Kingsburg board game review

KingsburgKingsburg is a medieval fantasy development and resource management game where players compete to develop their provinces to battle-off the invading hordes. Kingsburg uses a dice-rolling system to initiate order in the phases and then proceeds to use those rolls to allow bids on advisors for their favour. A fun development game with long-term strategy planning and short-term tactical decisions, it’s a perfect advanced development game that won’t hurt your brain too much.

Appearance: Kingsburg comes in a well packaged box with some great, comic medieval fantasy artwork. While there is nothing that truly astounds (like Blue Moon), the artwork is fun and quirky while being well suited to the theme. One minor complaints about the board is how ‘busy’ it is – at first glance, it was quite intimidating with some difficulty picking out what was where. It took only a few minutes though before everyone was comfortable with it.

All the dice, tokens and game board are made of high quality material with no real flaws to be found. About the only major complaint is the generic use of coloured wooden cubes for the 3 resources (gold, stone and wood). A huge bonus in my view – the box comes pre-packaged with ziplock bags!

Rules / Ease of Learning: The rulebook is adequate, though at fist reading it seemed more complicated than the game actually was. Kingsburg is actually very easy to learn, though there is quite some depth of strategy.

The game plays over a period of 5 years, with each year broken into 8 phases. Three of the phases are ‘productive seasons’ (spring, summer and autumn) while winter is the last phase and when war occurs. Phases 1, 3, 5 and 7 are special phases, providing additional aid from the king to the losing player (phases 1 and 5), victory points for the current leader (phase 3) and preparation for battle (phase 7) in winter.

The goal of the game is to be player the most victory points at the end of the fifth year. Victory points are garnered in a variety of ways – through advisors, having the most buildings, developing certain buildings and through victory in battles.

As governors of a province, players will need to decide on which of 5 development tracks their province will concentrate on. Each building in a development track provides bonuses – either during the game or as victory points at the end. Track 1 focuses on providing a high level of building victory points (Cathredal), the second resources during the game (Merchant’s Guild), the third (Wizard’s Guild) and fourth (Fottress) military build-up and the last (Embassy) on-going victory points.

The productive seasons in Kingsburg is where the meat of the game lies. At the beginning of the season, players roll their dice (normally 3) and work out turn order. The dice are then used to allocate influence to each advisor, with players needing to meet the number on the advisor (ranging from 1-18) exactly. So a dice roll of 3, 4 and 5 would allow the player to affect advisors 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 and 12. Advisor no.6 (the Alchemist) could not be affected because the player could not make 6 with his dice roll. Players take turns influencing advisors starting with a player with the lowest roll and advisors can only normally be influenced by one player.

Once the dice allocation is complete, players will receive the benefits of each advisor and build one building (normally) per turn.

At the end of each year during winter (phase 8), the monsters arrive and players will need to tot up their total military strength along with the reinforcements from the king (based on a 1d6 die roll) and compare it to the monster’s forces. Winners lose resources, victory points or even buildings and winners gain generally small victory bonuses. The overall victor gains an additional victory point as well.

Actual Gameplay: Kingsburg’s actual gameplay can be considered quite fun. A number of aspects make it stand out as a great gateway or medium weight board game including:

catch up mechanisms

As mentioned, phases 1 and 5 are dedicated to acknowledging the weakest player and then providing them a benefit. In phase 1, they receive an additional white die for influencing advisors while phase 5 provides the King’s Envoy that allows a player to influence an already influenced advisor or to ‘double-build’ during a turn.

Also, the game is well balanced to allow even players with bad rolls to do well e.g. the turn order is based on lowest to highest, allowing players who rolled badly first pick.

Interaction

Since an advisor can only be influenced once, it behooves players to watch what other players have rolled to ‘counter’ the initiatives of other players. However, because this interaction is not a direct confrontation (as per wargames), it seems to certainly generate less antagonism.

Strategic decision making

Players are faced with two major strategic decisions during the game : which development path to continue down and how strong an army should they build. Both decisions will affect their long-term use of resources, with short-term tactical decisions during the influence phase.

One aspect of the actual gameplay that cropped up pretty fast was that there did not seem to be a huge number of choices in terms of optimal builds. While there are 5 tracks to choose from, only a couple of tracks seem to work out well in the long-term – which in a larger game will have 3 players using the same strategy at the same time.

Luck is an obvious factor in the game – it doesn’t matter how good your strategy is, bad rolls can still sink you. Certain strategies (e.g. the Merchant Guild development route) are more susceptible to bad rolls than others, but it is interesting to note that even the worst rolling player in our game ended up only 10 points back.

Lastly, downtime can be a major problem with the game – because players have to consider the dice rolled by others as well as their own options, analysis paralysis is a definite danger.

Conclusion: Kingsburg in my view is a game that has a lot of potential and is certain to hit the table often with my group. It feels in some parts like a ‘lighter’ version of Louis the XIV – no one walks out of our gaming sessions complaining of a fried brain after Kingsburg! The added need to balance development of soldiers against the invading hordes gives it a nice fantasy feel to it as well and I certainly do like the ‘catch-up’ mechanisms added to the game. In my view, it’s a great mid-level strategy game for players who want more choices in their board games.

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