One Sentence Synopsis: You’re bad boys, and need to figure out what to do before they come for you.
You and your pals are some real delinquents. No, really. Counterfeiters, murderers, smugglers, vandals…you’re all some real scum. Lucky for you, the King is feeling generous. In exchange for giving your group a new lease on life, you’ve been banished to the fringes of the known world and given instructions to prove your loyalty by colonizing those new lands. Accompanied by a small contingent of soldiers and a few carts worth of resources, you’ll struggle to turn your fledgling village into a well-fortified township that is capable of fending off even the most intimidating sieges from the less-than-friendly locals. No fabled Thanksgiving welcome here- You’re The Convicted.
Designed and published by Mateusz Albricht, The Convicted was Kickstarted in 2014 and delivered to backers in October/November. The turnaround time was surprisingly quick for the advertised scope of the game, which includes hundreds of wooden cubes, a huge number of cardboard building components and punch markers, a large board, and a claimed playtime of over 15 hours(90 minutes per “session”). The game really is huge, and quite ambitious for a small group of self-publishing designers. Still, the Kickstarter was a huge success, netting lots of stretch goals that added new markers and characters to the game, and even some pretty amazing custom meeples as paid add-on options that I only wish I had enough cash to have ordered.
The Convicted is a dark-themed, medieval/fantasy cooperative game for 1-4 players where you attempt to upgrade your town(represented in a very cool way, which I’ll touch on later) and survive for 20 rounds. Players divide 12 actions amongst themselves each round(18 on certain turns), and once the actions are depleted they defend against increasingly difficult waves of enemies that are randomized between beasts, forestmen, barbarians, or wolfmen. If players manage to survive the wave they’re rewarded with a bundle of resources to help rebuild, expand, and recruit for the following turn.
I’m going to say up-front that I absolutely love this game. I offer that here, though, because from my discussion of the rules you may get the impression that the rest of what I have to say is going to be negative. First, there seems to be a LOT of confusion over exactly how this game is played. Some people think it’s played over 10 games of 20 rounds each, others think it’s over 15 plays, and I’ve seen others who think it’s just 15 rounds but each round seems to take them 90 minutes to play(impossible unless you’re playing incorrectly). All of these are wrong, but they can be forgiven for being wrong given that what is listed on the Kickstarter is different than what is in the Kickstarter comments, which is different than what is on BGG, which is different than what’s in the rulebook. It’s all very confusing, so let’s set this straight: the game is 1 play-through of the game, which consists of the 20 rounds shown on the board. If you beat wave 20, you’ve won.
How long will it take to play? Not the advertised 15 hours unless your group really likes to argue and is slow getting each of the battles set up. Our game sessions ranged from 4-8 hours, depending on which wave we got to before getting overrun. That’s a long-haul for any game group unless you play Twilight Imperium on a regular basis, but The Convicted allows you to ‘save’ your progress by recording your upgrade levels, resource amounts, and wave number. My copy of the game was missing the save sheets that were supposed to be included, but they are available online for printing. I’d actually recommend using some of the player-made sheets instead, as they’re a little more straightfoward. The playtime of the game isn’t going to vary much based on player numbers since actions get divided amongst players evenly from a set pool that doesn’t change with player count. While I don’t mind the epic scale, I do think the game could have been pared down and tweaked into a 10 wave game, rather than 20, while giving the overall experience.
For a game that’s already fairly complex because of the many subtleties it includes, it’s essential the rules are clear and well organized. Unfortunately, the rulebook itself is bound to seed a great deal of confusion with players. Part of this can be blamed on the fact that the original rules were in Polish, and have been translated into English. Suffice to say they could have done with a great deal more editing. The translation is rough in many places, certain sections are poor grammatically, and there are spelling errors throughout not only the rulebook but the components as well. Although having a “Counterfreiter” character instead of “Counterfeiter”, or “Beasts of Bourden” technology instead of “Beasts of Burden”, made for some funny running commentary during our playthroughs that will likely stick with us as added flavor for future plays, the lack of polish in that respect is disappointing. The result is some very unclear rules sections that take a great deal of intuition and guesswork to actually figure out.
The translation difficulties are only part of the problem with the rules. There are inconsistencies between the rulebook and the quick-reference sheets that should have been caught in the proofing stages. For example, the combat values of certain units are different in both places. Also, it can take some digging to find answers to questions that WILL come up during your first, and even second, playthrough. Some of these answers players will eventually track down by finding the singular sentence that was included regarding the issue, though it’s often in a non-intuitive place in the book. For others, players will have to search online for clarifications to some of the muddled finer points of the game. To his credit, Mateusz has been good about answering the plethora of questions people have asked on BGG in this thread, but the fact that players need to resort to getting so many direct answers from the designer is a testament to how much refinement the rulebook needs in clarity, organization, and content.
