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1565, St Elmo's Pay

I’ll freely admit that my historical knowledge of this period of history is fairly limited but, according to the box, what we’re dealing with here is ‘The Greatest Siege In History’, so material ripe for a board game then! 1565 is a two-player card game where each side is either the Ottomans or the Order Of Malta (Knights Hospitaller). The game plays out on a battlefield comprised of three frontiers with each player having three card slots behind each front. The winner is the first player to ‘destroy’ two fronts or kill the opponent’s leader, or either player wins if their opponent runs out of cards.

Game play is about building up your troops at each front, with cards in hand used to pay for cards played out. Each player moves through a series of objective cards which tend to require an amount of Zeal or Might to complete. Once a player is on their final objective, they then begin to compete over the frontiers and the game builds to a tense finale.

Hall or Nothing have done a fantastic job with the production of this game. The artwork in this game is exceptional, as is the component quality. Everything from the box through to the cards and tokens look and feel of an excellent standard. As with all games of this type, there is some need to track stats as you play – some cards add benefits to cards of a specific type, and remembering all of these relevant points is important as often there is little in it between the two sides, although there are counters to help with this.

Each side also feels and plays very differently. The game gives a real sense of there being hoards of Ottoman troops, whereas the Order Of Malta side feels a lot more desperate. There are a few individually powerful cards that are needed at very specific moments in the game – one particular Malta card can completely reverse a result which can turn defeat into victory, and another Ottoman card can cancel that, but the chances of these cards coming up at the right time are slim and holding onto a card in hand which could otherwise be used to pay for a card needed immediately is challenging and often costly. Therefore there is some luck of the draw involved, which once players are experienced isn’t so bad as games can be played relatively quickly (closer to 45 minutes then the 30-40 minutes stated on the box); and if playing for the first time, games will take in excess of an hour as you learn how the cards combine.

The game is beautiful, and fairly quick once you know how the cards work and understand the terminology. There’s plenty of tension, particularly in the end stages, and the right cards played at the right time can swing a game from what looked like defeat into victory.

The solo game exists, but isn’t where this shines – with the solo game there is a lot of time spent drawing from the deck in order to find the correct AI cards, and this can be frustrating, and also the game becomes very dependant on what card is drawn by the AI. Nevertheless, hats off to the designer, Tristan Hall, for including it as it’s a fun way to play the game when you don’t have an opponent, although not enough of a reason to own the game purely for solo.

Overall a tense and enjoyable two-player card game which can be combined with the Tristan Hall's previous 1066, Tears to Many Mothers game – Normans vs Ottomans anyone?

(Review by Steve Berger)

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