Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Nicolas Poncin



No. of Players:
2 - 4



Over the last few years many games coming from French and Belgian publishers featured comic-like artwork which was created by Pierô Lalune, and it was indeed this artwork which did draw me to check out the game Die Holde Isolde which has been released by SCHMIDT SPIELE in 2015 I always has a soft spot for games with heroic knights and beautiful damsels, and so it was no question for me that this cardgame which focuses on a knight's training needed to be played.

Indeed, a squire's education is quite hard, and so the players have to harden their characters in seven different disciplines, since only the squire who outdoes all his competitors will be knighted by the king. The available disciplines are Gallantry, Jousts, Tournaments, Education, King's Service, Quests and Charity, and each of them is presented as a small gameboard which is framed by a track where the players can mark their current score in this discipline.

The game runs over a total of six rounds, and at the end of each round some of the disciplines will be scored. The leading players on each board will receive victory points which are collected in form of shields which are kept face down in front of the players. As indicated, some disciplines will not be scored every round, and so the King's Service board only will be scored twice during the game, and the Quests and Charity boards only will be scored once at the end of the very last round. However, these boards are much more valuable than the other boards which are scored every round, and so the players will have to balance which disciplines they should learn.

This leaves the question on which mechanism the game operates. Backbone for Die Holde Isolde is a quite classic drafting mechanism, and so each turn begins with each player receiving a random hand of 5 Learning cards which are matching some of the 7 disciplines and have different values. These cards are drafted, so that the players always chose one card and hand the rest towards their left/right neighbor until the drafting is over. Now the players begin to play the cards from their hand, with each player playing one card and adjusting his current score on the corresponding discipline board. This goes on until all players only have one card left, and this final card is not used but discarded.

Die Holde Isolde is a quite good example how a rather well-know basic playing mechanism can be revamped if it is environed with some good ideas and simple but attractive rules. The game on hand enriches the drafting mechanism by the specialties associated with each discipline, and apart from the different times of scoring other features are board resets which happen on some boards and a reversed scoring on the Charity board where the last player(s) will be penalized. A special role also takes the Gallantry board, since this board always is scored first at the end of each round. No victory points can be gained here, but instead the leading players will be allowed to adjust their scoring on a board of their choice, thus possibly causing some change in the ranking after the round's cardplay is over.

A good sense of for timing is absolutely crucial to survive a knight's apprenticeship, and Die Holde Isolde especially shines with its short-timed action circle and the good overview of the current rankings which can be gained by a quick glimpse at the different discipline boards. This easy accessibility of all necessary in-game information allows the players to focus on the card drafting, with each player trying to find his best possibilities among the circulating cards.

Finally, author Nicolas Poncin also recognized the fact that some players might like some more fancy options in a game, and for these players he has included variant rules for each of the seven discipline gameboards. Whereas a good handful of alternative rules sometimes might suggest that the author could not really decide what was best for his game, this is different with Die Holde Isolde because all the variant rules lead to somewhat different handling of the disicplines. So, the players can really opt between a pure head-on-head drafting game or a customized version, and I guess that this just strengthens the replayability of Die Holde Isolde.

On a sidenote, Die Holde Isolde debuted already at the SPIEL '14 convention where it was presented by BLUE COCKER GAMES under its original title Medieval Academy. However, as it is quite often the case, the first edition rules left a few small inconsistencies, and these have been dealt with in the revised German rulebook which had been edited by SCHMIDT SPIELE. In this context, Die Holde Isolde is a perfect example how a good game can profit from being chosen for a reprint by a major publisher!

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany