A review: Kingsburg

Kingsburg
By Scott Brownlee

“Your majesty, I feel the coming of winter signals most poorly for my territory. This year’s crop was small, and we have been most devoted to maintaining your standing armies to prevent the resurgence of the goblin invaders.”

Build your territory and rise in status in Kingsburg, a game of management and risk for two to five players. Players each construct their provinces as they see fit. Will a new Guard Tower be built to protect the citizens and their homes? Will a Statue be erected in honor of the local ruler to improve the morale of the townsfolk? Every year that passes sees your city grow, but be wary. After winter’s harsh weather, an army invades. With goblins burning down your settlements and dragons destroying a whole turn’s worth of victory points, you will need to find ways to protect your settlement. Will you build defenses against these invaders or will you invest in a standing militia? Will you focus on the wealth of your territory and risk leaving your own defense in your king’s hands? These decisions will determine if your province rises, or is lost to history.

A rather grandiose description for a fun strategy game.

Kingsburg is a really nice-looking game from Fantasy Flight, one of my favourite manufacturers (if only because they tend to always give you well-constructed boxes with spaces and bags for all the components!). It’s got a unique board, lots of wooden cubes and cardboard discs, and dice! The dice! So many six-sided dice in various colours! But I am getting ahead of myself.

You play the role of a trusted and talented governor to King Tritus, trying to oversee and develop his new territories and keep them safe from nasty monsters. To do this, you must enlist the help of the king’s advisors. There are eighteen of them (hey wait! That’s the same number as three six-sided dice! What a coincidence!). I insist on everyone naming them instead of just saying “number nine.” I’m whiny that way.

Each governor gets a set of three coloured dice, a scoring disc, and a Province Sheet that tracks the buildings being constructed. The Province Sheets are pretty nifty-looking too:

The game is played over five years. (It’s OK, they’re really fast years. It’s not like that interminable wait for your kids to FINALLY be old enough to get out of the freaking house and get to Kindergarten.) Each year has eight different phases, representing the seasons and an associated event with each one. These include the three Productive Seasons, in which you get to roll those spiffy dice and choose which advisor(s) to influence.

Each advisor provides a different advantage, but each one can only be influenced once per season (with a couple of exceptions). They can provide resources: gold, lumber, and stone, which can be used to add buildings to your Province Sheet. These give victory points and other advantages, such as defense against the marauding beasts that seem to show up like clockwork every winter. Some advisors also give you a sneak peek at the upcoming foe your armies will face, so you have an idea of how many soldiers you need to recruit.

Here are the eighteen advisors. Memorize them or you will ruin all the game’s ambience and you can’t play. (I’m just kidding. You are given at least five minutes at the beginning of the game for a review. Oh, and a rulebook where they are all listed.) 1- Jester, 2- Squire, 3- Architect, 4-Merchant, 5-Sergeant, 6- Alchemist, 7- Astronomer, 8- Treasurer, 9-Master Hunter (but hey, she’s female, so better use HunTRESS), 10- General, 11- Swordsmith, 12- Duchess, 13- Champion, 14- Smuggler, 15- Inventor, 16- Wizard, 17- Queen, and 18- King. The three dice can be used individually, or in combinations of two or three to influence higher-ranked advisors.

Throughout the year, the King will also send aid to the governor with the fewest buildings, reward the governor with the most buildings, and send his envoy to aid his governors in future seasons. In the base game, during the end-of-year battle, the King also sends soldiers to aid the governors. However, this is one time when I’ve found that the game expansion changes and improves the rules of the base game, rather than just adding more complexity. The “To Forge a Realm” expansion includes individual soldier tokens for each governor, which allows for more planning and less random chance. The expansion also includes more building lines for the Province Sheets, Destiny Cards that create interesting events each year, and Governor Cards that provide more special abilities. (Those are the “more complexity” parts of the expansion.)

In my experience, certain building lines tend to outstrip others as far as winning the game with victory points. Those buildings don’t provide much in the way of defense or in-game advantages, but there are other ways to achieve those without building those structures. That means if you’re playing with my wife, just as a random example, you have to keep her away from building Row A, or she’ll probably thump you. It happens. A LOT. The fun of the game really comes in the variety afforded by having so many building choices, and also in skewering your opponents by influencing the advisor you know they’ll want before they have a chance.

The strategic element is relatively light, though, so it’s not one of those games you will be terrible at until you’ve played it twenty times. It’s a quick one to learn, but does take a little planning ahead!

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