What we have is a game that I think more than many others will thoroughly divide opinion.
I want to open this review of Bardagi: The Claim for Gold, a little differently from the norm. I want to make three points about the game before I then dig deeper into the reasons this Viking romp left me in something of a quandary.
Point one, Bardagi is a quite stunning looking game. I wouldn’t normally mention the looks of a game until much further into the review, but, Bardagi is simply sumptuous to gaze upon. Glorious colour, vivid and entrancing dance across the table whenever this game is present. More on this later.
Point two, had I not committed to reviewing this game I almost certainly would have given up long before actually getting it to the table, so clouded and confusing is the rulebook. Generally, a slightly muddy ruleset can be overcome, but when a game has as much going on as Bardagi does, then it can become a torturous struggle to fully get to grips with play and enjoy a smooth run of action.
Point three, persistence is a virtue.
Bardagi: The Claim for Gold from Gamia Games taps into the rich vein of storytelling and action offered by those trusty old Vikings. The absolute basics of play revolve around each player vying for global domination across a map through area control. Area control is gained via three main methods. First we have the traditional warmongering route in which players utilise their armed forces and beat the local Barbarian hordes into submission. Secondly there is the trade route, which allows players to buy land from the local barbarians. And finally there is the religious route that sees the players convert the local hordes to their own beliefs. The direction each player chooses reaps differing cost and reward. For example, the religious conversion will reap reward in the form of new recruits arriving at the player’s home town which can then be brought into play as any one of warriors, traders, or religious leaders.
Overtaking a land area on the board is done in much the same way as various other games of this type, the player must use one more unit than is present in the area. At the beginning of the game each of the three different unit types (Warrior, Trader, Priest) have a total of six available units to place throughout the land, these units can be replenished during play, however, this requires some neat strategic thinking to get the best from your forces.
Dotted throughout the land, and crucial to success, are natural resources. These range from meat, wool, and stone, through to the all-important gold. Each area yields different resources or combinations of resources. The player holding the area receives reward in the shape of said resources at the end of each round of play, and then these products can be used to great effect in replenishing unit numbers, trading for better commodities, or even upgrading the buildings within the home town. What this leads to is some serious player consideration when planning for the coming round, considering which resources are vital and how difficult it might be to attain them. The resources themselves are pivotal to the outcome of the game not only in allowing the player to strengthen their forces over the course of each round, but also in attaining the glory points that lead eventually to victory.
You see, the whole game eventually comes down to these glory points. Points are collected during play for conquering lands, building gold supplies, and basically making best use of what is at your disposal. The one with the most points at the game’s end is declared the winner.
Each round starts with players choosing pre-planned actions via the choice of six cards from their hand. The cards depict either the warrior, the trader or the priest and each card is worth one action point. So, a player might play six warrior cards for six warrior actions, or, they might play two of each type for two actions per unit. This part of the game is done simultaneously before play then moves to clockwise around the table.
Other additional points to mention, each player also has a ship docked at their local harbour with which they can send units to nearby islands seeking rich reward, the priest can use runes during the game to either help their own hunt for victory, or hinder an opponent, and upgrades for towns fall into either level one or level two and require some genuine tactical planning and determined play to build.
And there we have the basics of Bardagi. A good, solid, area control game with some neat resource collection and trade thrown in to the mix. It sounds like an absolute winner. However, all is not as crystal clear as first appears. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, had I not committed to playing and writing this, I would have popped this back on the shelf and possibly never returned to it again. The problem is, well, the rulebook is just so much of a mish-mash, all over the place, and confusing read that actually getting a game under way was a challenge in itself. The set-up alone took a good 40 minutes, and then once play was under way it proved a frustratingly ponderous experience due to continued dips into the same confusion riddled rules.
When playing a new game for the first time referring back to the rules is expected. Generally, this is a straightforward affair that sees a quick read to clarify something and then back to the action. In Bardagi this refer to rules was taking place at pretty much every turn. The main issue is that there is so much going on in the game that even in a really clear and well written rulebook it would still take some time to learn the ropes, and one thing this game lacks is that clarity of rules. I found reading them akin to talking to that one friend we all have who can talk about three or four topics in the space of one two-minute conversation.
For myself it proved frustrating, for the others at the table it proved tiring and within three rounds I could see attention had wandered off.
Another thing I talked about earlier was the simply stunning looks delivered by Bardagi. When on the table it looks incredible! The use of colours is magnificent and of all the games I’ve played, Bardagi definitely sits in the top bracket of lookers. The maps are expansive and detailed, the board is double sided offering players a different challenge, and the little plastic figures, although not quite as detailed as in some other games, do a decent job. Likewise, the components depicting resources are lovely little wooden replicas that really add to the flavour of the game. The rulebook talks about wooden discs to represent units as well, but for the release these seem to have changed to plastic discs, not that this detracts at all, the colours are easy to pick out on the board and allow everyone to see where they sit in the overall race for global domination. One slight issue comes in the size of the images that represent which resources are available at each location. These are pretty tiny and require a little squinting in good light to see exactly what we have, or perhaps that’s just my eyesight.
One for the Kids
I played this with my eleven-year-old daughter and my sixteen-year-old son. In all honesty I would find it hard to recommend this one for the younger kids out there. In terms of area control games, SmallWorld is a much more easily accessible game for younger minds. That said, for the teenager and beyond, Bardagi, could prove something of a solid, strategic challenge that, if you can get past the rulebook, is a good way to spend an hour and a half.
Dylan, 16, said, “It was a bit slow, especially at the start, but I think it’s still a good game and I liked the resource collection.”
Holly, 11, added, “It was a good game, I liked building the town and adding recruits and also using runes to bug Dylan!”
Bardagi: The Claim for Gold is quite a tricky game to draw conclusions about after only a couple of plays. There is just so much going on that it takes time to learn, and this makes those early sessions quite drawn out affairs. What we have is a game that I think more than many others will thoroughly divide opinion. I know there are players out there, lots of them, who will absolutely adore this game. The brilliant combination of area control, various unit types, resource management and trade will tick so many boxes! But, there are also players who will hate this game with a passion purely based on the frustration of trying to get to grips with the gameplay and getting to a point that everything is fluid and slick.
For myself right now, I fall somewhere in-between. I came close to just giving up with the game. But I persisted, and by the end was glad I did. Bardagi is a game with many moving parts that can definitely become overwhelming at times, but, it is equally a game with great depth and scope for real strategic, thoughtful play and that should be commended.
I don’t usually return to a game for a second review, but, in the case of Bardagi I think that in a month or two I’ll be writing again about this game. At present what I dislike, which was by and large the confusing rules and pace of play, balances with what I really like, namely the strategy, depth and looks, but currently there is nothing about the gameplay I truly love. Based on that I see Bardagi as an acquired taste at present, one for those with the time on their hands to really get to grips with what is potentially a great game. Stay tuned.