Jan 16, 2012

Pro's and Con's Review: Kingsburg

Format: Boardgame
Designers:Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco
Publisher:Fantasy Flight Games

In this Pro's and Con's review I'll be having a go at Kingsburg from Fantasy Flight Games. Kingsburg, it's a dice game with meat on it's bones!

For those not in the know, my Pro's and Con's reviews bring together the two sides of me as a game's enthusiast, the professional side where I take a more analytical look at the game and the consumer side where I tell you what I think of the game as a player.

Ok, let's get it out of the way, I like dice. But, do you know what I like more than dice? Dice used in novel ways. In Kingsburg players spend the meat of the game rolling three dice to use them to "influence" advisors to the king, the rub is that a player can't influence an advisor that has already been influenced creating the ability for players to block each other, which is always good for a laugh. Advisors generally grant you resources used to build buildings for score or advantages so influencing the right advisors is key.

Professional's Take:
Kingsburg is played over a number of rounds referred to as "years". Each year is divided into 7 phases across 4 seasons. Every second phase has you playing though a "productive season" which is when all the players will roll their dice and use them to influence the various advisors. Influencing an advisor is accomplished by matching the value of the advisor (1 to 18) on any number of your dice. Players take turns doing this based on who rolled best at the start of the season (lower rolls first) so by the time the turn comes around to you the advisor you were gunning for may have been claimed by a rival player.. Oh Snap! As the game progresses you may gain a temporary fourth die, or the ability to add or subtract from your roll etc. All this adds up to a pretty great palette of choices by the end of the game. These phases are really the meat of the gameplay and it really works. The gameplay is simple, can be adversarial and encourages you to think ahead. A fun, creative use of dice.

After having rolled your dice, influenced the right advisors and collected the resources you need it's time to build a building. This aspect of the game could have been a little more involved perhaps. I mean, it works, but there's nothing particularly interesting mechanically speaking. Every player is given a board with a matrix of building. Each building has a resource cost to build and will grant some advantage, like victory points, or other helpful bonuses. I guess that's a bit of an over simplification. The grid is set up such that you have different types of buildings up and down and different "levels" of buildings from left to right. Meaning you can build any level one building but need to have the right level one building to build the corresponding level two building and so forth. As stated before, it's not amazing but it works and is, at least, not convoluted or complex for no good reason.

Consumer's Take:
As the year progresses, a marker moves down a track depicting the seasons and showing some interim scoring and bonuses. These are mostly a catch up mechanism to give an extra die to the trailing player or the ability to build an extra building or influence an adviser that an opponent has also influenced, helpful things, you know. But that's not the big deal. The big deal is the looming, ever impending winter! At the end of each year comes winter, during which players will have to test their military strength against an attacking hoard drawn from a deck. You never know for sure what you'll be facing (well, that's not totally true, there are advisers that let you peek) so there's this sense of encroaching dread at facing the attack at the end of each turn. Winning means you get some bonuses, usually points, and losing means you'll have to suffer the loss of resources, points, and maybe even a building! I found that even though there really is nothing to the combat, the potential punishment or reward of it really creates this mounting sense of tension as the year end looms. I really got into this.

Another thing the game captures very well is a sense of progression. By the end of the game you've got all sorts of new options available to you to affect die rolls when influencing or to help you out in combat or to affect the price of building that it really feels like things have happened. The fact that this end game state is very much contingent on the building path you choose also means you can play the game several times without ending up in the same exact place twice.

All in all the game really has a better sense of atmosphere than I would have originally thought. The parts come together nicely to give you that feeling of building a.. whatever it is you're building.

To cap things off, I want to mention the iPhone app which I've spend many, MANY hours playing. It's nicely implemented with great production value. It familiarized me enough with the game to give me a running start at the board game on my first go with new players too. My only complaint is that I find myself having to flip through the different views because the screen just can't hold all the info you have on the table when playing the board game, but this is a minor gripe.

Images from: Boardgamegeek.com

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