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Turncoat is a very interesting and original strategy game designed by Peter Donnelly. In the designer's words, Turncoat " a simulation of a card game pitting one human against three AI opponents. The theme of the game is a struggle for power between two factions in a Renaissance city. At the beginning of the game, two players belong to each faction, but allegiances may change from turn to turn. In each of the eight turns, a conflict takes place between two districts belonging to opposing factions. If one wins, the other changes allegiance and victory points are awarded to the members of the victorious faction.

The top of the game screen shows 12 districts, arranged in a random sequence, equally divided at the start between the Stag (dark) and Cross (light) factions. The large number on each district is its inherent strength in conflict, measured in influence points. The three numbers near the bottom are the potential victory points awarded to each player of the winning faction if the district loses a conflict and changes allegiance; the more players in the winning faction, the fewer points are awarded. Each district contains a building site, shown as a small square. At the beginning of the game, each player builds a Market or Bank in one district. As the game progresses, there are further opportunities for building. Only one building can be placed in each site, and each player can have no more than three buildings. Markets in friendly districts provide influence cards in each turn, and Banks (regardless of their location) provide potential victory points at the end of the game. A Market can be converted to a Bank, and vice versa.

In each turn, every player first chooses a "role" or special power for the turn. There are six different roles. Soldier adds 5 points to your faction in the conflict. Cardinal adds 2 points to your faction in the conflict, and provides 1 influence card at the end of the turn. Merchant enables you to build a Market or Bank, or to convert one to the other, at the end of the turn. Prince provides 3 influence cards at the end of the turn. Spy gives you the Spy ability, and awards you 2 victory points. As long as you have the Spy ability, you [can] select the districts for conflict. Turncoat changes your faction immediately before the conflict is resolved, and awards you 1 victory point. [In addition to roles, the players] can have up to 5 influence cards, varying in value from 2 to 8. Influence cards are used to affect the outcome of conflict between neighboring districts. Players obtain more cards from their Markets in friendly districts and from selecting certain roles."

Although it sounds complicated and, indeed, requires a lot of learning and practice to succeed, the efforts you spend in Turncoat pays off handsomely when you realize that its clever rules do elevate the oft-ignored importance of turncoats and spies in computer games to unprecedented levels. The amount of victory points you receive for each conflict your faction wins depends on the type of conquered district, as well as the number of players in the winning faction. Since your objective is to be a member of the winning faction in a conflict because only the winner is awarded victory points, using the Turncoat and Spy roles effectively is key to success. To beat computer players (all of whom are driven by challenging AI), you need to not only back your faction in a conflict (e.g. by using Soldier or Cardinal roles), but must also switch factions as soon as you think your luck has changed. All in all, Turncoat is a very interesting, fun, and unique blend of Monopoly, Acquire, and card games in which effective bluffing is required. Highly recommended to anyone who likes abstract strategy games in the best tradition of Machiavelli. The only downsides to the game I can think of are the considerable learning curve (a tutorial would have helped), and the fact that you need to install Microsoft .NET package (about 20MB) before playing.

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Turncoat screenshot
Turncoat screenshot

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