August 4, 2013 by dracs
Ach, there be nothing quite like the highlands of Scotland. The clean air, the heather under foot, the short Australian in face paint pretending to be William Wallace, and of course the clans fighting for supremacy. Now it is time to grab your bagpipes and claymore in Queen Games’ board game Highland Clans.
The board game revolves around the romanticised image of Highland Clans which you might expect to find in a book by Walter Scott.
3 – 5 players each take control of one of the main Scottish highland clans (in my experience there is inevitably more of a contest over who gets to be clan MacLeod, but in the end there can be only one). They then try to score points by building up their courts and property, while sabotaging their rivals through raids.
A game will usually last about 7 rounds, with each player getting one turn each round. The turn order changes at the beginning of each round. In their turn a player gets to draw 6 coloured markers from an opaque bag. These represent the various resources their clan has to spend, with red cubes being cattle, blue cubes being bagpipers, yellow cubes being warriors and green cubes being priests. These markers can be combined and placed in different areas of the clan’s board to represent different additions to the clan’s property.
Below are a few examples:
A single blue cube placed in the court section of the board represents a bagpiper.
Two blue cubes placed on a plot of land (an estate) means the clan owns a castle.
A combination of one yellow and one red, or one yellow and two green, allows the player to buy a new estate.
Players can only perform two such actions in their turn and may only spend a maximum of four markers. Any unspent markers are returned to the bag.
The player then has the opportunity to try and raid their opponents. This is done through the use of numbered cards.
Each player has a hand of 4 cards, each marked with a numerical value. The attacking and defending player each place one card face down. They may then choose to place one of their bagpipers from their court on the card to raise its value by one. The cards are then flipped and the player with the highest value card is the winner. This is performed 3 times, with the player who gets the most wins succeeding.
Raiding can be quite a risky move. Should the attacking player succeed they will be rewarded with a point and the chance to either burn down their rival’s buildings or steal their cattle. However, should they fail than they will instead losing a point while the successful defender gains two, as well as the right to lift their kilts and taunt their humiliated aggressor.
At the end of the round each player counts up the points value of the markers they own, namely those in their courts and those on their estates. Extra points are given to those with more of a specific colour marker, as well as other bonuses to help their clan rise to prominence.
Highland Clans is a game which I have seen knocking around in local shops for a while now and, while never at the top of my gaming list, has been one I have wanted to try out because, well because this…
I may have been born in Kent (about as far south as you can get in Britain), but I have a highlander’s soul damn it!
So what did I think of it? Meh, it was all right.
First up let us start with a look at the components.
The game itself is very simple, so complex gaming pieces really aren’t needed. Unlike many board games Highland Clans doesn’t revolve around pieces moving on a central gaming board. Instead each of the players has their clan board with which to track resource management, while score is kept using a central score board.
A particularly nice touch is in the design of the clan boards. Each of them is bordered with a different tartan design. Now tartan patterns used to be very important in Ireland and Scotland. They were akin to clan markings, with different patterns being specifically used by certain clans. It is a nice way to visually separate the boards and adds a strange element of authenticity to it. Though I am not sure that the tartan is a right match for the clans, but what the heck.
As for the rules themselves how do they fare?
Well as I have said the main concept behind the game is very simple, although the rule sheet often seems to be doing its best to make it as confusing as possible.
Strategy does not play a huge part in the game, you essentially choose something to focus on early on and stick to it. The game centres around resource management, with moments the raiding mechanic helping to break up the game flow and preventing things from becoming monotonous.
More experienced board game players might find Highland Clans becomes a bit dull and not particularly challenging, but myself and the other players agreed that this might be a good game to help introduce younger players to resource management before moving them onto more complicated board games.
However, experienced gamers might find that the rules of Highland Clans will benefit from the inclusion of in-house rules. For example, the building of castles and monasteries provides no bonuses other than allowing you to bring out more cubes in a single action. Introducing rules which might limit the number of castles a player can build, but means they will provide you with, for example, bonuses against raids, will provide the player with a greater incentive to expend the points needed to build them.
It would also prevent the player with the most cattle from being constantly targeted for raiding. When a raid is successful, the raider can choose to either destroy one of the opposing player’s buildings or take one of their cattle. While destroying a building may help you short term owning the most cattle gets you more points, making them a far juicier target. Now cattle raiding may be an important part of the struggles between the clans, but they quickly become more trouble than they are worth as players often ignore your structures and just focus on your cows.
All in all I found the game to be rather mediocre. This may be due more to the fact that Highland Clans is aimed at a younger age group than me, but I think that even kids might find that the game quickly becomes repetitive.
There is a lot of potential behind the concept of warring Scottish clans and the basic focus of the game is good, but I can’t help but feel that it would have benefited from a bit more work going into the rules.