This card game is a remake of Knizia's Attacke!, where players are knights, attempting to win tournaments using various weapons, jousts and barehanded combat. Lots of special cards to make things interesting.
Players are attempting to win tournaments in 4 or 5 colors (weapon types), by playing cards to the table giving them the highest value on display. A game of bluffing and chaos, as special cards can change the tournament color or dramatically alter the cards in your display. Should you keep trying to win a tournament in which your hand is weak, or bow out, gaining a card to use in a subsequent tournament. Somewhat similar to Knizia's Taj Mahal, though without a board and a complicated scoring mechanism.
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Each player starts with a hand of six cards. The cards come in 5 colors, representing various medieval weapon types, white "supporter" cards, (which function as wild cards), and special cards, which alter the standard gameplay. One player is chosen as the starting player. That player will draw a card, and then places a card in front of them. This begins a tournament in the color that has been played, (if the card is a white card, the player states what color the tournament is in). Play proceeds around the table, with each player drawing a card, and then either playing cards to the table, or withdrawing from the tournament. When playing cards to the table, the total value of their display must exceed the value of all other player's displays. Play continues around the table until all players but one have withdrawn. The remaining player takes a chip in the color of the won tournament, and then gets to begin the next tournament. The first player to get a chip in every color, (or 4 of 5 colors if playing with 4 or more), wins.
All in all a very simple mechanic. There are a few additional twists however. Purple tournaments, (Jousting), are so prestigious, that winning a purple tournament allows you to take a chip of any color you want. Green tournaments are hand to hand combat without weapons, and all cards played in displays in green tournaments have a value of 1, regardless of the value shown on the cards,(all of the green cards have a 1 value, but white cards, which have a value of 2, 3, or 6, still only count as 1s). Purple tournaments can't be called two turns in a row. You can only have one Maiden card, (white 6s), in your display, and if you lose a tournament with one of these in your display, you lose one of your previously won chips. Still seems pretty straightforward, and a bit dry, doesn't it?
Then there are the special cards. Here's where Ivanhoe takes a major turn towards the chaotic. These cards dramatically alter tournaments, by allowing the player to change the color of the tournament, steal cards from other player's displays, make players discard certain cards from their displays, etc. What keeps these from getting out of hand, is that for all but a couple of these, there is only one card of each in the deck. So keeping track of what's out there to screw up your plans isn't a particularly daunting task. There are some interesting combinations of these special cards, which can produce some wild tournaments.
As mentioned above, scoring is simply a matter of taking a chip in the color of a won tournament, (or giving one back if you lost with a Maiden).
In spite of the chaos created by the special cards, there is quite a bit of subtle strategy in Ivanhoe. It is primarily a game of bluff and chicken, with a large hand management portion. The only way to build up your hand is to withdraw, as in that case you are drawing a card and not playing one. But this takes time. In the meantime, the other players are winning chips. Staying in a tournament generally will reduce your hand size, (as you will often need to play down more than one card to stay in, and you only draw one per turn), so each tournament you need to decide whether you have any chance at winning or whether it is better to withdraw right away and gain a card. Once you are in a tournament, there is a great push to stay in, but the longer you stay in, the more you are depleting your hand. So there is a feeling much like stud poker, as you decide whether to stay in or fold. With experienced players, I think that the potential for bluffing will exist as well, though I haven't played enough, nor with enough table talk, to see this in action as much as I expect.
The special cards add a great deal of spice to the game, and as mentioned above, although these are very chaotic, their numbers are limited, and tracking them isn't too difficult. The card art is great, although the cardstock isn't the highest quality in the world.
Well first off, it's rather expensive for a card game. Secondly, there is a large luck element, as more than once I've thought I had no chance in a tournament, only to draw card after card I needed to stay in. Such is always the case with card games. It also can drag a bit near the end, as everyone gets one token shy of a win. This can also lead to a "gang up on the leader" problem when only one person is about to win. The key at this stage is to try to stay in tournaments even in colors you already have, to keep drawing cards which may eventually be useful in the color you need. Also a few special cards can aid in this as well. Finally, some folks just won't be able to deal with the chaos of the special cards.
Buy/Read about Ivanhoe now at Funagain
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