Thank you for checking out my seventh review. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An Overview of Barony
Barony is a game designed by Marc André and is published by Matagot. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 45 minute play time.
In this game you are trying to be the first to gain the title of Duke, obtaining the most victory points possible in the process. During a player’s turn they can choose to do only one of six actions:
Recruitment: Add two knights to a city, or three knights if the city is adjacent to a lake.
Movement: Move one or two knights one space each.
Construction: Remove one or more of your knights from the game board and replace each with a village or stronghold, gaining one resource token matching the landscape under the structure.
New City: Replace one of your villages with a city.
Expedition: Remove two knights from your reserve, placing one back in the box out of play and the other on any empty space on the edge of the game board.
Noble Title: Discard at least 15 resource points, then upgrade your title.
Setup for 2 Players
For two players you mix the board tiles and pull out a total of 18 of them (9 per player) and use those to form your board for the game. There are no other changes in the setup, and with two players the first player will put down a City and a Knight, the second player will place all three Cities and Knights, and then the first player will place their final two Cities and Knights.
This game plays fast. Really fast with two. You have only one move to make on a turn, and so there isn’t much downtime at all. The only place where a turn may slow is toward the end if a player is trying to decide how to get the most out of their final turn(s), typically if they are behind in points. The speed of this game makes it not only a great game to pull out when we are short on time, but also a great candidate for the “let’s play that again!” effect. We often play 2-3 times in a row when this hits the table.
There is no luck in this game. It is all purely based upon the choices you make on how to place your starting cities and what you do from there. This game feels a bit like a chess match at times, and that is a good thing. There are certainly great strategies that you can use, but there are several ways to approach reaching that goal and each of them have circumstances where they will be great. This is the kind of game that, when it is over, you can look back and really find out what went well and what you may need to do differently and make those changes for your next game.
The layout of the board is an interesting modular board that fits well together and has five terrain types that all look different, so it makes it easy to see at a glance what areas might be best to focus into and what areas might be neglected. The board can easily be changed from game-to-game, and with two players we like to swap the 18 used with the 18 from the box, and then for a third game to pull 9 from each set-up. Even though the gameplay never changes, I love that the layout will vary each game and that it is relatively quick to modify as you go.
This game can be played peacefully or with a lot of combat-driven interaction. With two players, there are certainly times where it makes sense to try and attack, whereas there are other times when attacking will use up time and turns that could have been spent advancing your own knights and expanding your control. With more players I imagine the times to attack are more frequent, as they can help to slow the leader down. But this game is just as fun and exciting without the need to attack the other player. I know some people dislike attacking their spouse in games, so this game certainly loses nothing for those who prefer to try and best their spouse based upon the moves they make.
Some people hate text-free player boards because they hold a multitude of symbols. It is part of what has always kept me from teaching Race for the Galaxy to other people, because of the symbology. The symbols in this game make sense, though. It didn’t take long before my wife had me stop explaining the actions because she could figure out what the symbols meant, which sped up the process of going over rules. It also serves as a great way to remember not only what the actions can do, but also the limitations. I love the player boards, and it is a lot more useful than if it had blocks of text detailing the actions and limitations.
Your opening placement can go a long way toward determining how the game goes for you. It isn’t quite as harsh as other games, but you certainly can be in a spot where your points come a lot slower than another player. There are ways to mitigate that to some extent, but even in a game where you simply misfired on your placement the game is over fairly quickly. There are games, like Catan, where that poor placement can lead to hours of going through the motions with no hope of winning. This is not one of them – your misery will be short and you can learn from it and do better on the next game.
I like how different terrain provide different point values, but it leads to a rush to claim certain spots while other tactically-beneficial places, like the mountains, tend to feel like a wasted use of resources. I think drawing a random tile from a bag, or being able to draw X number of random tiles and keeping one, might have helped to make mountains and forests better choices early in the game. They typically end up being those filler points when the others are taken, and usually only what you absolutely need to round out that 15 to advance.
Because you only get one action per turn, you will often feel torn as to how you can best spend that action. Especially when you see what your opponents are doing. This provides tough decisions throughout, but encourages you to always choose the option that provides the greatest short-term benefit to you. Sometimes that it capitalizing on an opportune, undefended piece. Sometimes it is using your own points to upgrade so that you don’t have any more 5-value tiles for stealing. But most of the time it is spreading out your knights, turning them into villages, and then recruiting more knights. After a while, this can feel like you are playing the same system on repeat.
The scoring system. There are some positives here, such as Cities move you down on the track and the unused tokens have lesser values at the end of the game. But really you are trying to nab 15-points 4 times and build two cities over the course of the game. There are no hidden bonuses. No cards that can change how things get scored. This is, for me, the low point of the game. Simple is fine, but this one seems too simple and is ultimately a weak point to an otherwise brilliant game.
The first thing that placed this game on our radar was the box. It was beautiful and caught our eye enough to get me to look into the game. It became a must-buy when Dad vs. Daughter deemed it to be Kingdom Builder on steroids. And in some ways I agree: this is the type of game I would have expected a game called Kingdom Builder to be. This game is a lot of fun, and we really enjoy it as a 2-player game, but we were both surprised about how short the game was. It falls in the category of games that aren’t quite fillers, but aren’t full evening games, either. Which is probably exactly right for this one. It is a game that I think we’ll play a lot more of, and it certainly could crack a top 10 for one of us this year, but it lacks the variety to really propel it into the category of the best games. She likes Splendor more, but I prefer this to Splendor, and I look forward to seeing what other games Marc André designs over the years.
I also cannot wait to learn more about the upcoming expansion, which I understand will add an extra action that can be chosen from on your turn.
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