Andrea Chiarvesio, Luca Iennaco
2 - 5
10 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

Let’s get one thing straight: Kingsburg is big. BIG. BIG with a vengeance. Ok, maybe not five-element-Robo-Rally-big, but it easily beats the space requirements of most board games. More on that later – for now, on to more relevant (and less spacious) aspects.

The Board
The Board

The setting is fairly straightforward: You are a duke overseeing your shire, trying to develop your territory (by erecting buildings) and defend it against invading hordes. In order to build you need resources of the three types represented in the game: wood, gold and stone. While these have no particular order of value, it is a little counter-intuitive that gold and wood are way easier to get than stone – but let us first focus on how to obtain resources and other essentials like defence points: The board of advisors.

Hard to miss on the board as it takes most of the space, the advisor gallery is the mechanism at the very core of Kingsburg, and where your dice-rolling skills dictate your fortune and fortunes alike. Valued from 1 to 18, there are 18 persons of increasing ‘influence’; that means that each advisor provides a different support to the player who bribes him or her, with the highest ranks (18, the king) obviously more powerful than the lowest servants. However, each advisor only gives you his/her specific support, so in some (many, actually) instances a lower valued advisor will suit your immediate needs better.

The lowest, value 1, is the fool, who grants the player one victory point. Most of the following advisors reap you resources, however, starting with one and maxing out at four. There are, however, a total of four services you can obtain from the advisors:

  1. Resources Specific or player-defined resources, from one to four (we had that)
  2. Defence points Up to two (can increase to three if you have a certain building) defence points for the upcoming battle (BMWs, as they are usually referred to because of their icon)
  3. Enemy forecast You can get a look at the next enemy to invade the territory, enabling you to judge the protection you and your shire need.
  4. (+2)-Markers (+2)-Markers are very handy in the bribing process, as they enable you to beg support from advisors which are normally out of your reach. Which brings us to…

The bribing process

[pullshow/]In each production phase (there is a total of 15, but more on that when we get to the overall run of play), each player rolls all their dice. Each player has three dice of their own colour, and these are always used. There is a chance to get extra white dice (permanently through a certain building, on an on-off basis as a consolation mechanism for being last in terms of erected buildings), but the three coloured ones are more important here. After all players have rolled, the sequence of play for this round is determined, with the lowest roll going first, then the next higher one etc.

Now, the first player chooses dice (one or more) and places them on the advisor which exactly (exceptions to follow) matches the point count of these dice. Then it is the next player’s turn, and he does likewise, with the catch that each advisor can only be bribed once per phase. That means that while having a low roll narrows down your options for lack of point total, other players may see their primary options blocked before they can make a move. After each player has placed dice on one advisor, the first player in the sequence of play opens the second round. Players can now place one (or more) of their remaining dice, but again: only on open spaces. Players can choose or be forced to pass if they run out of options, but in that case they cannot opt to place another dice in a potential round 3. Players who have already placed all coloured dice are obviously out of the bidding process. Once all players have passed or placed their final coloured dice (after round 3 at the latest), the bidding process concludes and the bribing nets rewards. But before that, here is a:

Short interruption: what about those white dice and (+2)-markers?

White dice can be placed alongside coloured dice as the player chooses, and they count their normal value. However, they can never be placed by themselves. (+2)-markers can also be placed alongside coloured dice, adding 2 to the dice count. However, each player can place no more than one marker in each phase! Apart from that, all placement is fine as long as there is at least one coloured die with each bribed advisor. And with that, back to the bribes…

Now the advisors are bribed in ascending order, the players getting the support of ‘their’ allies; usually the sequence doesn’t matter but with some things it does, so be a little patient.

After each bribing follows a building round, in which each duke can build exactly one new building by paying the required resources. The building takes place in the same order as the bribing, which is less relevant here since there are no restrictions based on what others do, but it can make a difference on a tactical level.

Your Shire (Building and buildings)

There is a selection of 20 different buildings your shire can potentially host, but you will never – can never – build them all.

