Back to the ABCs of Gaming with K is for…
Kingsburg (2-5 players, ages 13 and up, 90 minutes) was designed by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco, and was originally published in 2007. Fantasy Flight publishes the game in the US. It’s a game that’s all about running a kingdom, and specifically about influencing advisors to gain resources needed to construct buildings that will give you the most points. Since its release, it has become a classic in the dice rolling/worker placement genre, and is what many games of that ilk (like Alien Frontiers) are compared to. It didn’t have much competition in the K category, winning with 41.7% of the vote. Second place went to Other with 13%, giving Kingsburg the second widest margin of victory (percentage wise) of any game in the poll.
Kingsburg comes with a board that has a score track, a turn order track, a calendar track, a year track, a soldier track, storage boxes for resources, and 18 advisors you can influence throughout the game. There are five province sheets so you can track your buildings. There are 21 six-sided dice in six colors (three each of the player colors and six white dice) and 15 player discs (in the five player colors). There are 25 yellow cubes, 20 brown cubes, and 15 gray cubes representing gold, wood, and stone. There are 85 building tokens (17 in each of the player colors) and 20 +2 tokens. You also get a king’s envoy, a season marker, a year marker, and 25 enemies cards (5 for each of the five years).
Each player begins with a province sheet, as well as three dice and 17 tokens in their color. One of their discs goes on 0 of the the score track, another on the turn order track (randomly distributed at the beginning), and another on 0 of the soldier track. One enemy from each year is randomly chosen and stacked (without being seen) so that year one is on top. The year marker goes on year one of the year track, the season marker goes on the first space of the calendar, and you’re ready to play.
The game takes place over five years, and each year has eight phases. In phase one (aid from the king), the player with the fewest buildings gets an extra white die to roll. If there’s a tie, the player with the fewest goods gets it. If there’s still a tie (as in the beginning of the game), each tied player gets a good of their choice. In phase two (spring), you’ll have your first productive season and building – I’ll go into more detail on that in a moment. In phase three (the king’s reward), the player with the most buildings gets one VP. If there’s a tie, all tied players get the point. In phase four (summer), you’ll have a second productive season, followed by more building. In phase five (the king’s envoy), the player with the fewest buildings gets the king’s envoy token which can be used to influence an advisor that has already been influenced, or to build an extra building. Ties are broken by the player with the fewest goods, and persisting ties result in no one getting the envoy. Phase six (autumn) is another productive and building phase. In phase seven, you’ll have the opportunity to trade in two resources per extra soldier you want to recruit in preparation for phase eight (winter), when the kingdom will get attacked by a different enemy. The enemies get stronger every year, and you’ll compare your strength (soldiers plus defensive buildings plus a die roll that represents troops sent by the king) to the enemy. If you win, you’ll get a small reward. If you lose, you’ll get a more significant penalty. If it’s a tie, nothing happens. The player (or players) who had the highest strength and defeated the enemy gets one VP as the most glorious army. You’ll then send all the soldiers home (back to zero) and a new year will begin. The game ends after the fifth winter.
Let’s go back now and take a look at a productive season, which is really the heart of the game. Each player will roll their three dice (potentially more if white dice were added by the farm or aid from the king). You’ll then determine turn order by adding your result – player one will be the lowest die total, player two is the second lowest, and so on. In case of a tie, tied players do not switch order on the turn order track – the player that went earlier previously will still go earlier. Each player will then take turns influencing one advisor. What you’ll do is place one to three of your dice on any advisor that has not already been influenced (or use the envoy to place on an already influenced advisor). The sum of the dice you place must equal the number on the advisor. So, if you rolled 3-4-6, you could place a die on the 3, 4, or 6; or you could place two dice on the 7, 9, or 10; or you could place all three on the 13. Throughout the game, you may also collect +2 tokens, which would allow you to add two to your total (you could add a +2 to the three dice and place on the 15). If you can’t place any of your dice because all possibilities have been claimed, you must pass. Let’s see what each advisor gets you:
- Jester – one point.
- Squire – one gold.
- Architect – one wood.
- Merchant – one wood OR one gold.
- Sergeant – one soldier.
- Alchemist – trade one single good (gold, wood, or stone) for one of each of the other two good types.
- Astronomer – one good of your choice and a +2 token.
- Treasurer – two gold.
- Master Hunter – one wood and one gold OR one wood and one stone.
- General – two soldiers and you get to peek at the enemy coming this year.
