Divine Right, 25th Anniversary Edition
Divine Right, 25th Anniversary Edition Playtest Review by Kurt Weihs on 24/01/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
A cult classic boardgame has been made new again with improved components, added rules, and a CD/ROM chock full of goodies.
Product: Divine Right, 25th Anniversary Edition
Author: Glenn and Kenneth Rahman
Category: Board/Tactical Game
Company/Publisher: The Right Stuf International
Line: Divine Right
Page count: n/a
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Kurt Weihs on 24/01/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
When I heard that Divine Right was being re-released in a 25th edition my credit card was immediately on the desk and my fingers were greedily typing in my shipping information. The original game is a cult classic, and I have seen it go for over $200.00 on E-Bay (provided you can find it at all), and I have seen it pop up in gaming tournements even 22 years after its initial release. So with this pedigree behind it you would think that you couldn't go wrong in picking up the new version.
The essentials of the game - What is Divine Right? Divine Right is a hex-map wargame of the old school. Each of the 2-6 players takes on the role of the monarch of one of the 13 possible countries on the fantasy continent of Minaria. Specifically, players control that country's armies, fleets, diplomat, and monarch counters as they attempt to gain the most victory points during 20 turns. No monarch lives in a vacuum, though. In DR the players are able to make alliances not only with the other players, but with the non-player kingdoms as well. If the player successfully gains the favor of a non-player monarch they gain access to that monarch's forces and country. Complicating matters are the random (card drawn) personalities of the non-player monarchs, diplomacy cards (which give variable bonuses to diplomatic dealings), and (in the advanced game)the diplomat's own personalities. In addition to recruiting other monarchs, players may recruit barbarian tribes, special mercenary units, and acquire magical weapons and artifacts. If these aren't enough to give your monarch things to do there are also random events that can either help or hinder your kingdom on its way to dominating the map. Combat is a simple matter of adding up your armies and using the difference in size as a combat modifier. Other modifiers come from terrain, personality, and special equipment bonuses. Sieges are important in the game and take time to resolve, but are essentially similar to regular combat with the added requirement of the besieger to surround the opponent by units or their zone of control. Once again, modifiers come from army size, personalities, special equipment and the size of the fortress being besieged. The intermediate and advanced rules add substantially to the flavor of the game by introducing the special mercenaries, special landmarks that can grant boons or gifts, and the two most complex monarchs whose strength doesn't lie in their armies but in their magic. Victory points are awarded for castles sacked, monarchs captured or killed, and in the advanced game for landmarks held and special mercenaries defeated. For those who have played the original 1979 game, the 25th anniversary version is very similar to the original. The major changes in gameplay have been the addition of more special mercenaries, optional rules and scenarios, and some re-drawing of the borders on the map.
Components - One of the downsides with the original TSR game was the quality of the components. The counters were substandard (when compared to the quality of counters being turned out by Avalon Hill and SPI at the time), the map was made of material similar to heavy weight construction paper with a bad tendancy to warp and not want to lie flat. Even the dice were very small and cheesey. However, the game stood out artistically. It was very colorful. Each country had a specific color associated with its units and location on the map. Artwork on all of the components was consistently creative, simple, and useful. I will never forget the cover artwork where a unit of cavalry was starting to flee from the Ghost Riders of Khos. Twenty two years later I have spent twice as much for the game and gotten a much better deal component-wise. The mapboard is now mounted. The original map colors are now more muted additng to its attractiveness. The personality cards retain a lot of the original artwork while adding detailed line drawings to the backs of all of the cards. The basic rules are cleanly and attractively illustrated. A new addition is the CD/ROM that comes with the game. The CD/ROM contains .PDF files for all of the rulebooks (basic, intermediate, and advanced), the counters, and the cards. Should you lose any of the pieces to the game (except the map) you have the ability to re-print replacements. In addition to these the authors of the game have included the original version of the game that was presented to TSR (including .pdf copies of the rules, counters, and map). Finally, there is lots of original pre- and post production art related to the game done by the creator(s), background story on the world of Minaria, and a history of the production of the game from the 1970s all the way to today. Most of the stuff on the CD/ROM won't help you play the game better, but if you are a fan of the game or just curious about the life, death and re-birth of a cult classic the CD/ROM is invaluable.
Gripes - While I loved the original version of the game and feel the 25th anniversary version is an improvement over that version I still have a few quibbles. For the 25th anniversary edition they printed the counters on a thin cardstock. While they are attractive and colorful they are quite flimsy. Thankfully, the CD/ROM includes the master for the counters. I have made my own on stiffer cardstock and used my miniature matte spray to give them an attractive gloss coat. My other complaint is the box cover. Kenneth Rahman has done some great stuff (as you can see on the CD/ROM), but Right Stuf did not pick one of his more flattering works to grace the cover of the game. I much preferred the cover of the TSR version. A minor quibble I have is the quality of editing in the rules. They make sense for the most part, but there are enough mispellings or use of synonyms to force rereading of a few sections. Right Stuf should have taken the time to edit the rules better before publication. Finally, I fail to understand why Right Stuf chose to not provide printed copies of the intermediate or advanced rules. The rules can be found on the CD/ROM, but not all of us posses printers or computers. You can read them using a computer, but there is no mention in any of the advertisements that I have seen that a computer is needed if you want to play the intermediate or advanced rules. The sum of all parts - Gripes aside, this is a great game. Right Stuf should be applauded for bringing it back better than it was before, and Glenn and Kenneth Rahman should be applauded for not just re-printing the original game but improving, cleaning up, and enriching it with all of the additions to the 25th anniv. edition. The richness of the background information provided on the CD and in the rules is better than many professionally produced roleplaying supplements or even many fantasy novels. This only helps make the game more than just the sum of its parts. Sitting down with friends and watching the world of Minaria come to life is a lot of fun. Even the power gamer in our group started talking in a brogue as his Hothior units fled before the undead minions of the Black Hand. With any luck, the renewed interest in Divine Right might lead to other games in the same milieu. At one time I had heard there was a completed sequel called 'Scarlet Empire' that expanded the lands to the south of Minaria. If enough interest is expressed perhaps it will see the light of day.