LEAGUE OF SIX (Czech Games Edition, 3-5 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; about $50)
The title sounds like a band of superheroes out to right the wrongs of villainous criminals. It's not. The title actually refers to six towns of the Holy Roman Empire that, in 1430 AD, joined together to preserve their commercial interests and protect their security from Hussite attacks. It is you, as a tax collector, to gather the most taxes (and support) from these cities to earn recognition in the court of the king and, perhaps, attain the final goal: ascending to the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, all due to your success with these six cities: the League of Six.
League of Six is a Vladimir Suchy design and comes with a countryside board, scorecard, sets of cards (six each of town, storage and town/Hussite cards), 30 civic leader cards, 35 guard cards (in denominations of 1 and 3), 18 hexagonal tax tiles, horse tiles and more.
The countryside board is the hub around which the six city tiles (numbered 1 through 6) are randomly placed. Each player chooses a color and takes the matching pawn and two tokens. The scoring board is placed nearby with one token set on the 10 space of the board's perimeter scoring track (indicating 10 points of influence), the other in the center of the countryside board (randomly for the first turn) to indicate turn order. The civil leader cards (valued at 2, 3, 4 and 5 with pictures of clergy, aristocracy and burghers, each type in a specific color) are placed on the scoreboard. Other civil leader cards (with gray backs) are placed in their own separate piles.
All players begin with three guards (the currency of the game). The six town cards are shuffled and one (or more, depending on the number of players in the game) is drawn and placed on the matching town. That town is considered to be under attack by Hussites and is OUT of the round. No taxes can be collected there for this round. Now, from the stack of shuffled hexagonal tax tiles, one is randomly placed on each of the towns not under attack.
With the set up done, each player, in turn, decides where he wishes to collect taxes. To do this, he places his pawn in a town and on the appropriate guard space of that town. The values of each town's guard spaces range from 0 to 12. That number indicates how many guards must be "spent" to collect taxes there. While the first figure is placed on 0, subsequent players may move their figures onto a higher valued space of that town thereby increasing the bid. The player outbid now has a choice. He may move his figure to yet a higher valued space (and upping his bid) OR accept the proffered bid by his opponent. By accepting a bid, the player receives the amount of guards bid by his opponent (should a player bid more guards than he has, he may turn in influence points for guards at the rate of 2 points for 1 guard, an unfavorable but sometimes necessary exchange rate). The outbid player must then move to another city and place another bid. Each move from city to city costs 1 guard in addition to any bid that might be made. (Even staying in the same town from round to round will cost 1 Guard as you move from "road" to "city".) This bidding continues until all players have a city in which they are the sole presence.
The positions of the tokens in the center of the board are now changed based on the number of guards spent. The player who spent the most places his token on the center space showing the most guard figures with the next highest spender taking the second space and so on. (Ties, if any, are broken by the number value of the city. Higher city number breaks the tie in that player's favor.) The player who has spent the most guards collects taxes first and tax collection is one of the clever aspects to the game.
All cities have a hexagonal tile with a resource printed in its center and with anywhere from two to five arrows radiating outward, pointing to groupings of various resources potentially available: red, blue, green and yellow blocks, various civic leaders, guards and horses. The player may align the hex tile any way he wishes so that the arrows point to the resources he feels are most advantageous to him. Once everyone has collected their taxes, these taxes are stored.
Players store goods based on how many horses they have collected. The player who has amassed the most horse symbols during tax time will go first with the player with the second most symbols going second and so on. Now, in turn, players make their selections from the scoreboard tiles.
There are TWO scoring boards available each round. Each scoring board shows a lineup of colored block spaces and a small number which indicates the number of Influence Points earned by filling that particular space. There is also a larger number (at the front of the lineup) which earns the player who started the line a bonus when/if the lineup is completed. On turn, a player chooses ONE line and MUST fill in as many colored blocks as he can using the resources he received from taxing. If he completes the row by himself, he also scores the large number bonus of the row. The bonus is either more Influence Points - on one scoreboard - OR a civic leader card valued at 5, 4, 3 or 2 - on the other scoreboard. (Regarding civic leaders: a player may choose a leader card of a lesser value if he so desires in order to accumulate more of one of the three types of leaders. He may NOT, however, "break up" his bonus into multiple cards, for example, deciding to take a 3 and a 2 card when winning a 5.) But if the row is NOT completed by the player, EACH player, in clockwise order, MUST use his blocks (if possible) to complete the row! Once this is done, the next player (the one with the second most horses) picks a row and the same procedure performed. You can even choose a row for which you have no resources provided there ARE resources to fill that row still available from other players. This continues until all possible placements have been done. Any leftover resources are discarded and NOT saved for a future round.
Now, the Hussite card(s) is/are taken back and reshuffled with a new card (and it could be the same card) placed to see which towns are available for taxing. The hexagonal tiles on the towns are discarded and new ones randomly placed to replace them. The top unclaimed civic leader cards are discarded, storage tiles replaced with a new set and we move into the next round. (There are six two-sided storage tiles. One side offers only one type of resource per arrow and are used for the first three rounds. The flip sides offer multiple types of resources per arrow and are used for the last three rounds.) At the end of the sixth round, final scoring occurs.
With the end of round six, players reveal their stash of civil leaders. To their influence totals on the scoring track, players add more influence for each type of civic leader (clergy, aristocracy and burghers) and their relative holdings. With the full complement of players, the player with the most of each type will earn an additional 9 Influence Points with second place worth 6, third place 4 and fourth place 2. (If tied, the tie-breaker is the player holding the most guards.) The player who has amassed the most Influence Points at game's end wins!
The bidding mechanism here, first seen in Evo (Summer 2001 GA REPORT) and used in other games including Vegas Showdown (Winter 2006 GA REPORT), is used to excellent effect as players need to decide precisely how much an array of goods is worth and how many guards it makes good sense to sacrifice. The other side of this coin is interesting too as players can (and will) make themselves a nuisance in bidding against players, accepting bids, in order to accumulate enough guards to assure they will get control of the city they REALLY want. The ability to adjust the arrows on the hex tiles so you can have a bit more control over what resources you can get adds another layer of decision making to the process.
When collecting taxes, it is important to keep an eye on the storage requirements of the round and how they relate to what your city can provide. Don't underestimate the importance of horses. On first play, it might seem that horses are the least desirable resource. After all, horses do not convert into Influence Points like blocks and civil leaders and by claiming horses instead of other resources, you might feel your Influence Point potential limited. But that's not necessarily so. Turn order in determining which rows to fill can be pivotal. By going first or second and choosing which rows to fill, you can effectively channel resource placement by the other players, forcing them to place blocks in lines not to their liking. Sure, they will get Influence Points but you can limit the amount of IPs gotten (forcing a block onto a 1 Influence Point space rather than a 3 can add up over six rounds) and reap those impressive and important bonuses for completing rows for yourself. The danger with this game mechanism is the possibility of analysis paralysis, as players seek to optimize their "row calling". Fortunately, in our gaming sessions, possibly because of the two different bonuses which focuses choices on one board or the other and with only four choices per board at most, paralysis has yet to appear which is a very good thing.
League of Six succeeds due to its flawless interwoven mechanics which offers a variety of facets as player interaction ranges from direct (in bidding) to subtle (storage resource placement). It is a carefully constructed game of interrelationships, between taxing and storage, between bidding and accepting bids, which strikes just the right balance for a first rate, challenging game. - - - - Herb Levy
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