A comparison of Negotiation Board Games: a Game of Thrones, Rising Sun, Twilight Imperium and more

Introduction

I love me some good negotiations. Actually I love negotiations A LOT. I’m not really the best strategist in town, but man, I know how to talk out a difficult situation to my advantage, and if I feel like it, I may even stay true to my words and not stab you in the back afterwards.

I love heavily-themed board games too, and being a former RPG player, nothing makes me feel more like a medieval lord, a space diplomat or a “conquistador”, than roleplaying my character: offering a peace treaty to my neighbor then fulfilling my promise, threatening my enemies from across the board, encouraging my allies to start a campaign against the invaders, or even indulging to give someone a favour in exchange for a coin or two.

The Battle of Bouvines (1213 – 1214) painting by Horace Vernet (1827) King Philip Augustus of France, in an encouraging speech, calls his vassals to army against England.

This comparison/review is an effort to understand how some great games that claim to be negotiation games, do or don’t actually deliver diplomacy and negotiations through game mechanics. Even if a game scores low in this review, it may anyway be a good game (and one that I enjoy for this or that reason), but not a good negotiation game.

On a side note, from here on I’ll be using “diplomacy” as a quasi-synonym to “negotiations” even though diplomacy may have a different meaning in game categories.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, visits King Henry VI, captive in the Tower of London in 1407, a few years before betraying and kidnapping his former ally Edward York as well. Action that granted him the title of Kingmaker.

 

 

We’ll talk about:

  • A Game of Thrones the Board Game
  • Fief 1492
  • Twilight Imperium
  • Rex Final days of an Empire/Dune
  • Warrior Knights
  • Rising Sun
  • Patchistory
  • Archipelago

In no particular order, except for the fact that I’ll keep the best diplomacy game as last in this review, so if you don’t want to spoil the surprise, just don’t jump ahead.

Negotiations: What I look for

I like the way a game lets the diplomacy flow naturally. To me, just giving something in exchange for something else is not negotiation. It’s a conversion, except that it’s done with another player rather than with the game. Kinda like exchanging 10 gold for 1 Victory point. Also, starting a negotiation phase, where everyone must decide to be belligerent or tolerant towards someone else does not feel like true diplomacy.

Jamie “Kingslayer” Lannister and Brynden “Blackfish” Tully talk about pride, honor, rights and ransoms.

In a game based on negotiations I’m looking for mechanics that support negotiations and that tie well to the theme: we may start an amazing alliance literally on any game (unless the rules deny so) but not every games provide mechanics that support diplomacy. The mechanics must “accompany” the players to negotiate in a natural and spontaneous way.
I’m thus looking for a game that [b]has mechanics that guide the person to talk, to exchange a favor, to make a deal, to seal an alliance, to trump it, to betray[/b], and so on; not a game that says: ok this is the political phase, exchange money and your banners, then let’s move on to the next phase. Furthermore if a game helps you identify with the character you are playing it’s all for the better, cause roleplaying your character involves table talk.

Palpatine’s Declaration of a New Order (19 BBY) -Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (novel)

 

A Game of Thrones – The Board Game

Let’s start from the one that should excel in this category: aGoT – The Board Game.
Being the spiritual successor to Diplomacy, and being based on one of the most intriguing tale of negotiations, deals-making and betrayals, (and also seeing how a aGoT is very much inspired to The Wars of the Roses – a time period where negotiations, intrigue, deals and betrayals were common activities for the nobility) one would expect to play the non-plus-ultra among negotiation games.

AGoT The Board Game is a diplomacy game on the assumption that players place hidden Order Tokens onto regions on the map, allowing to either move to an adjacent/linked region, to defend, to raid, to claim influence from that region, or to support themselves or another player in battles. Other than that, the players are called to respond to Wildling threats and attacks, by collectively bid influence points (gathered by previous actions of influence claiming) so to beat an amount of Wildling strength, with the player who bid the most generally receiving some positive effect, while the one who bid the least receiving some negative effect.

But that’s just as far as it goes. Supporting another player really has a strong effect, this could pretty much make a difference between winning or losing a battle, and as the rulebook says: “This makes the Support Order the fulcrum of negotiation and intrigue in A Game of Thrones: The Board Game”. But it’s not enough.

You’ll find yourself supporting someone every now and then early in the game, with the consequence of receiving a support back (maybe) later. This feels samey to agreeing to not attack someone in any other game, in exchange for not being attacked later. No real negotiations, no luring someone to do something for your machiavellian plans. And even though this could not provide the best setting for table talk, one would imagine it could deliver some intrigue, some bluffing, some double-thinking. It kinda provides some double thinking, but most of the times it becomes obvious to realize that a player will for sure attack you on this or that region.
It also becomes obvious to understand that towards the late rounds of the game, someone that’s been friendly for quite some time, will eventually and inevitably turn their back on you, by flipping an attack Order Token, instead of the promised Support. And here’s the moment we were waiting you may say, here’s the moment where your plans are trumped and there’s an interesting turn of events. Not really, I say. Cause this is inevitable, it will happen in the end for sure, and what’s worse is that you’ll probably guess if it will happen during that specific turn.

Revealing that attack Order Token was just a matter of time.Img courtesy of BGG user Boeschenstein

You’d probably be more likely to see some negotiations during the Wildling phase. Here a player may have looked at the Wildling card thus knowing the nefarious, or mild, consequences of a successful or unsuccessful defense against the Wildlings. That player may be the one to push some table-talk, to persuade someone to put more influence than it’s worth, or no influence at all if he wants to gather some rewards, to the other players’ dismay.
But that player is busted; you’ll hardly believe him since he got to see that card before you, truly I say to you, nobody will believe him.

When the wildlings attack, we must defend. There’s just a little time to talk, and obviously nobody to trust. Img courtesy of BGG user Boeschenstein.

A chance to spend a word or two with the other players is represented by the Westeros cards. These are events that occur at the start of the round and allow the players to do a few things, such as muster their forces, adjust the supply track and so on. A few of them provide the ground for some negotiations, as one of the players could have a chance to choose if a special event occurs or not. This may include bidding for positions on the Influence tracks or denying play of some types of orders. At this point you may want to influence that person or the other, to choose the event that best suits your needs – for example starting a new bidding phase on the Influence track is a big deal. If such a phase is triggered, the players will need to spend their precious Influence tokens to bid on 3 different spots on the track, with each spot giving nice perks to those who bid most until the next bidding phase, such as being able to decide all draws except for those in battle, or being able to replace an order token after everyone has submitted theirs. Table talk during the bidding phase is partially blocked by the fact that anyone bids for himself. Even if you were to negotiate with someone to bid or to not bid on a specific spot, any other player not involved in the negotiation may jump in and bid more than you or the person you are talking to.
Eventually, even though the Westeros cards’ titles are evocative (Web of lies, Feast for Crows) all of this will see the players exchange just a word or two, as there’s really not too much intricacy in the negotiations, aside from the fact that someone may promise a future support or minor favour.

To sum up, aGoT does not really shine as one wanted it to shine, as long as negotiations go. There’s not much you can buy, nor much you can lend, maybe some support or some promise to not attack a specific region, but not much more. The fact that there’s no currency in the game, no money that can be exchanged, nor shared victory, does not help. The Chosen one, that was to bring balance to the Diplomacy, struggles to see his way through.

Vote 5/10

Patchistory

Patchistory is almost a multiplayer solitaire. Very much resembling 7 wonders, or Race for the Galaxy with that expansion which adds the capability to attack other planets. Why is this even in the Negotiation category? Ah now I remember, cause you get to pick a player on your side that you will probably not attack for the rest of your game, and another player that you’ll mostly going to attack/threaten for the rest of your game.
To decide whether to be at war or at peace you’ll send your Agent harvesting resources and walking all the way down to your neighbors’ doors (which is kinda cool). Once they reach a neighbor, the players are to reveal if they want to be belligerent o tolerant towards that neighbor by simultaneously revealing a peace/war token. If both agree to be peaceful an alliance is formed, and that’s something that just grants some benefits on trading.
Yep, in the future, you may break that “alliance”, which will cost you lotsa actions, namely “Political points”, so you’ll refrain from doing so unless you calculate that it’s going to provide more VPs during that round and that your opponent’s retaliation is not going to cost you too many VPs. This all sums up to being an arithmetical calculation to what is more convenient to you with respect to gain/loss of VPs.

