Radio Review #116 – Sola Fide: The Reformation

 

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(2016 – Stronghold Games)

 

“Amazing grace….how sweet the sound….”

 

In the centuries leading up to the 1500’s, the Roman Catholic Church had defined the practice of the Christian faith through direct papal authority. With the emergence of the Renaissance Era, some began to question the legitimacy of church’s selling of indulgences (ways to reduce one’s punishment for sins) and the divine authority of the Pope. It wasn’t until Martin Luther’s publication of his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences in 1517 (widespread by way of the newly invented Gutenberg Press), that the Protestant Reformation was born. In it, Luther described two core declarations; Sola Fide (God’s pardon of man’s sin is granted and received through faith alone, not by reward of man’s good works or deeds) and Sola Scriptura (the scriptures of the Bible are the sole rule of Christian faith and practice, not Papacy tradition). The movement exploded across Europe, eventually leading to a counter-reformation from the Catholic Church, resulting in the Thirty-Years War from 1618-1648.

Jason Matthews (Twilight Struggle, 1989: Dawn of Freedom) and Christian Leonard (1960: The Making of the President, Campaign Manager 2008) are well known for their implementation of historical events within their game designs. Their latest collaboration, Sola Fide, is a two-player game in which players will take control of the two opposite sides during the Reformation movement. Built around aspects of area control and card action play, with heavy emphasis on card drafting, players will attempt to sway influence to their side in order to claim tiles (representing various European regions). Each tile is worth a certain number of Victory Points, and players well receive an extra Victory Point if they’ll be able to move the Disputation token onto a tile before claiming it. After all 10 tiles have been claimed, the player with the most points wins.

 

 

 

Components:

– Imperial Circle tiles

 

– Protestant cards and Influence tokens

 

– Catholic cards and Influence tokens

 

– Influence cards

 

– Military Chart and die

 

– Power tokens

 

– Rewards tokens

 

– Disputation token

 

 

 

Setup:

Players can either choose which side to play (Protestant or Catholic), or can roll the die to determine. Once sides are chosen, each player receives the unique deck of cards matching their side. Only 15 cards of the deck will be used by the player during a game, and the cards used are determined by a drafting process (15 of the cards are marked for players to use during their 1st game). Each player shuffles their deck of 45 cards, then draws the first 3, choosing 1 card to keep and discarding the other 2. This step is repeated until each player has a new deck of 15 cards. The remaining 30 cards are removed and will not be used during this session of the game. Players will then shuffle their newly formed 15-card deck and draw the top 3 cards to start the game with in their hand.

There are 10 Imperial Circle tiles in the game. Each tile depicts a different section of the Holy Roman Empire, during the events of the Reformation in the early 1500’s. During the game, both players will attempt to shift power and influence amongst the territories within each Imperial Circle in order to convert it to their side. At the beginning of the game, the 10 tiles are placed in a pyramid formation (seen above), with tiles 1, 2, and 3 face-up, and the remaining tiles face-down. Each tile also references where initial power is set amongst the two sides at the beginning. A Power token is placed on the corresponding space of each face-up tile.

There are 4 sets of Influence cards in the game, each separated by color. These 4 sets are shuffled individually and placed face-down near the play area. Whenever a player is able to claim an Imperial Circle, he’ll be able to choose and draw a card from one of these Influence decks, resolving the bonus listed on the card. The blue Influence cards provide bonuses related to shifting power, green to neutralizing territories (removing influence tokens), orange to drawing and discarding cards, and white to converting territories.

 

Finally, each player receives a Military Chart card and the Protestant player receives the die. During the game, the Catholic player has cards in his deck that pertain to resolving military actions, and the Protestant player will need to roll the die to see how these actions effect them. The remaining Power tokens, Reward tokens, and the Disputation token are placed near the play area. After setup is completed, the play area should look something like this:

 

 

 

Gameplay:

As a head-to-head card game, players will take alternating turns until all 10 Imperial Circle tiles have been claimed. On a player’s turn, he can do one of two things. He can either play a card from his hand, resolving the actions listed in order, or draw a new card from his deck. Note that players can never have more than 5 cards in their hand at any given time.

