Rheinlander – Game Review
Pitting three to five players against each other, Rheinlander is a race to carve up the medieval-era Rhein River valley into fiefdoms. As play proceeds, players consolidate their holdings into larger realms by muscling out the neighbors.
Rheinlander is an excellent game. Players who take satisfaction from teasing a win out of a difficult situation will find themselves drawn to this game again and again. Rheinlander is typical of German-style boardgames in general, and of Knizia games in particular, in that there are usually several appealing options available to each player on any given turn. The style of play in Rheinlander is simple, yet still providing players with layers of potential strategy just beneath the surface. This game should not be seen as a historical simulation, but rather as an interesting strategic challenge.
To start, each player selects all the dukes and control markers (knights) of one color, plus three bastion markers. Five cards are dealt to each player. The cards, numbered 1 to 54, correspond to spaces on the board. Also in the deck is a jester; when the jester is drawn, the discard pile is shuffled back into the deck, and play resumes. Each player in turn plays a card and opts to either place a knight on the space with the matching number or place it on an available space adjacent to the player’s current holdings. Two or more consecutive spaces controlled by one player converts the area into a duchy, and the player places a duke figure of their color on a space in the area.
If a player takes control of a space adjacent to another duchy, and that space later becomes part of his own duchy, the two duchies combine. The player with the most knights in the newly-combined area takes control of the whole, and the other player removes his tokens and scores points for the lost duchy immediately. In the case of a tie, all players remove and score their tokens and the area remains contested. The player who next gains control of a space adjacent to the contested area will gain overall control and place a fresh duke on the territory. Additionally, when a duchy changes hands, any knights of the opposing player occupying castle spaces are removed and scored, and replaced by knights of the new controller. Players faced with an aggressive neighbor may want to place a bastion marker between them to block any further advances by his neighbor, but each player only has a small number of bastions to use, so wise placement is crucial.
Also marked on the junctions between spaces are circles; to these are randomly assigned tokens of cities, churches or castles, each worth points at the end of the game for the controlling player. Additionally, the player who controls the most duchies containing at least one church claims the Archbishop token. Controlling the Archbishop allows a player to use the Archbishop’s special power: Conversion. The controlling player may play a card for a space already controlled by another player, and replace that player’s knight with one of his own color, potentially changing the balance of power radically. The game ends when one player has no more knights left to place. Players score points for their holdings, either when they lose them to another player or at the end of the game, and the player with the most points is the winner.
The components are of decent quality. The plastic dukes, sculpted in full armor on horseback, are nicely done, though some of the thin, detail bits like lances are frail. The painted wooden disks for the knights, and gray wooden rectangles representing the bastions, are similar to pieces seen in other European-style board games. The money is represented by die-cut counters in gold, silver and copper for ten, five and one gold piece respectively. The city, castle and church tokens are die-cut cardboard disks, and the bishops are die-cut hexagons. Because of the different shapes, telling the various tokens apart is easy, making sorting the pieces at the beginning of play quick. The 19” x 26” board is thick and sturdy, and the overall presentation is quite handsome. The 32-page rule book includes instructions in English, Korean, French, Japanese and Spanish.
At 45 minutes plus of playing time, Rheinlander is a relatively quick strategy game. The $50 suggested retail price tag isn’t cheap, but is comparable to other games of similar size and heft. For more information on Rheinlander, visit www.face2facegames.com.