The realm is in upheaval and rival lords are falling over each other to prove their loyalty and piety in Barons, the strategic card game. Annex neighboring lands, build powerful structures and recruit brave knights to attack your enemies and protect your barony. Race against the other barons to build the realm’s first cathedral while hindering their attempts to do the same in this intense game!
Barons is a stand-alone card game designed by Thomas Colthurst, Ph.D.(!) and published by Cambridge Games Factory, the publishers of other similar games such as Glory to Rome. Cambridge Games Factory is a smaller-scale publisher, and their games aren’t as pretty or shiny as you may come to expect. However, as Glory to Rome has shown, you don’t need “shiny” to be a great game. Barons follows this trend, consisting of 200+ cards, all of which have pretty decent art and design. You will use these cards to create your “board”, a barony consisting of lands, buildings and knights.
The goal of the game is to create a thriving barony, with 2 major milestones you have to meet: building a Church, which then allows you to build a Cathedral. The first player to build a Cathedral wins the game. This is similar to the construction goals of games like Settlers of Catan or Cyclades. However, building the church and cathedral is no easy feat, as it requires you to have a strong resource production base and the capability to defend it from other players, all of whom will be racing towards the same goal.
The mechanics of the game are fairly simple. Firstly, each card is either an action, a building or a knight, all of which have interesting abilities and can be played from your hand (at specific times). Secondly, cards are used to pay the cost of other cards. This is done by discarding the required type and number of cards from hand. Thirdly, cards can be placed face-down on your barony and act as lands, increasing the number of cards you can draw each turn.
What makes the game more complex is that there are 4 colors of cards with separate “resource pools”. For example, placing a red card down as land will allow you to draw more red cards but won’t help you draw cards of other colors. This bears a resemblance to the resource mechanic in the Magic: the Gathering trading card game. The cards from each color also have their own themes and strengths: red cards focus on boosting production; blue cards focus on trading and hand manipulation; green cards focus on defense and versatility; while yellow cards focus on instant actions and shoring up production deficiencies.
You can choose which color you want to focus on depending on your playstyle, and the 4 colors are almost equally powerful and competitive. You could play as a builder, a trader, a wall, or anything in between. You could start the game by focusing on production by playing red cards, then branch out to include blue cards for their trading powers. However, you will have to eventually show that you can control every color in order to win the game; the construction costs for both the Church and the Cathedral include all 4 colors.
A unique part of the game – and what makes it really shine – is the tactical aspect of it. Every building and land you play has to be placed carefully in your barony. You can only “tax” (ie. draw cards from) sections of land that are adjacent to each other. Certain buildings such as the Forge or Mill only work when they are adjacent to specific cards. But most importantly, exposed lands can be invaded by enemy knights!
Knights are special cards (from all 4 colors) that are played as actions. They can be used to attack your opponents’ undefended lands or buildings with an exposed edge, removing them from play! They can also be used to defend your own cards, preventing enemy knights from attacking cards adjacent to them. If you pay a higher cost, you can even use a knight to attack an enemy, then return to defend your own land. Defense is crucial, for if an opponent manages to use his knights to split your barony in two, all cards that are not connected to your castle no longer contribute their abilities and can’t be taxed. There are also powerful buildings that cost a lot to build, and you don’t want to see them destroyed.
While the game mechanics in Barons are pretty simple, there is a surprising amount of depth in the strategy and tactics of the game. You need to manage 4 resource pools, while deciding which ones you should be focusing on. You also need to weigh your priorities and build order: gain land, construct powerful buildings, or use knights to both hinder and protect. You could even play a denial game by playing Church cards face-down as land, preventing other players from building them. However, the flow of the game also depends a lot on each playgroup. It can be a very quick game where players race to build their Church and Cathedral, or it can be a grueling tug-of-war where progress is constantly hindered by invading knights, and all your time and resources are spent trying to protect your land and economy.
Barons is a great card game that doesn’t take very long to learn, and doesn’t take long to play either. And the amount of depth involved ensures lots of replay. You will like Barons if you like other card games such as Glory to Rome or construction “race” games such as Cyclades.
Playing Time: 1 hour
Number of Players: 2 to 6 players
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Get more information on the game at Board Game Geek