Knights of Charlemagne

Right from the start, Reiner Kniza’s “Knights of Charlemagne” is in my good graces. It does something that all apps in the App Store should do: it doesn’t mute my music on start. I have an iPod Touch and an iPod is primarily, above all else, a music player. If it’s on, chances are it’s playing music. Any app that mutes it without my consent makes too many suppositions about its place and role on the device it’s on. “Knights of Charlemagne” isn’t so presumptuous.

Much like “Poison,” the game is mechanically simple. There are ten estates, 5 uncoloured ones numbered 1 to 5 and five unnumbered representing five colours, in the middle of the playing field that two players vie for. Each player is dealt eight knight tokens, each one representing a colour and a number. Every turn, the active player has to place one of his knight tokens on a matching estate (either colour or number.) A new knight is then drawn and the game continues until the last one has been placed.

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At the end, players score one point for every estate in which they have a presence, no matter how many the opponent has there too. The real scoring benefits come from every estate in which you have more knights than your opponent. Each coloured estate is worth five points and each numbered estate is worth its value. Additionally, the first player to control two estates, counting up, gets a crown worth five points. It’s an important game balancer that makes ignoring the least valuable estates a perilous choice.

It’s always dangerous because the AI is competent enough to punish you. The easiest difficulty, squire, which acts as a tutorial, is a pushover, but the other two, knight and king, locked until you beat the preceding level, provide a heady challenge. It’s not much, but the limited progression towards beating the king level adds to the replayability of Knights of Charlemagne. Although equally portable, in the best of ways, as Poison, Knights feels more rewarding because of this design. When you don’t have human opponents to play against, or even physical cards, these little additions are essential to keep a game engaging.

Best of all, the level of strategic thought and planning that Knights of Charlemagne requires is engrossing enough to be fun but simple enough to never be frustrating during brain addled morning commutes on the train. For $2, it’s a great little strategy game to have in your pocket.

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