If you’re looking for a lightweight yet strategic game suitable for the whole family, Celtic is deserving of consideration.
A 2020 release from Pegasus Spiele and designer Dirk Hillebrecht, Celtic re-implements the 2013 game Wunderland, from the same designer. Celtic sits 2-4 players and plays within an hour. With its simple setup, straightforward rules, and free flowing gameplay, Celtic has the potential to become a staple gateway game, particularly to those looking to engage younger and/or casual gamers with the hobby.
Setting the Scene
Thematically, each player will take control of one family, who form a tribe, living in what is now central Germany. The tribe’s leader, the Prince of Glauberg, is dying and seeks a successor. The players, representing the most prominent families in the tribe, must vie for influence. This influence will determine the next Prince and which family will gain power.
Playing the Game
There are no fixed rounds in Celtic. Beginning with the starting player, players take turns in clockwise order until the game’s end. Then influence is totalled, and the player with the most wins. Players gain influence in two ways: by completing goals (fulfilling the tribe’s needs for materials), and by acquiring trade goods.
On your turn, you must move at least one of your family members. Each player begins with eight family members positioned in the village. Family members can move to any connected location, up to two spaces away. Once you have moved, you have the option to complete a goal, and/or take trade goods.
Working towards a goal is incredibly straightforward. The game board depicts a Celtic-age meadowland with 50 unique locations and seven trade locations. Players begin with two secret goal cards in hand and eight family members at the village. Each goal card shows two or three board locations. To complete the goal, you need to have a family member at each location on the card. To acquire one or more trade goods, you must get a family member to the location of the trade cards.
Whenever you reveal a completed goal card, one family member is removed from each location shown on the card. They are returned to the village, and may move again next turn. Likewise, when you take a trade good card, remove a family member from the trade good space. Remove as many family members as cards taken, then return them to the village.
Follow the Leader
The most interesting aspect of gameplay for me is the movement. Each time a player moves from a location, your opponents may copy your movement. They must have a family member at the same starting location to do so. This adds an interesting level of decision making and strategy to an otherwise simple game. You’ll want your opponents to ‘carry’ your pieces around the board, but you may not want to reciprocate!
Triggering the End Game
The game ends immediately upon one player revealing a fifth completed goal, or a complete set of seven trade good cards. At which point, players tally their influence points.
Each goal is worth 15 or 20 points. The number of trade cards (per type) you can score is the number of completed goals plus one. Once you have that worked out, sort your trade cards into piles, by type. You will score one point per card, for the largest pile. Two points per card for the second largest pile, and so on. Total your scores for your overall points.
As a method for calculating your final scores, it’s a bit fiddly, but I do like it. Like the ability for you to follow your opponents when moving, it gives you decisions to make during the game. Do you rush to complete goals quickly, and hope to force your opponents to follow? Or, do you try to pick up a supply of trade goods and aim for big end game scores?
Celtic – In Summary
I was pleasantly surprised by Celtic. Aesthetically, it’s not spectacular, but it looks good on the table. The art and design throughout work well together and suit the overall theme. The game board is bright, but busy. The locations each have a unique piece of art, but the colour scheme is similar on many. When workers are spread out over them, you may lose sight of some elements. A comment from my group was that locations shown on the goal cards could be hard to spot on the board. I can imagine that being a common criticism, but by no means a major one. The cards do indicate which part of the board to look at, and I feel that most players will manage. Were I to offer a (minor) criticism it would be that the cards could be of better quality.
I really enjoyed the gameplay. Its simplistic nature will appeal to many. For me, point-to-point movement followed by playing or drafting a card isn’t exciting. However, enabling your opponents to move with you, and you with them, is surprisingly effective at elevating the game. It adds a genuinely interesting layer of decision making. You will want your opponents to ‘carry’ you quite often, but you are not going to want to carry them in return, especially when you begin to race for trade good cards.
Overall, I think Celtic is a well designed game, and one I’d recommend. I’ll certainly be playing it again. I envisage using this as a gateway game in my future attempts to lure people into the hobby!