Before we can delve deep into fantasy civil war we must first set up the play area. As mentioned before, this is a 2-4 player game and is great for a small to medium coffee table. The aim of the game is to earn the most victory points. You can do this by controlling location cards. The more you defend and the more you besiege the more points you can gain. Defender, attacker, and support cards can assist in this campaign for the throne.
When setting up, each player is dealt a random Starting Location with any unclaimed ones removed from the game. This is pretty much your home territory. Each player also receives a starting money pool of 3 Shillings and their coloured Siege and Fortification Tokens. After shuffling the remaining cards to form the Reinforcement Deck, deal each player their starting hand depending on the number of players. Lastly, place the End Game card 20 from the bottom of the Reinforcement Deck and then we are ready to play!
The game is turn based with each player taking their turn before passing to the player on their left. As briefly mentioned before, the aim of the game is to score the most points. These points come from holding claim on location cards which all have point values detailed on them. You can do this by defending your own locations but also laying siege to those held by other players.
During a turn a player can take the following actions: play a location card, play defender cards on one of their locations, play attacker cards at one of your opponents locations, play a support card, place cards in your 2 reserve spaces for use in later turns, buy cards with shillings, and discard 1-2 cards for shillings. You can take perform as many as these actions as you are able. But you must be able to pass 3 cards to the player on your right once you have finished your turn. More on that later.
Gameplay consists of players taking their turns with the aim to secure as many Victory Points as possible. This can be achieved by placing more location cards, defending said location cards, as well as laying siege to an opponents location. The support cards can assist you in your campaign for control of the throne by providing positive effects for you or negative effects for your opponents. Also, you will gain shillings from gaining more locations as well as other card effects to spend on drawing more cards. Other mechanics such as placing up to 2 cards in Reserve is great for setting up future plays. Or, you could prevent the next player from using them against you.
As for defending and attacking locations, this is were it gets interesting. Whether it be defending or attacking you place your cards face down. This creates an element of risk going into battle. During the game you will assess whether you want to commit forces to defend your territories or invade an opponents. Ensuring your locations are free from attackers secures your victory points on those locations. When you commit attackers you will gain a Siege Token on that location netting those victory points if it goes uncontested.
When a location has both defenders and attackers the cards are flipped up. After resolving effects on cards, you compare the strengths of either force. The defenders win if their strength is equal to or greater than the attackers. Otherwise, the attackers win. If the defenders win, all cards are discarded and a Fortification Token is placed on the location. This fortification token will defeat the next attack placed against it which is awesome! If the attackers win, the defending force is discarded, attacking cards are discarded up to the strength of the defenders, and the siege continues.
Taking it a bit deeper, some cards also have keywords. These key words are: Counter, Assassinate, Earn, Steal, Retreat, and Ally. These can aid your war efforts by manipulating the board state. You could have an attacker that once flipped over will Assassinate a specific card netting you a free kill. You could play a card with Earn which will grant you extra shillings to spend. Or you might play attackers with the Ally keyword which allows them to be played with cards with the same Ally type such as Mercenaries or College of Mages. Using these effectively can swing the tides in your favour.
Once you have done everything you are able to in a turn, pass 3 cards to the player to your right, and any remaining cards can be placed in any of your 2 reserve slots or be discarded. You then draw reinforcements from the reinforcement deck, depending on the amount of players, and the player on your left starts their turn. This draw and turn mechanics is very interesting as it can give you some insight on how the person to the left is playing but also what resources the player to the right has.
The game can end in a couple of ways. It ends immediately when a player has 5 fortification tokens, 5 siege tokens, or a combination of 8 at the start of their turn. Or, if the End Game card is revealed from the reinforcement deck then the end game phase is triggered. If revealed during a turn then conduct the turn as normal, but draw to a starting hand size instead at the end of your turn. Then the end game phase begins. You can only perform 1 action per turn, you cannot refill your hand at the end of the turn, and you don’t pass cards to the player on the right. If a player cannot perform an action or fulfils the previous end game condition then the game ends. The player with the most victory points from uncontested locations wins. Draws result in players ruling over The Empire together.
Overall, despite their being a lot of the surface, the game is fairly simple to learn and very engaging to play. After the first couple of games the setup took only a couple of minutes with the hunger for victory following shortly after. The reinforcement deck and mechanic is fantastic. By passing 3 cards to the player on your right allows for some valuable information to be gained for the entire table. That combined with a currency to keep the game flowing makes for an exciting race for the title of Emperor!