The Liberation of Rietburg
- Designer: Gerhard Hecht
- Publisher: KOSMOS
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 10+
- Time: 30-40 minute
- Times played: 6, with review copy provided by Thames&Kosmos
My online group just finished hacking and judiciously slashing our way through The Last Hope (done over a weekly Google Hangout / Zoom conference), and that fun experience had me wanting more. I’ll admit that I haven’t been keeping up as close with the new release news as normal with everything going on with the coronavirus. I was pleasantly surprised to read a blurb about this game from the publisher: “In this stand-alone game set in the fantasy world of Andor, Rietburg Castle has been taken over by evil creatures. Without delay, you — the Heroes of Andor — take on the task of rescuing old King Brandur’s fortress and protecting its remaining inhabitants. But time is of the essence as the dragon Tarok has already set out to destroy the stronghold once and for all. The prophecy foretells that you can only prevent its destruction if you are able to accomplish the four tasks. But which tasks are those? Must you appease the Fire Spirit or kindle the Hadrian Fire? Should you free prisoners from the creatures’ dungeons or submit to the will of the old Skral witch? You are going to have to play to find out”
I was excited to get a copy of the game in the mail, and even more excited to see that it was fairly amenable to playing over the Internet. As it stands now, I’m still not having any local gaming given the stay at home order in Ohio. I played a solo mock 2p game to try it out, and then I was ready to play it online with my group.
Unlike the regular Andor games, there is not a complicated map. Instead, in this game, which really looks like a tower defense game – there are essentially 6 locations. There is a board, but it is frankly not necessary. Additionally, the board is a single small sheet, and the cards that must lie on the locations end up half on the board, and half off the board. To my type-A sensibilities, this is a bit weird. Given that I was working on high visibility for my online friends, I ended simply using 6 dice to mark the spaces, and then placed the requisite cards next to each die. Easy peasy.
In this game, the heroes (one per player, choosing from the six different options) must try to rescue Rietburg Castle from the evil creatures which have overtaken it. Each of the 6 locations has a hidden task, and the group must complete four of these tasks before the timer runs out. The timer is a deck of Narrator cards, and a card is revealed each time any of the heroes needs to replenish their hand of action cards. While they are the timer, the Narrator cards are also responsible for adding more encounter cards (face down or face up) to locations on the board.
On a turn, a player plays one of the available cards in their hand – these cards each have multiple action options on them, and the player chooses one of them to be activated. This card stays on the table until the hand is replenished. Players should carefully look at their cards to be aware of the options they have on this turn as well as what options will be left for them to do in the future. Players may also have friend cards in their hand, these are earned as rewards for defeating certain monsters. These friends only have one action option on them, but they do give you additional time to play cards before you have to replenish your hand.
In general, the players have to work together to resolve 4 task cards. All the task cards start the game face down, and they are only revealed when all the monster cards (which are stacked on top of the task card) have been defeated, and therefore removed from that particular stack. Thus, the players have to coordinate their actions to clear out cards from stacks, and oftentimes coordination will be necessary to succeed.
In battle, players get battle strength by playing blue fist or blue quiver actions from their cards. Each monster has a strength denoted in a red fist box. The player uses the fighting power from their card, and they can also spend willpower tokens to raise their fighting strength. If other heroes are present in the same space, they can fight along if they are willing to play and action card, and the fighting strength from this card (as well as any willpower they wish to spend) are added to the total. As with the other Andor games, most of the heroes have some sort of special ability, and this unique power will make each play slightly differently. As you defeat monsters or use special items, they are placed to the side of the board in a Trophy Gallery. This will be important for some of the task cards. Also, some of the monster cards have a gold coin on them; this money can be spent during the course of the game for things – when spent, those cards are discarded from the game.
That’s mostly it. Again, the group has to reveal and succeed at four task cards before the 11th hand replenishment amongst the heroes. Do this, and win. Do not do this, and Rietburg will forever remain in the hands of the evil monsters.
My thoughts on the game
This is a fun and fairly simple game. The goal is straightforward, and the timing mechanism is a familiar one from the other Andor games. Here, you can kill as many monsters as you like, but you are limited in the overall number of actions that your team can take. There is an interesting ebb and flow of the cards in player’s hands, and the ability to add Friend cards to the deck is one that should be taken advantage of. Like the other Andor games, the key here is in the solving of the puzzle that the cards present – how do you use your limited pool of actions to achieve everything that you need to do? There is plenty of room for the players to discuss their possible actions and to develop a plan. Furthermore, as the card actions are known and can be discussed, players can theoretically plan far ahead in the future if they want – working together to ensure that the team has the appropriate actions for when they need them.
