Updated: Apr 19
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Hispania, the Iberian peninsula, was settled by the Visigoths. It was in the year 711 that Arab and Berber forces first invaded. In less than a decade, they went on to occupy almost all of what is now Spain and Portugal and the southern part of France - and, yes, for board game enthusiasts, that even included the city of Carcassonne. Under Muslim rule, the Iberian peninsula was divided into five provinces, with the Christian enclave reduced to the Kingdom of Asturias; a tiny area in the north of Spain. The Muslim provinces would eventually be unified as the Caliphate of Cordoba. Meanwhile, over the next three centuries, the Christian enclaves slowly expanded and advanced so that by the year 1000, there were Christian kingdoms of Navarre, León and Galicia, and nascent kingdoms emerging that would become Castille, Aragon and Portugal. The Christian expansion was known as the Reconquista. By the middle of the 13th Century, the Muslims would eventually be pushed back to their own tiny enclave - the Emirate of Granada - held for another 200 years until the Emir surrendered to Queen Isabella of Castille in 1492. However, the crucial turning point in the Reconquista came in 1212. An alliance between the rival Christian kingdoms of Castille, Aragon and Navarre, blessed by Pope Innocent III as a 'crusade', assembled a force of 12,000 men to face the Muslim forces of Caliph al-Nasir, commanding a force of >20,000. The battle that ensued is known as the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, or to Islamic historians as the Battle of Al-Uqab.
1212: Las Navas de Tolosa, then, is an asymmetric two-player tactical game based on this key battle in European history - sadly little known outside Spain and Portugal. Designed and illustrated by Pablo Sanz, it's published by Draco Ideas. With its cardboard chits representing troops, it has the appearance of a tabletop war game but 1212 isn't exactly a simulation... The set up is standardised for every play: each side's 27 chits starts in an assigned sector on the board, with the Christian player's troops in distinct columns - representing the separate kingdoms of three Christian kings. The game is card-driven. There are nine combat cards that each show two values: one for the Muslim player and one for the Christian. Players have a starting hand of three cards. They each simultaneously reveal a card to determine initiative, with the numbers on the remaining cards used to determine the number of action points the player can spend on their turn.
The asymmetry doesn't just apply to players' units; there are also different rules covering the way in which units can be used, including their movement and their action point costs. There are specific rules for each of the different unit types, tho', unusually, all the units sharing a sector (which will be up to three) can participate in, for example, a cavalry attack even if only one of the units is cavalry. For the Christian player, there's a bonus too when the heraldic symbol on the card matches the column of the troops you are activating. Most attacks are resolved by adding the attack/defence value of all the troops in an attacking sector and comparing them with the attack/defence value in the adjacent sector that's being attacked, but with totals for each side modified according to the numbers shown on a combat card flipped from the top of the deck. When the slim combat card deck is exhausted, it is recycled without shuffling - so there's a memory element too to this system. When you take damage, units can be reduced or removed. When you reduce a unit (by flipping it), you can subsequently spend an action to 'rally' and restore it to its stronger side.
The Christian player has to eliminate the Caliph to win; the Muslim player wins if the Christian player is not occupying any sectors in the Muslim half of the board and has no more than four sectors occupied in the Christian half; so a war of attrition will generally favour the Muslim player. Either side can claim victory if they occupy twice as many sectors as their opponent.
Tho' the asymmetry and special rules for different unit types may take some initial getting used to, the rules aren't complicated and they are readily summarised in each player's reference card. The game incorporates special cards for each player which can optionally be included for a single-use effect. These cards' provide additional variety and so add to the game's replayability.
1212 is essentially an abstract tactical war game, and it plays quickly at around 30 minutes per game. In the flow of play, we were reminded of the small box two-player war games published by Surprised Stare; for example, The Cousins War and The March of Progress. If you like them, you'll almost certainly enjoy 1212.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)