Avez-vous joué la démo de Montjoie? You should. It's tres bon. Tchounga Games, a fledgling French studio, have taken a relatively obscure Hundred Years War board game and turned it into the kind of light, lively historical TBS that weary wargamers like moi adore.
The catch is the demo isn't available in English yet. To maximise your chances of conquering 15th Century France you're going to need either a smattering of French or a play primer like the one that follows the jump.
Land is power in Montjoie. Every city you occupy at the start of a turn generates gold, every province (a region incorporating up to three cities) held at the end of a turn generates a pretender point. The faction with the most pretender points at the end of turn 10 wins the game.
STARTING A GAME:
From the main menu select 'nouvelle partie' then 'partie libre', 'edition extreme' and 'demarrer la partie'. Forced to play as Navarre, you'll begin in possession of a couple of cities in the Pyrenees, plus Rouen in the North. Immediately there's the opportunity to expand into a neighbouring unclaimed city. I recommend Barcelona. Ownership gives you another province and a second port (Ports mean you can attack coastal cities from the sea)
Turn one begins. Like subsequent turns it's split into ten phases.
PHASE 1: The topping-up of treasuries
Every undeveloped city in your empire delivers 1 gold, while those with castles deliver 2, and those with fortresses 3.
PHASE 2: Diplomacy
There are three diplomatic devices available, none of which are worth using until at least turn 2. The most potent - alliance proposals - are bribes plain and simple. By offering a threatening faction up to 4 gold you can (usually) persuade them to ignore you for the duration of the turn. If they do choose to attack they forfeit the cash. 'Incitation a la conquete' involves placing trophy sums (1-3 gold) on one or more enemy cities in an effort to encourage attacks from other factions. Use this trick to weaken a dominant power. The third option (not active on turn 1) provides a means for influencing the vote that comes next...
PHASE 3: Peace or war?
The political climate is established via a vote. War means six-card hands and unlimited attacks, peace four-card hands and just one attack per faction. Generally speaking, when you're doing well (lots of pretender points rolling in) it pays to be a dove rather than a hawk.
PHASE 4: The cards are dealt
OK, this is going to sound complicated but, trust me, it isn't.
There are three types of cards. Red combat cards range in value from 3 to 6 and, surprise-surprise, are used during battles. Purple 'specials' have a variety of roles and warrant some specific explanation.
Ingeniuer: Used during an attack the engineer card reduces fortifications by one level (i.e. a fortress becomes a castle). Used while defending it chips 2 off the attacker's combat total.
Felon: Another combat modifier. Play the spy while assaulting to cancel out a fortification. Play it during a defence to negate an enemy's strongest combat card.
Le Signe Dieu: When a crucial scrap hasn't gone your way a bit of divine assistance works wonders. The sign of God doubles the value of your best combat card.
Retraite: Laid after a defeat, the retreat card means you can re-use your combat cards (normally these would be lost). Very handy.
Ecorcheur: The raider(?) is a revenue-raising tool and can be played before or after a battle. Pick an enemy city and roll a dice to determine success or failure. (Undeveloped cities are easier to raid but the rewards are lower)
Ambassadeur: A lucky dip card that can be played before or after a battle. Possible results include the generation of a hero card (see on), the chance to confiscate a random card from a selected enemy, and, most useful of all, 'corruption' an opportunity to persuade an enemy city to defect (the more developed the city, the higher the required roll)
Combat modifying blue cards are earned rather than dealt. Influence cards (+1 to battle total) are a by-product of pretender points. You get one per two PP gathered. Hero cards (persistent, +2 to battle total) are acquired with the help of ambassador cards.
PHASE 5: Construction and card shopping
If you've got the cash you can use this phase to upgrade one city into a castle, one castle into a fortress, and purchase extra cards (2 gold per card).
PHASE 6: First or last?
Play order is randomly determined. Going last isn't necessarily a disadvantage. You get to attack when rivals have exhausted their hands.
PHASE 7: Events, dear boy, events
An event card is drawn. Possible situations include...
La Peste Noire: The arrival of Black Death causes the turn to end prematurely. There are no battles and no-one gets any pretender points.
Treve: The next turn is automatically peaceful.
Retrocession: The faction first in the play order is allowed to take back one of the cities it lost in the previous turn.
Intervention du Pape: The faction first in the play order can protect one of its cities from attack for the rest of the turn.
Mauvaise saison: Bad weather brings poor harvests. This turn's revenues are cut in half.
Embargo maritime: Faction first in the play order gets to embargo another for the rest of the turn (embargoed faction can only attack overland)
Soulevement: Faction first in the play order can stir-up trouble in 1-6 enemy cities. Possible results include downgrading of fortifications.
Ravage: Faction first in the play order can raid (see Ecorcheur card description) up to 6 enemy cities.
Chevauchee: Faction first in the play order can attack one enemy city anywhere on the map.
PHASE 8: Painless expansion
Faction may expand into unclaimed cities (prizes must be abutting friendly territory, or - for those possessing ports - coastal)
PHASE 9: The fighty bit
To start a scrap simply click on an eligible city, deploy some cards, and roll the die. If your total is higher than that of your foe then the prize is yours (played combat cards are retained but can't be used offensively for the rest of the turn) Defensive combat works in a similar way except that cards involved in a successful defence can be used in subsequent battles.
What else do you need to know about aggro? Attacking from the sea is slightly harder (+1 to defender) than attacking overland. Cities in mountainous regions enjoy a defensive bonus (+1). You may only attack from a particular city once per turn.
PHASE 10: Pretender point distribution
Once the PPs have been dished-out it's back to phase 1.
Well, I reckon that's about it. Bonne Chance and Happy Conquering.