Michael Schacht is a board game designer that has been making board games since the late 1990s. While we have looked at Bull in a China Shop, California, and Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom, Michael Schacht is probably most known for creating the Spiel Des Jahres award winning Zooleretto. Today we are looking at one of Michael Schacht’s earlier games Knights (also known as Knatsch) which is a dice game similar to Yahtzee that adds a competitive component and special powers. While Knights has some interesting ideas, the game fails to really differentiate itself from other dice games.
How to Play Knights
Remove the five blank cards from the game. The three goal cards are placed in the center of the table. Take six different colored castles from the deck and deal one to each player. The castle cards that aren’t given to one of the players are shuffled in with the rest of the cards. Once shuffled the cards are separated into two approximately equal sized decks with the top card from each deck being flipped over. Determine the first player in any agreeable manner.
Choosing A Card to Capture
On a player’s turn they will choose which card they would like to try and capture. Before choosing a card the player is able to swap the card on one of the stacks with the next card in the stack. The card that is removed is put on the bottom of the stack. If the player wants one of the cards on the top of one of the two stacks they can try to capture it if they don’t already have a card of that type (a player can capture multiple tournament cards).
Instead of choosing one of the cards from the stacks, the player can try to steal a card from another player as long as they don’t try to steal that player’s last castle card. A player is unable to try and take a card that they already own and they can’t take a tournament card from another player. If a player is unable to take any of the available cards they can keep swapping out the top cards from the stacks until they find a card that they can capture.
Once a player chooses the card that they would like to capture, they attempt to beat the combination of dice printed on the card. The player will get up to three rolls to beat the combination. Between rolls a player can choose to keep as many of their dice as they want. Any sixes that are rolled cannot be re-rolled and are worthless.
There are three different ways that a player can beat the combination.
#1 Rolling More Dice of the Same Number: If the card shows three threes on it, rolling four of a kind will beat the combination.
#2 Rolling the Same Combination with Higher Numbers: If the combination requires you to roll three threes, rolling three fours or fives would beat the combination. Rolling three sixes would not beat the combination since sixes are worthless in Knights.
#3 Rolling the Same Combination Along with a Die Higher than the Yellow Die: If the combination requires you to roll three threes and the yellow die is a two, you can roll three threes and either a four or five to beat the combination.
If the player is trying to take one of the cards from a stack, they capture the card if they beat the combination. If the card they took was a special card, they can attempt to try and take another card. If the card was a castle the player’s turn ends after they take the castle card. The card that is taken by the player is replaced with the top card from the same stack. If the player fails, the card that they tried to take is put on the bottom of the corresponding stack and the top card is flipped over.
If the player was trying to steal a special card from another player, they will take it from the player if they beat the combination on the card. If the player beats the combination on a castle card owned by another player, the other player has a chance to defend the castle. The player who owns the castle rolls the dice three times. If they roll a combination higher than the attacking player, they keep their castle card. If they roll a lower combination, the attacking player steals the castle card.
If a player chooses a tournament card from one of the card stacks (tournament cards can’t be stolen from other players), all of the players will compete in the tournament. The player who chose the card will roll first and will get four rolls while the other players will only get three rolls. Each player will get one turn to try and beat the current highest combination. The player who ends up rolling the highest combination wins the tournament card.
Castle Guard: On a player’s turn they may put this card on up to two castles which prevents other players from stealing those castles until they capture the castle guard card. A player can change the castles that the guard is protecting on their turn.
Special Card Guard: A player can use this card to guard one of their special cards. On a player’s turn they can place this card on any other special card. In order to capture the special card under this card, the player needs to first capture the special card guard.
Winning the Game
There are three different ways to win a game of Knights.
#1 Capture four different colored castles.
#2 Capture three different colored castles and defeat the king. When a player has three different castles they can challenge the king. In order to beat the king you have to beat the combination of four fives and a one. If the player succeeds they will win the game. If they fail to beat the combination they will lose one of their castles (their choice) to the bottom of one of the two stacks.
#3 Capture two different colored castles and win three tournaments.
The first player to reach one of these three conditions wins the game.
My Thoughts on Knights
If I had to describe Knights in a couple words I would say that it is Yahtzee with a couple tweaks. Like Yahtzee you roll the dice trying to get different combinations of dice. You can roll the dice a couple times to improve your roll hoping to roll high enough to score points or capture cards. Unlike Yahtzee though you are only looking for sets of the same number in Knights. The basics of Knights are very similar to Yahtzee but Knights adds two mechanics that add a little variety to the game.
So the most notable thing that Knights adds to Yahtzee is the idea of special abilities. The idea of special abilities are nothing new for board games but you don’t see a lot of dice games that let you acquire special abilities that help you with future rolls. While I think the special abilities are a little too powerful, I like that you can use them to have a little more control over your dice rolls. Being able to alter your dice roll allows players to implement a little strategy as they try to collect cards that will make it easier for them to meet the conditions of the goal card that they are pursuing. Being able to have some control over your dice rolls eliminates a little of the luck you would normally find in this type of game.
