I’m at home as the next Barbarian, resplendant in fur-lined gusset, thermal pig-bladder helmet, cat-gut thong and truncated cow-hide elbow patches but this invading lark really works a seat up and this animal skin does nothing to aid ventilation…no wonder dogs pant on a hot day…it’s vloody murder dressed in animal skin….

…speaking of murder, I think I have a spot of marauding ahead of me. No self respecting Conan or Red Sonia wanna-be should be caught washing their smalls in a fresh water tarn!

 

INTRO:

The mysterious world of Fenian plays host to our solitary venture this time. Warlords lead barbaric tribes on a journey of conquest throughout the civilised nations. Barbaric shenanigans are sure to follow!

 

 

 

 

What’s All The Fuss About?

Barbarians everywhere in their brutal natured, scantily clad, rippling body costumes…that’s what this all about. Conquering lands, getting rich, gaining Honor and dominance over the world of Fenian. This new release from Tabula Games features a heavy Conan-like world of battle, warriors and world dominance. But is that fuss truly warranted? Will we get what we think is inside the box? Are we going to be able to reenact our fantasy warrior dreams?

We shall see!

 

Immersion or Subversion?

From the art, the game concept, the world created, there is theme a plenty. Shed loads of theme but does the game support this with equally barbaric mechanics?

 

 

 

I won’t divulge at this juncture because I have numerous points I touch upon in the Me, Myself and I segment later…so I shall keep you in suspense for now.

 

Mechanical Attributes:

There is nothing overly ground breaking for most of the  game. Now that isn’t a negative point, I just mean that it has oodles of resource tracks to develop,

 

 

 

…materials to be collected by the placement of worker meeples and offers of gods, war-chiefs and a large range of modern amenities (log piles, grain stored, quarries…you get the general idea)…oh and a map that tracks the lands we conquer.

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Yes, I think that’s about it!

…wait a minute!…that ominous rumbling in the background can only mean one thing! The digestive tract of a demon….n, it’s A VOLCANO!

 

 

 

A volcano comprised of a series of ascending or descending (depending on which direction you look at it) circles provides a carousel style resource/worker placement facility. Each of the rings has a number of locations offering a vast range of resources and actions that could be available to us. But that is where the mundane simplicity ends.  Each ring has partitions on them…bounderies if you like, which over lap each descending circle. The picture should illustrate this…

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…the cleaver part is we place a meeple on one location on the top ring…this then opens up to us a limited number of places on the next ring. The next ring’s location, in turn, makes available only a certain number of final locations. So the placement of the first meeple may not be on a spot that is valuable to you but it opens up a pathway to greater things on the next level…and so we have a very cleaver resource path generator…..oh, but it doesn’t stop there for us, the resource befuddled solitary player,  oh no! At certain parts of each turn/round the AI meeples move clockwise or counterclockwise a number of set locations on their respective ring (forgetting to mention an AI meeple is randomly placed on each ring at the start of play) So each round, depending on the instructions on th AI card,

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the AI meeples change the location and potentially block us from carrying out our dastardly plan…as we would expect in a multi-player game….but it gets even better…the AI card also indicated which rings are rotated each turn, if at all. Now we are faced with a potentially unique set of resource paths every single turn. This could benefit or hinder us…but opens up the necessity for adaptation…thinking on our feet. This is a very cleaver way of offering an ever changing set of resources opening up the game to wider strategies.

 

Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:

I, being the cheapskate that I am, backed the standard game. They had on offer some wonderful looking miniatures but this is not a minis game. All the figures are merely placeholder, markers, 3D tokens if you will. As wonderful as they were, they made life a little confusing for me, even with the snazzy clip on colour bases. So I made do with wooden and plastic tokens.

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The wooden components are decently cut and coloured…the cube markers are huge blocky affairs which is entertaining for me…I don’t know why.

The moulded plastic tokens are also a nice touch, with clean moulding and unique tribe emblems within.

The art is wonderful and the cards, boards and box are sturdy, well made things with a slight linen finish…which I actually like. It’s a hint at linen texture on the printed materials and doesn’t, as some games do with deeper/stronger linen effect, detract from the illustrations.

The volcano functions well. The cardboard inserts fit nicely but the whole structure, for my liking, could have been a little tighter. The rotation movement is a little sloppy…but that is me being too picky. It doesn’t detract from game play and will never jam, so, you know, job’s a good’un!

