Rheingold (Highlanders)

Game designed by Reinhard Herbert
Published in The Netherlands in 1992 by Jumbo Games
These comments by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated March 22, 1997

Rheingold (also published as Highlanders) is a multi-player light wargame that is quite enjoyable. It does suffer from one flaw, but I believe that can be corrected.

The game shows the Rhine river area in the middle ages. (I have never seen Highlanders, but have the rules, which describes the board as being set in Scotland, along a loch. I have been informed that this is so, but there are some topological differences - such as only two ways to get from one side of the lake to the other, while the Rhine version has three connecting paths across the river.) There are 18 castles, six starting spaces, and a number of other spaces, connected by roads. All castles start neutral, and, in fact, all pieces start off board. The game is for three to five players, though the Highlanders rules state that two can play if they each take two colors. (This option isn't mentioned in the German rules of Rheingold.)

Each player's turn consists of three stages: bringing in a knight, movement, and combat. To bring in a knight, roll a die. There are six starting spaces, three to the east and three to the west of the river, and they are numbered one through six. You may bring a knight onto the starting space corresponding to the number you rolled. The starting spaces are the only spaces which may contain knights of different colors - no combat is allowed there. They are also the only spaces with a stacking limit: if you already have a knight on a rolled starting space, you can't bring another knight in.

Movement is very simple: you get three marches per turn. This can be any number of knights from one space to an adjacent space along a road. So you could move a knight off a starting space to an adjacent space as one march, then move three knights stacked together to join him as a second march, then move all four knights one space further as your third march.

Combat is handled after all marches are over, which means you can move knights from more than one space into an opponent's space in order to get a majority. As written, the combat rules contain the only flaw in the game: whoever has the larger number of knights wins the combat. The loser loses all knights in the space; the winner loses nothing. This means that the game tends toward larger and larger groups of knights roaming the board, a situation in games I generally find tedious. I have some suggestions to cure this, however, which appear below . . .

Combat in castles is slightly different. Each castle has a number beside it. Before a castle is taken, that is the number of (neutral) defenders, and the attacker must have twice as many knights in order to take it. Once a castle has been captured, the numbers on the board refer only to victory point value of the castle - the castle defense is determined by how many knights the defender leaves in the castle. A new attacker must have twice the number of defenders in order to take the castle.

When you take a castle, you have the option to put a shield in. You have six shields, numbered (on the bottom, so others can't see it) 0, 0, 0, 1, 2, 3. The value of each shield is kept secret from your opponents, and adds to the number of knights in the castle. So if they attack a castle held by two knights and a shield, they don't know if the total defense value is two or five or somewhere in between. If five, they'll need ten knights to capture it, or lose everyone who attacks . . .

The rules say that shields are to be drawn at random, but we tend to allow conscious choice of which shields to place. The rules also don't address "scouting," so we had to come up with a rule for that: in order to look at a shield in a castle, you have to attack it with at least one more knight than the defender has in the castle. That is, if there are three knights and a shield in a castle, you need at least four knights attacking in order to see what the shield is. Although this sounds like expensive scouting, we felt it necessary to prevent sending a lone knight to see what a castle was defended with. There is also a rules discrepancy here between Rheingold and Highlanders: the former says that only the attacker looks at the shield when assaulting a castle, while the latter says the defender exposes the shield to all players when the castle is attacked. We feel that Rheingold's rule is better, so we use that.

When the penultimate castle is taken, the game is over. Count up victory points (the values by the castles - the player who captures the penultimate castle scores the points for the last neutral castle, too), and the winner is the one with the highest score. The tie breaker is quantity of knights on board.

The game is very good - it's hard for players to gang up on the leader, since the leader often has the largest stack of knights, and you can't have knights from two different colors attacking in the same turn. On the other hand, I confess to be less than enamored of that large stack of knights - my preference in wargames has always been smaller, faster units rather than brute force. There is no way to break up a large stack of knights short of the owning player wanting to split them up - and it's hard to create that incentive. So I've come up with a couple of different ideas on how to whittle those forces down a little . . . None of these have been tried more than once, and some not at all, so keep that in mind when you read them!