There are also Diplomacy actions, which you may take only towards someone which is not at war with you, for example giving that person some resource in exchange for VPs from the bank. That person may refuse your diplomacy action, then you’ll score a bit less points. So again deciding to use a diplomacy action or accepting that diplomacy action is just a matter of how much you need that resource in that moment.
Those actions and tracks are all kinda cool, but there’s no real diplomacy, no real exchanging favours in the long run, no nothing.

Even if there are Diplomacy actions, in Patchistory the negotiations never really feel like it.

In the end Patchistory does not provide a good negotiation experience, actually almost not providing mechanics that support negotiations at all.

Vote 2/10.

 

Twilight Imperium

Who will rule the galaxy?

Should I provide some background about TI? I don’t really think so. Let’s just say that it’s the Space Opera par excellence and that it’s so grand and so big and takes so much time to play that there must be some space ( 😉 ) for negotiations and table-talk – in the end are you really going to spend 7 hours of your life at a table with people, but not even talking to them?

Actually a good reason why there will be diplomacy for sure is that the game is huge. You’ll have to talk to your neighbors – early and often – to seal a peace treaty or to ask them to allow passage to reach some distant planet. Moving your fleets takes effort, and time, and starting a battle against a neighbor may be a financial breakdown. Attacking someone is something that really needs to be weighted, so agreeing an alliance with one or some of your neighbors is definitely something to take into consideration.

You are not allowed to exchange a whole lot: no currency to exchange, aside from establishing trade agreements which allow the players to receive Trade Goods (that can be spent instead of resources or influence) depending on their trade agreements with other players. Those Trade Agreements are automatically broken in case of an open war between the two parties. This could lead to some discussion when deciding whether to attack or not that neighbor.

The players will also be called upon voting for or against Agenda cards, some of which are Laws that will change the rules of the game on a specific subject. Players will vote on Agendas clockwise and if the votes tie in the end, then the Speaker will be able to break the tie. Here’s some of the most prolific moments for negotiations, you’d better sharpen your tongue to have your friends vote for or against that specific agenda as it may give you the chance to jump ahead or have a good boost. Influencing the right person at the right time may be just as crucial as rolling an unhoped big hit against a big space ship. Nice one T.I.


A Grand strategy game that – in all his mighty – pushes you to be a diplomat… in some ways or another.
Img courtesy of BGG user Firepigeon

Secret objectives represent another way the players will start talking, or maybe will try to avoid talking about something… in the end your objective is secret and you don’t want to attract too much attention towards your hidden plans. Whether you are looking to control some planets other than your home system, trying to blockade or destroy an opponent’s space dock, or even attempting to destroy an enemy ship next to that player’s home system, you’re forced to make up some good explanation for your actions. And this may lead to very open debate and negotiations. Secret objectives will really impair or boost your chances to negotiate a peace treaty near your borders, it really depends on your tongue.

I have actually played the 3rd edition, and I see in the 4th they’ve added the Promissory cards, that can be traded and add some diplomacy as well as official Transactions rules that consider immediate deals binding, while non-immediate deals not binding. These may be nice additions that I haven’t had chance to try.

T.I. 3rd edition has a few nice mechanics that push the players to open negotiations and debates, even if talking to the next player is not strictly needed, it’s encouraged. This means that a player may totally go full-psycho without talking to anyone and win nonetheless – is this good or bad? You decide.

Vote 7/10

Archipelago

Here is a nice surprise. And I hope I haven’t lost you already, cause this game knows how to deal with diplomacy – or how to make you deal with diplomacy. Archipelago – a semi-coop with hidden roles and hidden objectives – is a true gem among other negotiation games. And it delivers even though there’s no direct conflict in the game, just very subtle, passive… conflict.

Everything revolves around negotiations, the possibilities for table-talk are manyfold and just around the corner. What about blind bidding for turn order and then having the winner of the bid decide everyone’s turn order? For the right deal he may even give up on being the first player himself, and instead give YOU the first spot on that coveted turn track.
Why so coveted? Because the first player gets to put his lurid hands first than anybody else on some precious resources lying on the market, that are essential to respond to incoming crisis (and trust me, crisis in Archipelago are terrible). And if you manage to get your hand on those goods, you can spend them from the market, instead of using those you have in your reserve, to parry the crisis and activate your agents on the board, or your opponent’s agents (which are deactivated by the crisis)- you choose which agents. See? Another good spot to incentive some good old diplomacy: “I see you don’t have the resources to activate your Agents, while I hold power over the markets this turn, I have plenty of resources to spend. Do you want me to activate Your agents?”