- Swordsmith – one stone and one wood OR one stone and one gold.
- Duchess – two goods of your choice and a +2 token.
- Champion – three stone.
- Smuggler – pay one VP and collect three goods of your choice.
- Inventor – one gold, one wood, and one stone.
- Wizard – four gold.
- Queen – two goods of your choice, three VP, and peek at the enemy coming this year.
- King – one gold, one wood, one stone, and one soldier.
Once all players have placed all of their dice (or passed), the productive season is over. In player order, you can then choose to build. Each building costs resources, and will give you certain ways to break the rules. Some will give you more soldiers, some will allow you to manipulate the dice, some will give you building discounts, some will give you points. The province sheets is divided into four columns and five rows. For each row, you have to begin with the first column and work your way to the right. You do not have to build everything in the first column before building in the second – just for the row. You score points for the building immediately, and if you ever lose the building for some reason, you also lose the points.
Keep going in this fashion – produce, build, produce, build, produce, build, fight – for five years. After the fifth enemy has been resolved, the player with the most points is the winner.
Kingsburg is a very good game. It’s very easy to understand – the board is laid out perfectly, and everything you need is pretty clearly printed. The art is very attractive, and it plays fairly smoothly. It’s also a very good blend of Euro style mechanisms (particularly worker placement and resource management) with the theme and randomness that tends to be more at home in American style games. This hybrid trend has been around for a few years, and I’d say that Kingsburg was probably one of the forerunners of the movement – one of the games that showed it could work in an enjoyable experience.
I like playing Kingsburg, and it was my choice for the top K game. At the same time, it’s not a perfect game. The die rolls can be very frustrating if you’re not getting what you need, but fortunately there are mechanisms in place to help you out – the +2 tokens, for example, or the market building which allows you to adjust your roll by one. There also feels to be a runaway leader problem – the last few games I’ve played have been pretty close, but I’ve also played in games where we pretty much knew who was going to win by year three. It also feels kind of redundant, and maybe slightly longer than it needs to be. Still, I like it and I’ll keep playing it, just maybe not that often.
The rest of the nominees for K:
- Other came in second with 13% of the vote. Nominees included Kachina, Kamisado, Key Harvest, Khet, Kill Doctor Lucky, Killer Bunnies, KingBrick!, Kingmaker, Klunker, Knightmare Chess, and Kung Fu Samurai on Giant Robot Island. Of those, I’ve only played Kamisado (color-coded chess – very good abstract) and Kill Doctor Lucky (the opposite of Clue – fine in small increments).
- King of Tokyo came in third with 10.7% of the vote. This is a dice rolling monster game from Richard Garfield that just came out last year. It’s gotten a lot of good buzz, and it’s one where my interest has grown a lot as time has passed.
- Kremlin came in fourth with 8.1% of the vote. Urs Hostettler designed this 1986 game about Russian politics. It’s a very negotiation heavy game as you’re trying to get your politicians to the top offices.
- K2 and Keythedral tied for fifth with 5.8% of the vote each. K2 (2010, designed by Adam Kaluża) is a hand management game about trying to scale the second-highest mountain on earth. Keythedral (2002, designed by Richard Breese) is a game about building a cathedral in Keytown, and was the fourth game in Breese’s Key series.
- König von Siam came in seventh with 5.1% of the vote. This 2007 game from designer Peer Sylvester was all about trying to control the various factions struggling for control of 19th century Siam. I have perused this game in its online implementation on yucata.de, but it was kind of blah for me.
- Kahuna came in eighth with 3.7% of the vote. A 1998 two-player game from Günter Cornett, this game is about connecting islands with bridges. I’ve also tried this one on yucata.de, and I really don’t care for it.
- Kingdoms came in ninth with 2.6% of the vote. This was a 1994 Reiner Knizia design, revolving around a medieval marketplace. It was very abstract, and later reimplemented as Beowulf: The Movie Board Game.
- Kreta came in tenth with 1.9% of the vote. This was a 2005 design from Stefan Dorra, and was an area control game about trying to gain power in Crete.
- Kupferkessel Co. came in eleventh with 1.5% of the vote. In this set collection game (2001, Günter Burkhardt), witches and wizards are shopping for magic ingredients. It’s at least a more interesting theme than some of the others on this list.
That’s the Ks. Thanks for sticking with me as I haven’t been posting a lot lately – I hope to be doing more soon. Thanks for reading!