In this die-chuckin', worker-placement classic, players take on the role of Barons charged by the King to guard and develop the hinterlands of the realm.
Over the course of five years (represented by twenty individual turns) players gather raw materials, construct buildings and shore up their battlements. Every four turns the kingdom is attacked by external invaders, which each player must overcome to avoid calamity and claim a reward.
In order to acquire the money and resources to muster armies and construct buildings, players need to suck up to the high profile members of the King's Court. This is represented by the game board itself, which depicts these Advisors in order of relative authority, ranging from the lowly Jester (number 1) all the way up to the King himself (number 18). Everyone rolls three Influence Dice and the player with the lowest total gets to exert their Influence first.
Players can either combine their total to influence the more powerful members of the King's retinue or split their dice up to hold sway over several lesser personages. Each courtier will grant specific rewards, whether it be Victory Points, Gold, Timber, Soldiers, Stone, dice upgrades or insight into next impending threat. The player with the most Victory Points at the end of the last turn is declared the King's official butt-monkey and wins the game.
Wanna know every possible way to curry regal favor? You can read all of the game's rules right here.
In past matches I've gone for an all-out Military campaign, primarily because I'm so paranoid about the winter invasions. I usually overcompensate as a result, handily winning the battles but neglecting my Victory Point goals in the process. This time I decided to invest heavily in Victory Point buildings and rely on our usual good luck in drawing weaker threats and making high defense rolls. This meant that I had to construct the uppermost tier of "religious" buildings.
After a few Influence rolls, I earned enough scratch build a Statue. In addition to giving me three immediate Victory Points, it also gave me the ability to re-roll any triple die results. Admittedly not very common, but it certainly insulates you against a disastrous roll of triple ones or twos.
Acquiring a Chapel was a lot more helpful, since it allowed me to re-roll die totals of seven or less. And let me tell ya, folks, I needed it. Whereas both Dean and Andrew rolled several obscenely large die results (even claiming that saucy minx the Queen on several occasions), I ended up optioning "6" and "9" more times then I care to admit.
After an attack of paranoia over the impending threat of invasion, I abandoned my Military sanctions and constructed a Guard Tower towards the end of the round (granting me a +1 bonus in battle). As per tradition, we ended up drawing some weak-ass Goblins and rolling very high for defense. So handily was this foe defeated that I immediately went back to work on my false sense of security.
Meanwhile my opponents had not been idle. Dean also broke with convention by pursuing the Merchant Guild route. He used the two-pip die modifier from his Inn to great effect, turning fair rolls into consistently good rolls. Later, he paired this up with a Market, giving him the ability to pick an Advisor one level higher (or lower) then his die result. You wouldn't think that three increments of wiggle room would make that much difference, but it really gave him the flexibility to pick and choose what he wanted, even after a mediocre roll.
Although Andrew pursued a path similar to mine, he didn't have to choose between Military and Clergy thanks to his vastly superior die rolls. As such, he had the cheddar to protect his newly acquired Statue and Chapel with a Guard Tower (+1 in Battle ) and a Palisade (+1 in battle, +2 vs. Zombie Apocalypse). Although we continued to shrug off the winter incursions without working up so much as a sweat, we all knew that our luck couldn't last forever.
As bad as my rolling was, Chad's was monumentally worse. To compensate for the myriad of eight or less die results, he started picking the Jester's +1 Victory Point consolation prize. In fact, he did this so often that this move was eventually re-christened "THE CHAD". In an effort to offset his horrendous luck, he also embraced the fate-altering power of the Inn. Chad balanced all of this with a practical outlook on defense, constructing a Barricade to give his forces a handy +1 bonus in battle versus Goblins. Eventually this "little-engine-that-could" approach really started working for him.
Being a new player to the game, Mike took the threat of Winter invasion very seriously. With absolutely no aspirations to build religious or commercial structures, Mike pursued the Military track with single-minded relentlessness. This quickly resulted in the construction of a Guard Tower, a Blacksmith and a Palisade all in short order.
After shrugging off those pitifully weak winter raids, I turned my attention back to the task of netting gobs of early Victory Points. Eventually I managed to parley my sub-par rolls into enough lucre to buy a Church. Besides the enormous seven point VP jump, the "+1 bonus in battle versus Demons" thang really helped to trick me into thinking that I was acting responsibly and preparing an adequate defense. Little did I know that by the time the Demons started showing up, I'd need the equivalent of Helm's Deep and an entire army of Rhohirrim in order to be safe.
Dean kept plying the Merchant track, adding a bonus die to his hand via the power of agriculture (?). Unfortunately, given the Farm's -1 impact on defensive rolls, he really had to scramble in order to compensate. Fortunately his economic flexibility allowed him to knock out a quick Guard Tower and Palisade, both providing some much-needed peace of mind.
