Review: Artus

Posted by James (admin) on September 12th, 2012

Artus is a game about King Arthur and the round table designed by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer (the creators of great games such as Tikal, Tikal II and Asara).  The board shows the round table with seats around the outside occupied by players’ knights, the princes and the king.  The table shows points values ranging from -15 to +10 for each seat position.  The crown on the table always points at the King, so when the King moves, the table turns which means the points for each chair change.

Each player has 22 cards (all will be played during the game) which are split into 3 decks and each player has the same: Knight cards move your own knights, King cards move the King/Princes, and scoring cards.  Players start with 3 Knight and 3 King cards, but after their first turn, they can draw cards from any of their decks.

On their turn, players play any 2 of their 6 cards.  Knight cards let the player move one of their knights a number of spaces within its range so a 3-6 Knight card lets you move one knight 3, 4, 5 or 6 spaces.  Knights move clockwise apart from one card that lets you move one anti-clockwise.  When a knight moves, the player scores points equal to the value of the chair (indicated by the table) that they vacate.  If a knight moves to a chair already occupied by a knight then that knight gets displaced to the first empty chair anti-clockwise.

Playing a King card either lets you move one of the 3 princes or king (which is just a prince with 3 rings on), or it can allow you to add a ring to a prince and, thus, maybe make him the new king (the old one being demoted).  If you move a prince, you score points equal to the value of the chair that they vacate, but you get no points for moving the king.

Playing a scoring card earns you points based on the card’s criteria, such as score all of your knights, or score all of your knights with the opposite signs (so a -15 knight is worth +15).  Many scoring cards have a hefty penalty if you can’t fulfil the criteria such as -25 points if you can’t ‘score 2 of your knights seated in the carpeted area’ because you don’t have 2 knights there.  The points values on the table are coloured with green positive numbers, yellow zeroes, and red negative numbers.  Some scoring cards feature this such as score 3 red knights (or -50 points if you don’t have 3 or more knights in the red zone).

After 11 rounds, all players will have played all their cards, and the player with the most points wins.

Overall, Artus is a simple and short game.  Finding the best mix of 2 cards to play on your turn makes for some interesting decision-making – players prone to analysis paralysis should avoid this one.

I like that you can select the mix of cards you have in your hand – having more scoring cards so you have the best chance of getting a good score from one of them comes at the cost of having fewer cards with which to manipulate knights and the table.  Also, it’s always interesting to see what the new cards you draw are.

Also, I like that every card gets played during the game because it means you have to judge when to use your scoring cards so you’ll get the best points.  Do you score 3 red knights at -6, -8 and -15 for -29, or wait and hope you’ll get a better opportunity later (even though it could be worse and could even score you -50 if you don’t have 3 knights in red zones).  Things can get humorously desperate towards the end if another player has fewer choices, especially if they’re left with 2 scoring cards so are at the mercy of where the table is pointing by the player before them.

Interaction between players is light because it’s hard to actively hinder them when you don’t know what cards they are holding.  This will suit some players, and not other.

Whilst it’s essentially an abstract game with a theme, the theme is nice, works well, and the production has been executed very well with a really nice turning table.  I’d prefer wooden knights, but I can see why the plastic columns are a bit more graceful.

However, there were a couple of elements I wasn’t as keen on.  First was that so much happens between your turns (primarily the turning of the table) that you can’t plan what you will do on your next go and this causes downtime.  You can sort of plan a bit, but you have to update your plans with every card played by another player before your turn.

The second element was that luck plays quite a big part because the cards you draw really affect your score – if you draw a scoring card and happen to have your knights near good positions to match its requirements then it’s easy to score it, but not if you have cards that don’t match your position or give you many options.  All player’s have the same limitation, but one player could have an easy game compared to one of their opponents just by having the right cards at the right time.

In the end, I liked Artus and enjoyed playing it, but not as much as I was hoping I would because of the lack of ability to plan.  However, if I played it again knowing these factors, I would expect less from it and probably enjoy it more for the light game that it is.

The game can be played without the special scoring cards and with only 1 card being played per turn – this is the beginner’s game for younger players.


[Played with 3 players]

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