Medioevo Universale is a HUGE game and for those who know me, there is nothing that floats my proverbial, tabletop gaming, boat more than big, complex games that take half the day or more to play and make casual gamers sigh. Until now though the only way to slate my thirst for such rare behemoths, was to play my brother at Axis & Allies Global… a monster of a game that can take, if you go for full conquest, 12 hours + (one game of ours took 3 days, it was glorious) but while looking around Kickstarter for my monthly fix I stumbled across Medioevo Universale. It promised to be a big game, so I went all in….. only when I received it, late last year, did I realise how BIG it really was!
MU is a grand strategy game for 3 – 9 (3-6 if you didn’t buy the expansion) that encompasses technology trees, commerce, diplomacy, natural disasters, rebellion and battle in the middle age; Its basically Medieval total War in board game form.
Note: the minimum of 3 players is just so you can make the most out of the diplomacy side of the game, but you can play 1v1 if need be and ignore the diplomatic side of the game.
Depending on what version you backed / bought will depend on if you got basic counters or resin and metal. I, because I have no self-control when it comes to things like this went for the all-in version and so found over 1700 components including:
- Metal coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 florin denominations – there is something seriously cool about playing a game like this with what feels and is weighted like real money; very nice touch.
- A nicely printed box for each nation, containing their units – Captains, Archers, light infantry, Heavy infantry and cavalry – the sculpts are ok, if a bit flimsy but to be honest in games like this, anything is better than a cardboard counter and they do the trick.
- Resin Catapults, trebuchets, bombards, castles, towers, merchant ships, galleys, war wagons, caravans, villages, towns, cities and cathedrals – these are quite nice sculpts though, as is generally the case more mass resin manufacturing, there are a few warped pieces.
- Counters, all the counters for your tech tree, trade routes, traded goods, castle control, ownership and additional pieces for a prototype version of the game that was provided also.
- Cards, lots of cards – 4 types of cards seem to be provided for you, but two sets are for the game as it is, Empire and event cards and the others are for the prototype game.
- Player screens – 2 for each nation (1 for the newest version of the game and one for the prototype.
- A set of coloured dice (D4, D6 and D8) for each nation
- 2 large board sections and one smaller one – this makes up the board for the game, comprising of Europe, North Africa and some of what is now Russia / the Ukraine. You WILL need a big table for this, or the floor.
Note: the boards are double sided for use with the current game and the prototype.
- 2 sets of rules – 1 for the current game and one for the prototype
- 9 sheathed daggers … that’s right, you get 9 daggers in the version I got, nicely made, in scabbards and useful for when the inevitable fight breaks out, after betraying you long term allies.
I have to say the rules aren’t overly complicated; despite the numerous phases. Something I feel was refined from the prototype version which includes supplies, religion and terrain. Bolt on rules like terrain and debts can be used but are not essential in playing initially.
The only major gripe I would have was that there isn’t a glossary for the main rule points and so when you have issues about a certain phase or how something works you have to look back and forth to find things, which, especially when learning the game, can take some time.
Other than that, it is no more complicated than a lot of strategy games, it just has a lot of different options on how to play and win. Just be advised that reading these rules thoroughly before hand is a must, if you want to make the best out of it.
Myself and my brother played and learned as we went along but this meant we missed out on certain things and had to shoehorn them in later to make sure it was fair for both of us.
How do you win? Well it’s all about Honour points and these can be achieved by taking on barbarian lands, building certain buildings, completing a supply road , defeating rebellions, conquering enemy towns and cities, as well as achieving objectives, set out on Empire Cards. At the end of a set period of time, this can be turns or a time limit decided by you all honour points are added up and the winner is the person with the most. Just bear in mind that breaking diplomatic pacts, attacking without a declaration of war and losing to barbarians, reduces your honour points so this needs to be weighed up when figuring out your game plan.
For example, myself and my brother had been using barbarians as a sort of proxy way to fight each other without actually fighting each other, allowing for trade routes and movement to stay open between us but it got to a point when I was getting quite strong and felt a declaration of war was needed to finish off the Spanish in the south and to prevent the French from getting too strong in central Europe. It was duly declared and, I as an honourable leader, assumed that I would have 1 more turn of taxes and unit purchases before war began; I was wrong.
The Machiavellian mastermind that is my brother figured out that, despite attacking without a declaration might bring him down a few honour points, if he attacked now and took my poorly defended cities, he could rack up enough points to supplement this loss and cripple me at the same time. Which he did and managed to seriously weaken me in the east; something I only recuperated from after I reconquered Jerusalem and he failed miserably to take one of my fortified towns.
Phases and Game Mechanics
MU has 6 distinct phases.
Turn Order Phase – Where in everyone makes a bid on being the first player by placing in their hand a certain amount of coin from their reserve. The winner is the player who bided the most BUT he must give the money he / she bid to the person who bid the least; as they will be going last. Everyone else goes in order of their bid amounts (keeping their money) with ties being sorted at random.
