Preview of Barbarians: From Giochi Sul Nostro Tavolo

Translated from the original Italian: on the blog Giochi Sul Nostro Tavolo.

By Fabio (Pinco11)

Now on Kickstarter.

A few days ago, I got an email: “Did you know that there’s a Kickstarter project going for the new game from Zizzi (+Chiacchiera e Ciaccasassi), called Barbarians?”

“Oh, yeah?” I thought to myself…

“If you’re interested in doing a review we can send you a copy of the prototype… It’s the one we sent to Rahdo and we can have him ship it onto you directly.”

I gave a heads up to the group of playtesters, who said “yes” right away, also for the pleasure of getting their hands on the exact copy that had been made famous by the Maltese videomaker.

A few days pass and the copy arrives on our table, still humid (maybe it arrived by sea or maybe it was raining the day it was delivered…) and we sit down to try it.

Just to let you know, I’ve known Zizzi for a few years now and I actually tried a version of the prototype at Play Modena 2 or 3 years ago. Usually, I am able to remain unbiased, but I wanted to let you know anyway about our friendship, also because, just maybe, for how much trouble I give him each time we see each other, this warning may be worth more to consider what is written below tinged with excessive severity, rather than the opposite.. :)

Player board with resource and warrior miniatures.

BARBARIANS OR HITTITES?

The title of this paragraph is just to remember that when I tried the game a few years ago, the protagonists were Hittites, but these didn’t peak the interest quite enough, and so on this final version of the enormous box (I’ve been told that in the final version this will not be so big — p.s. I’ve heard the most recent news it that the definitive box will be 32x32x8…) there are bearded and muscular Barbarians, that remind me of the Nordic warriors loved by Odino.

If you take a look at the project page (link) you will also find a beautiful set of miniatures in the add-ons (in the Iron Edition and above, these are included), that might make you think of a smash-it kind of American game. But right of the bat, I must tell you that you are in front of a classic management game, one where a generous amount of American tint has been added, but that at the roots remains in all and for all a German game, with interaction that you can feel, but that remains completely indirect.

The 3D Volcano.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

At the base the game is a classic action management, with a production mechanism for each player.

The indisputable protagonist is definitely the Volcano, the 3D construction in the shape of a wedding cake, that sits in the left part of the main player board. The structure is made of a central wheel, with three outer wheels surrounding it. Each wheel is divided into wedges (action spaces). The spirit of the wheel lies in the fact that during each turn, every player places their three Champions (wooden meeples or miniatures if you pledged Iron or bought add-ons) in the action spaces, following a set of defined rules. The first particularity is that after the first Champion is placed, each successive one must be placed in an action space adjacent to the first, in the next wheel. The second facet of the Volcano is that some effects allow you to rotate the wheel, increasing certain option and eliminating others.

THE ACTION

The actions to complete are many, but the base logic is to procure resources, increase knowledge in 8 categories (that then have an effect on the actions you can complete in the course of the game), collect God cards, and conquer lands. There are also a lot of nice combos that you can obtain, taking advantage of the sequence of actions that must be considered already in the placement of the first Champion. But at the same time, you have to keep in mind the ability of other players, to mix it up, turning the Volcano.

The second board, on the other hand, is a classic map with a few islands, different territories, that the players will need to conquer during the course of the game. To note, though, is the fact that battles are not direct, but are fought only between the players and the Civilized Populations, which are controlled by the game itself. War is controlled by a simple mechanism that calls for the player involved to flip a certain number of cards (the exact number is determined by the level of knowledge the player has reached in the faction they are currently challenging) and eliminate warriors (there are 3 types of warriors, which are acquired by spending resources) indicated on those cards. There is the possibility to choose which battles you win and which you lose, and the war is won if the player is victorious in more than half the battles fought. So the mechanism hinges on push your luck, though in a very controlled way (you know which type of warrior a given territory will require, and through playing you get to know the distribution). Once a player conquers a territory, they obtain victory points and no other player will be able to conquer there. So here we see the possible American aspect of the game disappear :)

I want to add that there is also a special Honor track that keeps tabs on milestone bonuses and player order. There are many kinds of events to keep in mind during the 7 turn game (or less, because the games ends either after the 7th era or at the end of the given era if a player reaches 100 points).

God Cards.

GAMEPLAY

The first thing you could think when you see the huge amount of elements on the table is that this game might take the entire night to finish, but around the second or third turn you realize that the 90 minutes indicated on the box, although probably optimistic for the very first game, is pretty reasonable for seasoned players who have accumulated a bit of experience. The game in effect takes place over 7 turns, and in each of these a player performs 3–4 actions. The first action of every turn requires the greatest amount of planning, because you need to reason on the possible sequence of successive actions and the possible rotation of the wheel (by you or by another player), while in the following turns, the choices are further reduced, speeding up the time needed for reflection.

On a practical level anyway, the fascinating central element is the Volcano (coined by us the ‘wedding cake’), first for its impressive 3D appearance on the board, and also for its turning action. Everything revolves around this twist (play on words..) and that’s what makes this design so intriguing.

For the rest, at the base we have a simple mechanism, that the designer has added a lot of different elements to. So we can talk about the knowledge tracks, the effects of the God cards, and so on. There are events (and other cards) that articulate the flow of the game, so the variability is pretty significant, with ample possibility for customization on the part of the players.

Interaction? It’s present, because the turning of the wheel by an opponent can change up possible future actions, but at the same time a territory, once conquered, can’t be lost again. In the final summary, this game is in all and for all a management game.

80 miniatures included in Iron Pledges, or as add-ons.

WHO WILL LIKE BARBARIANS, AND WHO MAY NOT

Having only played a few games (time is tight seeing that the Kickstarter campaign is ending soon), I know I will need to be approximate. But I think it’s useful to give a general idea.