 

Meeples and Standees

  • Game Design: Pierluca Zizzi, M Chiacchiera, M Giaccasassi
  • Game Publisher: Tabula Games
  • Boardgamegeek Page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/219832/barbarians-invasion
  • Playtime: 90 mins (it takes a little getting used to everything so expect a learning game to be longer)
  • Gangs of one: 2-4 players (on the box but there is a specific card assisted solo variant so the box should read 1-4
  • Age of Consent: 14+
  • DOB: Fulfilled in 2018 (Kickstarter)

 

Solitairianism:

As a competative multi-player game this solo variation, with its Card driven AI offers us the opportunity to experience Barbarians as a solo game. This AI card driven mechanic provides an ever changing, unpredictable world to conquer and makes life more tricky when seeking those all important resource/action spaces on the volcano…and also actively makes the AI race to steal our Knowledge/Tactick track bonuses…oh and it scores Honor that can negatively impact our final score. So with all this, although we are heading to beat our own score, the game experience is not far from the multiplayer game…so that is a real positive.

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It is not a super heavy Euro game but this certainly focuses on resource management, hand management (to a lesser degree), economical superiority and a smattering of land invasion.

 

The Real Nitty Gritty:

  • Winners and Losers: This is a bone of contention for me. oh, for sure it is probably winnable (as a solo game)… and I have come very close to the lowest tier of success (so, really died, failed, tied up in a boat and pushed out to sea, ablaze!) But, yes I think it is winable without playing against almost impossible odds. However, at the end of the day, it is just a ‘beat your own score/beat the Domination total associated with one of four different difficulty levels. ———- I really feel there has been a missed opportunity here. There is a really good deck that controls the AI, not unlike a number of other Automa vehicles on the market, but why are we just beating our own score? In this barbaric day and age, the solo gamer should be offered more. I appreciate time, financial constraints etc impact design decisions, but I would really liked to have seen a set of Solo variant Win Objective cards…which could be drawn at random before a game starts, giving a wide selection of potential game specific achievements that need to be successfully accomplished (types or numbers of buildings collected, gods or chiefs collected, types of resource, types of land conquered etc)
  • Rules is Rules is Rules: A lovely, short rule book…in fact five of them in English, French, Spanish, German and possibly Italian…no flag and just a guess. 32230AA8-0E45-42B3-9BF8-24D3B6D4F794Explanations and language are pretty good and there are numerous illustrations to aid us… but ooooh this book has, I am really sorry to say, bugged the kaboodles out of me. Most of my issue is with the game’s iconography. As the whole project has a dark colour scheme, the rather complexly illustrated icons become lost and, especially with the Trade actions that contain as many as five smaller icons, it becomes a headache looking at cards, the rules and the volcano trying to quickly figure out what is what. Stone and metal resource Icons are very similar and quite easily mistaken for each other. Perhaps I am being picky but certain elements within the rule explinations felt a little too ambiguous…I found this a touch frustrating when trying my first game. I found myself struggling with identifying icons which just made life a little less than pleasurable. As a result my fist impression play-through was not one of enjoyment. This also impacted on future plays a little. It’s fine for me to criticise without providing positive critisism or suggesting good solutions…but the truth of the matter is, I am not really sure…unable to put my finger on just what didn’t work for me. All that said, it doesn’t take long to get into gameplay as the rules are only eleven pages (plus two for the expansions and a further two for the changes for a solo game) So for such a sizable game the rule set is thankfully slim.
  • Lucky Beggars: There is a randomly prepared deck that governs the AI actions for each turn and we do, from time to time, find ourselves having to draw randomly from a deck of cards but this game is really focused on the resource management/worker placement element. The volcano does rotate at random junctures during the game, too but The likes of dice rolling ….well they are a thing for dice fest fans and have nothing to do with this game. It is you pitting your wits against a “blocking” AI player, you managing your troops, resources, god worshiping, slopping out the dunnies and carrying out general building repairs. If it goes belly up, you have only yourself to blame…or in my case, I blame me, me blames myself and, speaking for myself, the blame lies on the AI deck!
  • Ups and Downs: The over-all look of the game, style of illustration, imagery on the cards (especially the demons) is very dark, menacing and, although not violently graphic, most definitely implies such. So, with that said, are we left with a disturbing, violent, demonic horror gaming experience. No! Of course not. The imagery and theme can suggest such but the game experience is far from that violent expectation one would have as hordes of barbarian nut-jobs emerge over the brow of a hill…but the bulk of this game experience is about resource management, logistics and developing and sustaining infrastructure to support raids into foreign lands. Conflict is really on a small part of the game and handles in a rather abstracted way so there is never an opportunity to feel this is going to be a bloody war game (and by that, I really was referring to bloodshed, not just using profanity for profanity sake) What am I trying to say? …Well, this is a very involved gaming experience and, although most enjoyable, is far removed from the suggestions of the box illustration. This should appeal to Euro style gamers and potential players should not be put off by the visuals.