Then players will also purchase action cards and then lay them flat in front of themselves. You’d guess they will eventually use those cards for their interests… You are wrong. Most of the times a card purchased by a player, can be used by anyone in exchange for just 1 coin. “Ah you are using my card? Guess what? I’ll exploit the heck out of your card on my next turn”. Again manifold possibilities for negotiations.

Gathering resources from the map takes time – better put your hands on those resources on the market for free sooner than your opponents Img courtesy of BGG user Moonblogger

Other than that Archipelago has hidden roles and hidden objectives. For example you may be looking for Coal, while I may be looking for Stone, cause these are the resources that are worth more VPs for us, but nobody knows this. So if a crisis requires us to spend Coal or Stone from our reserves, we’ll do our best to not spend them, but to have somebody else spend that precious resource to sedate the crisis.

Then there’s the Traitor, a player who secretly wants everybody dead, and wants the game to win by seeing the rebels take over the island. Then there’s the Pacifist, who wants the rebellion level to be as low as possible, compared to the island’s population. And both are hidden roles. Can you imagine how the diplomacy unfolds when you know that there’s a traitor around, while somebody else is a pacifist? Every single action carried by someone that would benefit them, but cause the rebellion to rise a bit, has everybody else call him “TRAITOR”. But you know what? You may never be sure, because the role cards are more than the number of players and maybe the traitor card wasn’t assigned to anyone. This gives also the opportunity to bluff your hidden role.

See? Layers within layers within layers of negotiations. That’s why Archipelago excels with regards to diplomacy and table talk, also giving you the feeling of being a conqueror/explorer that needs to cooperate with his fellow explorers to subjugate a new land, coming off first among all the other powers. The only downside is the fact that after repeated plays, some of the table talk seems a bit repetitive, just a bit samey. What I mean is that, for example, arguing to be the first in turn order will always be arguing because being first means having precedence on the resources on the market, or convincing someone to raise your Agent is always and just to raise your Agents – nothing more, nothing less. Nothing more intricate than that. Nothing more subtle. Not really a Machiavellian plan that you are unfolding in the dark. Not that it’s bad per-se, it’s just the nature of the game.

Vote 7.5/10

Rex Final Days of an Empire / Dune

Ok I’ve never played Dune. But I played a lot of Rex. And the more I played it, the more I enjoyed the diplomacy. Basically being an area control game with dudes on a map, Rex has a handful of cool mechanics that really shine and stimulate table talk and negotiations.
Each race has its own set of special abilities. A race may be faster, actually being able to move 1 space more than the other races. Another race needs to spend less money to deploy units to the board, another has some giant mechanical units that count twice as much as a regular unit. Some of these abilities are pretty selfish, but some other will smoothly guide the players to start talking.

Let’s talk about the card purchase phase. Here each player, in turn order, bids upon a card, and the one who bids most, takes the card. The fact is that the auction is blind, meaning that you don’t know which card you are bidding upon… and just one player (namely the Universities of Jol-Nar) may peek at the card being bid and try to influence the other players to either bid or pass on that card, even by lying. Obviously the players will attempt to gain some pieces of information from the Jol-nar, by paying money (called Influence in the game) or future services, such as not deploying units onto the board for a turn, or maybe sealing an official alliance (which we’ll talk about in a moment), or maybe exchanging some other precious and secret information, such as which space on the board will be safe or not for deployment – since a few spaces will be bombarded by a space fleet commanded by the game itself – and only one race knows where the fleet is moving next. Here the negotiations flow naturally and, until official alliances are agreed, these are totally non binding.

Diplomacy go on nicely also during other phases of the game, such as deployment and movement. Combat is intricate since battles are resolved by secretly committing units in the battle with a dial (think scythe), but also using attack/defence cards, and picking one of your leader to join the battle. Not only you could totally lie concerning the cards you have in your hand, and how you will totally wipe out your challenger if he dares enter your precious location, but you could also have in your hand a leader card that matches your opponent’s leader; and if your opponent decides to commit exactly that leader (out of 5 available), you may reveal your hand and show that his leader is actually a betrayer, thus granting you victory without being hurt.
This brings to so much thinking and double thinking, and talking, and threatening your challenger to attack you, all the while inside you are dying because you know that you don’t actually stand a chance to win because your hand of card is poor; but then you manage to exchange a favor (maybe you promise you’ll play a card that will benefit both you and your enemy) and you challenger renounces his attack, and you start to breathe again… without anybody else noticing… All of this stuff will bring shivers down your spine.

