No Dread

Review of board game Mordred by Pevans

This clever little game is Martin Wallace's latest for Warfrog - his own label, so to speak. The game is produced in Warfrog's gamekit style: plain white box, laser-printed card for a board and some mighty thick counters to cut out (I didn't bother and just use money from another game). The playing pieces are decent plastic pawns (four colours for the players and black for Mordred) and stackable chips. And there are the rules - the heart of the game.

The idea is that the (3 or 4) players are Knights of the Round Table sent by King Arthur to re-establish villages in the wasteland of Wales against the opposition of Mordred from his stronghold in Anglesey. At the end of the game, either Arthur or Mordred will be victorious. If Mordred has more villages than the players combined, he wins and so does the player who has contributed least to his triumph. If Mordred is defeated, the player with the most villages wins.

At the heart of the game are Build Points, which players spend to build villages and fortifications and to attack Mordred. Each turn players can spend none, some or all of their points, retaining any left over. Villages are cheaper to set up in forests than mountains, but more expensive to fortify. Fortifications provide a defence against Mordred and a base from which to attack him.

However, gaining these points is a risky business. At the start of their turn players choose which table they want to use and roll two dice, cross-referencing each separately against the table. Table A gives players a few Build Points (BPs) and a small chance of gaining a Mordred point. Table B gives more BPs and a bigger chance of Mordred points. Table C gives lots of BPs, but a half chance on each die of producing Mordred points - only a 25% chance of not scoring for Mr M. Mordred points do two things. First they are recorded for the player who scored them - going over the top of the Mordred point track is one way of ending the game - and are how a player's contribution to Mordred's cause is measured. The only way to get rid of these is to kill off black pawns. Secondly, the player gets as many black pawns as she rolled points and must place them on the board before taking her normal turn. Mordred's forces spread out from his initial base, taking over areas on the board. An empty area or unfortified village is automatically taken out by Mordred's forces, but a layer of fortification reduces this to a 50% chance, while the maximum three layers gives but a 1 in 6 chance of annihilation. This is, of course, the way you cut back other players who have too many pieces on the board.

Attacking Mordred is straightforward. Players attack with fortified pieces to remove adjacent Mordred pieces. They decide whether to pay one BP or three and roll one or two dice as a result. Any 4, 5 or 6 kills the Mordred piece, leaving an empty area on the board. Since actions can be carried out in any sequence - as long as the player has BPs left - she can then build into the vacated space, fortify it and attack again. It is possible to win outright by cutting your way through Mordred's forces to take his stronghold. In practice this is unlikely to happen. If you leave a jumping-off base for such an attack, the other players will spot it and use their Mordred points to smash it. This means you have to strike from some distance away and so requires a substantial 'war chest' - and a run of good luck.

Build Points go out of the game when spent, so another way the game ends is when the BPs run out. The game also ends if all the black pawns are on the board. However the game ends, it's the numbers of pieces on the board that decide whether Arthur or Mordred rules Wales. As already mentioned, the mechanism for deciding which player wins depends on the Arthur/Mordred result.

The game provides several different strategies as well as lots of tactical options. Which table you choose to roll on will depend on your strategy, current situation and whether you feel lucky. Those playing the long game can find their plans scuppered by a kamikaze rolling lots of Mordred points and bringing the game to a premature end. Because there are several ways the game can be ended, players can see that the end is approaching. What they can't do is calculate precisely when the game will end. Thus, although there are end game tactics they are not exact: players have to decide whether and when to go for it.

The game plays fast and keeps the players involved. There are significant decisions to be made and odds to be weighed. This may be a lightweight, but it is not trivial. It is also excellent fun. I have introduced the game to lots of people and the usual reaction is "can we play again?"

The only thing letting the game down is the production quality. The plastic playing pieces are good, the box is sturdy (though it does take the concept of "plain" to new heights), but the board is just shoddy. After being played on half a dozen times, the print is wearing off my board and the little cards with the tables on. As far as I'm concerned the game is a delight, and the poor quality of the board does not detract from this. However, this is a game I want to be able to play in a year's time and it doesn't look like I'll be able to.

Mordred was designed by Martin Wallace and published in the UK by Warfrog. It is for 3-4 players and takes 45 minutes to play. Pevans rates it 9/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 139, January 2000.

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