During the game, players are attempting to claim Imperial Circle tiles, while also gaining reward tokens. Each Imperial Circle tile contains two sections that players will compete over. On the right side of each tile is the power track. This represents whether the nobles (upper two spaces) or commoners (lower two spaces) are currently more powerful in the region. When the Power token resides on one of the upper two spaces, the nobles are considered dominant, while the commoners are considered subordinate. While the Power token reside on the bottom two spaces, the commoners are dominant and the nobles, subordinate.

For instance, taking a look at Lower Saxon circle, the Power token is on one of the upper spaces. This means that the nobles have dominance over the commoners at this time. Therefore their influence will bear more weight.

 

Each Imperial Circle also contains five territories in which the nobles and commoners coexist. These are represented on the tile as a series of five red, black, or gray squares, one set on the top and one set on the bottom of each tile. In the game, red represents the Protestant side, and black the Catholic side. If a player is able to convert all territories on the dominant side of the tile to his color, he’ll be able to claim the tile. For instance, if the Power token shows that the commoners have dominance in the Lower Saxon circle, and the Protestant player has been able to convert all of the territories on the lower squares of the tile to red, the Commoners have been swayed towards the Protestant teachings. Since they are the dominant class when this happens, the Protestant player claims the Inner Circle tile.

Certain card actions will allow the player to move the Power token on the power track, while other actions will assist with converting territories. When an action allows the player to convert a territory, he can adjust a territory space depending on its current state. For instance, if the space was a vacant space of the opponent’s printed color, he’d simply place one of his Influence tokens on top of it. If the opponent had an Influence token on one of his printed colored spaces, the player would simply remove it (revealing his color there). If the opponent’s Influence token was on a neutral printed space, the player would replace his opponent’s token with one of his own.

In any of these instances, it’s best to remember that converting a territory will always result in switching the opponent’s color on a territory space to one of your own. The only time that an Influence token can be placed on a neutral territory is if the opponent controls no other territories on that side of the tile (therefore, the player can’t remove them or switch them out). Once an Influence token has been placed on a neutral territory, that territory is no longer considered neutral.

For instance, the Protestant player plays the Fourteen Points of Doctrine card, which allows him to convert one territory on the subordinate side of a tile. He then will move the Power token on the tile 1 space towards the subordinate side.

 

Taking a look at the Franconian region tile, you’ll notice according to the current position of the power token, the nobles are the dominant side, while the commoners are subordinate. The Protestant player chooses to remove one of the Catholic player’s influence tokens on the commoner’s side, revealing his own color (red) there. He’ll then move the Power token one space towards the Commoner’s (subordinate) side. This movement shifts power to the commoners, whose side is now dominant at this location.

 

Normally, once a card is played, it is placed in the player’s discard pile after resolving its listed action. However, there are some cards that contain an “infinity” icon on them. When a player places one of these cards on the table, it stays in front of them indefinitely, until they’ve chosen to replace it with a different card with an “infinity” icon. Player can only have one of these cards out in front of them at any one time, and the effect listed on the card is considered ongoing while it is on the table.

For instance, the Protestant player used the Iconoclasm card, it would be kept face-up in front of him. While this card is active, the Catholic player’s maximum hand size would be reduced to 4 cards.

 

The emergence of the Reformation would eventually lead to a series of religious wars, including the infamous Thirty Year’s War. The Catholic player’s deck contains some military cards which resolve powerful abilities, but also may result in providing bonuses for the Protestant player while possible imposing negative effects upon the Catholic player. This is determined by the Military Chart. After the Catholic player resolves all actions on a card containing the military icon, the Protestant player will roll the die and match the rolled result to the number on the Military Chart. This bonus is then resolved.

For instance, the Catholic player used the Battle of Muhlberg card and discarded two other cards in order to convert two territories on the nobles side of a tile. After resolving this, since it was a military action, the Protestant player would roll the die.

