Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Dwight Sullivan


No. of Players:
3 - 5



The boardgame Noblemen from Dwight Sullivan was the winner of the reknown Hippodice contest in 2009, and with this prestigious awards as a backing it seemed only a matter of time until the game would be published by one of the major publishers. Now the game has found a home with PEGASUS SPIELE, and indeed PEGASUS has equipped this award-winning game with lots of playing materials and a quite lavish design. However, a game which tackles the topic of finding England's new queen or king can be expected to fulfil a certain standard, and so the players will find themselves well equipped for the task of competing for the favour of Queen Elizabeth I., the childless Queen who is looking for a successor among the noble families of England.

Naturally, all of the players want their family to come out first in this contest, and their efforts are measured in Victory points which can be won during three decades of playing time. This split of the game into three equally sized parts has been made for scoring reasons, and so each decade features two masquerades when all the players meet at the Queen's Palace for the awarding of titles. The different titles are awarded on the basis of Prestige points, and these points can be created through various activities during the course of the game. But for the moment let's continue with the masquerades. These fancy dress parties are allocated in the middle and at the end of a round track which is used to record the passing of time, and usually the pawn on this track will be moved one step forwards when all players have taken a turn. However, Noblemen gives the players some possibilities to speed up the movement of the pawn on the round track for tactical reasons, and so the time until the next scoring may vary. The titles awarded at the masquerades will give the players some Victory points, and in addition to the masked balls each decade also ends with an evaluation of the players' estates, and in this scoring the players will gain some additional Victory points for some of the buildings and landscape tiles which they have acquired during the course of the game.


These first lines should give a rough impression of the more or less traditional scoring mechanism on which Noblemen operates - Victory points are awarded for estates and titles, and titles in turn are won by Prestige Points. However, let's now continue with the playing mechanism itself, since it is this part where Noblemen can boast with a delicate but nonetheless quite straightforward set of interacting activities. As mentioned before, the players will create their own estates, and these estates are constructed with four different types of landscape tiles which are acquired during the course of the game. At the beginning, each player possesses a single tile of grassland on which his family seat (a castle) has been placed, but during the course of the game the players may use their turn to add up to three landscape tiles from their stockpiles to their estates, thus creating an ever-growing area of landscape tiles. The following types of landscapes are available, and if a player possesses one or more landscape tiles he may opt to enlarge his estate by placing some tiles.

  • The already mentioned grassland tiles are used for building purposes. They do not serve any specific purpose upon their placement, but instead the players may pay to place castles, palaces, chapels and follies on such tiles. Each of these buildings serves a purpose on its own which is described later.
  • Tiles with farmland will give the player a direct income of one coin for each tile placed, and in addition the player will get a bonus of two coins for placing four farmland tiles in a square, thus creating a "big farm".
  • Likewise, a player will get one new, randomly drawn landscape tile for each woodland tile placed, and two bonus tiles are awarded for placing four woodland tiles in a square to create a "forest".
  • Finally, the fourth type of landscapes are fountains, but a placement of these tiles does not yield any direct reward. Instead, fountains will bring the player some Prestige points during the scorings (masquerades). Only if the player succeeds in creating a "garden" by placing four fountain tiles in a square he will gain a benefit in form of the Queen's favour, and this results in a slight acceleration of the game because the pawn on the round track will be moved forwards one space. This usually will match with the interests of a player who has just placed the fountains, because the player will want to use the benefit of the fountains during the next scoring.

As indicated, the grassland tiles are used as a foundation for buildings, and instead of placing new landscape tiles a player also may use his turn's action to erect one building. The four different types of buildings available in the game serve different purposes:

