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SIGISMUNDUS AUGUSTUS

Components

    

SIGISMUNDUS AUGUSTUS: Dei Gratia Rex Poloniae

Adam Kwapinski & Michal Sienko for the Historical Games Factory

3-5 Players aged 12+  A Knowledge of Polish History isn’t a requirement but it does help.

We are in the 16th century and Sigismund II Augustus, has just become King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania following the death of his father, Sigismund I. There are 8 rounds of play in which the players, as heads of the largest and most influential Houses in Rzeczpospolita (the Republic), are out to gain Victory Points through manipulating the State, Political Offices, and International policies by alliances in the Sejm (Parliament) and through sponsors, foreign powers, diplomacy and, of course, military might. You will need to be clever and careful on all fronts.

Like a number of Polish games that I saw at Essen last year, SIGISMUND AUGUSTUS is realistic and heavily steeped in actual Polish history.

    

The first thing noticeable about this game is that everything is dark. The box is darkened orange, burnt amber perhaps? The cards are dark colours, blues, browns and various shades of darkened colours. The artwork looks as if it should be marvelled at, but it is mainly too dark – reminiscent of many paintings by Rembrandt – and too small (to fit on the cards) to be given the appreciation it deserves.  Even the rules are printed on parchment styled paper, highlighted in dark amber and produced with small font dark text. The whole production is visually quite foreboding, but manufactured to a very good quality. The only exception to the darkness are the brightly colourful plastic dobbers which seem right out of place and wrong in so many ways, but they do fulfil their purpose.

Once you have completed the setup (slightly different for 3, 4 and 5 players) it’s time to take a good look at the board. There are 9 shields in the centre, around the Polish Emblem (the Eagle), each shield represents an action that can be taken in a player’s turn. It is possible to repeat an action previously taken by another player but a fee must be paid to do so. One of the actions – the one at the south end of the Eagle - is only for when you have 5 players (it is a repeated action represented by a horse-whip icon).

    

The rules are in 3 languages, Polish, English and German, and they are concise, fitting onto just a few pages (far less than you would expect for such an in-depth game). They are also superbly set out with bold, colourful headers, but they are also a little muddled in the translation, which is why Andy Parsons has revised them – available on Boardgamegeek.com – and even his revision doesn’t make everything exactly clear. For example, the English translation continually mentions the Sejm. Why Andy never translated this to parliament (I did using Google Translate) I don’t know but when you keep reading a word that is unfamiliar to you it doesn’t get any easier to understand until you know the English translation of that word; in fact by knowing the English word the rules seem more logical, which itself is quite weirdly illogical.

    

Going back to the board and the shields. They are not denoted with a written title, just icons, and thus it is not immediately clear which is which. If you read the rules book you’ll see that the 9 Shields (or Fields as they are called) are listed as follows:

1: Envoy – allows you to put a House marker onto a Neighbouring Country. These neighbouring countries are represented by 6 oblong boxes, 3 either side of the Eagle, each with a different identification shield.

2: Patronage – this is to do with taking and/or bribing influential figures (presented on cards).

3: Calling Banners – take a military unit from the bank

4: Vacancy – place your House marker on a a free Senatorial Office

5: Noble’s Feast – Move your marker on the Senatorial Track (there are three specific tracks beneath the eagle and this is one of them).

6: Academy – gain 2 Policy cards – keep one of them.

7: Economist – gain 3 ducats

8: Parliamentary Agitation – move your marker on the Parliamentary support track (another of the 3 tracks).

9: There is no 9 (although the 9th shield is actually a repeat of the Economist).

That all seems clear enough until you look and see that the shields are not numbered, that the 9th shield that only comes into a game with a full complement of players is in fact the 5th shield whether you count from the left or the right, and that the Noble’s Feast is actually number 8 on the list, and Parliamentary Agitation is actually number 5.

Also the icons/symbols are not necessarily immediately descriptive of what they are representing:

Envoy – A Scroll. Patronage = Paintbrush crossing a Quill. Calling Banners = a single Flag. Vacancy = an empty Chair. Noble’s Feast = A Sword (remember it is in the wrong order on the board). Academy = Crossed Sceptres. Economist = a Riding whip. Parliamentary Agitation = A Goblet. This is how it was explained to me by the publishers. My first thoughts were that the Goblet would be more representative of a Feast (and thus in the correct place on the board) whereas a Sword wouldn’t be my first choice for a parliamentary symbol. So this is why the game at first is confusing, it mentally challenges our natural thought process but not for any good or gaming reason.

The rule to remember, despite it being more than a mite confusing, is: Swords are always representative of anything Noble, and that the Goblet always relates to the Magnates – Parliamentary involvement.

    

Once you have digested these complications the game actually flows very well and is logical as well as being a good challenge for the players. They (the players) need to create a working balance between diplomacy and force and this is a fine line. It is ideal to remember that you are nearly always planning ahead each turn and thus what you do to begin with may not affect the game until later into the turn, thus making it a complicated and complex game, but one that players should endure for there is a gem of a game within the convoluted rules. However once you have discovered a winning tactic or strategy it is up to your opponents to prevent you from repeating it often.

You win by having the most Victory Points after 8 turns. Points are generally gained from Influence, from Neighbouring Countries and from controlled Magnates and are scored at the end of each turn, marking the points on a running track around the board.

Overall this is a very thoughtful, clever game that hasn’t translated particularly well from its native language but which, with perseverance, will satisfy most boardgames players who enjoy a challenge and being able to make sensible plans that regularly come to fruition at the most satisfying moment.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015