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Author: Reiner Knizia

Publisher: KOSMOS 2005

Awards: none



A few years after the rather successful Lord of the Rings boardgame by Reiner Knizia KOSMOS now once again has chosen to publish a game with a mythological background. This time however the story is rooted deep in English literature of the 8th century, and thus the game takes the players to join the famous Dragon-Slayer Beowulf on his quest to slay a cruel Dragon in Denmark.

Already before opening the box a certain similiarity between Beowulf and the Lord of the Rings boardgame becomes visible, since both games were beautifully illustrated by the famous Tolkien-artist John Howe. With their beautiful artwork, box, gameboard and cards look extremely atmospheric and made me eager to learn more about the game and see whether Knizia's new game would actually play as well as the Lord of the Rings boardgame.

Unlike the earlier game, Beowulf is a competitive game where the players compete for victory points and try to win the game by acquiring most points till the end of the game. As the game progresses, a figure of Beowulf will be moved along a track on the gameboard to go through the different episodes of Beowulf's famous journey. At each episode of the journey the players will have the opportunity to assist Beowulf by taking the roles of his travelmates and playing their cards in favour of the adventure. The players which can add the most valuable cards will be awarded at each episode, and this way the players will rise in Beowulf's esteem.

The deck of playing cards from which each player receives his starting hand basically consists of six different kinds of action cards with either one or two action-symbols available. These action cards represent Voyage, Friendship, Cunning, Courage, Combat and Beowulf (Joker). At the beginning of the game, each player receives one Joker and one Combat card with two action symbols and furthermore five randomly dealt cards. After each player has received his starting hand, and then the game may start with the Beowulf-figure being moved onto the first episode of his journey.

Basically, two different kinds of episodes exist on the track of Beowulf's journey. Most important are the Main Episodes, since here the players will engange in competitive cardplay in order to rise in Beowulf's esteem (and thus to collect victory points). Each of these episodes shows two kinds of action-cards in its headline, and this will be the types of cards the players will need to play in this episode. Depending on which Main Episode is currently played, the players now either will simultaneously play fitting action cards face-down on the table or they will engage in a card bidding contest in which each player at least has to draw even with the bid of his predecessor or to drop out of the bidding. Either way, the player with the highest bid will be considered the first player for the evaluation of the episode, whereas the other players will follow in the order of the size of their bid.


The order of the players now becomes important for dealing with the events available in this episode. Equal to the number of players, a number of different events is available at each episode and - starting with the first player - each player will have to chose one of the events which is still available and which has not been chosen by a higher ranking player. Most of the given events are beneficial, so that a player may be allowed to draw Fame- or Treasure-counters of a given value or an Alliance-counter of random value. These counters will be turned into victory points at the end of the game. Likewise, a player also may be entitled to draw additional action cards or perhaps some special action cards which depict crucial events in Beowulf`s life and which either may show several action-symbols or a special ability which now can be used by the player once later in the game. However, as might be guessed, not all events available at a Main Episode have good effects for the players, so that especially the players who may chose an event later due to a lower ranking bid may be forced to chose an evil event. Thus, a player may be forced to take either a minor or major wound marker (three minor wounds will be turned into a major wound), and these major wounds may result a loss of victory points for a player in the final evaluation. Likewise, a player might also have to take a failure-marker, which also will count for minus two victory points at the end of the game.

After a Main Episode has been dealt with, the Beowulf figure will be moved forwards to the next episode on the playing track, and the position of the starting player for that episode now switches to the player who been first player in the finished Main Episode.

However, as indicated above, a second kind of episodes also exists in the game - the Interludes. These smaller episodes can be found in uneven distribution between the Main Episodes, with up to three Interludes separating one Main Episode from the next. Unlike the Main Episodes, the Interludes can be played by all players, with each player being able to decide whether he wants to act upon the Interlude or not. Some of these Interludes allow the players to take new cards or other beneficial counters, whereas others might give the players an opportunity to exchange cards or counters for healing wounds or for other cards. However, there also exists a more dangerous kind of Interlude in which the players may have to take a risk to gain a benefit. These Interludes show two different action-symbols, and a player who is willing to take the risk of such an interlude now must turn over two cards from the deck. He may keep each card which shows either one of the two action-symbols or a Joker, but if he draws no matching card at all he will instead be forced to take a minor wound.

Dealing with the different kinds of episodes in the way outlined above, the figure of Beowulf will be moved forward on the track following his famous journey. However, before tackling with the evaluation which will take place at the end of the game to find out each player`s score of victory points, a special kind of Main Episode needs to be mentioned. Thus, there exist yellow-coloured Treasure Episodes on the gameboard which are dealt with following exactly the same procedure as "normal" Main Episodes, with the exceptions that the players will have to bid Treasure Counters instead of action cards and that only the player with the highest bid will receive the benefit of that episode. These episodes are skipped in the basic rules for the game so that Treasure Counters count as victory points at the end of the game, but in the advanced rules the Treasure Episodes come into play, prolonging Beowulf`s journey and giving the Treasure Counters a new meaning.

When the last episode has been played, the aforementioned evaluation takes place, and now the players will have to add up the counters which either increase or decrease their score of victory points. The players also will have an opportunity to turn their remaining action cards into victory points, since the last episode on the board will demand the use of all remaining cards by all players. When the scores have been added up, a player without any major wounds will receive a bonus of five victory points, whereas a player with three or more major wounds will loose five victory points for each of his major wounds. The player with the highest score then will have won the game and will become Beowulf`s successor on the throne.

Once again Reiner Knizia has succeeded not only in creating an intricate set of rules but also in putting me up to quite a challenge to lay the rules down for this review. Although my explanation of the rules might sound a bit complicated, the game actually plays much easier once the players have worked their way through the rulebook.

The game itself tries to keep a careful balance between the simple collection of points and the more intricate development of a global strategy which might lead a player to victory. Carrying out with these two premises rather consequently, a surprising side effect has become that the game also features a very high degree of interaction between the players. Due to the way how Knizia has designed especially the Main Episodes, the players constantly have to watch for events which might fit well with their strategy and thus to bid against the other players to obtain the right to chose the desired events.

Furthermore, the fact that the game contains both basic and advanced rules makes it suitable for quite different types of players. While it is true that the "advanced rules" simply consist of a single paragraph which lines out the different use of the Treasure Episodes and Counters in the advanced game, the effect of this variation on play is quite tremendous. Suddenly there are more factors which the players need to take into consideration for a valid strategy, and in addition the final scoring in the game gets closer since the Treasure Counters are not simply turned over into Victory Points. Thus, the advanced game overall is more strategic, and also some more bluffing and surprise comes into the game since some of the Alliance-counters drawn by the players also may feature a treasure value so that the players participating in a Treasure episode cannot fully see how much treasure the each other might have.

To sum it up, the artwork by John Howe is the only similarity which Beowulf has with the Lord of the Rings game, and Beowulf by no means is a clone of the older game. Quite the opposite, the general premises in both games could not be more different, since Lord of the Rings is a cooperative game whereas Beowulf clearly is a confrontative game. As for the background story of Beowulf`s journey, the role of the players seems to be a bit out of pace with the story since, at least to my remembrance, Beowulf`s travelmates did not play a great role on his journey. Having observed this in other Knizia-games, the background story thus seems to be exchangeable, but this should not be a factor which should be held against the game, since Beowulf nonetheless is an entertaining and challenging adventure game.

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Copyright © 2005 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Trier, Germany