Barony was a bit of a surprise hit of GenCon 2015. Coming into Indianapolis, I hadn’t heard anything about this game. Despite being designed by Marc André, whose Splendor was a massive hit last year, Barony was under the radar for me. It’s really not until you get it out on the table and see a fully constructed board that you’re struck by the beauty and potential of this game.
In Barony you are trying to control and expand your territory on a board just a bit too small for everyone playing. You’ll get points for developing your civilization, but be careful. They come to you in the form of shields, which can be stolen away in battle. Once a player hits the threshold of 60, 70 or 80 points and becomes a Duke, game end is triggered. You’ll finish out the current round and then total up your scores.
When I first spotted this game it looked super complex. I was immediately intimidated, but after a quick teach I realized how dead simple Barony is.
The board is completely modular and set up randomly each time you play. The tiles are made up of different land types (mountain, forest, plain, field and lake) and each has their own characteristics and potential point value. At the start of the game the players will set out three cities and three knights in a boomerang fashion. Player number one will lay out one city and one knight progressing to player number four, who will lay out three cities and three knights. Players three to one will then lay out two more cities and knights in reverse order, ending with player one. At that point you’re ready to get under way. Each turn you’ll have six simple actions to choose from in the race for control over the land.
Despite looking a bit complicated, Barony actually plays out in about 45 minutes. As you get to know your potential options each turn, it becomes clearer which moves will advance you in any given situation. There is even a bit of push-your-luck to the game. As you acquire temporary points for developments you may decide to cash them in for permanent points or spend your turn taking an action that will benefit you immediately.
Permanent points are tracked on a separate scoreboard. It is divided by rows and columns with each different column signifying an increasingly more prestigious political title (Barons, Viscounts, Counts, Marquis and Dukes). Advancing diagonally by 10s increases your rank within a title. Advancing by 15s vaults you to the next political office.
Players have their own board which displays their six possible options for a turn. You can produce more knights in a city, move your knights around the board grabbing more territory or inciting a battle, settle a knight into a village or stronghold, upgrade a village into a city, sacrifice a knight for an expedition, or bank points to advance their title.
When you settle a knight into a village or stronghold you receive shield points depending on the land type you develop on. Mountains are less desirable to live on and will only yield two points. Fields, on the other hand, will give you five points! While it’s very nice to get them, shield points can be stolen if your neighbours are a bit more military minded than you.
Battles are decided very simply by a chart on each player’s personal board. For example, two knights will beat one or be able to successfully invade an opponent’s village (strongholds and cities can never be sacked). If you defeat another player in battle you’re entitled to one of their shield points (pro tip: take the highest one they have).
There is a way to convert shield points into permanent points on the scoreboard. By spending a turn, you can discard a combination of shields totalling a minimum of 15 points to move ahead 15 points on the scoreboard, thus advancing to the next political rank. No matter how many points you discard in this fashion, you can only move ahead 15 on the board. This can mean that sometimes you give away 17 points to secure 15 on the board and just lose those two. That stinks – but if there are barbarians at the gates, it’s better than losing an entire shield.
Play advances until someone reaches the final column on the main scoreboard, reaching the ranking of Duke. After finishing the current round players will receive points for the shields they haven’t banked. There is a second, smaller value on each shield that gives some end game points.
That’s Barony. Unsurprisingly, it’s a straightforward area control game from the designer who brought us Splendor. By about ten minutes into your first game you will have no problems with the rules and be able to start focusing on strategy. With its random, modular set up and boomerang starting placement, Barony reminds me a bit of Catan. Although, they’ve taken away the dice rolling and trading, and added in a battle mechanic.
I must say that Barony is a pretty game to look at. The board is really beautiful and looks great when laid out on the table – they’ve spared no expense with the wooden cities, knights, villages and strongholds. One other thing I thought was really cool was the one female character is clad in armour that looks completely appropriate and not designed to cover as little as possible. She actually looks like a warrior ready to do battle rather than someone auditioning for a modern remake of Heavy Metal. Little touches like this are encouraging and make me feel like publishers, artists and designers might be making moves in the right direction to represent all people equally and hopefully become a more inclusive hobby.
You should definitely check out Barony if you get the chance. I think it’s a successful follow up to Splendor for Marc André.
I played Barony at Gen Con and enjoyed it. As you said the components are great, especially the layered wooden city pieces… that’s an expensive length to go to for an aesthetic gain, and speaks to the publisher’s desire for quality. The score track warped my mind for a minute, but once I understood it I loved it; you can only ever gin points in increments of 10 or 15, and the track facilitates that perfectly. Gameplay was indeed dead simple, it’s all presented easily on your player aid and I was constantly surprised how quickly my turn came around. We understood the game rules perfectly after a round or two, though our beginner strategy was terrible; I’d expect that tactical defence and offence would get rather intense among experienced players with a better ability to read the board for defensive positions and point-rich regions. Nice little micro-turns, one little action at a time. Sometimes I wished there was a little bit of an engine-build so that I could get better at one aspect or another, say travelling or combat or point-harvesting. Overall a fun game that I’d happily play again… thanks Sean for another great review!
Thanks for your review of Barony. The description was so clear and easy to follow that it made me want to play the game …. soon!!