I looked on in envy as Andrew continued to translate his die-rolling wizardry into a more effective and balanced version of my own progress. Taking note of the flexibility that Dean was wringing out of his Inn, Andrew quickly followed suit. Then, after acquiring his very own Church, he began choosing Advisors which gave him a peek at the inbound threat cards. Anytime we caught a glimpse of Andrew's laughably transparent poker face we knew that it was a good time to hire a few additional mercs.
Not willing to commit to any specific strategy, Chad invested in a lot of the more basic buildings. The Statue and Chapel helped to offset his wretched die rolling somewhat while the Guard Tower and Palisade fortified his permanent defenses. On a subsequent turn, he added Stables for some valuable bonus troops.
Mike continued his single-minded quest for self-defense. After building his own Stables he invested in a set of Barracks, giving him a nice army payroll break. At this point in time, I'm sure us Kingsburg veterans were probably 'tut-tutting' Mike's every move, thinking that he wasn't earning enough infrastructural Victory Points to be a contender. Little did we know that the Winter invasions would take a turn towards the worse and my boy's strategy would quickly be vindicated.
Once again, I scraped together every dime I had to build a Cathedral worth nine flippin' Victory Points. Knowing full well that my precious crown jewel would be as vulnerable as a Fabergé egg during a frat party, I hastily erected a Barricade to deter any potential vandals. In retrospect, this was about as effective as hanging a "Please Do Not Smash" sign in the window of a Sony store during a three-day-long power outage.
Fully aware that Winter was Coming™, Dean abruptly put a halt to his Great Merchant Track Experiment of 2012. Abandoning plans for a Merchant's Guild he wisely switched his focus to Military development, first acquiring a Blacksmith for a +1 bonus in Battle and then investing in some Barracks to lower mercenary expenses. At the last minute he also managed to put the finishing touches on Hogwarts, er...a Wizards Guild, giving him a critically important +2 bonus in battle.
Andrew completed work on his very own Cathedral, taking time to sandbag it against danger with a Blacksmith.
Up until the very end, Chad's strategy seemed to be "deversify, deversify, deversify". His commitment to this was so unflagging that it resulted in one minor miss-step: the late-stage construction of a Crane. Its ability to reduce construction costs would have been clutch if he'd actually gotten the chance to build any Level III or IV buildings. Nevertheless, it still nabbed him an additional Victory Point, which is really all that matters in the end.
Mike completed his battlements with a Stone Wall, giving him a +1 to Defense and a victory for ties. The paint was still drying on his Wizard's Guild by the time the game ended.
A particularly nasty horde of Orcs showed up in the second to last invasion phase. Andrew responded to this threat by dialing up a disastrously low defense roll. As such, the Orcs proceeded to treat my brand-new Cathedral with the same consideration that Mötley Crüe reserves for the average hotel suite. Just like that, I found myself dead last on the Victory Point track.
No one else was similarly affected and Mike's spirited defense actually gave him a decent little Victory Point bump.
During the last turn Chad and Andrew snuck peeks at the incoming invaders and their googly-eyed looks of incredulity warned me to be super-prepared. I managed to repair the damage to my Cathedral and augment it with a Blacksmith, a Barracks and a couple of troops. Even after drawing a nine-point Demon card, I still wasn't worried. I'd taken every possible precaution and knew that I'd be fine as long as Mike rolled reasonably well on defense.
He rolled a fucking "1".
The rampaging denizens from Hell broke down the front door of my precious Cathedral, smashed out the stained glass windows, stuck plasticine dicks on all of the statues and then took a communal dump in the Holy Water font. Bunch of friggin' savages in this town...
Andrew, who'd been leading up to this point in time, also lost his Cathedral to the slavering, gibbering masses. Mike, with his all-Military, all-the-time approach, mounted the strongest defense once again and earned a bonus Victory Point.
Here, then, were the final scores:
Me...a shameful 18 Points
I really like Kingsburg quite a bit. After all, what self-respecting board game freak wouldn't love huckin' dice, min/maxing the results, gathering resources, building cool shit and then attempting to repel waves of nasty invaders?
But I will warn you, luck does plays a pretty hefty role in the game. After all, Andrew and I pretty much followed the same strategy, but his aptitude with the dice allowed him to defend his holdings a lot better.
Although there's a bunch of different tactics you can take during the game, I'm not convinced that all of them are valid. The mounting threat of invasion virtually guarantees that players need build defensive structures at some point in time. I just wish that I could eschew that route completely for once and still have a chance to win.
On the other hand, you really can't extrapolate a whole lot from this particular session. After all, if Andrew and Mike had rolled better on defense then it might have been a totally different game. Maybe the Winter invasion mechanic just needs to be tweaked a little bit.
The next time we sit down to play, I probably won't be this experimental. It's much more likely that I'll do what Mike did (and what I've normally done every time in the past): which is build up a massive Military presence and then fuck around only when my defenses are airtight.
Of course, in that game, all of us will probably roll sixes. You just watch.
Kingsburg score four pips out of a possible six.
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