- Designer: Marc Andre
- Publisher: Matagot/Asmodee
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 45 mins
- Times played: 5, with review copy provided by Asmodee
Barony is the followup game to Splendor from Marc Andre. I loved the elegant simplicity of Splendor, and it was my personal choice for the game to win the Spiel des Jahres in 2014. As such, any new game from Andre is bound to be on my radar. Previous to Splendor, I believe that the designer had done one other game, Bonbons – a little heard of game from GameWorks – so there’s not much of a track record for this designer – but I’ve liked what I’ve seen thus far!
Barony chronicles the struggle of neighboring barons as they vie for control of the kingdom – which is made up of 36 randomly placed 3-hex tiles (well, actually 9 tiles per player, but I’ve played it mostly with 4 players, so it’s 36 tiles…). There are 5 different types of terrain on these tiles: lakes, fields, plains, forests and mountains – though nothing is ever placed on a lake hex. At the start of the game, players place three initial cities – each in a separate non-forest/non-water hex that is not adjacent to any other city. Each of these hexes also starts with a single knight in it.
On each turn, each player takes a single action. There are six different possibilities.
- Recruit – Choose any of your cities and place up to knights in that hex. If the city borders a lake, you may place up to three knights.
- Move – Move up to two of your knights to an adjacent space. The two knights do not have to start from the same space. There are a few restrictions on movement though. You may not move the same knight twice. Knights may not move into or through lakes. Knights may not move onto hexes with an opponent’s city or stronghold nor an opponent controlled mountain hex. Knights may also not move onto a space which has two of more knights or villages of an opponent. Opposing pieces can co-exist in a hex as long as each player has only one piece in that hex. However, if there is ever a time where there are two knights or villages of a single color in a hex, all opposing pieces are immediately destroyed and returned to the supply of the owning player. If a village is the piece that is removed (generally when a player is able to move 2 knights into the otherwise empty space containing the village), the player who caused the destruction gets to take a Resource token from the player whose village was just destroyed. (More on how to get these Resource tokens in a bit…)
- Construction – Any or all of your knights that are in hexes with only pieces of their own color can be converted into either villages or strongholds. Regardless of which structure you build, you take a resource token that matches the landscape of the hex where you built. Strongholds are great defensive pieces. Once built, they prevent opponents from ever placing knights in that hex. However, you only get 2 of these in each game, so you have to choose their location wisely. Villages do not prevent opponent movement – and, in fact, they are therefore eligible to be destroyed by opposing pieces – but… they are more plentiful in your supply AND they can be used to build new cities
- Build New City – Convert any ONE village in a non-enemy-occupied hex to a city. Cities may NOT be built directly adjacent to another city nor may then be built in a forest space. When you build a city, you score 10 points immediately. To show this, you move one row down on the score board (while staying in the same column).
- Expedition – You take two knights from your reserve. One of them is placed in the box, permanently removed from the game. The other knight is placed on any unoccupied hex on the edge of the game board.
- Promotion – Using the larger gold numbers on the Resource tiles, you turn in tiles of at least value 15 to move to the next column on the score track. The game does not provide change for points redeemed in excess of 15. Note that you may only advance by one column per turn.
The game continues until the end of a round where at least one player is in the rightmost column of the score track (i.e. in the 60, 70 or 80 space). Once all players have had the same number of turns, players add the silver points on any un-redeemed Resource tiles to their score on the scoreboard. The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken by distance from the start player.
My thoughts on the game
Barony is a well designed game that places you in fairly constant conflict with your opponents. The size of the board and number of initial city placements pretty much guarantees this. Early in the game, you may have a little bit of time to spread out on your own, but it will not take long to come into contact with your opponents, and then once you do, you’ll never disengage from them.
Like many tactical area control type games, taking a minute at the start of the game to survey the board is essential. If you are able to identify a spot on the board where you could be left relatively alone, this could pay off handsomely in the endgame. Likewise, if you can find a spot which grants access to many high-value plains and fields – this will help you in your quest to collect Resource tokens in lumps of 15 or more.
Individual turns move quickly – as each player only gets the opportunity to take a single action – and some of the decision of what to do can be accomplished while your opponents are playing. Early on, expansion is key – you need to get your knights out to explore the board and to convert into villages or strongholds. Getting a new city is also important as this can become a base for future expansion (as new knights only emerge from your cities). Cities also grant victory points and give you a permanent presence on the board as they can never be removed.
You’re constantly having to evaluate your position on the board. While you have only six possible actions a turn, the fact that you can only do one thing each turn causes some really tough decisions. You’ll generally want to be doing two or three things at a time – i.e. amassing knights at a particular point to mount an attack on someone else while also trying to bolster your defense at a different village site that you own as well as trying to find time to convert the Resource tokens you have already collected into your next promotion. As I mentioned earlier, the board is quite congested in a 4p game, and you are pretty much in constant contact with your opponents. In our games, this has led to the game turning into a bit of a negotiation game as well. There are a bunch of shifting alliances depending on the board status, and it is not uncommon for players to call a temporary truce or perhaps for a temporary alliance to limit the number of threats each has to face for awhile.
While negotiation like this isn’t really described in the rules, given the French lineage of the game, it certainly seems like this sort of behavior is intended. It also really seems to make the game click for me. In addition to forming alliances, the game is ripe with opportunities to try to convince other players of their best move (mostly so that you can forward your own nefarious plans).
Barony is a fairly streamlined game – though not as elegantly done as Splendor. Truth be told, with the complexity of the game (much more involved than Splendor), it would be impossible to make the rules any simpler. The four page rulebook is well organized and covers most of the questions that would come along. The only thing that I didn’t find super clear were the icons used on the player aid card for the building exceptions – but given the small space available, I’m not sure that anything better could have been done. We made it through our first few games without having to go online to answer any questions, and I think we only ended up with one incorrect city build in those three games (somehow, we all missed one city that managed to spring up on a forest space).
While I’ve only played once with three players, it does seem to scale nicely. The modular board guarantees a different layout each game, and the proportion of 9 landscape tiles per player seems to give just enough room for people to spread out and then come into contact with each other for the majority of the game. I have very much enjoyed my initial plays of Barony, and I foresee this getting more play over the summer.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Karen M: I have only played one time so I don’t have a fully formed opinion but I thought there was a nice tension in what to do with your one action per turn. Should I deploy more knights? Or do I stake my claim on this plot? Or maybe I should attack my opponent’s position?
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y
- I like it. Karen M
- Not for me.