There’s nothing quite like knights in shining armour – heroes of yore embarking on epic quests with chivalric virtues filling their hearts. So to that end, we present you with five of our favourite games – all about knights and chivalry. We do offer you Arthurian quests but also the dirty battles of the Condottiere mercenary knights; you’ll find the factional politics of the nobility alongside attempts to topple the kingdom, by monsters and assassins.
This is a fantastic, lean and pacey game for budding chivalric nobles looking to secure their control of the throne. Eight turns and eight cards are all that there is to this brain burner. Each turn will end with a contest over one of the eight regions between three factions: English, Scots and Welsh. At game end, the faction controlling the most regions will take the throne and the player with the most influence with the victorious faction will win the game… unless the French invade.
Cards typically allow you to add cubes of one or more factions to the board or move them, as well as making you take one cube from anywhere to add to your court and provide influence over the factions. Each turn play cycles round with players choosing to play or pass until there is a full round of passes and the turn ends.
And from this simplicity, a thing of greatness is born. Every card choice and play feels vital as you consider a route to victory and then decide whether or when you need to pivot as the turns progress. Every player has the same eight cards of which six are unique – so once you have played that card you are unlikely to be triggering the same effect again. And cards played do not need to be used to affect the territory in contest that turn. Nor do cubes removed have to be removed from that territory.
All this makes for cracking decision space and hard thinking. Strategy generally steps aside for tactical flexibility but the game is no worse for it – quite the contrary. It plays fantastically with 2 or 3, but my favourite is 4 where you play bridge-like team play with no communication. It’s a satisfyingly agonising 45 minutes of brilliance that hits the table again and again. To the victor the spoils!
As a kid, my dad desperately wanted me to like Chess. He bought me sets and books on play tactics. Trouble is, I didn’t enjoy the fact that you can learn to be great at it. I enjoy an element of luck coupled with my skill. So it never hugely sparked my interest. In fact when I hear others describe something as “like Chess” I usually turn my nose up at playing it.
That was until I played King and Assassins. This is an asymmetric game of cat and mouse, where one player is the King trying to get to the castle, and the other plays to try and prevent this. The movement is driven by a deck of cards which will show you the number of movement points you may use for your pieces, and if any arrests can happen that round.
The King has knight pieces that it uses to protect the king as much as possible, and so they move as a unit around the board. The other player controls all the villagers, and moves these up onto roofs and around the board trying to impede the knights and kings. This player secretly chooses 3 of their villagers to be their assassins. They can reveal these players as assassins at any point, and if they are within striking distance, they can smite down a knight or a king piece. If the king is killed, the assassin player wins. If the king cannot get to the castle before the deck runs out, the assassin also wins.
The king is able to, when the cards dictate, arrest villagers, which may just be the ones you think are acting shifty. These pieces are removed from the game so as the gameplay continues, much like in Chess, the board will open up. If you want a quick game that plays asymmetrically in a way that is not unlike Chess then perhaps this is the game for you.
When the topic of games about knights and chivalry came up I had to think long and hard if I even had anything that’d fit the bill. But after scouring the shelves I found a bit of a gem in Condottiere.
This is a card game for 2-6 players, you play as generals of mercenary armies in renaissance Italy. The aim of the game is to take control of as many territories as you can. Controlling 5 regions will win you the game but if you’re clever, you can also win by controlling 3 adjacent territories.
But how do you take control of these territories? Well, you play down various mercenaries and special cards and whoever has the highest score takes control of the territory. It sounds pretty basic, but it’s those special cards that really spice things up.
By playing these cards at the right time can swing the battles in your favour. You can force your opponents to discard cards or boost the value of certain card types all over the table. You can also pull the old switcheroo and withdraw some of your cards and replace them with scarecrows.
This sounds like an odd tactic, as nobody wins a war with scarecrows but, your forces are a valuable resource. If you can goad your opponent into committing troops and then withdrawing your own forces to fight another day you may be able to win more battles in later rounds.
The reason it’s so important to preserve your forces is that you only get to draw more cards when only one player still has cards left. This means you need to eke out your army to make sure you have forces to fight, but if you’re too conservative with your cards your opponents will get re-enforcements and all your saving will be for nothing.
Oh yeah, and what if I told you all this game comes in a box half the size of Pandemic? Condottiere is such a neat little game that is filled to the brim with strategy, bluffing and it plays in less than an hour. Brilliant stuff.
In the time of knights and chivalry, some of the key tenets were to do with generosity, defending the weak, not recoiling before the enemy and being everywhere to be the champion of good and the right. The knights of old banded together to repel the evils that threatened the realm and I would like to present a game to you based on some of those tenets.
Castle Panic is a cooperative tower defence game where trolls, goblins and orcs will amble out of the forest and charge at you from six different sectors in three different colours. You and up to five friends control the knights, archers, swordsmen, and heroes of the particular sectors and send them out to guard the castle and its walls. Each turn, you play whatever cards you like from your hand to attack the monsters or build your defences, then the monsters move closer to the castle and more come out of the woods.
What works well is that players can play with open hands and exchange cards. You might have a hero, but Shannon has only archers. You could take out the goblin if you traded the hero for an archer and Shannon can take out the troll in the knights’ ring on her turn! Perfect! You’ve saved the castle!
Sounds simple enough, but you only have a finite number of cards, and the monsters just keep coming. Every turn you pull more out, and the game can be lost by the sheer weight of numbers thrown at you. However, even if you lose this game, you defended the realm to the best of your ability. If you must lay down your sword, at least you did so among friends.
This beautifully crafted asymmetric, civilisation deck builder has the choice of playing Arthurians in the Legends box and for my money, you can’t get more chivalric than that. Anyone that disagrees needs to go and have a good long chat with Chrétien de Troyes.
The game itself is very elegantly designed. In the main, you play cards to gather resources or access cards from the market and cycle your deck to progress further from your initial ‘Barbarian’ state towards ‘Civilised’. En route, the cards you acquire will also contribute to your VP total for end of game scoring, and typically your civilised, development cards will be amongst some of the most valuable. While this sounds pretty prosaic, the artifice is very much in the profound differences between the 8 factions (or 16 if you count Imperium: Classics). Each has a unique nation deck that operates differently and nuances the mechanics and VP conditions in a thematically relevant fashion.
The Arthurians are amongst the most outré of the nations to play. They forego the whole Barbarian/Civilised journey and many of the core mechanics I have just outlined. Instead your game centres on Quests. You will spend your time choosing quests and then using the multi-functional knight cards to progress them towards completion. There’s just enough of the core game to feel familiar but, along with nations like the Atlanteans, Olmecs and Utopians, the Arthurians add a real freshness to the game’s central puzzle.
As with the rest of both boxes, the design and artwork is gorgeous and enhances the thematic coherence of the game overall and the particular faction you choose. It’s a splendid, involved and thinky puzzle, lasting 90 minutes or so. Best with 2 or even the equally carefully crafted solo mechanics which also integrate asymmetry with care and elegance.