The Court of Miracles
The title may be a trifle misleading. The Court of Miracles is set in the grimy underworld of 16th Century Paris. The 2–5 players represent guilds of beggars and thieves seeking to build their renown (or should that by infamy?) The setting is similar to that described in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, although that was set on the other side of the English Channel in the underworld of 16th Century London.
You win in The Court of Miracles by being the first to place out on the board your six renown markers or (a less likely occurrence based on our Board's Eye View plays) having the most renown markers out on the board when the 'Penniless King' (a non-player character marker) reaches the end of its long track winding through the board.
Designed by Vincent Brugeas and Guilhem Gautrand, and published by Lucky Duck Games and Lumberjacks Studio, The Court of Miracles is a worker placement and area control game. Players start off with three ne'er-do-wells (workers) at their disposal but opponents don't know the strength of the unit you are placing out at a location to take its action until there is a 'standoff' for area control. This occurs when all three spots at the location are filled and/or when the 'Penniless King' marker reaches the appropriate trigger point. Players compare the strengths of the units placed there and control goes to the player with the highest value (or best position in the event of a tie, as will commonly occur). The other players remove their workers (giving them a renewed opportunity to place them out) and the winner gets to place out one of their renown markers at that location. Controlling an area earns you a coin every time another worker is placed there (even if it's your own) but your renown markers are vulnerable at locations because they can be bounced back to your player board if you subsequently lose control.
To get all six of your renown markers out, you'll need to get at least some of them placed onto the Renown Square. This simply requires a worker placed at one specific location (Les Halles) - you don't need area control of the location. However, you have to pay to place a marker in the Renown Square, so you'll need to earn enough cash from other placements... The rules, by the way, designate the currency in the game rather blandly as 'coin'. Thematically, they should perhaps be referred to as 'livre' (yes, up until the letter part of the 16th Century, the principal currency of France was the French pound!)
The Court of Miracles is an elegant design with plenty of enticing choices for players. A rival may take a spot you wanted but there's almost always another juicy option available; and there are locations too which bump a rival to the location of your choice. We especially enjoyed the bluff element of worker placement, which is enhanced as players take upgrade actions that let them replace a worker with a probably more powerful one drawn from a bag - dumping the replaced worker as a body floating face down in the Seine. And we loved the increased cut and thrust of play at this game's higher player counts, where there is much more competition for spots at each location on the board.
You'll collect cards during the course of the game and these can be remarkably powerful, although some are quite situational. Cards that, for example, require other players to give you 1 coin feel 'meh' at lower player counts but can cause a measurable change of fortune if you're playing with a full complement of five. The cards, by the way, are all modelled on classic tarot cards, and we loved the atmospheric art by Ronan Toulhoat.
The Court of Miracles is beautifully produced and it's dripping with theme. Had the game been set in the dark underbelly of Victorian London, we'd all have descended into Artful Dodger and Dick Van Dyke mockney accents but sadly, none of us had any idea what a Medieval Parisian underworld accent should sound like. Quel malheur!
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