Players are also allowed to ally with one or two other players and thus sharing victory as a team. Once an alliance is agreed during the specific phase (ceasefire), it is binding, and it may be broken only during the next ceasefire… if there’ll be another. This gives room for some good backstabbing, but that will be very risky… are you planning to betray your team near the end for a victory all alone? You may not be able to do so because there’s a chance there won’t be another ceasefire to break the alliance; this also forces you to think twice before joining an alliance.

Exchanging influence (money) is also a big deal. Influence is scarce, and harvesting it from the map is risky – due to that fleet bombarding the place. A player may exchange a favour for influence, but influence is actually exchanged only during ceasefires, which – as stated – may never happen again, and even if they happen again, the player who made the promise is not forced to stay true to it; which again gives room to backstabbing and retaliation.

Rex’s intricacies due to racial abilities, clever play of strategy cards, and hidden informations, provide a solid ground for diplomacy

 

Admittedly you need to play this game a few times to start seeing these nuances, and to start thinking on a different level than what the map shows, cause there’s way more than meets the eye. Negotiations are intricate, a deal will not always reward you right away, it may even not reward you at all, or it may reward you so much in the long run.

Rex may seem to have some balancing issues, cause there are so many things going on, and also there are special victory condition (other than the shared team victory that we talked about previously) that may make that race seem way stronger than the other. Also, as a negative point, negotiations totally stop once everybody is in an alliance, from then on, you’ll just make your alliance’s interest and the game leans towards the strategic side much more… unless somebody betrays its ally, obviously. In the end Rex (and for osmosis Dune) will see you selling your soul in negotiations for that apparently small favour, that really can change the fate of the galaxy.

Vote 8/10

Rising Sun

Let’s now talk about the superstar, Rising Sun. This is presented as a negotiation game with dudes on a map, and to some extent, the mechanics do support that. But only just.
Aside from the always-the-same “I’m not attacking you here this round, you are not attacking me here this round”, Rising Sun gives you little to no help to start being diplomatic.
One thing we can discuss is the exchange of Banners at the beginning of a round, to seal a temporary alliance with a player. For that round you and the player allied with you will share some benefits (unless broken by a betrayal), i.e. when your fellow does an action you benefit from that action more than the other players. This is very minimal. I’m jumping on a new alliance on the simple basis that this round I need this more than that. This is not very temathic (or is it, since we are talking about japanese folklore, which I know nothing about???) Anyway this is not very fun to me. Allying with someone is only a matter of what I need in the immediate. Next turn, I bid you farewell my friend, I’ll be joining sides with somebody else.

Also deciding to betray someone or not (by playing the Betray Political mandate) feels dry. Do some quick calculation, see if it suits you better to have the boost from the mandate and do that betrayal. I bet your former “ally” won’t even feel so much hurt (in the end you are just replacing one of his mini on the map with one of yours… not so machiavellian), and may possibily join you for another alliance the next round.

Not to mention that one of the player will systematically be left out of the alliances, since the game supports 5 players, and alliances go in couples. Maybe this was meant to be, to encourage some more table talking? Maybe… but then why including a 6th player expansion from the KS? Just for the fluff?

Rising Sun’s alliance system doesn’t really shine as one would expect.

The manual tries to cover the diplomacy aspect by stating that the players can make deals at any point in the game, whether with their Ally or with an Enemy. For example: “I’ll stay out of Kyoto this Season if you stay out of Hokkaido.” “In this Battle, leave Hire Ronin to me and I’ll let you Take Hostage.” This is nice, and it may happen, but is very minimal, and not so intricate. To me it feels like a negotiation mechanic pretty much tacked on, which does not excel.

In the end Rising Sun tries a little to be the diplomacy game one would like it to be, and delivers just that little, forcing the players to be imaginative, rather than talkative.

