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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Six Dozen Games about Monks, Rivers, Dice, and Gems

by W. Eric Martin

• In early March 2023, I posted teasers for titles coming from German publisher Spielworxx, but one title I had overlooked is the 2024 release 12 Monks from Pedro Santos Silva, who debuted in 2021 with Lisbon Tram 28.

Here’s the setting for this 2024 release:

This story takes place in the 12th century when Portugal was taking shape…

With his armies marching towards the south, Afonso Henriques, the King of Portugal, could not abandon the territory conquered from the Moors and decided to donate a huge plot of land in the center of the country (44,000 hectares) to a religious order of French origin called Cistercians. This community of monks, which had already settled in other regions, would have to manage the territory and resources of this place. In order to do that, an enormous monastery was built in Alcobaça and that same monastery would go on to become one of the most important for the Order.

The Cistercians’ motto was Ora et Labora (prayer and work), so their abbeys were usually in secluded locations. Silence for their prayers was paramount, as was easy access to stone (in order to build the monastery) and several other goods, such as wood and iron (which were essential to build farming equipment and tools). Fertile land and access to water (necessary for food, hygiene, and agriculture) were also essential to achieve self-sufficiency. Alcobaça filled all the requirements for the task, so the Cistercians accepted the king’s challenge — and this is the historical background from which this game was born.

Prototype from 2022

12 Monks is a competitive game in which players emulate the mission given by the King to the Cistercians to manage and run the resources from the grounds of Alcobaça. Players will occupy this territory, produce and manufacture cultivated goods, extract the necessary resources to build the monastery of Alcobaça, and build the levada (that is, a system of aqueducts) that will give them access to fresh water.

• In mid-February 2023, Japanese publisher OKAZU Brand teased its next releases at Tokyo Game Market: the two-player battle game 12 Seekers and the multi-player co-operative game Concord.

12 Seekers is a two-player battling card game from designer Hisashi Hayashi that’s an updated version of the 2008 release 10カウント (“10 Count”), a game not in the BGG database.

In the game, players fight for gems from a shared line. To set up, lay out the 39 gems. Players then alternate playing a seeker card to claim gems. The game includes twelve basic seekers without special abilities and seventeen seekers with abilities; use twelve cards in a mix that seems appropriate to you. The game includes four types of “turn rules” and twenty types of “game rules” to provide more variety in set-up and play.

In the co-operative card game Concord, players attempt to complete missions as members of a magic school, playing out the correct five spell cards without directly consulting one another. You can make use of various items to help you complete the mission, but using each item has a cost, so you must be prepared to pay and use these items strategically.

Queen of 12 is the third title in a game series from designer Rita Modl and publisher Corax Games that began in 2020 with King of 12 and followed in 2022 with Council of 12.

All three games involve 12-sided dice and the simultaneously playing of cards. In King of 12, you manipulate the value of your d12 and that of opponents, with simultaneous values on cards played or dice negating an action. In Council of 12, you collectively attempt to overcome challenges.

In Queen of 12, each round you play and reveal a card to draft dice from the center of the table, with less powerful cards going first in the draft and with tied cards doing nothing. You use the number or color of a die to mark a space on your score sheet, attempting to complete rows and columns to score points while not having only two spaces marked in a line at game’s end because that earns you 0 points for the line. (The theme of ties being worthless carries through this game line in many ways!)

Queen of 12 was crowdfunded on Spieleschmiede and is now available in Germany.

12 Rivers is a design for 2-4 players from Romain Caterdjian and BGNations that appeared at SPIEL ’22, but I’m not sure whether it’s been picked up for distribution.

Gameplay in 12 Rivers is akin to Queen of 12 (and many games) in that you can attempt to play later in a round in order to give yourself more options to score at the risk of having others scoop the goods.

How this works, though, is that each round begins by placing colored “pearls” at the head of twelve rivers, with a barrier keeping these pearls from rolling. Players take turns placing dams across a river, with the rivers converging into fewer streams as they move down the board. Once all the dams have been placed, you remove the barrier and let the pearls roll.

If you definitely need a particular color, you want to place a dam at the highest point in a river so that you stop (and collect) only that single pearl — but the cost to place a dam like that is much higher than placing a dam downstream. Dams downstream will stop more pearls, with the player having their choice of what’s stopped, then they remove their dam and let the remainder flow down. You can be cheap and have your pick of whatever collects in the pond at the bottom of the game board, but who knows which colors will remain by that point.

You use the pearls to collect villagers and fulfill their contracts in order to score points and gain combo bonuses.


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