Managed to play a new game last Saturday! I bought Sigismundus Augustus last Essen from Polish publisher Fabryka Gier Historycznych Fundacja Niepodległości.
King Sigismund of Poland was best known for his acquisition of Lithuania by the end of his reign, while Poland itself in the early modern periode is best known for its chaotic politics. It is exactly the latter part of history that this game focusses on. Players are powerful families within the Polish Diet (Sejm), vying for the most profitable offices (governors, ministers, clergy).
The game is won on victory points, for the most part derived from holding offices or from diplomatic relations with neighbouring states like Moscovia, Lithuania and Austria. There's three important phases in the game: the policy, the action and the Sejm phase.
In the policy phase, players can play one policy card. The cards allow you to attack another player,
Perhaps the most important action is to activate a neighbouring state so that it will be scored at the end of the turn. In the foreign policy phase each player can at least place one token on a neighbouring state. The VP are scored by the player with the most and the second most tokens on this state.
The action phase is based on worker placement. Each player has at least 3 clients to take actions like taxing, diplomacy in a neighbouring state, gain influence among the nobles or magnates or make an office available to bid upon in the Sejm phase.
There is another randomising element to the game in one of these actions: the deck of Polish characters from the age. These can be enlisted by the players for their direct advantage or victory point bonus at the end of the game. Since the deck is much larger than the amount of cards drawn in a game, this helps increasing replayability.
Players first vote on each office that has become available. Next, the Sejm commits itself to fulfilling the royal demand. The king desires money, troops or just votes. Again all players bid blind. This determines the amount of royal favour (ie votes) for the next turn, with the player spending the most resources becoming the king's favourite which gives you the valuable right to decide on all ties.
Finally, each turn after the first, the players also vote on a piece of legislation, which changes the game rules, for example restricting the number of offices that can be held. All votes here are open and players just indicate whether they agree or disagree with the proposal.
The turn the ends with the scoring phase and the upkeep of the troops.
First impressions a largely positive. In one game, we found it hard to figure out clear strategies. There's so much happening that it seems hard to focus on one aspect. But the mechanisms feel to have been integrated well.
One odd thing is that in the last turn several parts of the game lose their meaning. There is no reason to worry about the upkeep of your troops, or even to fulfil the king's demand, as the result has no effect on the game.
It is not an easy game to learn. The rules are written pretty densely, there are a lot of mechanisms that tie into each other and how this works out only really become clear by playing. But it is worthwhile. Leave it to Polish designers to integrate euro mechanisms with historical themes. I'm pretty sure we will have another go at this one.