Tight Mechanics Topped With Drizzle Of Flavor
Above the blood-red horizon the silhouette of the evil dragon Tarok looms, making his way toward Rietburg Castle. You, the heroes of Andor, must save the castle from utter destruction before that foul beast arrives. With spells and strength, you set out to destroy the fetid minions infesting the castle in an attempt to complete the four tasks crucial to fortifying the realm. But time runs short in The Liberation of Rietburg, a new cooperative board game for two to four players based in the World of Andor series of games by Kosmos Games.
The goal of The Liberation of Rietburg is fairly straightforward: players take on the role of heroes banding together to use their special abilities in an attempt to solve four special tasks before a deck of “narrator cards” runs out. Each player only has three cards to play, each with various special abilities (one character has four cards, but that’s the only thing special about him). Once they’ve played those three cards, they need to “refresh,” and one of the ten set narrator cards is flipped, unleashing more monsters and ticking down the built in clock by one.
Six tasks are set face down on the board, hidden from players. To uncover the task, and attempt to solve it, they need to clear the space of any enemies. Players can only move when their card says they can, they can only attack when their card says they can, and monsters (who arrive at one of the six locations either face up or face down) can slow down progress immensely. Special items give boons, as do “friend” cards you can gather along the way. All in all, the game boils down to “can you use your abilities efficiently before you flip these ten narrator cards.”
There’s not a lot, thematically, that runs too deep with The Liberation of Rietburg. Sure, you play as heroes with different powers, and you square off against monsters of varying incarnations, but this is all just a thin layer spread over the core mechanics of the game. While playing Liberation, I didn’t feel like I was Kram, the valiant dwarf, using his axe to destroy monsters invading the castle, or Kheela, the mystical guardian of the River Lands. I felt like, well, Giaco. Just a player trying to best maximize his actions before the timer ran out.
With a limited set of actions each character can take, and the narrator cards ever troubling the board and always flipping away, The Liberation of Rietburg can often be an edge of your seat race against the clock. Will we have enough actions left among our party to clear the enemies from this location? What new trouble will that narrator card flip for us? It certainly does its job in eliciting both groans of despair when you get a bad card flip, and yells of triumph when you get a bit lucky. The game is clearly tightly designed, but here’s the big question: is that enough?
That’s perhaps a personal question that each player needs to answer for themselves. Do you play games to be the most efficient player? Do you play games to set up combos, key off your teammates, and attempt to “break” the game? If that’s all you’re here for, The Liberation of Rietburg is a lot of fun. But I’m the kind of gamer who would gladly sacrifice mechanics for a bit of story (in part, it should be noted, because I’m generally not very tactically minded). And for a game set in the Legends of Andor setting (a setting with a ton of lore and story all swirling around it), I’d hoped for a bit more thematic meat on these gameplay bones.
To put my troubles into an easy-to-understand example: The goal of the game is to prevent an evil dragon from destroying the castle. The rulebook states, "the prophecy fortells that you can only prevent that if you are able to accomplish the four tasks that have been assigned to you." But there's no thematic link between the four tasks you need to complete and what in the world that has to do with stopping a dragon. The tasks are oblique, like "The Drunken Troll" where you complete the task by collecting three "friend" cards. But there's no flavor text beyond the goal of the task, so what does this card even mean? Am I trying to befriend the drunken troll? Am I killing the drunken troll? And what does that have to do with big bad flying toward the castle.
The Bottom Line
All of these thematic issues aside,The Liberation of Rietburg is a fun, fast-paced little cooperative strategy game. And the MSRP of $29.99 USD feels like the exact right price for a game of this size. But if these thematic concerns sound like the kind of thing that would bother you, I highly suggest checking out Legends of Andor instead, which is so full of myth and legend you'll feel a bit like a drunken troll yourself when you try to take it all in.
Get This Game If:
- You enjoy a challenging, puzzle-y cooperative game
- You're looking for an affordable alternative to some bigger box coop games
- You fear the drunken troll
Avoid This Game If:
- You're looking for more theming and flavor in your games
- Tightly wound coop games stress you out
This copy of The Liberation of Rietburg was provided by Thames and Kosmos.