  • Most straightforward is the Folly, a decorative building which is well known from 18th century English gardens. In Noblemen the erection of a Folly will grant the builder some instant Victory points, with their amount being higher the earlier the Folly is built. The player just needs to possess enough money and to comply with some building requirements (i.e. he must have a free grasslands tile, and he must possess a certain number of big farms, forests and/or gardens).
  • Small chapels also are quite typical for English horticultural architecture, and so a player with a free grasslands tile also may opt to buy a chapel. The building of a chapel gains the player a free Scandal card (these may be used for a variety of special actions) , and in addition some Victory points will be awarded for each chapel adjacent to a castle or palace during the estates scoring at the end of each decade.
  • The building of a castle allows a player to bring one of his two knights into play or to move a knight which is already in play. These knights may be moved onto big farms, forests and gardens within the estates of other players, and the placement of a knight on such a group of four landscape tiles means that the owner of the landscape tiles loses money, tiles or the Queens favour to the knight's owner. In addition, the knight will remain in position until he is moved by his owner, and this means that the knight's owner may profit from these tiles when it comes to the collection of taxes, the reclamation of land and the scoring during masquerades.
  • However, castles themselves are worthless in masquerades and quite ineffective estates scorings. For this reason a player can pay to upgrade a castle to a palace, and each palace will bring additional Prestige points during masquerades as well as additional Victory points during estates scorings.

Each player only may perform one single action during his turn, and apart from enlarging his estate and erecting new buildings a player also may opt to collect taxes or to reclaim land. Each of these actions may only be performed once per decade, and these actions will bring a player an amount of coins / landscape tiles according to the number of farmland / woodland tiles and unoccupied big farms / forests in his estate plus a bonus for each big farm / forest of other players' estates which are occupied by one of his own knights. In addition, a player also may donate excess landscape tiles to the church to gain some Victory points, and it is also possible to bribe a member of the Royal family, thus gaining a Prestige bonus for the following masquerade.

The players actions all are aimed at a good performance during the six masquerades, since here the players with most Prestige points will get the most distinguished titles. The awarding of a title means that the player will gain some Victory points, and in addition each title also is associated with a rebate for new buildings, and this rebate remains active until the player receives a new title during the next masquerade. The Prestige points on which the titles are awarded are gained by the possession of Fountain tiles (with a bonus for complete gardens), by gardens within other players' estates which are occupied by one of the player's knights, by palaces and bribe markers, and by Scandal cards. In fact, all Scandal cards can be discarded to gain additional Prestige, provided the player abstains from using the special action depicted on the Scandal card. When all players have added up their Prestige for the current masquerade, the titles will be awarded, with the best titles going to the players with most Prestige.

The game ends after a total duration of three decades, and this means that the players will have participated in six masquerades and three estates scorings. The player with most Victory points now will be proclaimed as the Queens' successor!

Noblemen confronts the players with the usual challenge of acquiring the necessary parts for a production engine which is used for gaining Prestige and - ultimately - Victory points. However, an element which is unusual for this type of games is the fact that the players do not just buy the parts of their production engine, but these parts actually have to be "assembled". As explained, a part of the game is concerned with the players enlarging their estates, and here the players have to be careful to align newly placed landscape tiles in the most profitable way. Some not yet mentioned building and scoring rules need to be observed (e.g. a chapel may not be built next to another chapel, palaces and castles only will score during estate scorings if they are completely surrounded by landscape tiles etc.), and only those players who keep the scoring possibilities in mind will be able to make the best use of their estates and the landscape tiles within. This two-dimensional operation of building the players' estates is finely interwoven with the other mechanisms found in Noblemen, and it is exactly this correlation from which the game gains much of its attractiveness.

A bit questionable on the other hand is the use of the knights. Each player possesses two of them, and they are the most direct element of player interaction which can be found in this game, since they are placed at big farms, forests and gardens within other players' estates. A knight's owner will gain a benefit, whereas the owner of the occupied landscape tiles will face a small detrimental effect. However, not even the Scandal cards allow a player to chase away another player's knight, and so the "victim" of such an action effectively has no possibility to end the occupation of his own landscape tiles. The only way to react is to activate one of the victim's own knights by the building of a castle, and in most cases this knight then is used to occupy some landscape tiles in the aggressor's estate. This tit for tat retaliation seems to be rather plain, and so the question may be asked whether the game really needed this kind of direct player interaction.

Still, apart from the knights the game operated quite smoothly, and that fact that each player only is allowed to perform one single action during his turn effectively reduces downtime to an absolute minimum. Once the players get a grip on the rules and scoring mechanisms Noblemen becomes playable at a rather high pace, and this once again is a factor which positively sets the game apart from some other engine building games.

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Copyright © 2013 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany