Review: Avignon: A Clash of Popes19 Jan 2017 4
Review: Avignon: A Clash of Popes
Released 03 Jan 2017
Avignon, France was the seat of seven popes and two anti-popes in the fourteenth and very early fifteenth century. What's an anti-pope? Well for a quarter century there were two popes: one in Rome and one in Avignon. The Papal Schism of the Roman Catholic Church was political rather than religious. The papacy had long been centered in France until Pope Gregory XI returned it to Rome and died not long after. The city of Rome, fearing a foreign-born pontiff would leave Rome again, rioted to demand a Roman on the throne of Saint Peter. The cardinals elected the man who would become Urban VI but many soon regretted this decision, fled Rome, and appointed a rival pope—Clement VII—who established his papacy back in Avignon.
It was a tumultuous period for all of Christendom. Kings and cardinals were forced to pick a side and a diplomatic crisis ensued. France, who had long benefited from the pope in Avignon, led the way in backing Clement. England and of course, the Holy Roman Emperor, spearheaded support for Urban.
It is against this historical backdrop that Avignon: A Clash of Popes is set. Avignon is a two-player game where each side, Rome and Avignon, seeks to win the allegiance of knights, cardinals, nobles, bishops, and even the peasantry through influence and manipulation. It is a card game brought to life via Kickstarter, that now has a digital version.
Your goal in Avignon is to secure the allegiance of three characters and add them to your congregation. Do this and you win. Character cards start out neutral and located in Genoa on the gameboard. As you battle for their favor they will move toward Rome via Florence, or toward Avignon by way of Nice. To win their loyalty permanently and make them part of your congregation you must move them entirely off the board toward you.
The mechanics to lure characters to you, or force your opponent to push them your way, are printed on each card. Every character can be moved one space toward you or one space away but the special "Petition" abilities are more powerful. The Knight, for example, can be moved two spaces toward you but requires that you move two other cards one space away. A cardinal can be moved one space away from you with the reward of all other cards moving one step toward you. A character card can also be excommunicated, which removes it from the board and replaces it with a new card.
The gameplay mechanics are simple and easy to understand. The combination of card abilities and other options—pull here but push there—creates some interesting scenarios. You want to help yourself without putting your opponent in a position to score a follower, unless of course you can then win on the next turn.
Unfortunately, the AI is quite weak in Avignon. I played a great many games and was never in a position that I felt I could lose. There is a cheap expansion to Avignon. It costs a buck and adds three characters (priest, evangelist, and guildmaster) that can be substituted for the base cards. It also allows you to play custom games in which you can set the AI aggressiveness. I purchased this and tried again, but alas, the AI did not improve significantly. In fact, it allowed me to march the Priest—one of a couple cards that change the win conditions of the game—right down to Avignon without much resistance for an automatic win.
Sadly, Avignon does not feature an online multiplayer mode. Your options for playing a human opponent are pass-and-play and table top mode, where the gameboard flips 180 degrees based on who's turn it is. This is pretty cool—especially if you are playing across an actual table somewhere—though it fails to trigger when an ability gives the opposing player a choice of what character to move. This isn't a huge deal, though I do hope the developer addresses it in a future update. Local multiplayer plays well, despite a couple bugs, and provides a much more challenging experience—unless your opponent is lousy at the game of course.
Avignon is an attractive game. The cards and gameboard are well designed. The background music is majestically fitting for a 14th century struggle for papal dominance. The voice acting—yes there is voice acting—is minimal but quite well done and again, it fits. Games are quick—five to fifteen minutes depending on how comfortable players are with how things work—and feature fun yet easy to understand mechanics.
Getting a quality game is the problem. The lackluster AI makes solo play largely inadequate and really only serves as a kind of tutorial mode where you can figure out how to play. You'll quickly surpass any amount of challenge it can offer. Since Avignon only supports local multiplayer if you want a game you'll need another human handy.
Avignon: A Clash of Popes is the type of game that severely taxes a star-rating system. If you have opportunities to plunk your tablet down between you and another gamer then Avignon becomes a very inexpensive card game that happens to exist on your mobile device. In such a case I have no qualms about recommending you add it to your collection. If local multiplayer is not viable for you then naturally you won't want this one. Should you fall into the former camp you can exert your influence on iOS or Android.