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Stonehenge board game
Souvenir board game!!!

During a holiday in Europe, I procured a few souvenir board games to add to my collection.

I didn't have room in my luggage for the larger Stonehenge Anthology Game or the Ring of Stones game. So instead of buying them in the Stonehenge gift shop, I ordered them online and had them shipped to my house. They were both waiting for me when I returned home from the trip! The Ring of Stones game was purchased directly from the English Heritage online shop's Stonehenge gifts section. The Anthology game had to come from Amazon because it isn't available from the English Heritage online shop, but I got a really good deal on it!

There was also some Stonehenge Monopoly and playing cards, but I'm not into those sorts of novelty variations that I can get anywhere. It was the unique games that caught my eye.

The third game that I brought back from Europe is a medieval Viking game called "Hnefatafl". I had seen it in the Viking Ship Museum gift shop when I was there last November, but I didn't buy it at the time because I wasn't sure if its rules were written in English or Danish. I didn't want to buy a game that I'd never be able to play because I couldn't read the rules. So when I saw the same game in the British Museum's gift shop this summer, I decided to go ahead and get it.

Board games from Europe
My European souvenir board games include 2 Stonehenge-themed games and a traditional Viking game.

Yesterday, I talked about the Ring of Stones game that I purchased from the English Heritage Trust. Today, I'm going to talk about the next game that I purchased on this trip to Europe: the Stonehenge anthology game. Next up, I'll review the Viking Game Hnefatafl.

Stonehenge Anthology Game: five games in one

Stonehenge Anthology - storage
The box doesn't have very efficient compartments.

This Stonehenge game is an "anthology game" released by Paizo games (the same company that publishes the popular Pathfinder RPG). It is effectively five small games in one, with each game sharing the same components and having been designed by a different designer, with credits ranging from Magic: the Gathering to Memoir '44 to Axis and Allies. The primary concept (according to the instruction book) is that the game components were designed first, and then given to each of the game designers, who then had to create rules for a game to play with those components and the given theme. Each designer took a different explanation for the origin or purpose of Stonehenge (even far-fetched ones) as the basis for his rule set.

At the end, the designers then challenge the player to come up with your own rules for a game using those same components and the theme of Stonehenge. I haven't personally attempted this (yet), but others have, and you can play what they've come up with. I haven't tried playing any of these player-made variants yet, but I might check some out in the future.

As for what the professional designers came up with ... it's very ho-hum. There's five pretty simple and lightweight games here. None of them is particularly good, but none of them are particularly bad either. They are all playable within an hour or less. This means that Stonehenge could be decent for a family game night or other social function in which you're looking to play through a handful of shorter games, or if you want to play one game as a "warm up" for another larger game.

The High Druid: an electoral college

The first game, called "The High Druid", is designed by Bruno Faidutti (creator of Citadels) and is basically an electoral college. The board is divided up into sections (called "colleges"), and players take turns placing disks in the colleges in an attempt to control a majority of that college. Players can also shift the borders between colleges, but this can only be done once for each border. At the end of the game, the player who controls a given college receives all of that college's votes, even for spaces containing another player's disk.

The catch is that the game is absolutely brutal with regard to ties. If more than one player ties for control over a particular college, then neither player wins, and the college's points are given to the player with the next most disks. And if two or more players tie for victory at the end of the game, then both players are disqualified, and the victory goes to the player with the next highest vote count. I think the idea here is that if two (or more) controlling parties are deadlocked, then all the political influence in the college basically falls to the smaller "third party". That third party effectively controls the college by being able to decide which of the two larger parties gets to proceed with its agenda.

Stonehenge Anthology - tied colleges
Could the brutal rules for ties be a subtle lesson in politics?

Each player also gets a pair of cards that provide that player with a secret bonus (a "fetish") and a secret penalty (a "taboo") that you have to plan your strategy around. The fetish is a single space on the board that provides extra votes if you control it. The color shown on the taboo card cannot be controlled by your pieces. Any of your pieces on a space of that color is removed from the game before counting up votes.

Who would have thought that a board game could use its mechanics to teach a simple political lesson? Kudos to Bruno Faidutti for pulling that off!

This game is very short and very simple. It takes about 10 minutes to play. I really like the concept, and this might actually be my favorite game in the collection due to its simplicity. However, with only 30 spaces on the board, the games goes by too quick for there to be any sort of long-term strategy or drama.