The heroes and many of the creatures and artifacts will be familiar to you if you have already campaigned in Andor in a different game; that part is also very comforting. However, don’t expect to get as much storytelling (well, really any storytelling) in Rietburg. There really isn’t much in the Narrator cards – but then again, as this is meant to be replayable moreso than the campaign Andor games, that makes sense as the Narrator cards need to be reused over and over again in a randomly shuffled deck.
The setup seems a bit fiddly the first few times you set it up, but really, it’s not hard to do so long as you have the rules open and just follow each step as written in the book. For some reason, I found this ruleset hard to grok from reading – the layout is different with some rules coming in the explanation of components section in the front of the book, and other rules (such at the battle sequence) being left out of the “Course of Play” section, and instead being stuck further towards the back in the “Additional Rules” section. Honestly, it took two solo playthroughs to get it all straight, but that was still a fun hour and a half, and now everything makes sense.
Some of my group felt that the icons were confusing, but I didn’t have any issues with that at all, and anyways, the game comes with reminder cards which summarize everything, and the back page of the rules also serves as a more verbose reminder of the different icons. Admittedly, there are a lot of different icons to understand, but most of them seemed straightforward to me. Most of the complaining would be solved if each player had their own icon reminder card (and I have since made color copies to give to each player).
Overall, this is probably the most simple of the Andor games, though you might not think this after a first pass through the rules and looking at the cards – because, at least for me, the rules were difficult to parse. But, once you play it, it is actually very simple indeed, and this experience made it pretty easy to teach to others in the order that made sense to me. There is a bit more luck involved in this one – as the task cards that come up are random, and after a few games, I have realized that it could be that some tasks are simply impossible to achieve (i.e. defeat 3 trolls or 4 fluggors) – if the needed cards are never dealt from the encounter deck. However, I don’t think that there would ever be a situation where you had more than 2 of these. Thus, you just have to use your thinking cap and work on tasks that seem easier to defeat. And, of course, the difficulty of some tasks will change from game to game depending on which cards were dealt out. Each game will play out differently due to the random nature of the tasks and the encounter cards; your selection of heroes will also change how the group strategy will develop.
It was also a great game to get at this time as it was playable over the internet. I did have to do a little bit of legwork to make it happen. We were able to set up two extra cameras, one which showed the “board” – i.e. the 6 stacks, and one which was able to show a close up of any card. When someone wanted to read a card more closely, I would put it under this closeup camera. Additionally, I did have to take the liberty of scanning and emailing a pdf of the hero cards and the 8 friend cards to each player so that they could more easily keep track of which cards they had played and which they still had in their hand. It took an extra 20 minutes to do this, but it worked out well for everyone. In fact, this game is probably more easily played over the Internet than the Last Hope because the game doesn’t require a complex map. It was easy enough to see all the information needed on these 2 cameras. While it certainly does not replicate the experience of playing at home, it was good enough for us – giving us two games over two hours to enjoy the game and enjoy each other’s virtual company. While this isn’t my preferred way to play games, the coronavirus confinement has certainly made me look for games that allow this sort of online play or at least solo play. My brother also has a copy, and 2p games over the internet with each of us having the game were seamless. One of us controlled the main board and the other laid out face up cards as they came up. We obviously spent less time (well no time) re-reading cards to each other. But, that being said, the experience online with only one physical copy was still a satisfying experience.
The Liberation of Rietburg is a nice lightweight (or maybe even family-weight) game that can be a very nice introduction to the Andor universe; and one which doesn’t commit you to a possibly daunting campaign. It also is able to be played over a Zoom conference, and frankly, it was pretty fun to play solo – you just pick the number of heroes you want and have a little puzzling good time with yourself. All in all, a hit here so far. For me, this one will be a keeper – which is a fate not held by some of the other Andor games. Due to the narrative built into most of the campaign games, once I’ve learned the story, I’m not as interested in re-visiting, even if the scenario might play out slightly different. Here, the narrative takes a back seat, but it makes the game much more replayable for me.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y
- I like it.
- Not for me…