wedge shaped regions all surrounding a central turn track.  The 6 regions each have an area for a scoring tile as well as a special ability that is triggered each time that region is scored. Scoring tiles are randomly drawn at the start of each game for each region. Within the region are an assorted number of spaces for player to place their “workers” and beneath each of these spaces is an area for a treasure chest chit.  A supply board is set up to the side of the board – there are spaces for chests underneath each area here as well.  When the game starts, there will be a LOT of treasure chest chits lying around – one under each worker space in each region as well as one under each supply space.

One of the six wedge pieces

One of the six wedge pieces

At the beginning of the game, players will construct a table that will tell you what area(s) will be scored each turn.  This setup piece will also tell you in which region to place the King pawn to start the game.  Players are also given three Job (bonus scoring) cards that they can try to achieve at the end of the game.  Players also choose 6 different types of Privilege cards to be in the game (out of a pool of 16 different choices).

Players start with 5 workers: 4 “regular” Envoys and one “super” Noble.  The rest of the workers are kept in a general supply. Finally, the turn order for the first (of 5) rounds is set up based on a fixed pattern.  In a 4p game, this pattern is ABCD DCBA DCBA.

On each turn, each player will get 3 actions – the order in which these are taken is determined by the order of markers in the central player order chart.  When your marker is at the top of the column, you can choose between either a Supply action or a Deployment action.

If you take a supply action, you first move your turn order marker to the left hand column of the turn order chart, and you place it as near to the TOP as you can.  Then you take the supply action – this is essentially to choose one of the five spaces on the supply board.  You then take the depicted workers (envoys, nobles or both) from the general supply and put them in your personal supply.  Additionally, if there is a treasure chest chit beneath this spot, you collect that as well.  (I’ll explain the chests in a bit…)

on the left is the player order board.  On the right is the 25 space score board.  On top is the worker board

on the left is the player order board. On the right is the 25 space score board. On top is the worker board

If you choose the deployment action, you move your turn order marker to the right hand column of the turn order chart and you place it as near to the BOTTOM as you can.  You can then place one of your workers on an available space on the board.  But it’s complicated…

The King Pawn is always found in one of the 6 regions of the board.  If you want to place a worker in the region with the king, you simply have to use a number of workers equal to the number next to the empty space.  The first wooden piece is placed in the space on the board which is to be occupied.  (Also note that some of the spaces are restricted to only Nobles being placed there!)  The rest of the pieces are deposited in the upper portion of each region clockwise until they are all spent.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, that’s not the only restriction…

If you want to place a worker in a region that is not occupied by the King, then you will have to first spend workers to get to the region you want to be in – because all movement always starts wherever the King is.  Starting with the first region clockwise of the King, you must place a worker in the upper portion of the regions until you reach the region you want to place your worker – in the worst case, this will cost you 5 workers to get to the region just counter-clockwise from the King.

Once you have placed your worker in an office space (and paid all the appropriate fees), you may take the treasure chest chit directly beneath the space as well.  These chits are always face up, so you will know what you are getting ahead of time – and, in fact, the treasure chest ability may actually determine how much you want one particular space over another.

I’ll break away from the turn for a bit to talk about the treasure chests.  There are 72 different treasure chest chits in the game, and in a 5p game, there might be over 30 of these out on the table at any time.  Examples of their actions are:

  •         Score VPs immediately (2-5 VP)
  •         Get 1,2 or 3 Envoys from the supply
  •         Get 1 Noble from the supply
  •         Place your turn order marker in the first spot in order
  •         Do not pay for movement when deploying a piece
  •         Pay only 1 figure for an office regardless of the number printed on the board
  •         Score 2/5/9/14/20 VPs for 1/2/3/4/5 chests of this type
  •         Trade in 2 of the purple chests for a Privilege card  (again, there are always 6 Privilege card types available out of 16 in each game – these all give you different special abilities in movement, scoring, etc)
Examples of some of the chests

Examples of some of the chests

Once all players have taken their three actions, then it’s time to score the round.  In each of the 5 rounds of the game, at most two regions will be scored.  You always know one of them as it is named on the scoring chart that you constructed at the start of the game.  The second region that is scored is based on a randomly drawn criteria – it may be the region where the King is, or the region with the most workers in it, etc.  If this happens to be the same region as the first named region, then only one region is scored.

When scoring a region, you first look to see who has a majority of workers. Nobles count for 2 when tallying up.  If there is a tie, the player whose has a piece furthest to the left breaks ties.  The player who wins gets the highest VP denoted on the scoring marker, and so on.  Each region also comes with a bonus scoring action – these are pre-printed on the boards – such as drawing extra random chests or getting workers back from the supply.

Once all of the eligible regions have been scored, there is a small clean up phase.  All of the workers in the offices of the scored regions are returned to the supply.  Then, you place a face up chest under EACH space in the scored regions as well as the supply board.  If there was still a chest there in that space, it remains there, and now there will be 2 (or more) chests in that space.  Finally, the scoring chart tells you how many regions clockwise the King pawn will move.  Every region that the King traverses or ends in empties out – all of the workers that had been paid to the upper section of the regions are returned to the player’s PERSONAL supplies.

Finally, turn order is determined for the next round.  First, you take all the markers that were in the supply track line (on the left) and move them directly over.  Thus, the first marker to take a supply action in the round will generally be the first overall marker in the next round.  Once the supply track markers are moved over, then you slide over the deployment markers.  Remember that these markers were placed starting at the bottom.  Thus, the first deployment action of the round generally ends up being the overall last marker in turn order in the next round.