So, how exactly do you play the game? Given the length and small details of the rules they’d take up too much space here in their entirety, so I’ll try to give as brief of a synposis as possible while still giving you the gist of the game. If you’d like to see a complete version of the rules, you’ll find them here.
Players start by choosing a convict to play as, each of whom have a special ability that range from getting additional resources when they gather, to being able to move soldiers to different wall sections after the start of a battle. Starting resources and a small contingent of soldiers are then doled out based on the number of players. Although play could start at this point, I’d highly recommend organizing at least the cardboard components and building cards into some manageable, sorted stacks. It wastes time later sifting through the pile of tokens, building upgrades, or building cards, and since the game is already long as it is there’s no reason to cause delays based on disorganized setup.
Players have 12 actions total to spend during the Actions stage of a round(18 on turns 10,15, and 20), all of which are divided equally among the group. During a player’s turn they may choose to spend those actions in a number of ways:
Purchase Technologies: Spending an action allows the player to research a new technology as long as that technology’s prerequisites are all met. Technologies give the group access to higher levels of buildings, increased resource-gathering efficiency, new fortifications, or better soldiers.
Training: Players may pay a unit’s training cost and spend an action to train 1 new military unit for which they have the technological/building requirements for. Players start the game with simple spearmen, but can research technologies and upgrade their facilities to eventually train heavy infantry units(2-3 times as strong as spearmen, but more expensive), and even ranged arquebusiers. Training also allows players to acquire siege engines they’ve gained access to by upgrading their workshop. Starting with cauldrons and boulders, players can eventually build powerful bombards and onagers which are essential for surviving the late stages of the game.
Resource Gathering: Spending an action allows the player to gather base values of either 2 wood, 1 stone, 1 iron, or 1 gold, or potentially more if they’ve researched the applicable technologies.
Fortifications Repair: Get messed up last round? In the later stages of the game it’s probable. Luckily, you can repair any fortifications that were damaged simply by spending minimal resources, with no need to use an action.
Construction: Now, this is where things get interesting, and is the concept that peeked my interest when I first saw the game on Kickstarter. Players are able to purchase and upgrade buildings and fortifications for various amounts of resources. Fortifications consist of ditches, spikes, moats, and walls, whereas buildings include the keep(centralized ranged attack point), barracks, library, workshop, mage tower, and chapel. Constructing or upgrading each of these buildings will give the players access to things like spells to rain fire down on their enemies, protection blessings to save their own soldiers, or better siege equipment and military units. The cool part about buildings is that the upgrades are actually represented on the board after you make them. The board itself is designed like a giant, pre-determined puzzle with each area having an outline. Each building and fortification comes with an individual cardboard representation of each of its upgrade levels(hence why I recommend organizing before you start), so as players upgrade their town and swap out the pieces the village actually becomes more impressive right before their eyes!
Players are also able to trade one resource to one other player per round as a free action.
After all actions are spent, the game progresses into the Battle Stage. Players choose which walls to position their troops on, and then draw one of the 4 enemy types from the invader deck and consult the corresponding chart to see how many they’ll face depending on the round, what kinds of units they’re up against, and how those forces will get distributed to attack each wall. In early stages players will face only a handful of smaller enemy units, but in later stages will face veteran versions of each unit with numbers and siege units that necessitate using nearly all of the cubes in the box. Waves 10, 15, and 20 can be particularly nasty since a boss unit with special abilities makes an appearance.
Strategies against each invader horde vary, with some having more powerful ranged units, and others potentially containing units like Giants that will crush your walls if they’re allowed to stay close for any amount of time. Each army seems fairly well balanced, and that forces players to diversify their defenses rather than take an all-eggs-in-one-basket approach. The beasts faction is the only one we really dreaded during the later stages of our playthroughs, mostly because numerous beast units are unaffected by certain defenses like moats which help to kill off some additional melee units before getting to the walls. Unfortunately, that meant that the actions and resources we had spent to build those fortifications were basically wasted as far as battles with beasts were concerned.
The intricacies of the battle system are problematic given the rules(for example, figuring out exactly how battering ram units are set up and function), but the basic flow is fairly straightforward. Allied and enemy ranged units and siege weapons get to fire multiple times before the invading force’s melee units reach the town’s walls, so it’s essential for players to balance their ranged damage projection with fortifications upgrades and melee units. Once the enemy melee units have reached the wall, they’re divided into combat groups of 1-4 units which must be countered by defending units. One wall at a time, both sides take the strength stat of their front “leader” soldier in each group, and add on the support stats of any additional units in that battle group. The defending human player also gets to roll a 1D3 and add the result to his units’ total defense. The difference of the outcomes is the number of endurance points lost, and units are removed from weakest to strongest. After all sides of the town are dealt with the players destroy buildings based on how many enemy units made it over the walls(if any), and then the invading forces are regrouped below the walls in preparation for another assault. If at that point the players have killed more than 50% of the invading forces, the invaders must make a morale-check roll which will determine whether they flee or stay. If they stay, the battle continues starting with another ranged/siege attack before melee is resolved again. If the invaders flee or are wiped out, the players reap resource rewards based on the wave chart.