 

Me, Myself and I:

I was quite surprised by this game when I got it to the table. During the campaign all looked well. The art was something to behold, the volcano was a novel interpretation of the carousel and the snippets of game play suggested a great experience.

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I really wanted to love this game but, for some reason, during (and after) my first play, really was’t bowled over by it. It felt a little static and As I tentatively felt my way around all the possible actions available, struggled to get too enthusiastic.

It is a beautiful game. It plays well and for those liking a slightly different approach to Euro/invasion/area control, then this may be right up your street.

…..Now then! All that feels like a bit of a downer!….and my first experience does not shed a positive loght on the proceedings. I have, however, since wandered off and played through another couple of games…and would you know it? …now it is growing on me.

It is definitely becoming apparent that there are some seriously interesting synergies between available actions and the Knowledge tracks all of which help formulate a player’s strategies. It is becoming more obvious to me now that this is a much stronger, thinky game than I first thought and, if I start thinking of this as the Barbarian Background Logistics game, it starts to make much more sence to me. Just as we sit at home on the couch, glued to our TV screens, watching our fill of war films, we only see the action. The fighty bits. We see tanks, men, guns, novelty condoms and goodness knows what else…but we never see the how. How do they get fuel to the front line? How do they train those cannon fodder troops?

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So suddenly, for me…well myself and I also concur, this is the barbarian how game. We see a small element of land invasion and a brilliant, simple combat system…but we are, as a soloist, the driving force behind the front line offensive. We are the webbed feet of that elegant swan, batting away like crazy to glide the swan majestically across the lake.

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Looking at the game as a Barbarian invasion logistic support game, it really starts to make a lot more sense to me. I am starting to like the clever little mechanics, the hidden subtleties/nuances of play and can even sit back now and enjoy the beautiful map and card illustrations, content with the knowledge that this is not the game I originally thought it to be, but, in fact, one that has emerged to be so much better now I look at it from a different view point. It makes so much more sense and, as such, the theme becomes more immersive, the reason I am playing has greater meaning and I understand what my goal in Barbarian life is.

 

Yay or Nay?

As I touched upon in ridiculous length above, this game is very much dependant upon the way in which we look at it…and what we expect to get out of it…so I think, once we are staring in the right direction, we can see this force of barbaric brutality batter its way towards a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of …hmmmm at first I would have said (4) but now I am starting to see the real game, and I think about it in an all new logistical way, it really has grown into a (6)

As a recommend for other solo gamers, well yes, of course I recommend it as a good logistics game. It is, after all, an enjoyable solo experience but I would just say think carefully about what kind of game you are expecting from this title! Look beyond the first impressions of image and theme…look at what the game really is, then, as you come back to the theme, it all becomes clear. There isn’t sufficient opportunity, in my mind, for effectively using the invasion element of the game playing solo. They have a great thematic combat system that sits really nicely with the Barbarian overcoat, but so little time to use it, what with carrying sticks and harvesting stones and growing Iron and all those other barbaric activities…so the jury is still out. On the whole it looks great (some examples of the artwork, although executed well, may not necessarily be complimentary to women from a context point of view) and the conflict and volcano resource mechanics are novel, but it all feels a little flat, even after several more plays and in the mindset of playing it just as a logistics game. Not having any real goals for the solo player other than a beat your own score/beat the high score set  by the rulebook, it is a little lacklustre and is crying out for some form of personal win objectives.

I have yet to play the expansions, inwhich new cards and mechanics are added including personal hidden objectives…with some minor tinkering these might actually work as Solo Objective Win conditions, regardless of final score (or in addition to it) There will be a follow up article on Barbarians The Invasion…looking at the expansions and the possibility of making a more meaningful reason to rape& pillage aour way across the land

 

OUTRO:

Weary of cheese sandwiches I close my tupperwear lunch box, pick up my trusty plastic coated cardboard replica of a genuine photograph of a double headded battle axe, adjust the girth on my knee protectors and swing for glory on Boenhoor…as my foes fall at my feet, swathed in a victorious spray of enemy blood …

…it is amazing now how realistic those  joke-shop blood capsules are…I nearly fooled myself at one point but it turned out to be a minor paper cut…but it din’t hald sting!

______________________________________

Something For The Weekend, Sir?

  • Tabular Games on Twitter
  • Tabular Games website

https://tabula.games/

  • A Box of Delights runs through the solo game
  • Board To Death review

 

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