Thursday, June 09, 2016

Academic Musings

In my group of gamers, the story and theme of a board game takes a distant back seat to its mechanics. Whenever it falls on somebody to explain a new game, flavor-based exposition from the rulebook is rarely uttered, and comparisons to other familiar games are often made. I offer this as possible background on the game I'm reviewing today, Medieval Academy.

Perhaps it's due to my group's approach to games in general, but the story on Medieval Academy is tissue thin. Players are squires training to become knights, which means practicing jousts, courting a princess, picking a fight with a dragon, and more. At least, that's what the art suggests.

In practice, Medieval Academy is a simple but effectively clever little game centered around card drafting. There are seven different score boards in the center of the table, and each player has a marker on each. Different boards pay out at different intervals, with different effects. Some boards score a modest number of points each turn. Some boards score a larger number of points, only once or twice during the game. One board is just about jockeying for position on the other boards. And two boards are about avoiding negative points, by not falling into last place.

In each of the game's six rounds, you're dealt an initial five card hand. In a mechanism that fans of Notre Dame, Witches' Brew, and other games will know well, you take one card to keep, then pass the rest to the player seated next to you. One card at a time, you build up the actual five card hand you'll play for the round. Each card played advances you so many spaces on one of the seven boards. The strategy unfolds in which boards you value, which boards you notice your neighbors aren't valuing, and at what point during the round you reveal your plans by playing each card.

For a game that takes only 30 or so minutes to play (even with its maximum five players), there's a quite satisfying amount of decision making and strategy at play here. I haven't yet played enough to judge how well I think the game's different boards are balanced against one another, but it definitely has that hallmark of a good strategy game -- you have to focus your thinking, because there's not enough time and resources to do it all.

In the sub-genre of "short games," I might go as far as to call this game an A. It's certainly more satisfying to me by far than most time fillers. In the broader spectrum, I think I'd give Medieval Academy a B+. There aren't any revolutionary new mechanics at play here, but it's a satisfying blend of the familiar.

No comments: