Battle of the Barons: Feudal Europe in the late Middle Ages
A Fast and Easy Simulation for Students

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by Matt Fritz

The Simulation: This simulation is about feudal Europe from 700 AD - 1200 AD, the late Middle Ages. The simulation is not set in any specific part of Europe, and the term "baron" is used to refer to nobles. It is intended to familiarize the students with some of the basic characteristics of life in the Middle Ages: the feudal system, the church, the crusades, castles, political marriages, etc. With modifications it could be used for similar civilizations in other places and times, such as feudal Japan. This simulation is intended to be played one or two turns per week, with each turn taking 10 - 15 minutes, while the students are studying a unit on this topic. Of course you are welcome to change this as you please to fit your circumstances. This simulation has not been playtested with the students yet. The game uses a standard deck of playing cards (52 cards, remove the jokers). The ace counts as the lowest card, the King is the highest.

Battle 1: Life can be short in the Middle Ages, as one of the Barons learned on the first turn - he contracted the pox and died. Another Baron immediately married a minor noble, giving him a quick head start. All the Barons started with a conservative strategy - strengthening their home castles and declining to go on the attack. One Baron spent all his gold building churches in every hex. When the Pope called for a crusade the Barons tried several strategies. One Baron went all out, sending a large army and personally leading it. Unfortunately he died in the Holy Land. Another Baron sent a smaller army and fared much better, returning with a large amount of loot which was spent on building projects. A third Baron sent the smallest army he could get away with and used his remaining forces to attack the depleted garrisons of one of his neighbors. The battle continued with no clear winner for a long time. One unfortunate Baron's family seemed to be living under a curse of some kind. Four consecutive Barons died in a short time, sapping the family's strength. The other Barons were quick to take advantage. The two strongest families arranged a marriage that boosted both of them into the lead. Then they went to war against each other. The victor of that struggle emerged as the strongest Baron, and became the new King.

Bookkeeping: The simulation requires some bookkeeping. Each team will have two things to keep track of: fame and gold. The students can be assigned to keep track of these scores themselves, and the teacher should also keep track for all the teams.

The Map: The simulation is played on a hex map. Each hex represents a fief, which consists of farms and the serfs that work the farms. A knight controls each hex/fief. Each baron should have their own copy of the map, and the teacher should have a large version of the map that all the students can see. Assign a different color to each baron and shade the hexes they control with this color. The center hex is controlled by the king, and is out of play. Any buildings that are constructed by the barons must be indicated on the map. A simple method is to draw symbols in the hexes where they are built. Use an M for monastery, U for university, B for burg, a cross for a church, and a square with a number inside for a castle. The number in the square will be the castle's strength. The map can be found here.


Initial Set-Up: The students should be divided into 6 groups. You can play with more groups, but in that case you should use a larger map. Each group represents a noble family. You can assign the students roles if you wish: Baron, Baroness, Seneschal, and Bailiff. Each team will be given control of a fiefdom. This consists of their home hex and the six surrounding hexes. The home hexes are labeled A - F on the map. The teacher can assign the fiefdoms or the students can be allowed to choose. Each baron starts with a fame of 14 and 0 gold. Each baron begins the simulation with a wooden wall (palisade) to protect his home, which counts as a castle with a strength of one point. This castle can be improved.

Coat of Arms (Optional): Show the students some examples of coat of arms and have each team design their. The best one can be rewarded with 2 fame points, second place can receive one point. Here's a coat of arms template you can print and use.

Objective: The goal of each team is to become the most powerful baron. This is measured by their fame. Fame represents the reputation and status of the baron. Another important measure of a baron's power is how many hexes he controls. This will determine how large an army he can call up for battles, and how much gold he will collect in taxes from his territory.

Sequence of Play:
1. Draw Event Card
2. Gold
3. Building
4. Battle
5. Death
6. Marriages
7. Add Hexes

Draw Event Card: One of the barons will draw an event card. The effects of the event card are applied immediately to all barons.

Gold: Each baron adds one gold to his bank for each hex he controls. Then he subtracts the gold he must pay in taxes to the king. If the baron is unable to pay his full tax bill then he loses all his money and also loses one fame point. Taxes are 4 gold unless the event card for this turn says otherwise. Barons should be advised to save some of their gold in case they need it to deal with a crisis (plague, war, etc.).

Building: Each baron can spend some of their remaining gold on building projects. Barons can improve the strength of their home castle, build and improve new castles, and build churches, monasteries, universities, and burgs (towns).

Home Castle: Each gold spent improves the strength of the home castle by one point, and represents a physical improvement of the structure - adding a tower keep, a stone curtain wall, gatehouse, moat, towers, etc. A castle may only be improved by one point per turn. The home castle protects the hex in which it is built, and the six surrounding hexes. If one of the protected hexes is attacked the castle's strength will be added to the defender's score when determining the winner of the battle. An impressive home castle is a status symbol among nobles. A noble's fame is increased by one for every 2 strength points of his castle. For example when a baron improves his castle to strength 2 he gains one fame point. When he improves it to strength 4 he gains another fame point.

Additional Castles: Once a baron expands his territory beyond the original seven hexes his castle will no longer be able to protect all his land. The new hexes will be vulnerable to attack by rival barons. The baron can build additional castles in these hexes to protect them. Additional castles only protect the hex they are in. The cost is 2 gold to build a new castle, and it can be improved on following turns just like the home castle. Each additional castle adds one fame point to the baron's score (regardless of its strength). Additional castles operate the same as the home castle in combat, but only protect the hex in which they are built.

Monastery, Cathedral, University, Burgs: Each baron can build one monastery, one church, one university, and one burg in each hex they control. The cost to build each is 2 gold, and boosts the baron's fame by one point.

Battles: Each baron can launch one attack against another baron. The cost of the attack is 2 gold. If a baron doesn't have 2 gold then they can't attack this turn. The baron that is attacked doesn't have to pay anything. When a baron decides to attack he must declare which of his opponent's hexes he will attack. Each baron decides if he will personally take part in the battle. If he does there is an increased chance that he will be killed, but it will improve his chances of winning the battle. Shuffle the deck of cards. A baron's strength in the battle is calculated as follows: total the number of hexes the baron currently controls + strength of any castle that is protecting the hex being attacked, then divide by two (round down). Each baron draws one card for each strength point, and draws a bonus card if the baron is personally fighting in the battle. Whichever baron draws the highest card is the winner. If it's a tie compare the second best card each baron drew (continue comparing cards until someone wins). The winner adds one fame point; the loser deducts one fame point. If the attacker wins then any castle in the defender's hex is completely destroyed, and the loser must deduct the fame points he had gained from building the castle. The attacker, if he wins, may also destroy any and all buildings in the losing hex, and the loser deducts any fame points he had gamed from them.. If the attacker wins and the hex he attacked is adjacent to one of his own hexes then he takes control of the opponent's hex. Any buildings on the captured hex are automatically destroyed and the loser deducts any fame points he had gained from them. Each baron may attack only once, but each baron may be forced to defend himself more than once each turn.

Death: Each turn there is a chance that the baron will die. Each baron draws one card from the deck. The baron will die if he draws an ace during a normal turn. The baron will die if the card is an ace or a two if one of the following conditions applies this turn: there is a plague, the baron goes to war, the baron takes part in a battle, or the baron goes on a crusade. If a baron dies his son will inherit his territory and continue the simulation. The heir keeps 2/3 of the baron's fame, the other 1/3 is lost.

Marriage: Marriages during this time period had little to do with love. Marriages were arranged based on business and political considerations. A marriage could bring peace to rival families. A marriage also might be arranged to increase a baron's wealth, land, or status. Each baron may arrange a marriage with the family of another baron once per game. Both barons must agree to the match. If no barons are available or willing the baron can marry some unnamed petty noble. A marriage will increase the fame of both parties. Each baron gets to increase his fame by a score equal to 1/3 of the other baron's fame. For example if Baron A with fame 14 arranges a marriage with Baron B with a fame of 10 then baron A gains 3 fame (1/3 of 10) and baron B gains 5 fame (1/3 of 14). If a baron arranges a marriage with a petty noble he gains 2 fame. This change in fame is a one-time event, it doesn't change later when the barons gain or lose fame

Add Hexes: Each baron is able to control a number of hexes equal to half his fame score (round down). If the baron had too many or too few hexes he will gain or lose one hex. Barons can only gairn or lose ONE hex per turn during this phase. For example the barons start with a fame of 7. When their fame rises to 9 they can take control of another hex (fief). The addition of hexes takes place at the end of the turn. The baron with the highest fame gets to choose which hexes he adds first, then the baron with the second highest fame, and so on. When a baron gains control of a hex he may choose to add any hex that borders his territory. He may not select a hex already controlled by another baron. If there are no uncontrolled hexes adjacent to his territory he doesn't get to add a hex. He must fight a battle with a neighboring baron to seize control of some of his land. When a baron loses control of a hex any castles and buildings in the lost hex are destroyed, and his fame is reduced accordingly. Once all the hexes on the map have been controlled by one of the barons you can skip this part of the turn.

