Thursday, December 11, 2008

Avenging your dad and regaining your throne--all via the roll of a die.

I'm not immune to the appeal of computer games. I've got a couple for my laptop (the only computer I own) and I've wasted a lot of time at a local comic book shop, blasting away at Nazis in Call of Duty 2.

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But I still prefer board games to computer games. And if I can't find a live opponent, I'll occassionally break out one of several well-designed solitiare board games I still have kicking around my home.





One of the nifter ones is Barbarian Prince, which was published in 1981. In this game, you play, well, a barbarian prince whose father has been murdered by usurpers. You escape with nothing but your sword and a few gold pieces. You have 10 weeks in which to raise 500 gold pieces in order to hire an army to regain the throne. Take any longer and your enemies have gained too much strength to defeat.

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Each turn represents one day and allows you to move one hex (farther if you have a mount) on the map. Every time you move, you roll dice to check to see if you got lost, then check to see if you encounter something. You also have to buy or hunt for food.

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It's the variety of possible encounters that make the game fun. There's a booklet full of them and each individual encounter can have a number of possible outcomes. You might run into a drawf, for instance. The drawf might then do anything from attack you to join you to simply ignore you.

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Perhaps you spot a herd of wild horses and then have the option of spending a day catching and training one of them. Perhaps you'll be attacked by a pack of wolves. Perhaps you'll run across an isolated farm, then must decide to bypass it, attack and loot it, or simply make nice and maybe buy some food.

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If you reach a ruins, you can search it for treasure. You may indeed find a treasure. But you might also get attacked by orcs, stumble across a dragon or have an ancient crumbling wall fall on top of you.

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If you reach a town or castle, you can appeal to the local lord for help, but he might just get annoyed with you and toss you in his dungeon. Maybe you'll hear a rumor of a buried treasure or maybe the priestess at a temple will fall in love with you (giving you an opportunity to run off with both her and the temple jewels).

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Sometimes you'll build up a motley crew of followers to help you out. More often than not, though, you'll trudge through the wilderness alone, depending on your wits and your sword to see you through.

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The game is simple in its mechanics and the map is well-designed. A lot of dice rolling is required to generate encounters, but the game overall has real personality to it. Whenever I get in the mood to play, I usually end up running through it 8 or 10 times. It's hard to win--dying a horrible, lonely death is the usual outcome. But that keeps it challenging and, hey, no one ever said being an exiled barbarian prince was easy.

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