ROYAL PALACE (Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; $39.95)
The Royal Court is a strange and wonderful thing. So much privilege can be granted if only one manages to capture the ear and hold the attention of the aristocrats therein. And that is the challenge for players in the new game designed by Xavier Georges: Royal Palace.
Royal Palace comes with a game board, 9 area tiles, gold pieces, noble tiles, privilege cards and 100 wooden servants (in four colors) along with 4 summary cards and 8 pages of rules. The board shows the castle grounds and the 42 noble tiles are shuffled with 36 of them randomly placed on the castle grid. They are then turned face up with the remainder removed from play.
The 9 castle space tiles are randomly placed to form a 3 x 3 grid. These areas consist of the gateway, the office, the mint, the cardinal, the back door, the King's chamber, Madame de Pompadour, parade ground and stairway. All of these exert certain "powers" as the game progresses. (It is suggested that, at least on the first play, the gateway be the centerpiece. That is an excellent suggestion.)
Privilege cards are placed, face down, next to the board and each player takes 18 servants in his chosen color. Each player now places 3 of his servants on the stairway and 2 servants on the parade ground. With a start player chosen, gold is distributed with (when playing with four) 1 gold given to the player to his left, 2 to the next player and 3 to the final other player. The start player receives no gold for himself. Now, the start player places 5 servants, some, all or none, in any of the 9 castle areas. After all of the other players do the same, the game commences.
In turn, players will act upon privileges won in the castle spaces in order to "enlist" nobles from the castle grounds. How successful they are in enlistment depends upon how successful they are within the castle. Each castle space allows you to do a specific action and they are resolved in order.
For each servant in the parade ground, the player can place 1 servant from his supply to the gate. If you have more servants there than any other player, you may place 1 additional servant on the gate.
Each servant on the stairway allows you to move any of your servants that number of spaces to adjacent castle areas, horizontally or vertically. Again, if a player has more servants there than any other player, he gets an additional move. The mint provides a source of income as players receive 1 gold for each servant there. (Majority? 1 extra gold). At the King's Chamber and Madame de Pompadour, players earn blue and violet seals, respectively, 1 for each servant. Seals are useful and often necessary to enlist nobles. If a majority, an additional servant is placed thereby getting an additional seal. The office allows players to actually perform the "enlistment" process, one enlistment per servant there. (No majority bonus.)
All noble counters display their cost in a combination of gold and/or seals. They can also be a source for additional privileges (such as generating gold each turn or aiding in castle movement). If a player has the necessary gold and/or seals, a player claims the noble tile by taking one of his servants from the office, removing the number of servants from the King's Chamber and/or Madame de Pompadour's rooms equal to the amount of seals needed and pay the required gold to the supply. (As the game goes on and more spaces claimed, the cost, in gold, can be reduced if a noble in play is bordered by empty or claimed spaces.) Then, he takes the noble tile, removes it from the board and places it in his play area. If the tile had occupied a space on the parade ground perimeter, the player places one of this servants in the vacated spot to indicate that player's influence there.
Remaining castle spaces are the back door and the cardinal. The back door allows players to draw 1 privilege card per servant there. All privilege cards are good but, depending on your own position, some are better than others. Some are free to use; some cost gold. If he chooses to keep the card (or cards), he must remove 1 servant per card kept, back to the supply. Privilege cards can be very powerful by giving players automatic majorities, additional movement, extra gold, additional privilege cards, more seals. Fortunately, for game balance, most of these are one use only and then discarded. The player with the most servants in the cardinal space wins all ties, a useful ability particularly when servants are at a premium and ties often occur as players try to stretch their resources to the limit.
Rounds continue until there are 12 or fewer nobles on the castle grounds. At that point, each player gets one final turn and then, Victory Points are tallied.
Nobles recruited during the game are worth their marked VPs. Played privilege cards can also add to a player's VP total. Privilege cards left unplayed are worth 1 VP each (up to a maximum of 6 VPs). Finally the park perimeter is scored.
Nobles located on the perimeter are used in calculating "influence". Each claimed space occupied by a servant along the edge is valued at "1". If a servant occupies a corner space, he counts when calculating TWO sides. A servant in the "alcove" on each side is valued at "2". The player with the most influence on a side scores 6 VPs; the player with the second most influence scores 2 VPs. If a tie, players both score the next lowest value so a tie for 1st nets both players 2 VPs; a tie for second earns nothing. The player with the highest combined total of VPs wins the game!
In Royal Palace, interaction between players is limited between perimeter positioning (as ties in influence there are unfriendly) and for majority control in castle areas that offer majority bonuses. But castle area majority bonuses are generally short-lived advantages. When used, servants are often whisked away from one castle area to another or off the board. This fluidity of movement and positioning makes long range planning and grand strategic objectives difficult as the board situation can (and often does) change a good deal by the time your turn comes around again. Down time can be significant, particularly on the first play. However, with more experienced players who know what each castle area can do and how they interact with each other, a sense of what you want to do and how to do it comes easier and down time diminishes.
Royal Palace shares something of the nature of Louis XIV (Summer 2005 GA REPORT) in its theme of political machinations at the Royal Court as well as the game mechanism of character boards/castle spaces. But Royal Palace takes it all a bit further with its dual nature. In essence, there are two distinct yet related games going on. On the one hand, players maneuver servants through the castle to generate needed gold and seals to enlist nobles. On the other hand, players compete for nobles and influence on the castle grounds. This dual nature makes Royal Palace a very tactical and well crafted game of political positioning and influence that I enjoy more and more with each successive play. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy
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