If you love the theming of Barbarians, this game is definitely for you, because it benefits completely the experience typically searched for on Kickstarter, with a whole lot of personalized markers and captivating miniatures.

The graphics are also at a really high level, with well-finished illustrations (a few elements, I think, should still be revisited to help players recognize the icons at a glance. Also, maybe reducing the size of some parts of the game. But the version that I tried is subject to change, as most projects crowdfunded).

In the category of “skip this one” I would put players that love above all really linear games, centered on ‘dry’ mechanics in their most direct version. Because Barbarians strives to be a game full of additional elements, with micro and macro effects, with many parts that can change the speed of the voyage. At the same time, if you prefer a compact and simple game to play at the pub, you can pass on this one :)

The 4 Barbarian clans.

A WORD FROM ZIZZI…

Because I know him really well, it was easy for me to get a few words from Pierluca Zizzi, who was open to talking about the game. Here is a brief dialogue with the game designer (who collaborated on Barbarians with Chiacchiera and Ciaccasassi).

How did the idea for the game come to you? Don’t lie, in reality Barbarians is the same game about Hittites that I tried three year ago, right?

You got me! The return of the Hittite Zombie Ninja has transformed into the good Barbarians. I wanted to make a game about a grand civilization from the Bronze Age that was monumental enough to simulate war, advanced technology, religion, and some history. Like many dreams, well, the Hittite empire was then invaded by Barbarians from another world. In reality, the setting is completely mine and comes from an idea that I developed after rejecting various clearly recognizable edits. I said to myself, “And if I completely overturned the concept? The Barbarians have taken on the positive role, and they battle against decaying civilizations. To hell with all those snob nobles! And it worked.”

The Volcano where the Champions are placed seems like a great idea… Was that the fruit of your collaboration with the other two designers (Martino Chiacchiera e Mattia Ciaccasassi)? What other great ideas did they come up with to put a stop to your delirium to overdo everything?

Eco Leather player boards, included in the Iron & Blood Edition.

Thanks for the question, and I hope you choke :) . Anyway, no, the idea was mine. The rotating concentric wheel were practically identical in the first version, except that at first they had more symbols and functions. These were simplified because of the elimination of some resources, and a few superfluous actions, for example the ‘sacred hunt.’ Martino and Mattia changed the battles, the interactions with the technology tracks, and a few things about the Gods. They added the demons and made the whole thing more fluid and fun. I can’t thank them enough, without them Barbarians wouldn’t have been this great of a game.

What do you like about your game, and what do you still criticize?

The greatest merit, for me, is the feeling that the game is in some way representative of the fantasy invasion on the part of the original populations that seem to have really existed. When you get stronger as a warrior faction, invade islands, learn strategies from enemies and then use that against them… well, you get the point. As you know, I have a particular love for the theme of this narrative.

I could critique, though not too much, the war mechanism because it is less representative and finishes faster that it would have in that time. I understand the demands of design and editing, and so I realize I have to lean to these.

Now, let’s talk about the rules, at least in general.

Every turn a player places their Champions on the wheels of the Volcano, from the central wheel moving out with various interesting restrictions. Every sector produces immediate effects, for example to construct a building, or to collect resources, or on the other hand allows for the strategic advancement and the collection of effects for indirect interactions with other players.

Some of the mechanics allow a player to twist a single wheel of the Volcano. This is very interesting because if you would like to reach a certain area, but can’t in a given moment, you need to find a card with the ability to get you there.

With the right resources, you can obtain three different kinds of warriors, transform resources, construct buildings, and get to know advanced technologies that will strengthen your force in war, to conquer and de-civilize the world. The crescendo of tension and the goals are well defined, and you will have fun, I guarantee it.

There is a lot to say about the rules, but I prefer that players learn from the rule book (after all of you have ordered at least a few copies each!).

Whose choice was it to recruit the illustrator Ivan Cavini, and why him?

The Queen Attahua.

The choice came from the editors, but was completely approved by me. Ivan has this very particular and hyper-realistic style that is perfect for the setting and the referral target. And, damn he is really good, really really good. You should go see his art, you will find the smallest details, basically secondary that could pass completely unobserved at a first look. Then when you see them, they make you say “Wait, was that there before? Or did he just draw that in?” That kind of design plays perfectly for the heroic fantasy genre and the game has really benefited from this identification.

Tell us about your projects for the future and other games coming out (and say it like we actually care!).

Haha. Now, in August the fourth expansion of Dark Tales will come out. It is a fable of a princess, and at the end there is also a prince. I am also turning into my editor the fifth expansion, which will be about a prince. There will be some girls in the end, I think they will be princesses. I have almost finished the first expansion of 3 Secrets called “Psychology of the Hittites and Their 3 Secrets” (“Psicologia degli ittiti e i loro tre segreti”), just kidding. I’ll only say for now that this will have an historic setting.

With Thundergryph, and in collaboration with Francesco Testini, a really original game will come out about the creation of the Chinese gardens in the Tang Dynasty. It will really surprise you for the beautiful graphics and the originality, believe me.

I signed with Giochiuniti for another game, in collaboration with a designer that you don’t know, (Hi Riccardo!), about the creation of monsters and the plans of some crazy scientists.

A number of other prototypes are around the world to threaten your mental sanity: Resistance is futile!!

Well, that is quite a bit of information about this project. So now is the time to say goodbye to my friend Pierluca, and unfortunately, he’ll probably be back. It seems that he will, inexplicably, keep on publishing his games …

See the Original Review from Giochi Sul Nostro Tavola on their blog.

Visit the Kickstarter Campaign to learn more.