Rheingold (Highlanders):  Rules

Game designed by Reinhard Herbert
Published in The Netherlands in 1992 by Jumbo Games
These comments was first published by Steffen O'Sullivan at his site

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. Can anyone verify this?) 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:
  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.]


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