Now why is first place so important? And why wouldn’t I just bid low, so I have the chance to get the first players money? Well that leads into the next phase. (Event Phase) first off, there is a negative modifier to player’s dice rolls when they go second or lower, increasing the lower the placement, with a -1 for 2nd and a -3 for 6th. This negative modifier may seem poultry but when you are rolling attack dice it makes all the difference. On top of this the first player not only gets to choose what affect event cards have, restriction of movement, loss of commerce, loss of army units or even los of buildings but they also get to roll the dice to see how strong the Barbarian units are each turn.. AND move / add some as well. This can be frustrating for other players who suddenly find their lands ravaged by barbarians moved by the first player and helps you fight proxy battles / undermine nations without officially going to war with them.
Note: some technological advances enable you to move barbarians as well, so position in the game becomes very important and means you must hold back Florins each turn to make sure you have enough for a decent did.
The Event Phase – as described above the First player, who won the bid decides how strong the barbarians are, where they are moved and choses an event card, which represent famine, desertion, raids and sabotage. Initially these cards won’t have a huge effect but as your empire grows and the amount of men, building and merchants you have increase, these cards become devastating; something my brother found out when a plague hit central Europe and killed most of his garrisoning units.. no units in a territory and it reverts to barbarian control; no more taxes for you!
At the end of this phase you have a rebellion step, which basically decides if you have taxed your lands too much and if they will put up with it or not. If the card has a tax value equal or higher that your current tax rate, it fine, your peoples are happy. If its lower then a rebellion breaks out in your territories, one per level of tax.
This is a very interesting mechanic because it makes you think long and hard on how much you are going to tax your people. Do you risk it and bump it up to 50 Florins per territory and risk potentially 4 or 5 rebellions breaking out in your lands or do you play it safe, meaning you have less money to buy troops, technology and Empire cards.
The Tax and Maintenance phase – in this phase you change your tax rates and then collect the money owed to you by your territories; you also must pay for the upkeep of your armies and transports. You get the tax rate for every territory you own plus a bonus for owning villages, towns and cities. You then subtract the number of units you have in your army, including transports etc. and that’s how much you have for purchases next phase.
The Purchase phase – Like it says on the proverbial tin, this is where you use your taxes to buy technology advancements, which you need to build specific units, towns and military buildings, as well as merchant carts, transports, military units and war wagons. On top of this you can buy Empire cards which provide you with 3 potential uses.
The first use is for the objective it will give you, providing Honour Points, the second use is for the bonus it will give you advantages like +2 to attacks, increased commerce, add military buildings to land and increase the amount cogs for technology. The Third use is for the cogs. Each card will have different coloured cogs and can be used to provide these for technological advances; all technology needs these to be bought and used so Empire cards are very important.
Combat and Movement phase – this is the phase you have be waiting for and gives you two options to either move units or attack areas. BUT unlike all other similar games, you can’t just move units around without transport, including land units. Strange you may feel but originally the prototype game used to incorporate supplies and forage but to simplify it makes you buy battle wagons, which for all intents and purposes are transports but really represent supplies for your army; no supplies no movement. The only way you can move units without these wagons is by sea, on galleys and when you have a Castle, allowing you to move into a neighbouring territory.
Once units have been moved you either fight another nation or you fight a set number of barbarians; this is where an interesting dice mechanic comes in.
Combat is not based on the number of units you have but more on the dice you roll and the special abilities each unit brings to the battle. A Captain can negate abilities, a Light infantry man gives +4 to the attack if no other light infantry is involved, heavy Infantry negate damage (if not other heavy infantry is opposing, cavalry give +2 to the damage if you win a battle and archers let you strike first and kill units before the battle proper starts. Siege engines and bombards can be used to attack buildings or land units but need land units to man them.
As the dice roll goes, you have 3 dice, all the time, irrespective of how many units. A D4, a D6 and a D8 and you battle score is a combination of your highest rolls added together, or, if you are supper lucky and get doubles those two numbers multiplied together (a critical roll) the lowest number is then how much damage your army will take irrespective of win, lose or draw, so you need it to be low. Additional casualties are then worked out using the difference in score between the two sets of dice and that is the extra damage caused to the loser.
Note: you cant cause any more damage than you have units in an army, bar with cards and cavalry bonuses.
Commerce phase – this phase is for you to move you merchant ships and caravans around the board, purchase items and then sell them on. More can be earned if you use Trade roads or if you sell at a great market, this is an inhabited area that already has good being sold there.
After this phase is over, it returns to the first phase again. now, you’ll be wondering what happened to the diplomatic phase? Well, there isn’t one. Diplomacy is figured out in an ad hoc way as the game plays.
Once you get the phases down and understand how the main mechanics work, the game can flow quite quickly, especially as unlike other games, massed attacks, with lots of guys, isn’t as common until later in the game. Flow is also made a lot easier / quicker because many of the phases are carried out at the same time by players, with only attacks and placement really being turnabout. I have no doubt though that when more players are involved, diplomacy will become a lot more important and therefore take up more time as nations talk, make deals and stab each other in the back! Might not be a good idea to have the knives…..
A beautiful looking game that is a lot easier to play than it looks. Just be sure to read the rules carefully as there are a lot of sub steps and special rules to bear in mind. Bearing this in mind though, we felt that a reference book would have gone a long way to help with specific rules and help reduce initial games when rules aren’t widely known.
Playable by 2 people but something that will be better, if longer, when more people are involved.
A great game, with some very interesting mechanics, you just need to find the right sort of people who can stick out this monster for the time it will take to do it justice.