Sometimes you play a game and immediately have to tell everybody about it, shout it from the rooftops, maybe even write a blog post about it less than 24 hours after playing it, because you really need to tell everybody how good it is. Pendragon is one of those games.
It’s no secret that I love a good wargame, especially a GMT game, with gorgeous components and enticing theme so, I had already anticipated that this was going to be a hit, but I hadn’t anticipated it was going to be THIS much of a hit. Sure, Pendragon had a lot to live up to, being the newest addition to an incredible series of games and on my first play, it delivered. Now, this isn’t going to be a detailed account of every single mechanic and the strategy behind it, however I was so impressed, I needed to tell you a few things that really grabbed my attention when playing the game.
Let’s travel back in time, back to the Fall of Roman Britain. A time of chaos and vengeance. The Dux representing the original Roman Army in Britannia, with the most powerful units, striving to preserve the stability and prosperity of the provinces, building up prestige and maintaining order, teaming up with The Civitates, representing the Romanized aristocracy, ruling the ancient Celtic tribes from lavish villas and prosperous Roman towns. The Saxons, representing various Germanic groups,settled, and eventually took over swaths of Britain. As outsiders, they would face a steep challenge just to come ashore against the might of the Roman army and navy and The Scotti, named for the marauding groups of Irish raiders, also representing the Celts native to the island of Britain who differed from the romanized Civitates by remaining true, or reverting back, to the old ways.
Four powerful, strong factions with different capabilities and strengths, come together in this tremendous game, seeing the collapse of the Roman empire in Britain. A huge game, full of faction wars, dice rolling, area control and some serious battle.
Like other COIN games, Pendragon is primarily driven by an event deck with periodic scoring and reset via the Epoch cards, which I want to talk a little bit about first of all. They bring so much theme to the game and can be pretty cut-throat at times. The Epoch Cards mark the end of a round and include some extremely thematic events when they occur.
The Epoch cards add another layer of drama, making for a rather tense atmosphere at times. During the game that I played, I was playing the Dux Faction, I was doing quite well, definitely in the run for winning, when it was time to draw an Epoch card.
Now, I had a choice to make. Did I roll the dice, take the risk and potentially end up worse off or did I play it safe? I decided to take a risk, and the outcome was not a lucky one, as you can see in the picture above. Losing 8 prestige was the start of the end for me. That’s something I loved about Pendragon. Mean choices to make that could end in absolute victory or leave you with nothing. Unfortunately for me, it was the latter. Now, I wasn’t there, but I can imagine that would have been pretty apt for that time in history, leaving little to no room to play ‘nice.’
Battle is complex, but satisfying. It took the whole game for me to wrap my head around the battle and how that worked but I feel like that is going to be common when learning Pendragon. It’s a learning curve but worth it. I’ve included the amazing player aid created by Marc Gouyon-Rety, here: Pendragon Battle Board. First of all, it’s an awesome resource to have and second of all, hopefully it can explain a bit about the battle phase and how it’s executed.
The battle phase adds huge amounts of historical flavour to the game. The Raiders, quickly making the decision to Evade or Ambush. The Cavalry running around, but unable to move across terrain or places where the road has dissipated. Combined with the luck element provided by the dice rolling involved, battle is stirring and although I found it rather confusing on my first play, I can see a lot of potential already.
One of the twists that I particularly enjoyed was the use of the Imperium Track, which represents the deterioration of Roman rule. This shows how far off the Briton factions stand in relation to their victory conditions. The political situation will deteriorate during the game and the Briton factions victory condition will also change. It’s a clever mechanic, one I kept forgetting about, but certainly clever.
I also really enjoyed the concept of The Foederati. The Romans are able to hire barbarian tribes as mercenaries during the game, as the legions become unavailable. The Briton factions can bring in Barbarian faction troops as mercenaries under their control. However, if those mercenaries are unpaid during an Epoch scoring round, then they will revert to the original faction control. Something crucial to consider when playing and something I took advantage of during the game. Did it help me? we it could have if the Civitates would have helped me a bit more by lending some of their troops. Another neat mechanic that I’m looking forward to exploring more when I play another game.
I love the way the theme flows throughout the game, like a well-written novel, watching history unfold as you make your way through some tough but rewarding decisions. I have only scratched the surface with this one and I am so excited to keep on digging. It’s complex, but not in a way that weighs you down, there’s a lot going on throughout the game with no clear path to victory and that’s exciting.
The components are second to none, of course, and the board is beautiful but could have potentially been a bit bigger. I know that’s a big ask, and maybe an unrealistic one but moving all of of those pieces around the board was definitely a bit fiddly. Is it enough to put me off playing again? of course not but it did get a little bit frustrating later on when the board had filled up slightly.
I’m really looking forward to returning to this one, each new COIN game brings new challenges, new ways to engage in and learn about important parts of history and a reason to love the game system even more. Please keep an eye out for my full review, coming soon.
Thank you for reading.