||Rio Grande Games
Hans im Glück
|| Ralf Burkert
In the Shadow of the Emperor
Political maneuvering and intrigue in Germany during the middle ages.
In the Shadow of the Emperor, (Im Schatten des Kaisers, or ISdK) is the
latest game from Ralf Burkert, in which players represent factions of
Barons and their wives, attempting to wield the most control over seven
regions within the empire.
Jump to my opinions
The goal of the game is to amass the most victory points by game end.
These can be gained in several ways, the most common being having one
of your Barons or Couples elected as the elector for a region.
The board shows seven regions, segregated into three "Religious"
electorates, and four secular electorates. Each electorate is made up
of an Elector, "aristocrat" spaces, city sites, and potentially castle
Each player begins the game with seven double-sided aristocrat tokens,
showing a baron on one side, and a married couple on the other. Also,
each side is marked along its edges with four ages, (15, 25, 35, and
45), which represents the current age of the baron or couple. As the
game plays, a player's aristocrats will age, dying if they advance
beyond 45 years of age. Each player also has three knight markers, and
three city tokens. All players begin the game with 7 thalers which are
used to purchase various actions throughout the turns.
When the game starts, one player is randomly chosen as the starting
player, and they place on of their barons, (age 45), in the Emperor's
throne, and gets to place one "Empire City", in any of the city sites
on the board. An Empire City functions much like a player city, (see
below), but doesn't generate any income, and gives its influence to
whichever player is the Emperor. Each player then places one 45 year
old baron as an elector in one of the seven regions. Players then place
a 35 year old couple in an aristocrat space, then a 25 year old baron,
and finally, a 15 year old couple. Players may then place a knight in
either an aristocrat space or into one of the castle sites. The game
The game is played over 5 turns, and each turn, (other than the first,
more on that later), follows a set sequence. The first two phases are
skipped on the first turn, and will be talked about below. The heart of
the game comes in the action phase. During this phase, players take
turns, in player order clockwise from the Emperor, choosing an action
card from those on display. These cards are either pink or blue, and
each allows the player to perform the action on the card, assuming the
player has the thalers to pay for it. The cards are limited in numbers,
so a player really needs to decide whether or not the actions they want
to take during a turn will be available by the time their next turn
comes around. The decision is further complicated by the costs, as
rarely will players have enough money to do everything they want to
during a turn.
A player may also choose to forgo taking a card, and instead, execute
the "Privilege" of any one of their barons or couples who is currently
an elector. These can include such things as gaining a free aristocrat,
gaining a victory point, aging another player's aristocrat, (or unaging
one of your own), and some other more esoteric abilities. Finally,
there is one card, which when chosen, allows the player that took it to
challenge the Emperor for the throne, though ending that player's
ability to take any further actions. Once all players have passed on
choosing a card or executing a privilege, the action phase ends.
Within each electorate, an election is then held to determine who the
next elector will be. Each baron provides one power point to a faction,
and each couple provides two. Each city a player has provides one, as
does a knight. Whichever player has the most power points gets to
become the elector, and moves an aristocrat into the elector's spot,
and gains two VPs. If the current elector's faction wins, then no
change takes place, and that player does NOT gain any victory points.
In addition, the three religious electorates cannot have a married
couple as the elector. Any ties are broken by the current Emperor.
Once all seven electorates have been evaluated, if the Rival card was
chosen, then there is an election for Emperor. Each elector receives a
vote, and the player(s) who are not the rival secretly choose which
side they are supporting. Their cards are revealed, and each of these
players who voted with the winner gains a VP.
Finally, the current Emperor gets the spoils of the position, gaining
VPs, getting to place an Empire City, and gaining income. The turn
marker is moved, and the next turn begins.
Each succeeding turn after the first has three phases that I haven't
yet discussed. the first is an income phase. All players gain 6
thalers. Plus, each of your cities you have on the board gains you a
thaler, and each opponent's city that is within an electorate in which
you are the elector gains the elector's faction one thaler.
