If you could design the ultimate fantasy themed worker placement game, what would it include?
A horde of barbarians living on, and getting their powers from a live volcano which appears in the game as a 3D model that rotates so your worker placement options are different every time? Uhh, YEAH!
The mechanism to learn abilities such as building, resource gathering of sailing, or develop the skills to beat your opponents in battle, which means the strengths of your clan actually evolve as time goes on in the game? Damn straight!
The ability to worship gods to get them on your side, invoke the abilities of powerful war-chiefs, or make offerings to terrible demons? Yes please!
A clever combat mechanic that avoids dice or other randomness, and rewards you for winning harder battles, plus makes things easier for you if you take the time to prepare for battle with the correct units and knowledge of warfare? You got it!
A simple “honour track” system that alters the player turn order rather than the standard “first player” space or token, and allows you access to bonuses at the same time? Yes you may!
Bonuses for doing well in every track so you can benefit from multiple strategies? Go for it!
Thematic ways of keeping every player in with a chance of winning throughout the game? Done!
The option to upgrade your standard wooden tokens to luxury, high end miniatures? Oh, go one then!
It sounds like you need to get in on the action with Barbarians: The Invasion, by Tabula games, a thematic euro-style worker placement game of epic proportions currently live on Kickstarter.
In Barbarians: The Invasion you are a warlord called to lead a clan in the world of Fenian. Your goal is to have the most victory points at the end of seven rounds (or eras) by building up your strengths in resource management, honour, building, sailing and warfare to become the best warlord in your barbarian horde.
Each player controls three champions who get placed in areas of the volcano and can gather resources, invoke gods or war-chiefs, construct buildings, expand knowledge and fight battles against other populations to claim territories. Each strategy lets you claim domination points to help win the game.
Combat features a lot in this game, but in a twist you do not fight each other. You instead compete against the other warlords to conquer a series of islands as you learn to sail and develop the skills and armies you need to defeat the enemy factions in the game. Each faction requires a unique set of knowledge and skilled units to defeat successfully and this is all managed well with straight forward skill tracks and the ability to trade resources for the units you need.
You can go in axes flailing, and you may do alright and get a load of bonuses, but fail, and there’s a price to pay, meaning it is worthwhile being prepared. Combat works by drawing battle cards from the enemy factions deck. The more knowledgeable you are the less cards you have to draw, and the more units you have the more chance you have of surviving the battle so the mechanic is so simple yet perfectly thematic, more so than many attempts to create battle in board games. I suppose it kind of reminds be of building tunnels in Ticket to Ride, but with more battle axes and war cries.
This game seems huge on the face of it, there are multiple options, two large boards, plus player boards, and a shed load of components. When is comes to it though, based on what I’ve seen so far, the actions and rules are clean and easy to understand and the game seems to flow well. From just watching a couple of videos I think I could already play it.
If you need certain units to defeat one of the factions in battle you need to spend resources to recruit them. If you want to get more resources you need to be able to activate the buildings that make them. To do that you need to be high enough on the building track. To have that you need to have placed your champions in the correct spaces on the volcano to get what you need, or invoked the right power, or you know…just pay off some demon, as you do.
Variable player powers and resources for each clan add to the variation in strategy. The super cool rotating worker placement volcano adds colour and a bit of take that mechanic as you see your opponent lining up for a specific play only to have you get one of the gods on side and get them to shake things up a bit on the volcano. The God cards allow you to manipulate the worker placement action, gain resources, gain units and other powerful abilities.
War-chief cards can be activated to increase your honour or used during combat to gain units at a crucial time, or sacrificed for an even more powerful ability such as extra upgrades or workers to place.
Resource cards allow you to spend goods to make things you may need or save them up to become victor point at the end of the game.
The different skill tracks allow you to gain a variety of bonuses such as being able to sail to more islands, negating penalties from battles and access to bonus resources.
As I type this preview is going out of date, as more stretch goals are smashed and more extras get added. I’m particularly interested in the personal objectives, one player rules and double sided “cutthroat” volcano wheel.
As you have probably worked out by yourself by now, the artwork on the cards and boards is fantastic throughout. You can by larger versions of the art by backing the “Iron & Blood” edition of the game on the Kickstarter.
Finally some time to talk about the fantastic miniatures, oh damn these look great. These high end, detailed components really bring the theme of the game to life.
Miniatures games are really in vogue these days, now I’m all for good quality components, but on many occasions this fashion to have high end miniatures comes with a big price tag. More and more games these days are touching the £100 mark, this has the effect of putting some games out of the reach of many gamers.
Barbarians has made the miniatures an optional extra which is a brilliant idea at keeping costs down for the frugal gamer, or if you just aren’t that keen on playing scantily clad, large breasted woman barbarians. I mean, I presume the volcano keeps them warm of something. The be fair the men aren’t exactly modestly dressed either. I digress, the basic “Wood edition” game comes with wooden cubes and meeples to play the game just fine. If you back the kickstarter a further £27 gets you the 80 miniatures on top of the standard game.
£27 for 80 miniatures is a bit of a bargain though, particularly when you consider there are likely to be some stretch goals that will only be relevant to people backing the “Iron edition” level that comes with the minis. (p.s. The minis are plastic not iron!)
For me, I’m going to back the Wood edition. The miniatures are works of art, but I’m never going to paint them and if I did I’d do a rubbish job. They aren’t essential to the theme of the game like they are in say Star Wars rebellion (nobody wants a wooden cube Death Star), and yes they are only £27 extra for 80, but damn there are some really good games on my wish list that cost that much. So, I will stick with pushing cubes and paying rent for now, and I will post a video of me crying in my review in December when this ships and everyone else who backed the minis is laughing at my decision. Maybe the kind folk at Tabula games will send me the miniatures for this glowing preview and the most likely equally glowing review when I finally play it. I can’t wait.
Thanks for stopping by,