Jul 30, 2012

Pro's and Con's Review: King for a Day

Format: Card Game
Designers: Mike Petty
Publisher: The Game Crafter

In this Pro's and Con's review, I'm going to have a look at King for a Day a neat card available through The Game Crafter that deftly mixes elements of city building with a fun party game twist.

King for a Day would be fairly straightforward city building card game if not for a cool and unique mechanism that brings in a social element that should be more familiar to fans of party games than typical strategy board gamers. This interesting twist is at the centre of King for a Day. You see, the game is played in several rounds for the duration of which one player will be king or queen. Each round represents a day, get it, King for a Day! Every player gets to be king for a day, well, two actually by the time the game is over (three days if you're only three players). So, what does it mean to be king? At the start of each round, the current king or queen will draw a card from the "Deal" deck and read it out loud as an offer to the other players. Here's the party game twist that will be familiar to anyone who has played games like BalderdashApples to Apples or What?: Each player will secretly write down what they would like to offer the king in order to be awarded the Deal card. These cards are extremely valuable and may give immediate or lasting bonuses. After having read the offers, the king will choose one, awarding the player the Deal card in exchange for whatever the player had offered. This aspect of the game really is the meat as it's great fun to watch the offers escalate over the course of the game as players have more money, resources and even previously earned Deal cards to offer up to the current monarch.

So, that's the gist of the game, now let's have a closer look at King for a Day from a professional and a consumer point of view, shall we?

Professional's Take:
As mentioned above, the party game aspect is central to both the theme and the feel of play and is the games strongest point. The rules are clear about what players may or may not offer and also encourage players to write down notes to the king or queen to try to influence their decision. This has, however, never come up in play for me as everyone seemed content to simply let their offers speak for themselves. One thing the rules aren't clear about is whether or not the king is expected to read the offers out loud to all players. In all the games I've played we have never divulged the deals that were offered to us while being king or queen. Only a player's Resource cards are kept secret from others, though, so it's always possible to know how much money has changed hands and whether or not Deal cards were part of the exchange. I don't think the game would play out very differently either way, but having the offers read out loud might add to the social aspect and help player better gauge what is appropriate to offer.

For a game that's basically about city building, it can seem a little short. With four or five players, the game lasts two full rounds during which each player gets to be king once and one extra turn with no player as king. Everyone at the table seemed to agree that, though this makes for a game length that feels just about perfect, it doesn't leave you with much time to build a very impressive a city. I must admit that with subsequent play, it's possible to anticipate this and attempt to start building earlier, but I can't help but wonder if the game could benefit from a bit of a kick start. Perhaps modifying the set-up rules so players have more money or resources to play with could allow players to start building right away rather than have to draw cards for a round or two before having the necessaries resources to build their first building.

Finally, the Deal cards, for the most part, are really powerful. This makes sense, as it's pretty much the main hook of the game, but can lead to a bit of a problem. Since players are allowed to offer Deal cards they already own to the current king as part of their offer for the currently contested Deal card, a player who has few Deal cards can be put at a significant disadvantage that can quickly snowball to an almost inevitable loss. In one game we played, one of the players finished the game with only a single Deal card. At first, this was due to him offering, either, less than or as much as other players and simply not getting picked, but as other players started collecting Deal cards, he was left without the advantages of Deal cards, which could have given him more resources or gold to offer and without Deal cards themselves to offer the current King. This all got compounded by unfortunate draws as the King where he put up Deal cards we weren't really interested in, so he never got much from us for them. Unfortunately, his early set backs kept him from clawing his way back into the running by the second round, and we left him in the dust in the end. Since who gets which Deal card is, in the end, at the discretion of the current king, it's hard to see a way around this issue. Perhaps if the current king could choose one of two or three Deal cards to offer the other players, it would make it less likely that someone be stuck drawing undesirable cards for the whole game, unable to get the other players to put up anything juicy in exchange.

Consumer's Take:
King for a Day isn't exactly a looker. For the most part, this isn't really a problem, but it does get in the way of the readability of the iconography. It's a good thing the resource icons are coloured differently, because they can be quite hard to read at their small size on the cards forcing players to either pick up cards to read them or craning their necks over the centre of the table for a closer look. All in all a bit of a shame as it would be nice to see artwork on par with the quality of the gameplay.

On a similar note, woe to the visual learners as their are no graphical examples in the rules. The only illustration, other than the game's title is an example Resource card with a few notations. Thank goodness the game is fairly simple and straightforward, because the lack of visuals in the rules certainly doesn't make the game any easier to learn. Another, unfortunate, by-product of this is that the rules are made harder to reference during play as there are no illustrations to use as landmarks when trying to quickly find information mid-game.

On the subject of clarity, some links between rules and components are never explicitly made. For example, you can't find the word "resource" anywhere on the Resource cards and the word "building" is nowhere to be found on the Building cards. Now, these are fairly easy assumptions to make if you understand the rules, but they are, none the less, assumptions you are asking the player to make. As all these different card types have different coloured backs anyway, it would have been a good idea, in my opinion, to write the card type on the backs so that players wouldn't be asked to assume which card type is which, they could simply read it off the card backs. Another possible point of confusion is in the name of "Deal" cards. As the verb "deal" is also used in the rules, both in the context of "making a deal" as well as "deal the cards". It might have been a good idea to rethink its inclusion. Perhaps the Deal cards could have been named Favours? Again, it's not game breaking, but it sure doesn't help with clarity.

Ok, ok, that was a lot of negativity there. To make things clear, these are all production issues. The underlying game is actually quite fun and easy to play. It can feel a tad short, ending just as you seem to hit your stride, but, otherwise, plays in about the right amount of time given it's relative simplicity. I tend to think that a game is at it's best when it gives you the right amount of time to explore its systems while not overstaying its welcome and King for a Day mostly gets this right. If anything, the short length only makes me want to play it again to try something different and see how it plays out. Oh, there is one last little thing that my testers and I found strange. The rules don't state if player are obligated to offer anything for the Deal card offered by the King or whether or not the King must accept an offer at all. We simply assumed that the King does have to accept one of the offers but that players are allowed to offer nothing.

So, all in all, a fun blend of  a social and a strategy game that is, mostly, only held back by low production values. It really is too bad this game isn't more of a looker because it could otherwise be a good gateway game for new players. Unfortunately, you'll have to do the old "If you can just get over the way it looks..." routine to convince non-gamers. You should, however, have no trouble getting this to the table with players who understand that the fun of a game is much more than skin deep.

Images from boardgamegeek.com

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