 

By rolling a 5, the English have intervened. This means the Protestant player would immediately draw two cards and add them to his hand.

 

In a theological sense, a disputation is the academic debate between those maintaining a particular thesis and those opposing it. In the game’s context, between Jewish and Christian scholars. Some card actions will allow the player to move the Disputation token from one Imperial Circle to another. If a player is able to claim a tile that also contains the Disputation token on it, that player will earn a Reward token as a bonus. Each collected Reward token is worth 1 victory point at the end of the game.

Once an Imperial Circle is claimed, the player who has claimed it will place the tile in his play area, collects a Reward token if the tile contained the Disputation token, and then immediately draws a card from one of the four Influence decks. As mentioned before, blue Influence cards relate to shifting power on tiles, green to removing Influence tokens, orange to drawing and discarding cards, and white to converting territories. Let’s take a look at some of these Influence cards and the bonuses they can provide:

 

St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre is a blue Influence card (left) which allows the player to move the Power token one space towards the dominant side on a single tile of his choice.

John Calvin is a green Influence card (right) which allows the player to remove all Influence tokens from the territories on the commoner’s side of a single tile of his choice.

 

 

The Dutch Reformed Church is an orange Influence card (left) which allows the player to draw two cards, choosing one to kept and discarding the other.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a white Influence card (right) which allows the player to convert one territory on the subordinate side of a single tile of his choice.

 

 

Once the player has resolved his Influence card, the two adjacent Imperial Circle tiles in the row below it are revealed (if needed). The events of the Reformation are spreading throughout the Holy Roman Empire, amongst more and more of the outer territories. Power tokens are placed on their corresponding Power track spaces on the new tiles, and play continues.

 

 

 

End-Game Scoring:

After all 10 Imperial Circles have been claimed, the game ends. Each tile contains a number representing the amount of victory points it is worth. Players will add these victory points to the number of Reward tokens they earned during the game. The player with the most victory points wins the game.

 

 

 

Thoughts:

For those of you that have played Leonhard and Matthew’s Campaign Manger 2008, you’ve probably already realized that Sola Fide is in most regards, a re-implementation of that game, but now with a different theme. It makes sense that the designers and publisher would choose a re-implementation as opposed to a straight up reprint, as the 2008 election is well behind us. And I’m not sure it would make sense to continue reprinting the game by simply updating candidates. Both Leonhard and Matthew have never been afraid to venture towards unusual thematic choices (see Campaign Manager 2008), so re-theming the game around the Protestant Reformation doesn’t seem as far fetched for them as it may normally. Personally, I adore the thematic choice and find it both appealing and unique. In the days of Mediterranean trading and Viking invasions, it provides a nice hiatus.

The gameplay itself seems to play quite differently depending on whether you play with the pre-set cards, or implement the drafting process to the game. Playing a game with the initial 15 pre-selected cards gives more of a head-to-head balanced feel that can tend to accumulate repetitiveness. Ideally it’s meant as an initial teaching tool to help give players good understanding of the various actions the different cards can provide. But I feel that most gamers playing Sola Fide in this format exclusively, will eventually tire from multiple plays with the same 15 base cards. By including the drafting process, the game becomes much more asymmetrical and really opens up after multiple plays. Players are able to form a bit of a strategy by building their deck of cards, attempting to create certain synergistic combinations. It’s really like playing two different games, and I’d advise anyone interested in Sola Fide play the initial game with the pre-selected decks to learn the game, but immediately shift to the drafting process thereafter.

While the theme may not attract everyone, I find it a fascinating subject religiously and historically, and it really fills a void for gamers within the Christian community (which let’s be honest, there’s not a whole lot out there to choose from). If you’re a fan of Campaign Manager 2008, you won’t find an abundance of difference with Sola Fide. Yet for new gamers, just like its previous implementation, Sola Fide is a solid design, mixing elements of card drafting, area control, and hand management.

 

 

If you’re near the Wilmington, NC area, feel free to check this game out and more at our community’s FLGS, Cape Fear Games.

 

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