PLAYlist 19: Troyes

Feb 05, 2018 By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share


Troyes, from Asmodee and Pearl Games, has been on the market for the better part of a decade. It’s not the newest kid on the block, but it’s a game that’s still so darn good that last year’s long-overdue was worth celebrating. Why were so many gamers so eager to finally get their paws on Troyes? We’re about to tell you. (And no, it’s not because the three medieval dudes on the cover look like they’re ready to bring the party.)

Troyes is set in the French city of the same name, circa the 13th Century. Set smack dab in the country’s famous champagne region, the city sprang up as an important center of trade and religion, giving name to the “troy ounce” used to weigh gold and silver, and birth to the order of the Knights Templar in 1139 (whom we have to thank for Nicolas Cage’s highest-grossing movie franchise.) The city’s most famous landmark is its towering Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Troyes, or Troyes Cathedral, which you’ll dedicate much of a game of Troyes to erecting. In real life, it took the Troyes-ians about 400 years to build the cathedral; thankfully, it will only take you and up to three friends between 60-90 minutes in this board game.

This can probably be said for 99.9% of all medieval Europeans, but the middle ages were rather rough for the people of Troyes. It’s not like these Francophonic church-builders spent their afternoons happily sippin’ champagne and laying brick. The city was invaded, destroyed by fire (twice), besieged, and nearly wiped out by the plague before the cathedral was finished – which, itself, was struck by lightning two times, knocked over by a hurricane, and then toppled again by a tornado during its four-centuries-long building process.

Bully for you, you’re not playing as one of the poor bastard serfs who toiled away their lives constructing a gargantuan Gothic tower, but the head of one of the influential, bourgeois families that helped pay for the thing.

You’ll have a choice among three areas in how you spend your influence and wealth: religion (based in the bishopric), military (represented by the count’s castle), and in civil affairs (centered at City Hall.) A big part of the game will revolve around your making decisions as to how you’ll divide your attention between the three. The citizens (meeples) you place in these building will correspond to dice of a matching color. (There are only six spots in each building, and moving a new meeple in pushes another out – I like to imagine the peasants squeezing into city hall so tight that when one shoulders his way through the front door, someone else pops out the back.) Each player rolls their handful of dice and places them in the center of the board, which is divided up like a pie chart. Each player gets their own slice, as does a neutral, grey phantom player who everyone takes turns rolling for.

After players have collected income, paid the salaries for their dice and rolled them, two Event Cards are revealed. These are what give the game genuine flavor; they represent the various shitty things that medieval Troyes-ers had to put up with on a regular basis, such as droughts, brigands, civil war, heresy, Norman invasions, and “conflicts of succession.” (Geez, you really don’t realize just how much inspiration George R. R. Martin takes from history books until you’re playing a medieval-themed worker placement game.) There are a dozen different events to contend with, but any of them has major potential to throw a wrench in your well-laid plans. Often they require the rolling of special black dice. Before any proactive moves can be made, all of these black dice must be countered by a player giving up one or more of their brighter-colored dice of equal or greater value, beginning with the starting player and moving clockwise. (In Troyes, going last is not usually a disadvantage.)

Finally, now (and only now) you can start placing your workers and executing your game plan. Each die is a worker, and they enable you to take actions. Three of these actions are always the same: you can add some bricks to the cathedral (which gives you influence and victory points), slide a meeple into one of the three buildings (which gives you more dice on future turns), or do some farming (which lets you trade workers for money.) The other two activities will be different from game to game, depending on which cards randomly hit the table. You can combat those pesky event cards you flipped over at the beginning of the turn by trading in the indicated color of dice; once this has been done enough times on a card, the event is considered countered, and participating players receive victory points. Or, you can use an Activity card; there are only nine of these in any given game, and they’re taken from a pool of 27 cards. Thus, there’s a lot of room for variety – you’re unlikely to ever get the same assortment of activity cards you’ve had in a previous game. Plus, only three of the Activity cards are revealed at the start of each of the first three rounds, so you can’t plan for all of them up front. (The Activity cards represent skilled laborers, from merchants to diplomats to glassblowers.) They allow the use of a special ability, but you need to have already placed a meeple in one of the card’s vacant openings; that costs money, and then on top of that each Activity card only has two open spots, and once those are full no one else can use the card.

Don’t have enough workers (or the right workers) to use the action you want? Not a problem! Something that makes Troyes so different from many other worker placement-style games is its pliability. If your opponent rolls a die showing a value that you need, you can use coins to buy it out from under their nose. Many actions will allow you to trade dice for influence points; influence points may be used to re-roll dice, or cashed out for money to buy more dice. It’s a brilliantly cyclical little system that never totally leaves you without a good action, and forces you to take stock of what’s happening on the table each and every turn. It’s a thoughtful design choice that gives players an extra level of engagement. 

Once every player has passed or the dice pool is exhausted, a new round starts; the game ends when the Event card deck runs out. The scoring of Troyes is another element in which it's devilishly clever. You won’t know the entirety of what you’ll be scored upon until points are tallied, and that won’t happen until the very end of the game. Instead, scoring opportunities will be leaked to players incrementally as event and action cards are flipped over. Players also start the game with a secret “character” card, representing some famous, historical medieval figure, but more importantly spelling out an additional endgame scoring opportunity to pursue. Every player will collect points on all of these character cards, no matter who possesses them, but no one will know which ones their opponents are holding until the game is over. Ooooh, mystery!

In our opinion, that’s a big part of the reason why Troyes has stood the test of time, and its reprint was so highly-anticipated. There are endless variations in setup and scoring, making the game feel significantly different each time it hits the table. The dice add the thrill of luck, but the game is never decided by those rolls. The puzzle itself is a great balance between maneuvering around your opponents and juggling your own resources. Best of all, Troyes isn’t difficult to learn, no wonder how obtuse my own explanation of the game might have seemed. (The rulebook is short, and offers good examples to better explain each rule.)

Before moving on, though, let’s admire the game’s art design. The medieval people that populate the box and all of the cards are a little awkward-looking, but they so closely resemble the characters you’d see drawn in the margins of medieval manuscripts. It’s a nice touch that certainly helps bring out the game’s theme; it even reminded me a bit of the animations from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Look at them again, and then tell me if you can hear Terry Gilliam’s grumbly gibberish coming from their mouths.)

Asmodee’s current edition of Troyes comes with four bonus cards, plus rules for solitaire play, and has an MSRP of $59.99.

Now, our column’s playlist wasn’t inspired by 13th Century cathedral-building (thankfully), but by one of our favorite musical exports from France. Hailing from Versailles, Phoenix – who graced the cover of Under the Radar Issue 45 in 2013 – are creeping up on the 20th anniversary of their first singles, and the 10th anniversary of their Grammy-winning breakthrough album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.  We’ve put together a selection of our favorite tracks from across the band’s career for your Francophonic pop pleasure.

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Previous PLAYlist columns: Twilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



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Helly
February 8th 2018
1:14am

Thanks for sharing valuable information. I would also share with my friends.

Ankita Sharma
May 25th 2018
3:27am

I Am happy and geld your post layout!
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