Beowulf Board Game Review (Fantasy Flight Games)
I borrowed “Beowulf” from the club library and gave it a go on the weekend. It was still
unwrapped and hadn’t been played but I recall Eddie Crompton had a copy that I played with
him a few Winter Retreats ago.
This game was designed by Reiner Knizia (no less) before the recent animated film and involves the players acting as followers of the legendary Beowulf. It’s up to you to help Beowulf overcome his adversaries and win such fame and renown that you become his successor when he dies at the end of the game.
As most FFG games, the board, cards and playing pieces are all of high quality and have been lovingly illustrated by John Howe, noted for his Tolkien illustrations. He illustrated the Reiner Knizia LOTR game.
The “Beowulf” board displays a trail of minor and major episodes that appear in the “Beowulf’ myth, beginning with Grendel and ending with his battle with the Dragon attacking Geatland and Beowulf’s subsequent demise. In some ways the board, being a storyline that the players progress is reminiscent of the LOTR game but the rule system and goals the players are trying to achieve are very different.
Firstly, this is a very competitive game, the players want recognition and there are many cut-throat ways to do this. The core of the system is the accumulation of different kinds of cards – strength, fighting, friendship, travel and cunning (again reminiscent of the LOTR game). However, while you use cards in LOTR to make the story progress and benefit everyone, you use the cards in “Beowulf” to bid for rewards in each episode along the storyline.
Each episode has different cards you can use from the mix to bid with. For example, in a battle episode you need strength and weapons. Depending on how much you bid, you choose from a selection of rewards that are on offer, which might include; more basic cards, access to special cards, fame points, alliance points, a reduction in wounds or gaining gold.
While some episodes always provide beneficial rewards, some dole out penalty points and wounds, so it’s important you score well when bidding in these kind of episodes.
The bidding also differs in episodes as indicated on the board. One type is via a single hidden bid – the highest bidder of the appropriate cards gets first choice of the rewards, second highest the second choice and so on. The second method is by an increasing open bid – player one puts out a card; the second player must equal or exceed it and it keeps on going until the highest bidder is determined. Finally, in later episodes there are episodes that require using gold you have amassed to bid with instead of cards.
In addition to the major episodes where you compete directly against the other players there are numerous minor episodes where all players get to restock cards or risk drawing cards (if you don’t draw what symbol the space states, you take wounds).
The winner is determined by the number of fame points accumulated less wounds and penalty points.
I played “Beowulf” as a 2-player game and found it enjoyable. The game has variants for the number of players involved, whereby the rewards in each episode are reduced accordingly.
The game system was easy to understand (although it did take a little while to get my head around the cyclical bidding rules). I didn’t find the game very challenging but that is probably because I played it as a two player version. I think ‘Beowulf” will really shine with 4-5 players and can’t wait to introduce it to other people at LXG so I can see how a fully-loaded game works.
Review by Keith Done
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