Vote 4/10

Fief: France 1429

Fief is a meaty game. One that some people scorn because of its randomness, because of rules fiddliness and exceptions to rules which differ substantially from a localization to the other. Actually it’s another area control game with negotiations, but it hides a treasure, and you really have to dig to find it.

Fief puts you in the clothes of the patron of a noble House in France, looking to extend his influence by means of political, religious, diplomatic and military actions.

Randomness is everywhere, from the lords that form your family (will your next son be a male or a Female? Remember we are in the fifteenth century so men have better careers in front of them), to the action cards you are allowed to play (will you be able to tax other players this turn, or find a hidden passage towards your enemy’s castle?), to the result of battles based on dice rolls (even though a stronger army rolls more dice and will often be victorious), to the possibility that a lord is killed or taken captive in battle, to the fact that a plague may spread and kill your firstborn – heir to the throne of France – to the fact that your fiefdom may be affected by bad harvesting, or that the fierce troops you sent marching towards an easy siege are blocked midway due to heavy rains! Theme is dripping from any single component, rule, situation.

All of this confusion brings the game to the next level, making it a semi-RPG, rather than a board game. This pushes the players to roleplay their characters. To get out of nasty situations, you will try to bribe the player next door, you’ll seal deals, maybe to break those deals later or to keep them – it all depends on you.

The mechanics tie well to the theme and allow for much table talk and negotiation. Official alliances are binding and are sealed by marrying one of your son to another player’s daughter. An alliance cannot be broken unless one of the parties die (or better, is killed).
Each round the players may be called to vote a lord from a player’s House to be elected as Bishop of a bishopric – or maybe King, or even Pope (all titles that grant powerful special abilities or even precious VPs). And be careful who you grant your vote to. You’d better seal an official alliance with that player – by marrying your daughter to his son – before giving him that precious vote that will make his son King. But you know what? If your daughter is married to the King, this will make her Queen… and what if you daughter were then to give birth to a son… this nephew of yours would indeed be the rightful heir to the throne, and he belongs to your family now… let’s hope nothng bad happens to the King… Cause if the King dies, then your nephew will be King.
So while you are still agreeing to give your vote to that player, looking for an alliance with him, you may be planning to steal the Kingship from that player.

Those special roles all provide interesting and powerful abilities; e.g. the Pope may officially break a marriage alliance, or the King may grant a Stronghold to another player for free while normally this would cost a lot of shiny coins. This distribution of power grants ground to open negotiations and bribing and comes along well in the intricate machine of Fief’s diplomacy.

Fief’s clever Lord and alliance systems allows for interesting negotiations and chance for betrayal or joint victory.
IMG courtesy by BGG user Jackytheripper

The way the map is layed out is another key fact to negotiations. The map looks big, but actually is tight, moving a lord here or there is a big deal, just after a round or two. And persuading someone to move his lord here or there, and defend a specific location is even a bigger deal. Occupying a specific space may also trigger the Bishop election we spoke previously, adding another layer to the negotiations cause you may not want a Bishop to be elected right now.
The players may also exchange money for favours – they can also play powerful cards on other player’s behalf, or even play cards together on another player’s dismay – such as a joint peasant revolt at the right place at the right time – which may kill an influential Personality, depriving the player that held that Lord of a few special abilities, or of a VP. And what about the fact that each player has 3 tokens, that they can spend to have a 2 minutes private conversation with anyone they wish? They may even have a conversation with someone who’s officially in another alliance. When the two players come back from the private meeting the other player’s ally will feel threatened at least, even if the two sealed no private deal.

Fief is a mess, and I’ve really just scratched the surface here. There’s much more to it. But every single mechanic leaves free ground to diplomacy and table talk, in a grand re-enactment of a RPG session, that you’ll love more and more.

Vote 8/10

Warrior Knights

We are finally at it: Warrior Knights. A precious gem that is hard to discover. A game from 2006 buried on position 850ish, out of production, and with a 6.9 average geek rating, another dudes on a map game among the other hundreds. What a pity!

But My Liege, let me introduce You to Warrior Knights’ main mechanics, to show You how elegantly this game takes the players by the hand and guides them among the intricacies of diplomacy.