Rinse and repeat until you’ve either lost(most likely), or beat the 20th wave. The game contains 3 difficulty settings, but I have to say that the first difficulty setting is quite hard enough at this point for my group. I’ve seen some forums posts that say the game is easy- I can only assume they’re playing wrong, or that they haven’t gotten past wave 10. In terms of player input, this is a game that’s very susceptible to a “shotgun” type of player to take control and direct everyone else. Frankly, however, that ends up being OK in this instance since the game is difficult enough to warrant a more cohesive, unified approach to each round. As long as the person masterminding the strategy is taking other people’s advice into account everyone is still going to have a blast. We actually even threw out the rule that every individual player was supposed to roll for their own wall section; we still acted as though each person was located on their own wall section since some of the abilities require it, but as far as defending goes we all walked through the tactical aspects of the defense together and then just had one person do the rolling to streamline things. Furthermore, since actions are precious and coordination essential to maximizing their use, successful teams aren’t going to have anyone making decisions on their own anyway. We generally worked out what each person was going to do before the first player had taken a single action, be it trading needed resources to others for later on, or making sure players with turns earlier in the round researched the right things for the later players to take advantage of.
The Convicted’s components are neither poor quality nor anything to write home about, though for a self-published game through Boardgames4U I guess I’m pleasantly surprised. The box is too thin for the sheer number of components/weight of the game, and one of the bottom edges of my box was actually already ripped on arrival. I’ll be taping the entire bottom edge of the box just to be safe, but the thickness should have been better to begin with. The punch-boards for tokens are a good thickness and easy to punch(first edition is missing 2 actions markers, however, with no option to get replacements), and the building tiles are all very thick with a nice shiny finish on them to match the board. The board itself is quite large, but I’m a little concerned it is going to wear out quickly in-between the various board sections. The technology, character, building, and enemy cards are likewise a good thickness, and although they aren’t linen finished I don’t think it is something that was really necessary given the minimal shuffling and handling they go through. Baggies are included to store the building tiles in, but everything really just barely fits into the box and even that can take some doing to position just right.
Units are all represented by colored cubes, as alluded to throughout the review, and there are a LOT of them all with good vibrancy to their colors. At the time of the Kickstarter there were also add-on packs for shaped meeples for both the allied and enemy units, both sets of which I’d still love to have even though they aren’t necessary to play.
So, average components, poorly presented rulebook…what do I think of this game? I FREAKING LOVE IT. I just can’t help myself. I love it in spite of the various issues I’ve raised, and there’s really no explanation for it other than to say that it’s the experience that makes this game, and it’s one hell of an experience. The foreboding artwork draws you in from the second you lay out the board and look at the building tiles and character cards; there’s an immediate atmosphere here that reminds me of the ambiance in the original Diablo PC game, and I can even imagine hearing the old Tristram theme music playing mournfully in the background as my delinquent comrades and I plot our town’s development. In fact, I’m going to hunt down that music and use it next time we play because that just sounds too awesome not to do.
The Convicted makes me feel like I’m actually establishing a village in a remote, hostile region of the world. The building tiles, technologies, and unlockable units make me feel like I’m actually expanding and upgrading the town, and making progress towards establishing a foothold. Just when I think we’ve really got a solid foundation though the game reminds us we’re strangers in a foreign land that very much does not want us to succeed. I feel like I’m under siege. The game is challenging, and it makes us think and plan ahead. It keeps us on our toes as our survival walks the razor’s edge, and everyone is always keenly aware that the next round may be our last as we envision a thick fog rolling slowly down a forested hillside towards our village at the start of each battle phase, veiling the impending danger as its silence sweeps towards us.
Those experiences are what makes this game great. It’s about feeling, quibbles-be-damned.
COG Takeaway: If you’re willing to put a little extra time into looking up rules clarifications after your first playthrough, and you can get past the fact that there are spelling errors in places and you may need to implement a house rule or two to deal with some inconsistencies, then you’re in for a real treat. This is a great, truly cooperative experience for 1-4 players that is challenging, tremendously thematic, includes choices each turn that have far-reaching and real consequences, and forces players to plan ahead while still remaining adaptive. If you’ve got a free afternoon and evening, or a couple of afternoons, and want to have an edge-of-your-seat experience, The Convicted should find its way to your table.
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