Review: Khan

Posted by James (admin) on March 29th, 2011

Khan was released at Essen in October 2010 and I finally got my chance last night and it was worth the wait.  The setting is 1244 and each player is chasing out the existing 8 Mongol leaders in order to conquer more territory than their opponents.  Each player their own coloured set of counters representing their yurts (which are like large tents) and starts with some special action cards and a hand of 4 random cards.

The board shows various terrain areas with a river passing through some and the 8 Mongol leaders start on the board.  Next to the board are various Tetris-ish shaped tiles.  The goal is to place and own these to score points.

On their turn, a player must first draw a card from the deck which states which leader must be moved and in which direction.  One of the leader’s 5 neutral yurts is placed in the space he vacates.  Then the player can take 2 of the following actions (including taking the same action twice):

  • Drive out a leader – Like the initial step but the player picks which leader will move and a card from the deck dictates which direction.  (A neutral yurt from the supply is left behind.)
  • Invade – Playing a card from their hand allows the player to place a yurt of their colour in any space of the region that matches their card, i.e. desert region, mountain region, next to a river, etc.
  • Conquer – A player can place one of the shaped tiles so long as every space that it covers contains a yurt (including at least one of their own).  Ignoring the neutral yurts, the player(s) who have the most yurts in the covered area scores the points printed on the tile.  Note that players without a majority of their yurts get nothing.

When any leader has placed all of their 5 neutral yurts they are removed and the game end phase starts when 5 leaders have been removed.  During the end phase, players get 2 conquer actions each turn until no more tiles can be placed.  Highest total points wins and there are bonus points for the 3 players with the biggest contiguous tiled area.

Khan is actually a simple game but there’s lots of interaction between the players.  I always think it’s a good sign for a game if you’re always torn between which actions you should perform and you constantly want ‘just 1 more action’.  You constantly need to calculate how to (a) use your cards well, (b) place yurts (both yours and neutral ones) to allow you to conquer large areas (as the larger tiles are worth more points), (c) balance growing an area against securing it before another player muscles in, and (d) annoy another players.

The 4 special action cards are single-use but can be very powerful if you play them at the right time.  One card stops anyone conquering spaces containing neutral yurts without their permission for a whole round; another card does the same but protects the player’s own yurts; another card reserves a conquering tile (as these are limited and the shape you need may not be available later); and, another card lets you take one extra action.

Instead of taking their usual 2 actions, a player can spend their entire turn to place one of their yurts anywhere and then discard any of their cards (drawing back up to 4 cards as usual) which can be very useful if your cards don’t match your plans or needs but feels like a high cost.

As you can conquer areas containing other players’ yurts, as well as neutral yurts they hoped to use, there’s lots of potential for (humorously) screwing other players.  I always like a bit of this aspect in a game as it makes for good interaction.  You can also annoy other players if you can use the specific shape tile you can see they will want.

In a 4-player game, it’s tricky to plan ahead accurately as a lot can change before you get your next turn.  You can still make plans but you do need to adapt quickly to other players’ actions and you need to try and make it difficult for other players to interfere with your plans, like using special cards.  I’m really looking forwards to playing Khan as a 2-player game as I think it will be a very tight and tactical.

The theme is different and cool even though it doesn’t really affect the gameplay; however, there was one area I thought could be improved: Having a hand of cards that don’t match the areas where you want to play your yurts can limit your game and this is luck of the draw.  You may need to re-think your plans but you’re at a disadvantage against any player who does get the cards they need.  So, I’d like to try Khan with a card drafting system (i.e. you pick your next cards from a few face-up cards or from the face-down deck) to reduce the luck of the draw as it can make a difference.  Or, alternatively, allow players to discard one card each turn (as players always draw back up to 4).

Sometimes you buy games at Essen based on reading the rules, or a good pre-order deal, and it’s always a bit of a punt.  In this case, it’s a gamble that paid off as I thoroughly enjoyed Khan (even though I came last) because it hit the right balance of tactics, thinking and fun which will play well with experienced and lighter gamers.  (Also, when someone spoils your plans, you’ll never get bored of shouting their name in a parody of William Shatner’s shout of “Khaaannnnnnn” in Star Trek 2.)


[Played with 4 players]

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