Let’s take the Assembly, for example. Same as TI, players need to vote on 3 Agenda cards, one after the other, with just a pool of Vote tokens cleverly obtained previously through actions\city leadership. Those Agendas may change a rule or assign a title to someone, granting him benefits. Some Agendas may even go against a player making him lose money or penalizing him for the rest of the game. And you know what’s cool? If you were a Noble (say a Baron) in the 1300’s and, during a meeting, with everybody else’s consensus, you were forced to do something you felt unjust and that really damages your reputation or your finances, what would you do? You’d probably step off of that room, abandoning the Assembly, swearing against you former fellow Barons, and slamming the door shut behind your back. And you know what? You can do that in WK. Let’s just leave aside spitting and swearing and throwing tables upside down. In WK you can decide to exit the Assembly and be banned from it from then on, ignoring any negative effects of Agendas, as well as good effects of course. But you’d be a badass and not give a coin about those stupid laws anymore.

But that ain’t all. Players may be called upon voting on Private Motions, which is the next big thing in negotiation after taking someone’s Noble as ransome (another thing that you can do in WK – with a variant). If an Agenda card says: ‘this is a private motion’, one of the players gets to formulate a new Agenda himself ! Thus wording a game rule or a Title (that he himself invented at that moment) to be voted upon. This leads to wide negotiations. Our group plays that the player needs to justify with a thematic reason the new Agenda, and we follow the official recommendations by the designer, Darek Carver, to not directly hurt a specific player with that agenda, but hurting someone indirectly is allowed: see this post on BGG.

Voting upon Agendas is entertaining, as the players argue on who’d better pick that title, or the other. Once everyone looks satisfied with how the talk went, players secretly pick a bunch of votes from their reserves (or maybe none) then simultaneously reveal them. But the negotiation ain’t over. Now players need to assign those votes, and now a player that intended to spend, say, 3 vote tokens on your behalf may wait to see what the others do (since the votes are assigned in turn order) and change side at the very last if bribed properly. But that ain’t over yet. In case of a tie, the President of the Assembly decides how to break the tie.

Yes, cause players may become some cool personalities in Warrior Knights.
If you do your actions right, you may become the President of the Assembly, the Pope, or even a Scholar (with the expansion).
Just to end with the President of the Assembly. This dude may also decide, when the time comes, to start a trip to esotic islands, which may – for those players who dare invest money on such dangerous trip – bring rewards, or a complete loss. But he isn’t forced to do so, yet he can be bribed. And since there is a chance that the voyage fails, why not convincing the Pope to bless the voyage (namely spend one of his precious faith tokens), thus increasing the possibility that it ends well for those who invested in it? Let’s bribe the Pope as well and burn in hell for that!
The Pope is also often called upon assigning good/bad faith cards on other players. And these may be disruptive or very very rewarding (such as granting VPs to the player to which the card is assigned); influencing the Pope during this phase is a huge deal.

Warrior Knights’ elegant mechanics bring diplomacy to the next level,
making you feel a Diplomat and a Leader. IMG courtesy by BGG user Verminose

Then there’s management of your nobles on the map. Navigating this huge map is tough. A suboptimal movement and you’ll take so long to recover, that you’ll feel like it’s better let that lord die alone, than recover him from the desert. Jokes aside this means that if you manage to talk out a player to not attack you that turn, but instead move to other lands, this may pretty much earn you the victory.

Furthermore, some of the phases (such as the Assembly) are not automatically triggered turn after turn, but sometimes the players may be able to decide to assign the cards they used for their main actions (such as moving lords on the map) on the Assembly spot (instead of other spots – more on that later). Once that spot fills, the Assembly phase is triggered. This means that you may want the Assembly to happen, or you may not want it to happen, and you may persuade someone to put that card there, or not.
And the other two spots you may want to trigger by sending there the cards you played, respectively let everybody earn money by taxing the land, or lose money by paying one’s troop, and if you’ve indulged too much in purchasing troops, the difference between triggering that spot or the other may be nefarious.

The expansion also comes packed with a few other things that increase negotiation and table talk, such as hidden objectives and the possibility to become King.

This interwoven – but, trust me – very linear sequence of phases and mechanics will bring a medieval movie to the table, in which you are the actor, the Baron, that needs to prevail over his enemies. This game really needs a sharp tongue to be played at best. And is one of the most rewarding diplomacy game I’ve ever played.

Vote 9/10

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