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Palastgefluster and Court of the Medici

A comparative review by Martin Griffiths

Court of the Medici and Palastgefluster are both neat little card games that share a theme of intrigue in a medieval court. But how do they stack up against other games and each other?

Both games come in small boxes that contain nothing but a set of cards. Palastgefluster is in one of the tiny Adlung-Spiele boxes while CotM has some space for the cards to rattle around in. Both games have sets of cards in each player's colour depicting different members of the court: Jester, Lady-in-Waiting, King and so on. And in both games players take turns to play a single card from their hand onto the table. The biggest difference is that CotM is for 2 players only while Palastgefluster accommodates 3-5.

In Court of the Medici, each player takes their own deck, shuffles it, places the top four cards face up into the "Inner Circle" and then draws a hand of 5 cards. A turn will generally consist of playing a card and then drawing a card. Each member of the court has a value (between 0 and 15) and the cards can be played in various ways to try to increase your own presence in the court while eliminating your opponent's courtiers. At heart it is a mathematical game: when you play a card on to another card in the court to form a "conspiracy" you can then eliminate any other card or set of cards that has the same total. A few of the cards have special powers in addition to their numerical value. For example the Lady-in-Waiting can break up an "alliance" of courtiers while the Jester is a wild card. The game ends either when one player has been driven out entirely from the Inner Circle or when both players have drawn through their entire decks, with the winner given by the higher total of cards still in play.

After a few plays, the game seems very tactical. Your options are constrained by what you have in your hand, and you usually want to look for a way to get a card into play while eliminating one or more of your opponent's courtiers. The special powers add a few nice wrinkles, and the variable end conditions have made each game play quite differently. Sometimes it's an out-and-out war with courtiers being offed left, right and centre; sometimes there's more of a cat-and-mouse feel. As you may have gathered, the game isn't strongly thematic, but the gorgeous artwork taken from Medieval paintings and flavour text from Macchiavelli does help with that. All in all it's a very enjoyable 20-minute game that scratches the same itch as Battle Line or Lost Cities.

In Palastgefluster the sets of player cards are all shuffled together. Everyone starts with a hand of 6 cards, and the aim is to play cards one-by-one to the table in order to end up with six different characters displayed, thus scoring a point. If a player is forced to play a duplicate character, they automatically lose the hand and everyone else gains a point. The game is played to 4-6 points depending on the number of players, though if you have slow players you might want to set a time limit instead.

The different characters each offer a different ability, for example allowing you to swap displayed cards with another player or take back a previously played card into your hand. The clever twist is that the colour of a card played determines who is next in the turn order, so you might be able to play a string of cards at once or make another player take a turn when they really don't want to. Like CotM, it's a tactical battle, and it does seem easier to try to force someone else into an error than to go all-out for the solo win. This makes the scoring very close and it would be easy to end up with a tie. However there is a variant scoring system in the rules to make this less likely.

As the name implies, Palastgefluster is a German game but this is a bilingual edition. The player summary cards have an English translation and the character cards have icons to explain their special powers. The rules are also translated, for the most part reasonably well, and if in doubt there are some good player aids on boardgamegeek. The artwork is more cartoonish than Court of the Medici but still quite pleasant and the game will appeal to those who are fans of hand-management and a healthy dose of screwage.

I would be hard-pressed to say which of the two games I prefer, but as they both come in at well under a tenner and satisfy complementary numbers of players, there's no real need to decide!

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