Finally managed to play Louis XIV this week and I agree it is a great game with plenty to think about. Some have said that the rules are a bit difficult to digest at first but I found it fairly straightforward. There are a lot of different options available to you but they are fairly easy to understand.
It is an area influence game played over four rounds, each of which is split into four phases. First you get some influence cards and income for the round, the latter enabling you to buy the rewards of some of the areas, if you don't end up having the most influence. The second phase involves placing influence markers in the 12 areas being contested. Where these are played is determined by the area shown on your influence cards and adjacency to that area. Up to three markers can be played in the card's area or you can spread the three out to different adjoining areas. Going last / having more influence markers available is the big advantage here. Once markers are placed, the third phase involves rewarding the leader in each area with mission chips, shields, gold, further influence markers etc. The final phase involves cashing in combinations of mission chips to complete the mission cards you are holding. This is the key objective, as completed missions are worth 5 VPs at the end of the game, shields are worth 1 VP and gold/other items can only be exchanged for shields. Keeping up with the leader in missions is a big goal. After the fourth round, there are bonus shields awarded for those with the most shields and whoever then has amassed the most VPs wins.
The others had all played before so I used the usual claim of being at a big disadvantage, hoping they'd leave the newbie alone. Fat chance, as Nige stole a key area from me in the first round, meaning I could only complete one mission. I managed to return the favour in the next round and Mark K, Nige and I were all tied for missions completed going into the last round. I had more shields than the others at that stage but Mark K had loads of gold. Mark G was trailing in missions but had by far the most shields, as he had completed 2 missions in the earlier rounds which entitled him to an extra shield on each subsequent turn. The final round would have been close between Mark K and me, if I hadn't completely messed up my final placement of influence markers, despite the others asking me if I was sure that was what I wanted to do. I had thought I had 3 more influence than Nige in a key area but I only had 2 more and he whopped his final 3 markers in that region to steal it again from my grasp. Comments about my lack of ability to count to 4 caused some amusement among my fellow players - I didn't see what was so funny! That meant that only Mark K was able to complete 2 missions in that round and the shield bonuses didn't have a major effect so Mark claimed a famous victory.
Despite my pitiful display in the last round, I really enjoyed Louis XIV. Working out how best to achieve your objectives takes a fair bit of thought but the game seems to have a nice balance so that if you miss out on one round, you should be better placed to do well in the next. I think it is one of the best games I've played this year and the others thought it worked better with 4 than 3. A good choice for the Deutsche Spiel Preis, I think.