Magic of Stonehenge: the "Mighty Beard"

The second game is, called "Magic of Stonehenge", is designed by Richard Garfield (creator of Magic: the Gathering) and is more a game of reading and bluffing your opponents. It's essentially a variation of War, in which each player selects a card from a hand, and the player who selected the highest value card wins the round. The winner gets to place one of her pieces on the space on the board that is indicated by the card, and other players suffer a penalty that moves their pieces around the board and removes them if the piece moves below the "1" space. However, if you have weak cards, you can avoid a penalty by playing a "pass" card, and if no player takes a penalty, the game round is over and new cards are drawn.

Stonehenge Anthology - war
The High Druid is basically a game of War. Pick the highest card, and you win.

The end of the game round also comes with a potential change from night to day, or vice-versa. Each card has a sun or a moon icon on it, and the power of the card varies based on whether the given round is part of the day cycle or the night cycle. Cards matching the current time of day always beat / trump cards representing the other time of day, but if each other player passes, you can sometimes sneak a piece onto the board by playing one of these "off-trump" cards.

This game has a mid-point checkpoint (so to speak). After you get your sixth piece on the board, you get to place a trilithon (standing stone) on the board, which cannot be removed. The first player to place the trilithon and then put all six pieces on the board again wins and is appointed the "Mighty Beard".

Stonehenge Anthology - druid cards
If other players pass, I can sneak
in a low-valued "night" card.

This game is a bit more involved and usually runs a bit longer than the first game, but it's still simple and easy to learn -- or at least, it would be if the rules were a bit more clear. The written rules make a few annoying omissions that caused some initial confusion. For example, the rules state that after cards are played, the winner places a piece on the board, and all other players discard their losing card and take a penalty. By strict reading of this rule, it would seem that the player who played the winning card does not need to discard it. But if that's the case, then being dealt both the daytime 30 and the nighttime 30 would be an automatic victory, wouldn't it?

So surely the winning card must be discarded as well, right? That's what we assumed; otherwise, the game would seem to be completely broken. There were also some confusions with the timing of certain events in certain gameplay edge cases.

Auction Blocks: blind luck auctions

The third game is titled "Auction Blocks" and is designed by James Ernest (creator of Kill Doctor Lucky). It is an auction game in which players bid on the colored discs and score points by collecting multiple discs of the same color(s). Much like with the previous game, this one comes down to a lot of blind luck. Your bid is determined by playing one or more cards from a hand (usually containing only about 3 cards). All cards you play must have the same color, and the bid of any player whose bid color matches the color of the disc being auctioned automatically trumps the bids of all other players who do not play cards of that color. Your bidding power is, therefore, very dependent on the luck of the draw.

Stonehenge Anthology - trilithon disables trump
Playing a trilithon card disables
trump colors for everybody

The trilithon cards act as a super card that nullifies the color-trumping. If any one player plays a trilithon with their bid, then the highest bid wins regardless of color. The problem is that there's only five or six trilithons in the entire deck, so depending on the number of players in the game, you may never get one.

This game also has a minor bluffing mechanic, which is the most fun part of the game. You pass on any given auction in order to stockpile cards, and can play your cards in some situations to goad your opponents into either throwing away higher-valued card(s) or to bluff them into passing on challenging you.

Chariots of Stonehenge: racing 'round the henge

The fourth game, "Chariots of Stonehenge" is where things start to get a bit weird. It's a "racing" game designed by Mike Selinker (worked on Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition), and it's a game in which players race their pieces around the board and place obstacles to block other players. Each turn, players allocate their supply of discs into a pile for placing obstacles and another pile for moving around the board. For each blocking disc you hold, you can place one of you bar pieces on the border between spaces on the board to act as an obstacle for other players. Other players have to either pay extra to move through the obstacle, or simply go around it.

Stonehenge Anthology - racing luck
You need to be a bit lucky to be able to place your trilithon.

Again, the game comes down to a lot of blind luck. The location that you can place an obstacle is dependent on playing a card from a hand of only 3 cards. You can also place your trilithon as a super-obstacle if you draw a trilithon card and have a numbered card that matches a valid location to place the obstacle. Like in the last game, if you are unlucky enough to never draw one of the five trilithon cards, then you never get to place your trilithon. Also, if another player has already placed obstacles on the locations that match your cards, then you are also prevented from placing your trilithon.

The rules also allow for multiple cards' values to be added up, but it doesn't clarify whether this sum can exceed 30 (being the final space on the board). So if I play a 20-value card and a 21-value card (for a total of 41), is my play simply invalid (because there's no 41st space on the board)? Or do I "wrap around" and place my blocker or trilithon on space 11?

Arthurian Ghost Knights

The final game is titled "Arthurian Ghost Knights" and is designed by Richard Borg (creator of Memior '44). Full disclosure: I haven't actually had a chance to play a legitimate round of this game yet. I read the rules and played a sample game against my three best friends (my, myself, and I) in order to learn the rules and get a feel for how the game is supposed to play, but have yet to actually get a group together to play it. So this particular section may change if I actually do play it with a group of actual other people and find that my initial understanding turned out to be flawed.