This procedure repeats itself for four more rounds.  (In the final round, there is no need to bother with the clean-up phase, though.)  After the fifth round, there is a small bit of endgame scoring.

First, you score chests – you now take 2/5/9/14/20 VPs for each set of 1/2/3/4/5 brown chests that you have collected.  Additionally, you get 1 VP for each unused action treasure chest you have (i.e. you never used their special action).

Second, you score your job cards.  Again, at the beginning of the game, each player was dealt 3 job cards, one of each

  1. Region card – you score VPs if you have a majority or 2nd place in the region named on your card
  2. Pattern card – you score VPs if you have workers in a pattern matching that on your
  3. Office seat card – your score X VPs for each worker you have in a space with the “X” number next to it
Some of the job cards

Some of the job cards

The player with the most points wins. Tiebreaker is having more pieces in your personal supply.

My thoughts on the game

The Staufer Dynasty is a seriously complex game that can be played in a fairly short amount of time.  As I mentioned in the intro, like most other Steding games, there are many intertwined mechanisms that work together to form a tight game system.

The setup is admittedly a bit fiddly/finicky.  There are a lot of tiles to be randomized and placed here and there –and you really need to make sure that you’re using the right side of the boards (commensurate to the number of players in the game!)  However, once you get past the initial set up, the game flow is quite smooth and turns move along quickly.

I’ve found that with my group, the best way to approach this one is to schedule it as the first game of the session.  That way, I can spend time on my own setting up the boards, drawing the scoring tiles, constructing the scoring/movement chart, placing the treasure chests, choosing the Privilege cards, etc. and then when everyone shows up, we can get right to playing the game.

The fiddliness of the setup is done to ensure that each game is different – I’m not mathy enough to figure out the number of different ways that the game could start out – but it’s clearly astronomical.  The varying scoring chits in each region compounded with the unpredictable order of scoring regions makes it nearly impossible to approach the game with a pre-defined strategy.

Furthermore, the random splay of treasure chests all over the board (and the special actions that they might grant) further encourages you to play tactically.  It’s very difficult to get a comprehensive view of which space is worth the most to you at any given time because there are simply too many things to consider – how much it will cost to move and deploy at a spot, the varying VP values for a region – and only if that region is going to score this turn, the different actions on the chests that you will pick up, etc. And… depending on which privilege cards are in the game – you may also have other rule bending actions to contend with

I do like the player order mechanic, partly because it’s different than most other games and partly because it is a very equitable system.  The players that get to place their workers first in a round usually get the best picks of location or treasure chest or both.  It’s fitting that these players then go last in the next round.   If I’m not entirely sure where I want to place a worker, I might then opt to go for a supply action earlier – if nothing else to get myself a good spot in turn order for the next turn!

Other than the fiddly setup, my only other quibble with the game is the scoreboard.  In my opinion, it could have been done better.  Honestly, it may actually be easier to dispense with the whole thing and simply use VP tokens that are collected.  With the track only going to 25, players are having to pick up the +25 medals often – and it’s often difficult to tell at a glance how many points someone has.  In addition, the scoring track is fairly small and it loops around, and there were a few times that it got jostled, and we weren’t quite sure on which space some of the markers were on.

In my group, the play time in the first game came in closer to 30 minutes per player, but we were learning the game.  The second game I played was not quite down to 20 minutes per player, but it was snappier than the first.  There is clearly some risk of AP given the vast number of things to look at in the game, but if you’re willing to find a good move and settle on it, it should take too long.  After all, you only get 15 total actions in the game, and a few of them will be slam dunk moves that won’t take long anyways.

Herr Steding has designed yet another game that I like – not quite as much as Hansa Teutonica and Kogge (which are my favorites of his) – but I wouldn’t rule it out from joining that group as I continue to play it.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

 

Lorna: (2 plays) Solid Euro in my book. I like the turn order dynamics. You sometimes have to choose between scoring points in the current turn vs trying to set up for a score at the end. My main complaint is the scoreboard, 25, really? sheesh!

Craig: (3 plays) Andreas Steading games always intrigue me; Kogge is a favorite that needs to be played more.  My initial reaction to Die Staufer was rather lukewarm, but I’m starting to warm up to it.  Its becoming more likely this will stay in the collection and become part of the regular rotation.

 

Ben: (1 play)  I don’t think anything is wrong with the game, exactly, but it is a pretty uninspiring design that doesn’t inspire me to repeat plays.  As Dale notes, most of the game is a highly tactical string of majority scorings.  The scoring at the end of the game (which can be close to half your points) is based on hidden objectives and thus easily susceptible to incidental screwage.  As Lorna notes, the scoring track is very short and players lap it repeatedly throughout the game.  In my one play, there was some confusion at the end about whether Player A finished slightly ahead of Player B or whether Player B was a full lap ahead of Player A (and had simply failed to take the appropriate token during one of the laps).

 

Jennifer Geske (3 plays): I also like the turn order and worker placement aspect of this game as it offers interesting trade-off decisions. On the other hand, the end-game hidden objectives is a problem in that after I have carefully considered my options based on what I think other players want to do, they go ahead with moves that seem illogical (because they are trying to fulfill their hidden objectives). I like the game play, even if the result (scoring) can be unsatisfying sometimes.

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Lorna, Jennifer G, Rick T, Doug G, Craig M
  • Neutral.  Luke H, Jonathan F, Ben M
  • Not for me…
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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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