Next, is the aging phase. All aristocrats and electors and the Emperor
are aged one step, with any that are already on 45 years of age dying,
and being removed from the board.
Finally, each player's faction has a descendant. If a player chose more
blue cards in the preceding turn's action phase, they gain a 15 year
old baron, which they can place in any vacant aristocrat space. If they
have more or equal numbers of pink cards to blue cards then they have a
daughter instead. A daughter can either be offered to another player's
baron in marriage, or sent to a convent for an extra thaler of income.
If the marriage offer is accepted, the player offering the daughter
gains a VP. The cards are returned, and the action phase begins again.
As mentioned above, scoring simply involves counting up the VP cards
you have acquired throughout the game.
Why this game is so great
I think what makes this game great is that it is a very "heavy" game,
with many subtle, and other not so subtle, things going on at the same
time. There are just so many options on your early action card turns,
you must really weigh your needs against those of your opponents, all
the while trying to keep an eye on both your thalers and the ages of
your aristocrats. At its core ISdK is just an area majority control
game, as you are trying to have the most power in a region so that your
aristocrats move up to the elector spot and you can gain 2 VPs. But the
aging rules, coupled with the prohibition on couples being promoted to
elector in religious provinces, coupled with the fact that holding on
to an elector's seat gains you no VPs leads to a very fluid game. You
rarely want to hold a province for multiple turns, (except for those
with the most powerful privileges), but moving aristocrats between
provinces is pretty costly, and often it is better to let one of your
older aristocrats die, while attempting to produce a male descendant in
the next turn, so as to repopulate a different region. Taking the
Emperor's throne is a powerful position to be in, yet doing so reduces
your ability to have aristocrats available to gain VPs in the
provinces. More than once I have seen players unable to exploit a
powerful province due to their lack of aristocrats available to place
on the board.
In the Shadow of the Emperor is a solid heavyweight game, filled with
decisions, yet based on a simple set of rules. It is also one of the
best values for the money, as you get a lot of game for your money. It
has a fairly steep learning curve, and new players shouldn't stand much
of a chance against those who have played a few times.
Why others don't agree
Many people have remarked that in spite of there being a lot going on
in this game, it is lacking in fun. I can see this in some way, as
there is quite a bit going on, and it does all interrelate, so the
overload that can occur can make the fun factor decrease.
Others remark that while it looks like an election game it really
isn't, and while there is an election most every turn, oftentimes the
outcome of the election isn't in doubt, as it is clearly in the
player's interest to oust the current Emperor. Such is the case as with
Evo, which looks like an "evolution" game, or perhaps a majority
control game but is really an auction game at its core.
Others have complained about the fiddlyness of the game, as every turn
you have to age all of the aristocrats and electors, there is money
that has to be adjusted constantly, etc. I've found that while it
appears that there's going to be a lot of fiddlyness, in reality it
doesn't take that long, and it's fairly simple to do the aging, (I
suggest one person does it, while the others watch and make sure
aristocrats aren't skipped).
Another potentially bigger issue is that of "churning". Given that
taking an elector seat gives VPs while holding one doesn't, two players
can make an "agreement" to churn a province by taking turns winning the
elector's seat. This is a very solid way to produce points, but if the
non-involved players allow that to happen, they deserve to suffer, or
they should be able to do the same thing in other provinces.
Finally, there are certain "runaway leader" issues, as buying cities as
soon as possible is almost always a good thing, as cities are permanent
power in a region, provide VPs, and provide money. There are only three
city cards available each turn, so not getting one on the first turn,
(as would happen to the fourth player), can be a really bad thing. Turn
order can be pretty important, so going last on the first turn, (which
is determined clockwise from the Emperor, which is chosen randomly),
can be a really bad thing.
about In the Shadow of the Emperor now at Funagain
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