With the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe was at the mercy of warring barbarian tribes. That's the set up for Christophe Lebrun's game, published by Jester. It's an area control game for 3-6 players jostling for position and competing for territory. For sure, there's strategy involved as you expand your empire but Barbarian Kingdoms has a surprise in store in its core mechanic...
There's no surprise that Barbarian Kingdoms is a war game between competing tribes, all with similar starting resources but each with their own asymmetric ability. The surprise is that in Barbarian Kingdoms recruitment, expansion and combat are all economic actions. You pay for each unit you recruit and you pay to take control of a territory into which you move a unit: the cost of both these actions increases as you place out more units and control markers. And money also directly affects battle. Actions can be contested by moving units from an adjacent province. Where there's a contest (battle) it's resolved by totting up the strength of the units involved (2 points for a control marker, 3 points for a warrior unit and 6 points for a king) but players also place a bribe into a bag. The bribe can be any amount from zero to however much you want to spend from money in your treasury. Each unit of currency is worth 1 point; so throw enough money into the battle and you can beat a seemingly much stronger army. Players exchange bags so, win or lose, you add to your treasury whatever amount was in the bag you were handed.
This makes for a thrilling game of diplomacy, bluff and bluster; worlds apart from the more commonplace dice-chucking contests that are often characteristic of similarly themed area control games. Because it costs an escalating amount to place out units and control markers, money can be tight in Barbarian Kingdoms, but you can pillage currency in territories you conquer, you can use your action on a turn to levy taxation (a unit of currency picked up from the map for each province you control) and you can line your coffers by tricking an opponent into overpaying when they hand you a bribe. The rules expressly prohibit players from loaning each other money.
Barbarian Kingdoms comes with screens so that players can keep secret the cash they have in their treasury, tho' canny players with a good memory will still try to keep a mental track of what opponents have spent and added to their treasury over previous turns. This is more difficult as you increase the player count, which is one of the reasons why, in our Board's Eye View plays, we preferred our plays with six players to the rather more easily trackable three-player game.
Jester Games are bringing Barbarian Kingdoms to Gamefound on 18 October. Click here to check out the campaign.