Some possible ways to reduce large forces in the game:

  1. Combat Die Roll. If the loser has more than half the winner's force, he rolls a die. The winner loses the number of knights rolled, but never more than the number of knights the loser lost. The loser still loses all his knights, of course.
  2. Mild Attrition. If you beat a force of knights that contains more than half your force, the winner loses one quarter of his force, rounded down. That is, a force of three will never suffer attrition, since one quarter, rounded down, is zero. A force of four will not suffer attrition if it defeats a force of one or two, since neither of those forces are more than half its number of knights. Only when a force of four beats a force of three does the winner lose one knight. The loser, as in the rules, loses all knights.
  3. Middling attrition. If you beat a force of knights that contains more than half your force, the winner loses half his force, rounded down. Thus a force of ten knights would lose five knights if it beat a force of six, seven, eight, or nine knights, but would lose nothing for defeating any smaller force. I haven't tried this one yet.
  4. Severe attrition. The loser loses all knights. The winner loses a number equal to the number the loser lost. Thus a force of ten beating a force nine has only one survivor! This may be too extreme, however, and I haven't tried it for that reason.
  5. Random attrition, not related to combat. Every time someone rolls a "1" for bringing in a knight, the largest force on the board loses one knight. If more than one force is tied as the largest force, they each lose one knight.
  6. Chance cards, an expansion and variation on the previous suggestion. I haven't even made any chance cards, but I've thought of some. Any time a player rolls a "1" for bringing in a knight, a chance card is drawn. Some possible chance cards:
    • Plague: all forces of six or more knights lose one quarter of their force, rounded down.
    • Famine: all forces of seven or more knights lose one knight.
    • Extra reinforcement: the player drawing this card may add a knight to any one group on board except his largest group, in addition to the one entering the starting space.
    • Extra reinforcement: the player with the fewest knights on the board may add one knight to any one group on board except his largest group. If two or more players are tied for fewest knights, they each gain one knight.
    • Good weather: the player drawing this card may make four marches this turn.
    • Bad weather: the player drawing this card may only move two marches this turn.
    • Good harvest: the player drawing this card may roll again to bring on another knight - if you roll another "1", however, you only get the first knight and do not draw another chance card.
    • Bad harvest: the next player to roll an even number for bringing a knight onto the board does not get a reinforcement that turn. Leave this card out until this occurs to remind players of the bad harvest.
    • Desertion: the largest force outside a castle loses two knights. If there is a tie for largest group, each loses one knight.
    • Bad well water: each player loses one knight from his largest force inside a castle. (Shields are not affected, and do not count towards largest force.) If a player has two largest groups, he picks one to be affected.
    • Bad well water: the player with the largest force in a castle loses one knight from that force. (Shields are not affected, and do not count towards largest force.) If two or more players have the largest force, each loses one knight from those forces.
    • Good Morale! The player drawing this card may win a battle against an equal-sized force, this turn only.
    • Peasant revolt: any group of knights that is not adjacent to a friendly castle or a friendly group of knights is attacked by peasants. Roll one die, and remove that many knights from the group.
    • Assassin! The player with the fewest knights may remove any one knight from the board. (Exception: you may not leave a castle empty - there must be at least a shield there.) If two or more players are tied for having the fewest knights, no assassination occurs.
    • Assassin! The player with the lowest total point value in castles may remove any one knight from the board. (Exception: you may not leave a castle empty - there must be at least a shield there.) If two or more players are tied for having the lowest total point value in castles, no assassination occurs.
    • The Emperor demands troops! Each player must remove from the board a number of knights equal to the number of castles he holds. At least one knight must come from his largest group, the rest may come from wherever the owning player desires.
    • Siege equipment: the player drawing this card has temporary access to a siege engine. He may ignore the value of the shield in any one castle he attacks, this turn only.
    • Dysentery: all groups of five or more knights are at half strength (round up) until the beginning of this player's next turn.
    • Lame horses: any knight that is currently in a group of six or more knights may only move one space until the end of the drawing player's next turn. Each player still gets three marches, but any knight in a group of six or more may not participate in more than one march.
    • Wine merchant: the largest force on the board loots a travelling wine merchant, and is at half strength until the end of the owning player's next turn. If more than one group is the largest, all are affected!
    • And so on . . .
  7. Pillaging: When a castle is captured, the entire capturing force must enter the castle and cannot move at all on the player's next turn. It still defends with normal strength, however. The player's other forces may still move that turn, of course. [Suggested by Mike Carr to slow big hordes down rather than whittle them down.]
Suggestions and feedback welcome!

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