This game also has a strong luck component based on which cards you draw. Depending on the cards you have, you may be stuck in a situation in which you either have to outright skip your turn (by drawing an extra card) or play a card that actually helps another player. This is the only game in this collection that does allow you to directly help other players and manipulate their components (other than the barriers of the chariot game). It's not all bad for you though, you'll get a free point on the score track whenever you play a card that benefits another player.

Stonehenge Anthology - Arthurian Knights
Arthurian Knights is the only game in the collection that allows you to directly help other players.

This game also has a very sudden ending. Four trilithon cards are shuffled into the deck (two in the top half and two in the bottom half), and drawing the final trilithon triggers one final scoring round in which the players get to make any last-minute moves. Then the game is just over, and whoever wins wins. This could happen, without warning, at any time after dealing at least halfway through the draw deck. If this round gets triggered, but you don't have any cards to play, then you are kind of screwed, so be careful that you don't leave yourself in a situation where you can't influence the outcome of the final round of the game.

A collection of "not bad" mini-games

The biggest issues with this package are the reliance on randomness in many of the games, and some annoyances with the components. The trilithon pieces, in particular are large and distracting. In the games that use them, they can easily obstruct most players' view of the game board, and can also be a pain to reach around or over in order to move pieces. If I were to play these games more, I'd probably either skip using the trilithon pieces altogether, or just take off the capstone and use only that.

Stonehenge Anthology - trilithon obstructions
The trilithon pieces can obstruct the view of the board.

Some of the rules could also have been better written. Each game is only given a single spread in the rulebook, so there's little room for diagrams or detailed examples of gameplay. There are some pretty significant omissions in the rules, and it makes me wonder if Paizo even bothered to play-test the game. We were able to work-out the intent of the rules for most games, but the Chariots game seems to be the one game with the most rules confusions.

I would have to imagine that the play-testers would have asked about issues like whether playing a value greater than 30 in the chariot game is a legal play or not, or whether the player's figure has to land on the actual numbered space to claim the power-ups. Either the games weren't thoroughly tested (and these edge-cases and confusions were never identified), or the rules writers didn't bother to incorporate these observations and edits into the written rules. Since this is such an obscure game, you may also have trouble finding any FAQs or clarifications online.

If you're expecting some kind of link between the different games -- like one game leading into another, such that the outcome of the previous game affects the next game -- then you may be disappointed. This is an anthology game; not a legacy game or anything like that. Though if you do play each game in succession, you could probably just use the outcome of the previous game to determine the first player of the following game.

There also is not a single co-operative game in the entire package. With 5 games included, I would have hoped that at least one or two would have been co-operative. The Arthurian Knights game does allow players to help each other in order to pad their own score, but that's usually a last-ditch effort because either you don't have any cards that benefit yourself, or you've run out of your own pieces to play. Other than that, all five games are strictly competitive.

Game Haul
Stonehenge will likely have a regular
spot in my Game Haul.

Each little mini-game is a completely stand-alone, self-contained game. It's kind of hard to judge the collection as a whole, since each of the games varies wildly in terms of play-time, complexity, and appeal. Each game is, however, surprisingly not terrible. There's nothing in this package that I would consider to be "bad". They're all fun enough as a mild diversion. I guess that's the benefit of asking a bunch of premiere game designers to slap together a game. Even when they phone it in, they still make something that's playable and fun.

If you're looking for relatively simple games for family game nights, office game nights, or parties, or something like that, then Stonehenge Anthology Game is actually a decent bargain, as it will provide five such games in a single package. I'll certainly bring it (alongside Dominion) in my Game Haul whenever I attend such a function.

WHAT I LIKE

  • Multiple games in one
  • Challenges players to create their own games
  • Each game is light to learn and plays quickly
  • Each game has completely unique theme
  • Druid college's mechanics teaches a lesson in politics
  • None of the games is outright bad

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • None of the games are particularly good
  • Rules omit some important details
  • Some games depend too much on luck of the draw
  • Trilithon pieces can obstruct the view of the board
  • Not a single co-operative game
  • Box insert is cheaply made and doesn't easily store all components without taking the trilithons apart

Stonehenge Anthology Game FINAL GRADE: D+ / C-

Manufacturer: Paizo
Lead Designers: Richard Garfield, Bruno Faidutti, Richard Borg, James Ernest, Mike Selinker
Original release: April 2007
MSRP: $35 USD
Player(s): 2-5 players
Game Length: an hour or less per game
Official site: paizo.com/paizoGames/library

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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