Game Review: Morrigan – A Medieval Romp
This week, we take a look at the French game Morrigan. Why do you, my English readers, care about a French game? Because an English version is now up on Kickstarter. In Morrigan, you take on the roles of Knights battling to see which is worthy of going in single combat against the princess’s kidnapper.
The Basics. Players are dealt a hand of five cards to begin the game. And, cards come in five different flavors. There are Adversaries (representing foes to be defeated), Trials (representing impressive feats), and Territories (representing landholdings) which contribute to a player’s prestige. The other types of cards are Action cards (numbered 1-5 and used to fight or defend) and special cards which have unique one-shot effects.
When an Adversary is played, each player can “reinforce” it by playing cards from his hand face down. Then, on any given player’s turn, they can attack the adversary. It’s strength is equal to the prestige (points) it gives plus the value of any reinforcing cards. If the player has numbered Action cards greater than that, he defeats the adversary and keeps those points permanently.
When a Trial is played, the players instead blind bid one card for it. After all players have bid, then the highest bid gets the Trial and the resulting prestige. Territories can be played and the prestige acquired immediately. But they can also be conquered and taken by other players.
At the end of a player’s turn, they can “reinforce” territories or adversaries. This makes their own territories harder to conquer, and adversaries harder to defeat. All reinforcement is done face down – and can even include cards without a numerical value as a bluff.
If a player has 15 prestige at the start of his turn, he has the right to challenge the kidnapper. Then, a special adversary round occurs. If he defeats the black knight, he wins. If not, then play continues.
The Feel. The theme is a little odd. Rather than send all of his best knights to get his daughter back, the King decides he’ll just send the best one. So they have a tournament where they all beat on each other. The least bloodied then goes up against the kidnapper. Personally, I would have taken a Helen of Troy approach and brought the entire army.
In any event, the game was surprisingly enjoyable. Initially, I was very concerned about playing cards. On your turn, you only get to draw two, but you can play as many as you want. It seems that your hand would run out rather quickly. But instead it resulted in a lot of tense decisions. Keep this action card for a fight? Use this territory and maybe see it get conquered, or do I use it to reinforce something else as a bluff? When your hand only has one or two cards in it, every decision seemed to matter.
It’s a rare thing where the game gets more interesting with fewer cards in hand. But it’s because every card becomes important. After all, to defeat an adversary or win a trial, you’re going to need action cards in hand. And, if you ever play out all your cards, then your opponents know that you will be unable to bid for trials or reinforce adversaries. This makes them much easier to play and score.
So, while the game is couched in this veneer of knightly pursuits, it’s really an involved bluffing and bidding game. That trial in your hand might make a good bluff, or it might be better to save it for when your opponents’ hands or low. And Territories seem to be very susceptible to conquering – leading to some amount of justifiable paranoia.
The only real blunder in the game is the final battle with the kidnapper. It is handled as an adversary, but each other player can contribute to it. So, there is a strong incentive to screw the player combatant out of a win. It can make games go on longer than it should. Luckily, a few house rules are all that’s needed to fix this up and focus on the main gameplay.
Components: 3.5 of 5. The game consists entirely of cards. The cards are on thick stock, but almost too thick. They didn’t quite feel right when shuffling – although maybe I just have to break them in a bit more. Also, they felt a little grainy, like old baseball cards that have been up against the included gum. Everything but the numbered cards has great artwork, though. The cards are very pleasant to look at.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. As a bluffing game, there is significant strategy involved. You are playing your opponents just as much as you are playing the cards. Trial cards can be especially interesting as sometimes a single 1 value card can win a high point Trial. The special cards are fairly powerful, though there are enough of them that they tend to spread evenly among the players.
Mechanics: 2 of 5. First off, the main game actually works phenomenally well. It creates tons of interesting decisions, has significant variability, and forces players to make choices based on partial information. But tacked onto this game is a bizarre ending where the choices and incentives are bizarrely straightforward and uninteresting. For that reason, the score suffers.
In my plays, I’ve either removed the final battle entirely, or made it a single encounter where that player either wins or loses, but the game ends anyway. The final battle is not needed.
Replayability: 3.5 of 5. As a card game with a central deck, you will find yourself with new cards in hand each time. But, ultimately, the same decisions will face you in each play. Now, those are interesting bluff decisions made based on your opponents and their plays, but the gist of the game will be similar each time.
Spite: 3.5 of 5. Some of the special cards are particularly spitey. One can make an opponent discard their entire hand. But overall, there’s nothing that will decimate or destroy an opponent. However, there is a lot of spite in terms of reinforcing an opponent’s Adversary or bluffing them into thinking you did so that you can kill it more easily.
Overall 3.5 of 5. Morrigan is a fun game that lasts about a half hour. There’s no getting around that. Despite the awkward ending, the main thrust of the game is interesting and enjoyable. Is it revolutionary or is it a must-play experience? No, not really. But it is a great family game, would be fun for gamers, and is priced about right on the Kickstarter.
(A special thanks to Editions Dagda for providing a review copy of Morrigan)