Posted by: gschloesser | August 4, 2011

Kingsburg

Design by:  Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco
Published by:  Stratelibri and Elfin Works
2 – 5 Players, 1 ½ – 2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Games being released by a collaboration of publishers seem to be increasing in popularity.  Perhaps this is being done as a way to spread the financial costs amongst a variety of entities, or give the game more widespread distribution.  Kingsburg is one such game, being a cooperative release by both Stratelibri and ElfinWerks.  In addition, it is also a collaboration between two Italian designers, Andrea Chiarversio and Luca Iennaco. 

I was keen on trying the game, as it seemed to be quite clever and was visually appealing.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to play during the Spiel in Essen.  My first experience, however, did not exactly “wow!” me.  I found the game to be fine, but just not terribly exciting.  Still, I did not want to judge it on just one play, especially since that one playing was during the convention, where it is notorious for games to be played incorrectly.  I am very happy I didn’t judge the game with just one playing, as it has now risen to become one of my favorite games from Essen 2007. 

The theme of Kingsburg is an all-too-familiar, yet popular fantasy setting.   The king is expanding his territories, and players represent his governors who are charged with the task of developing those areas and protecting them from rampaging enemies.  Players must call upon the aid of a variety of the king’s advisors and court members to aid in their tasks.  The governor who has best achieved his task in five years – five turns – will win the favor of the king.

The game is lavishly produced, with fantastic artwork and an abundance of quality components.  The main board graphically depicts the king and seventeen members of his court.  Each is assigned a unique number (1 – 18), and each will grant specific rewards, usually in the form of resources or victory points.  There are also various spaces on the board to track of the phases, turns and turn order, house the resources, special tokens and enemy deck, and track the players’ military strength and victory points.  In spite of all of these tracks and information, the board remains uncluttered. 

In addition to three dice and a supply of building tokens, each player receives a province board whereupon they will track the buildings they construct in their territory.  There are five building tracks, each containing five buildings.  Various combinations of resources are required to construct the buildings, and once erected, they will convey special benefits to the player.  These benefits include bonuses when fighting enemies, victory points, the ability to manipulate the dice, or even the granting of an extra die.  Choosing which buildings to construct is a vital cog in a player’s strategy. 

Each turn consists of eight phases, three of which are identical productive phases.  In these phases, players roll their three dice – plus any bonus dice they may have received – and then assign them to members of the king’s court.  A player may divide his dice amongst the court members as he sees fit.  For example, if a player rolls a 2, 3, & 6, he can choose any of the following options: 

  • Combine all of the dice together and place them on the Swordsmith (#11)
  • Combine the “2” & “3” and place them on the Sergeant (#5) and place the “6” on the Alchemist (#6)
  • Combine the “2” & “6” and place them on the Treasurer (#8) and place the “3” on the Architect (#3)
  • Combine the “3” & “6” and place them on the Master Hunter (#9) and place the “2” on the Squire (#2) 

The tricky part is that players must alternate placing each set of dice.  Since each advisor can only have one set of dice placed upon him, it occurs frequently that some players may not be able to place all of their dice.  This is a very tense and exciting part of the game, as it allows for players to be a bit nasty when placing dice so as to deny certain advisors to their opponents.  Indeed, occasionally players are left unable to place one or more of their dice as all of the advisors onto which they might have been able to place them have been claimed. 

After all dice are placed, players claim their rewards.  Most advisors grant resources in various combinations.  Some will also grant victory points, tokens that allow the player to increase the value of a set of dice by “2”, additional armies for defense, and/or allow the player to peak at the enemy that will invade at the end of the turn.  All are valuable, but players must attempt to select advisors that will provide the benefits they desire to help support their overall strategy. 

Players then have the opportunity to construct ONE building.  Players may construct a building on any of the five tracks, but they must construct them in order on each track.  There is a danger of concentrating on one track, as some enemies will destroy a player’s most valuable building if they are victorious in battle.  

In the penultimate phase of each turn, players have the opportunity to surrender resources to add to their defense strength.  This can be important, as the enemies that invade the territories increase in strength with each passing turn.  Players will know the potential strength of the enemy, as is depicted on the reverse of the cards as a possible range of values.  However, unless they choose an advisor during the turn that allows them to peak at the impending enemy, they will not know the exact strength, the race of the invaders (goblins, zombies, demons, etc.), or the rewards or penalties depending upon the outcome of the battle. 

Battle is handled in a very swift and basic manner.  Players will each have an individual defense strength that grows based on the defensive rewards granted by advisors utilized that turn.  To this is added an amount of troops supplied by the king, which is based on a common die roll.  Further, some buildings grant additional defensive strength.  The top enemy card is revealed, and every player whose defense value exceeded the strength of the enemy receives the indicated rewards.  Players who did not equal or exceed the attacker’s strength suffer the indicated penalties, which can be quite harsh.  The wise player will attempt to insure that he can best the enemy, particularly in later rounds. 

The three other phases of each turn are quick assessments to determine who has either the most or fewest buildings constructed in their territory.  In the first phase, the player with the fewest buildings earns an extra “white” die for the first productive phase, while in the fifth phase this player receives the king’s envoy, which can be used to construct a second building or place dice on a court member that has already been claimed.  In the third phase, the player with the most buildings earns a victory point.  Obtaining an extra white die can be quite beneficial and add great flexibility when placing dice.  The envoy is also quite valuable, and earning both is sure to reap handsome rewards! 

The game continues in this fashion through five turns, with the player with the most victory points earning the king’s favor and winning the game.  A typical game takes from 1 ½ hours – 2 hours to complete, which is right about perfect for this game. 

I really cannot explain why the game did not grab me the first time I played.  Perhaps because there is nothing strikingly new, or maybe I was worried that the limited number of buildings and tracks could cause the game to grow stale.  The latter concern might still be valid, but with nearly a half-dozen plays under my belt, that has not occurred yet.  Instead, I find the game fun and exciting, with lots of factors to consider and balance.  I don’t think there is one perfect strategy, as I have tried several and all have seemed to fail!  

There is no denying that some luck with the dice does come in handy.  Rolling high numbers is advantageous, so a string of high rolls could prove to be a benefit that is insurmountable to those less fortunate.  However, such swings of fortune tend to even themselves out over the course of the game, as each player will roll the dice fifteen times.  

Several folks have commented that the dice distribution method is reminiscent of To Court the King, and I agree.  However, for my tastes, it is put too much better use here, and the surrounding game is far superior.  To be fair, however, To Court the King is intended to be a light filler, whereas Kingsburg is meant to be a light-to-middleweight main course.  I feel the game fulfills its objective extremely well, and it has proven to be popular in a variety of social settings.  There are enough decisions to give the game a strategy feel, yet they are not too taxing to cause the game to be a mental chore.  Further, it is easily learned and understood, allowing novices to compete immediately with more seasoned players.  That is not an easy feat to achieve, but Kingsburg succeeds. 

I am very happy I gave the game a second chance, as my opinion has improved dramatically.  I hope this is a good sign of things to come from this Italian duo.

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Responses

  1. Kingsburg combines dice rolling with worker placement and resource allocation. The board and mats are both drawn on the busy side and that is offputting, but the bigger issue is the linearity of the game. Sure, you can pick the tracks you want to develop, but that feels like one of the last real decisions. It lasts one round too long. (5/10)

  2. Good dice fest. Better than To Court the King. Trip says it is to long but I think the problem is people take to long. You need to play dice games fast, very fast. 6/10 There is an expansion that adds a few nice features. If you like the base game you will want the expansion. 7/10


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