While you will never be able to develop a deep strategy in Knights, the game does present a couple different ways to win the game. This gives players a few options on how to approach the game. The most straightforward strategy is to just acquire four castles. If you are pursuing this strategy you are probably going to mostly focus on stealing castles from the other players and stacks instead of going after a lot of special cards. If you are going after the king victory you are going to go after castles but you also want some special cards that will make it easier to beat the king. It also wouldn’t hurt to get the card that prevents you from losing castles if you fail to beat the king. The final strategy is to try and focus on tournaments. If you are going for the tournament victory you are going to want to start as many tournaments as possible since starting the tournament gives you an advantage in it.
The other mechanic that distinguishes Knights from Yahtzee is the fact that you can go after the cards owned by the other players. I have never been much of a fan of take that mechanics so I don’t have a really strong opinion on this mechanic. The mechanic works pretty well and I think Knights would be a pretty bad game without it. I usually don’t like take that mechanics though since your fate depends on whether the other players decide to target you. I do like that Knights actually gives you a chance to defend some of your cards when a player tries to take them.
Basically that is all there is to Knights. It should come as no surprise that Knights is a pretty simple game. If you play a lot of dice games you should have no problem with Knights. I can’t see it taking more than a couple minutes to teach the game to new players. While the game has an estimated length of 20-40 minutes I personally would say that most games of Knights will lean towards the shorter side of that estimate. The only games that I can see taking 40 minutes are games where players are constantly stealing cards from one another.
I would say that the biggest problem with Knights is that it is too easy to capture cards. I never thought I would have said that but I actually think the game suffers from being too easy. In the majority of your turns you likely will be able to capture a card. I think this is due to the combinations on the cards not being that hard to roll. Almost all of the cards only require you to roll three of a kind and then beat the other die printed on the card. Since you are given six dice and three turns this is surprisingly easy to accomplish. While you will lose all of the sixes that you roll, unless you roll poorly you should still have enough dice to beat the combination. When you add in the special cards it becomes even easier to capture cards.
Usually I would say that it is good that players will capture a card on most of their turns but I think this works against the game’s strategy. With it being so easy to capture cards the game can end before anyone is even able to form a strategy. One of the players could just capture a lot of cards quickly and leave all of the other players in the dirt. If cards were harder to capture, players would put more thought into whether to go for a safer card or the best card available. While some cards are harder to get than others, all of the cards are pretty easy to get which doesn’t really persuade players away from going after the harder cards.
These issues create a problem in Knights where the rich can easily get richer. As a player acquires more cards it becomes easier to acquire even more cards. While the special cards don’t directly help you win the game, the more special cards that you have the easier it becomes to capture the cards you actually need to win the game. The most powerful of the special cards are the dice cards. Since the dice cards act as another die, they basically give you free dice which makes it really easy to beat combinations. While I like the idea of getting additional dice, I think these cards are a little too powerful where if a player has multiple of them they are almost unstoppable.
The only thing that stops a player from sailing away with the victory is the fact Knights encourages players to gang up on the leader. Outside of the player getting a chance to defend their own castles, there is no difference between taking cards from the stack or another player. If another player has a card you want you might as well try to steal it since if you succeed you get a card while also taking a card from the other player. The leader may be able to fend off some of the players, but unless they are very lucky they will eventually fall to the might of all of the other players. While I like that stealing cards from other players lets players catch up, I don’t think it is fair when a player can go from first to last just because all of the other players decided to gang up on them.
The component quality of Knights is solid. The artwork is pretty good and the cards are designed in a way that makes them easy to read. The game’s components are kind of dull though. When you combine in the theme that doesn’t impact the gameplay and it kind of feels like the theme was pasted onto Knights. The theme doesn’t detract from the game but it feels like almost any other theme could have been added to the game and it would have made no difference to the game. Since theme is generally not that important to me it isn’t a big issue, but the theme might bother people that really care about it.
Should You Buy Knights?
Basically Knights is a very average game. The game doesn’t really do anything wrong but it also doesn’t really do anything to distinguish itself from other dice rolling games. If you like dice games you will probably have some fun with Knights. Knights basically takes the premise of Yahtzee and includes special powers and a mechanic where you can go after the other players. The biggest problem that I had with Knights is that it is too easy to capture cards which leads to runaway leader problems as well as a motive to gang up on the leader. While it is still fun, Knights feels like another average dice rolling game which is below the standard set by a lot of Michael Schacht’s games.
If you like dice games and think the idea of special powers sounds interesting for a dice game, I think you can get some enjoyment out of Knights. I would wait for a good deal on the game though. If you don’t really care for dice rolling games though you can find a lot better dice games than Knights.