Transcript of our podcast from 16 Feb 2008
by Moritz Eggert
This time I am going to talk about another game from the golden age of fantasy wargaming. Yes, the golden age, the 70's, when fantasy and SF wargaming was shock full with colourful worlds, fantastic ideas, and when the graphic presentation was not yet depicting stereotypical steroid pumped barbarians on every cover. One had to be satisfied with counters instead of miniatures and the boards were often hand-drawn and printed on flimsy paper.
The game I will talk about is "Divine Right", by Glenn and Kenneth Rahman, a pair of authors who worked in all fields, wargaming both fantasy and historical, and also roleplaying. "Divine Right" is one of the most sought after games of this time. It was originally published by TSR who were then riding high on the success of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons First edition and published a couple of boardgames in box format. Divine Right stands next to Dragon Pass as one of the most colourful imagined completely original fantasy worlds. Glenn and Kenneth Rahman obviously took inspiration from their roleplaying worlds and populated the realm of Minaria with incredibly varied creatures, kingdoms and factions.
At it's heart it was the first decidedly "political" epic fantasy game, in which the focus is less on a tactical situation but on a sweeping view of a rich fantasy world. Dragon Pass had its diplomacy rules, but they were rather simple compared to the diplomacy in Divine Right. At its heart it is a conquest game - depending on the game variant you strive for being the ultimate ruler of the land, which means you have to bring factions to your side and lead your armies to conquest and plunder.
Minaria is divided into several smaller countries, there are Dwarves, Barbarians, Elves and humans (and many more), each with there own kingdoms and castles that are waiting to be conquered. You start controlling one of these kingdoms and try to bring other kingdoms to your side while waging war. The all important phase in Divine Right is the diplomacy phase, in which you try to bring monarchs of varying respectability to your side, by rolling dice and playing event cards. You can also attempt to disrupt the alliances that other players have, by making their allies neutral again. As this is a multiplayer game, this phase can result in a crass change of the power balance (imagine playing Third Reich and the German player suddenly allies with the US) - a weak player can suddenly become extremely powerful, and a powerful player suddenly can see his allies turning on himself. Until next round that is.
This diplomacy aspect was one of the reasons why this game became extremely popular during it's time, as it avoided the typical problem of every conquest game, namely that the player conquering the most land becomes increasingly mighty in resources as well, so the strong become stronger and the weak become weaker, like in Risk. In Divine Right things are never that sure, and the only way to force a kingdom out of play is conquering its main capital, which can be a long siege process.
The game mechanics work like a simple hex and counter wargame, but with enough beef to stand apart from more primitive games. There are rules for encirclement in a siege for example, and all in all the rulebook is not exactly for the faint of heart, even though it is no "Campaigns for North Africa" certainly.
The most detailed rules come for the various factions and single creatures that one can enlist; of course there are also heroes and leaders with special abilities, magicians with spells, etc. In addition to this the game designers have created a history of the land as well, and there are interesting back stories and descriptions of practically every place on the map. The fantasy world comes really alive here, and players really feel like they are waging an epic war in a sprawling fantasy world.
Not surprisingly the game can go on for quite a long time, as the person who is about to win can suddenly lose half his army through diplomacy, but the game more than makes good with an incredible love for detail.
The TSR edition was extremely sought after the game went out of print, and commanded high prices on eBay. But 25 years later a distributor of Manga and Anime who was apparently a big fan of the game, "rightstuf" publications, decided to put out an all new edition, "Divine Right - 25th Anniversary Edition" This was a one off publication, and also this game is out of print, but it might be cheaper to find than the ancient , battered TSR box. The new edition had some quirks - half of the rules came -inexplicably - on a CD-ROM, and you had to print them out, the board was larger and mounted, but the counters were perforated instead of diecut, which meant they tore apart and had fuzzy edges like stamps when you tried to punch them out, the only solution was to use a pair of scissors, which was quite annoying, as the counter cardboard seemed to be hard as stone. They also tried to update the rules and made them so complicated in the advanced game that playing the game became like playing a rule lawyer's wet dream, a rule for even the most obscure events that could happen if you travelled along a river for example. It doesn't have a spaghetti rule like Campaigns for North Africa, though. I guess there are no spaghetti in Minaria, that was probably the only reason, or it would be there in the new edition.
One could be sure that GMT would have done a better job, but again, the game was not published by a professional games publisher.
In the buzz around the new edition it was also promised that an online game would appear, there is still a website dedicated to this project, but it was apparently abandoned due to the advent of Vassal and Cyberboard, even though I have never seen an adaptation for these platforms of this game, if I'm wrong I would like to hear about it, folks!
Anyway, if you like Dragon Pass and the quirky fantasy worlds of the 70's you absolutely can't go wrong with Divine Right, it is a classic game in it's own right and is worth seeking out, if you look for a light hearted but rich game with lots of action and epic battles.
Until next time, may all your hits be crits!
©2008, Westpark Gamers