Building a market
Building a market

These twenty are arranged in five (somewhat) thematic rows and four columns. The rows are more important here, as they determine a building sequence: you need to have all buildings to the left of the one you are looking to build, which is just another way of saying: build from left to right, which also increases the amount of resources needed and victory points gained per building. Besides victory points, each building gives you some kind of advantage – be it defensive strength, flexibility in bribing or other nifty stuff. It is recommended to check the buildings out carefully before the first game, and maybe get a first recommendation from a veteran.

Building itself is easy: every player has their own extra sheet which lists the buildings, costs, points and their special functions. You pay the resources, you place a marker of your colour on the building and get the victory points. Period. And of course: using the specific advantages in-game is your obligation to keep track of.

The big picture

So, let us get it all into perspective. We have only talked about the production phases thus far, and knowing that these are only 15 of 40 total, you may wonder why. Because: 20 of the remaining 25 usually take 10 seconds or less. That’s why!

The game is structured into five ‘years’, each of which looks the same and has eight phases. Phases 2, 4 and 6 are the production phases (spring, summer, fall), while winter (8) is the time the enemy arrives.

Phases 1 and 5, meanwhile, are part of the game mechanic that are intended for bottom-dwellers (least buildings) to catch up, by granting them an extra white die for one production phase (phase 1) or a joker that allows the player to once bribe an already occupied advisor or build twice in one phase – but just one of the two and only once during that year. Phase 3 on the other hand rewards the player with most buildings with an extra victory point. A strategy of Doctor Hood and Mr Filthy Rich, if you will.

In phase 7, you can buy additional defence points as a last gasp defence before the enemy arrives in phase 8. This goes a little something like this:

The End of Days
The End of Days

The enemy card for this year is turned up, revealing the enemy strength. There are different ones for each year, with increasing strengths – which one exactly comes up per year is random. Now one player rolls with one white die – this is the reinforcement each player gets from the king. This is added to the defence points (BMWs) and additional points players get from various buildings. If this count is higher than the enemy strength, you win and good things happen. If the enemy is better, bad things happen. VERY bad things (like losing a building and its victory points).

The player with most victory points after the fifth year clinches the game, glory and all those things that come with it.

So what’s to like about Kingsburg?

The game includes a luck-heavy and pretty interactive mechanism (bribing) in a game that otherwise pretty much has each player dealing on their own. Through two mechanisms geared at getting players which have not fared so well back into the mix, there is a nice balance. Since incoming resources are usually very short and even harder to predict, players need to tweak their strategies all the time. Furthermore, there is a certain risk-reward factor involved regarding the enemies: even if they know which enemy strength is coming up exactly, players need to decide how much risk they want to take when relying on the king’s support (i.e. the white die).

The game is easy to learn for a strategic game of this size, and provides lots of fun for quite some time. The game can be played with almost equal fun from two to five players, although with more players the luck factor becomes more important in the bribing phase, favouring the players with higher rolls more. (explanation is too lengthy here, I can explain upon request).

What’s not to like about Kingsburg?

Overall, the design is pretty nice. That being said, there are some odd aspects: gold looks like lemons, and the defence points resemble the BMW logo to a stunning degree only beaten by product placement in I, Robot. Then, to return to the introductory remarks, there is the size. [pullthis]I mean, it is nice to create a spacious board, but creating space on the board for resources, (+2) markers and making the advisor space extra large has not helped to make this a handy game[/pullthis]. Particularly if you consider that each duke also needs to put their shire on a flat, uncovered part of the table in order to place markers there. A little less would have been more in this case.

In terms of game play, while there is some variation to the strategy based on resources, most players will tend to have a preferred sequence of building, and rarely deviate far from what has proven to be a successful approach. Therefore, the scenarios will prove to be somewhat repetitive after a while, lacking the genuine novelty that keeps other games fresh for seemingly forever.

Bottom line, however, is that Kingsburg is lots of fun, particularly since it is easy to learn and combines elements of strategy and luck, interaction and self-relying game-play into a good mould. If you are looking for deep strategic challenges then Kingsburg might prove a bit too shallow in the long run, but you won’t get bored in a hurry either.

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