KINGSBURG (Elfinwerks, 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, 90 minutes; $60)
Kingsburg is a city building game for 2-5 players by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco. In it, players are Governors sent by the King to administer over frontier territories. The players influence advisors (using dice to mark the advisors influenced by each Governor) to get resources and soldiers. The resources are used to build up these frontier territories and the soldiers are used to fight off winter invaders.
When playing Kingsburg, you really do not feel like you are a Governor influencing advisors. Even so, it is a good, enjoyable game. As with Yspahan (Winter 2007 GA REPORT), Kingsburg has an innovative dice rolling mechanic (different from the one in Yspahan) which is performed 3 times each round (for 6 rounds). Some turns, you’ll have bad die rolling but there are things to mitigate this, either in the game’s mechanics or steps you can take, so you don't feel as though you are a hostage to the luck of the dice.
The game has a couple of features reminiscent of Wallenstein (Fall 2002 GA REPORT) and its re-themed version, Shogun, without the same level of strategy. Specifically, you have four seasons each round and in the last season, winter, you could face disaster that you should plan ahead for during the previous three seasons. In Wallenstein and Shogun, players collect grain and gold over three productive seasons. The grain is used to feed the people for winter and gold is used to pay soldiers used to attack or defend against other player’s soldiers or rebelling farmers (who do not like to give up their gold and grain as tithe to their master, you!). If you don’t have enough food for winter, you face a revolt from the peasants (you took their gold and grain but didn’t feed them!) In Kingsburg, you have three seasons to collect resources and soldiers to prepare for winter and if you do not prepare enough, invaders will come and do nasty things to you. Again, you do things to help you win the game during the three productive seasons, but must also do things to prepare for winter. Keep in mind, though, that Kingsburg is much lighter (without being too light) than Wallenstein and Shogun.
So what are the mechanics of the game, specifically? There are 6 rounds (years), each of which is broken up into 8 steps or phases. Odd numbered steps are very quick and are designed to either reward the player in front or help the player furthest behind catch up. This is a nice balance. Step 1 gives an extra die to the player with the fewest buildings (more on those later). Step 5 gives the “King’s envoy” which can be used once during an even step. After use or if not used by the end of step 4 of the following year, it is returned to supply to be rewarded at the next step 5. I will describe what this piece does when describing the even rounds next.
Steps 2, 4 and 6 are entirely identical (these represent spring, summer and fall respectively). You roll your dice, normally three dice (you can get an extra die, for example, by help of the King in step 1). Turn order is in decreasing order of total. So the player with the lowest total goes first with the player with the highest total going last.
The main part of the board consists of boxes numbered from 1 to 18. Each box has its own reward and varies from low rewards for lower numbers (a single victory point or a single resource) to high rewards for higher numbers On your turn, you get to place a die or dice in one box to gain its reward after all placements have taken place. You can place any number of your die in the box corresponding to the box number. Suppose you’ve rolled a 1 and 3 and 6. You can place a single die, like playing your 1 die in the 1 box or the 3 die in the 3 box. You can place two dice, like the 1 and 3 in the 4 box or the 3 and 6 in the 9 box. You can place all three dice in the 10 box. After you place in one box, the next player gets to place in a single box. When all players have placed in a single box, the turn order repeats. The first player gets to place any remaining dice (1 or 2) in the appropriate box, provided it is empty of any die placed previously unless you have the King’s envoy. One of its two uses is that you can use it (and return it to the stock) once to place a die in a box that has already been claimed. If you use it to place in a box that you have already placed in, then you get the reward twice.
After all dice that can be placed, have been placed, players collect their rewards. Then they (in turn order) use the resources to build a single building on their personal but identical building sheet. (Each player can have a building regardless of whether others have the same building.) Buildings can do things like mitigating bad rolls. For example, there’s the market which lets you (once each even step) place die or dice in the spot one above or below where it should be. So if you have a combination of dice that gives you 9 (or 11) and you either cannot play on that space because it’s taken or because you want the reward of 10 instead, you can use your market to place on the 10. Buildings can also give you military strength that helps you for the winter (more on this later). There’s also a building that lets you use less resources to build certain buildings. Most buildings reward some victory points. Buildings are arrayed in stages so that you have to build a stage I building before building the building to its immediate right in stage II. Within each stage, less powerful buildings usually reward more victory points to balance out the buildings. Victory point rewards then go up as you move to the right, going to a higher stage. Victory points (whether attained through rewards or from building buildings are shown on the victory point track right away). The other use of the King’s envoy is that it can be used once (and then returned to stock) to build a second building when in the building phase.
In step 8, creatures (zombies, barbarians, demons, etc.) invade. You fight them off using the total of your military strength from buildings and soldiers. Soldiers can be accumulated in several ways: through rewards (spaces 5 and 10 reward 1 and 2 soldiers, respectively), buildings (an extra solder when claiming the reward on space 5 or 10) or buy purchase ((2 resources per soldier) in step 7. The invading army of creatures is represented by a face down card. Players know ahead of time the range of strength for that year’s creature but not the exact strength until it’s revealed in winter, at step 8. For example, year 1’s invaders could have a strength of 2-4. At the beginning of the game, there are several cards for each round and one is randomly picked and placed in a pile to be revealed during winter of the appropriate year. While players do not know the exact strength, only the range, there are ways to see the exact strength of the card. There are two spaces (10 and 17) that include a peek at the card. This peek is not necessary since you can plan for the worst case scenario (e.g. 4 in year 1).
Each invader card has its own reward for players beating the invaders and its own penalty for players losing to the invaders. Tying the invaders has no gain or loss. The player(s) with the largest military total gain a victory point bonus for defeating these enemies. After the war, all soldiers (considered mercenaries hired for the one fight) are lost for the next year but military strength from buildings is permanent. However, keep one thing in mind, one of the possible penalties for losing to the invaders is to lose a building (the building in the rightmost stage closest to the top of your building sheet).
The player with the most Victory Points at the end of the final year is the victor.
My experience teaching this game has been that the explanation before the game can seem slightly hard to follow, but once step 2 of the first year has finished, it all clicks, and that is how simple the game really is when everything is in front of you.
The designers have recently revealed that an expansion is coming. According to published reports, the expansion is nearly done (at the time of the writing of this review) and there are hopes for its release in time for Essen 2008. As reported, the planned expansion will consist of five "modules" (think about them as five mini-expansions, if you prefer). Each module can be added (or not) to the game, in order to customize it to your likings (and/or to have a slightly different challenge each time). They are:
1. Two extra rows of buildings (one more expensive than any other to build but granting many resources; the other the cheapest of them all giving small but nice bonuses);
2. Seven "alternative rows" of buildings, each replacing one of the seven standard ones. Each player gets two of these during setup and thus has a slightly different board than the others to manage;
3. More than twenty Characters, each one with a special ability. Every player gets one of them (chosen within the three randomly dealt to him in the setup) and enjoys his/her power for the whole game (may be points, resources, small rule-bending triggering upon actions of the opponents, etc.);
4. More than twenty Events. They're shuffled and one is revealed at the start of each year, producing a special effect (good, neutral or damaging) for that year only, applied equally to all players;
5. An alternative to the die roll in determining winter reinforcements. Instead, each player gets six tokens numbered from 0 to 3. At the beginning of each Winter, you use and discard a token to get that many extra soldiers from the King. The token remaining after the fifth year converts into that many points. This seems to be a good way to resolve the issue of a heavy dependence on the winter die roll that some have complained about.
In summary, I like Kingsburg and recommend it to anyone because it has two key components to make a game worth playing: 1) it is fun to play and 2) it has different levels to it, so that more casual gamers can basically just play and enjoy it, while more serious gamers can find plenty of strategy and options to try as paths to victory. Don’t get me wrong, the casual gamer will most likely lose to a serious gamer but they can play it without putting too much thought into moves. Give it a try and have fun! - - - - Jeff Feuer
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