Ending the Simulation: When you are ready to end the simulation announce that the king has died without an heir. One of the barons will become the new king. Divide each Baron's fame by 3 (round down, but the minimum is 1), this is the number of cards they can draw to determine the winner. A Baron may, if he chooses, decide to donate his cards (before they are drawn) to any other Baron. The Baron that draws the highest card wins. If it's a tie the Barons with the highest cards play their second best card (if they have one) to break the tie. Long live the new King!

Deck of Event Cards: Make a deck of event cards by writing the events on index cards. The number and mix of cards depends on how long you plan to run the simulation. At the start of each turn let one student draw a card for the special event this turn. If this seems like too much trouble the teacher can choose the event for each turn. Cards can include:

Normal Turn: No event this turn. You could put in several of these to pad the deck.

Drought: Receive half the normal income this turn. You can have more than one of these cards for a long simulation.

Year of Plenty: Collect double income this turn. You can have more than one of these cards for a long simulation.

Black Death: A deadly plague sweeps the land. Many serfs get sick and die, so they are unable to work on their farms. Income is cut in half this turn. There is an increased chance that each baron will also be killed by the plague.

War: The King starts a war in a foreign country; each baron must support the cause. Taxes are 6 gold this turn. Each baron must decide how many of his hexes will send troops to fight the war. The minimum number is three. If he is unable to send an army that large he loses one fame point. He may send a larger force. Each baron must secretly write down the size of the army he is sending. The baron that sends the largest army gains one fame point. Each hex that sends troops to the war can't be counted when fighting battles this turn. Each baron must decide whether he will personally go to war. If they do they gain one fame point but can't participate in battles this turn and run the risk of being killed.

Crusade: The Pope calls for a crusade. The effects are the same as for war except that taxes do not go up. Each baron that goes on the crusade gets to roll 1D6. The number rolled is the number of GOLD gained from the crusade (plunder).

The King Celebrates: The King celebrates an important event and all the barons have to give him a gift. Gifts must be at least 2 gold or the baron loses one fame point. Each baron secretly writes down how many gold they spend on the King's gift. The largest gift giver gains one fame point; the smallest giver loses one fame point. Random die rolls can be used to break any ties.

Tournament: The King holds a jousting tournament. Each baron competes to see who wins. Match up the barons randomly, if there is an odd number of competitors then the baron with the highest status gets a bye. Each competing baron draws a card from the deck, high card advances to the next round, low roller is eliminated from the competition. If it's a tie each player draws another card to break the tie. The champion gains two fame points, the second place winner gains one fame point.

Papal Visit: The Pope decides to visit one of the barons to thank him for supporting the church. Determine which baron has the most churches and monasteries. If there is a tie then the baron with the higher fame wins. If there is still a tie the two barons roll a die and high roll wins. The Pope will visit the winning baron's territory and a cathedral will be built in his home hex. The winning baron gains 1 fame point.

The King's Fair: The King decides to sponsor a great fair. Determine which baron has the most universities and burgs. If there is a tie then the baron with the higher fame wins. If there is still a tie the two barons roll a die and high roll wins. The fair will be held in the winning baron's territory. The winning baron gains 1 fame point.

Action Cost in Gold
Pay taxes varies each turn (usually 4)
Build new castle, university, monastery, church, or burg 2
Improve castle 1
Attack rival's hex 2

Action Fame
Can't pay taxes -1
Build new castle, university, monastery, church, or burg +1
Improve home castle +1 per 2 pts improvement
Win battle +1
Lose Battle -1
Baron dies lose 1/3
Marriage add 1/3 of other baron's total

Action Death of Baron (draw 1 card)
Plague, went to war, crusade, participate in a battle

Ace or 2
None of the above