A clever management and placement strategy game for 3-5 players aged 14+ from the Moliis Brothers
Right from the off the first thing you know you are going to get from a QUEEN Game is quality of production. The second thing taken for granted by QUEEN Game's players is that they will be reading a rules booklet that has been designed to ensure the quality of the game's production shines through from its pages. In this case there are 8 pages, each 28½cm x 28½cm, of graphically documented, clearly defined, with similarly clearly defined examples and boxed text (for Penalty Actions). Back to the components; there is a solid based, four-fold map/board and five Templar (Player) boards, surprisingly only colour coded and also not named. Only 7 of the 9 Edict tiles are used each game which makes a small difference to the set up. As they can be moved from their original positions during play they themselves are basically only extra VPs for the owners; though where they are placed does make a difference to when and which Cities are scored, and that can be a way of messing with opponents who have invested time and knights into cities you have been frozen out of.
When Templars move across the board by 'Safe' card action (a 6) they either remove an opponent's knight from the city they end up in (Red flag) or place one of their knights in that city (Green flag). If they chose the 'Risky' action (card 5) the player can take one Gold coin from each territory the Templar enters on it's up to 3 territory journey. Gold is a useful commodity but gaining a lot quickly can be quite risky, the safe way generally gains 3 coins.
The City tiles are randomly placed at the start and remain in place throughout. City tiles have spaces which show how many knights can reside there, majority rules, and how much revenue they receive each Round. Mission cards, of which there are 8 are shuffled and dealt one to each player. Three are placed back in the box unseen and any remaining are put face up near the board as communal Quests. Knights are Meeples in the player colours, Gold coins are counters of value 3 and 1, and there is a larger counter - the Chance Marker - which is a Luck factor. Action cards are in duplicated sets of six with the flip side colour coded, three of each set shows either a Green Shield or a Red Sword in the top two corners.
The Templar's Journey takes place across a Europe split by border and colour into territories, several of which have large cities from which knights can be recruited and others which both break up your travels and provide you with much needed coins. While the Templars are carousing back, forth and across the board the Pope is making his merry way around the twisting track around three edges of the board; the fourth edge being the player's score track. The board, rules and components can be assigned the phrase 'typical of QUEEN GAMES' but the mechanics and following game play is anything but typical of a QUEEN game. It is fluent, clever and until near the end not obvious of options, mainly because of the possibilities of Knights being randomly ejected from cities, and City Edicts (these determine when and which Cities are scored during play) being exchanged between cities. Thus there are some actions which are obvious and some that would be obvious if it wasn't for political back-stabbing - I thoroughly enjoy games where you can be reasonably upsetting to your opponents (and they to you) without having single game-winning cards/items or specific paths that make the game predictable. TEMPLAR'S JOURNEY is strategic entertainment from start to end.
After the initial setup, placing of knights and Templars (these are larger, shaped, Stand-Up counters), the game begins and is played over six Rounds, 3 of which are Action and 3 are Shipping. One of the neat mechanics about TEMPLARS' JOURNEY is the Pope's movement at the start of each Round. He is moved by the player going first which gives them the advantage of deciding whether the Pope moves to a Green flag or a Red flag (horizontally or diagonally) but always forward; the exceptions to selecting the colour of flag he lands on comes when there is only one route available and when he moves into a Harbour. There are always two Cities per harbour and when the Pope enters the space these are scored separately according to numbers and colours of knights in each city, as mentioned earlier 'majority rules'.
The Pope is more important than being just a marker that determines the type of Round to be played. There are 4 special Papal actions known as 'the Favor of the Pope' which can be activated at different times by removing knights from your Temple back into your general supply.
I have mentioned that the player's action cards have either a pair of Green Shields or a Red Swords on them. According to the values on the cards there are three types of action which are either 'Safe' (Green Shields) or 'Risky' (Red Swords) neither of which are governed by the flag on which the Pope currently sits. Although the designers have used Red and Green in both cases they are different symbols and not aligned.
Using a well worn but fun card play mechanic each player selects a card from the six available - I like that there are always 6 cards to choose from - and all cards are flipped face up at the same time with the highest card/s activated first. Green Shield actions are always taken even when players have selected the same card number but Red Sword actions will face a small penalty if more than one player has chosen the same card action (minor exception in 4 and 5 player games) hence the 'Risky' possibility. The selection of cards brings mind-games into play - you can often guess what someone else is likely to do but then they are probably guessing the same about you, so changing your mind may cause you to outguess yourself, it's so delicious to watch the facial expressions of your opponents, especially when you have played a lesser but safe action and they have mentally screwed each other. Each card has a pictogram of the available action but Red Sword cards have a secondary pictogram depicting the penalty applied if necessary - the main action is then of course not taken.
The Shipping Round is a scoring Round where the knights from the scoring cities are transferred to the associated ships, where they remain for the rest of the game, and the City tile is removed from the game back to the box. Knights previously removed from the board have most likely been placed onto the Temple space on the Player's Board where at scoring the Temple with the most knights gains a bonus score. There are many ways to gain VPs which generally keeps each game tight with all players in with a fair chance until the end - the scoring track shows the current positions and thus acts as a guide as to who needs 'picking on' ('picking on' being a true Templar Knight thing to do - honest!).
I haven't played many QUEEN GAMES for a while and so this is a completely new style for them as far as I am concerned. I know many players who see that a game is published by QUEEN and expect a game that has good quality components but is short on long term playability - maybe good to bring out once a year or so - but TEMPLARS' JOURNEY has fast become a favourite because of its flexibility.
Games take around an hour which is another reason why we like it as much as we do. There are always options open to all players and there is enough substance to keep everyone interested, thinking and in the game with a shout for those 60+ minutes. The theme is strong, the rules are tight (with good, well explained, examples of play) and the game is won or lost mainly by player action rather than the flip of a coin type luck. Okay, there is that flip of the Templar coin that may allow you to enhance the action of card #4, but it isn't a game winner.Overall I like the feel, the gameplay, the actions.
There is a most enjoyable Musketeer style of play which you can imagine the hard-living Templars enjoying, more of a competition between comrades than any kind of combatant warfare. In fact there are no battles between opponents other than if you count the displacement of knights from cities, and even then they are not removed from the game and can actually have an advantageous effect for the Templar whose knight/s are repositioned in their Temple.
It would make no difference to the gameplay but having a character with a name always gives that little extra personal touch to a game. Wikipedia gives us an insight into some of the Templar Masters who could have been employed on this journey to recruit Knights for the Pope's latest Crusade: The names of Knights Templar Leaders, the Grand Masters, that could have added a little (sort of) historic flavour are as follows:
- Hugh de Payens (1118-1136) Robert de Craon (1136-1146) Everard des Barres (1146-1149) Bernard de Tremelay (1149-1153) André de Montbard (1153-1156) Bertrand de Blanchefort (1156-1169) Philippe de Milly (1169-1171) Odo de St Amand (1171-1179)