The box art makes it look so dry and old-fashioned, but Lancaster’s genius is in stitching in the laws into an otherwise fairly straightforward worker-placement game: put a guy somewhere to get something back. But it’s not just the laws, but the fact that Knights can bump each other out of the best positions, the fact you can’t be sure how many squires someone had and whether it’s worth you risking yours if someone else is going to kick your Knight back home… I really enjoy the tension in that, along with the fact that the game really zips along once you know it – for me Lancaster is a keeper.
Lancaster feels to me like a refinement of many ideas that have gone before. It’s an extremely efficient game experience, in which you’re juggling the need for several currencies or resources, with a comforting medieval theme that fits but doesn’t feel especially immersive.
I’ve only played one three-player game, and it was only in the final round that I began to feel any tension, and see the strategies for placing your knights of different strengths. Do you go in strong with the high numbers to scare off rivals? Or play the low ones, coming back in force with squires to boot when you get bumped? In fact, I was left to my own devices in the end, and that felt a little disappointing – perhaps the gains and losses for attacking others versus meeting your own needs inhibit combative play.
But I wouldn’t want to judge it on a single play, and perhaps a higher player count would ensure more jostling. I’d like to play again, but so far I’m labelling it “quaffable, but far from transcendent,” to quote Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) in Sideways.
Oh, and I did like the voting for laws – in our game that produced some interesting short-term allegiances and fun moments as votes were revealed and swung in unexpected directions. I can see that being even better at a higher player count too.
There's a reasonable amount of Take That, that increases as the game continues and is more prevalent with five players, say, than two or three. Knights can push each other out of castles, swoop in to grab the glory at the tail-end of battles, and - most intriguingly - collaborate to jettison a law that could help someone score a bunch of points.
Once that first play is out of the way, pretty low. Early rounds will zip by, and it's only in rounds 4 and 5 when the board is getting crowded that there may be pauses for thought.
It's not hard on the brain; there's decisions to be made, but many of them are reactive. But the goal of making all the games elements work in tandem for you does demand a wee bit of thought.
Laws and battles come out randomly, apart from that the game's variation comes in the different strategies it offers: concentrate on expanding your knights? Your castle? Focus on the noblemen, which in turn give you greater power in voting in (or out) laws?