Time for the seventh edition in my year-long Game Changers series. To recap, I’m taking a look at some of the games I consider to have changed the hobby in some significant way. So far, we’ve looked at:
- Acquire (1964)
- Dungeons & Dragons (1974)
- Cosmic Encounter (1977)
- Civilization (1980)
- Magic: The Gathering (1993)
- The Settlers of Catan (1995)
Today we’re looking at a game that may be a little bit of an odd choice – it’s probably not a game that you might have expected to see on this list. But hear me out. Travel back in time with me to 2007. The schism between Eurogames and American style games were at their peak. Eurogamers looked down on the luck-driven, unrealistic American games with disdain, preferring to strategize their way to victory in authentic Renaissance era trading contests. On the other side, the Ameritrashers joyfully chucked their dice and laughed at the snooty Euros as they blew up everything they could. No end to their squabbles was in sight. Then came…
Kingsburg was a game by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco that was originally published by Italian company Stratelibri. It came out in 2007, with Fantasy Flight publishing the English edition the following year. Kingsburg is a 2-5 player game that takes around 90 minutes to play, and I believe that it was the first game to successfully crossover between Euros and AT.
In Kingsburg, you are building up your kingdom through the influencing of advisors, the gathering of resources, and the construction of buildings, all in an effort to score the most victory points. So far, it all sounds pretty Euro-y. But the influence of advisors is done through the placement of dice that you roll, and you need to build up your defenses because goblins, demons, and other fantasy characters are coming to attack. Which, in 2007, was about as far from a Euro as you can get.
The game plays over the course of five rounds. At the start of each round (spring), the player with the fewest buildings gets a bonus die – if there’s a tie, each player gets a free resource. Then players all roll their dice and, in turn order, distribute them to different advisors. You can place 1, 2, or 3 dice at a time, but can only influence a single advisor on your turn, and you can’t influence an advisor someone else has already influence. Once everyone has placed their dice, you resolve the advisors in order, from 1 to 18. Lower level advisors give weaker benefits, but generally you can get points, resources, soldiers, or die modifiers.
After getting your benefits, everyone can construct a building. These give you further permanent benefits – points, extra defense, retools, discounts, etc. After this, it’s summer, and the player with the most buildings gets a point, and there’s another round of influence. When you get to fall, the player with the fewest buildings gets the Envoy, which allows them to influence someone who has already been influenced, or build two buildings.
When you get to winter, the King will send some reinforcements to everyone. Then you reveal the enemy. If you beat it, you get a small benefit. If you equal it, you get nothing. If you lose, you get penalized, and the penalty is always worse than the benefit for winning is good. Then you start over. After the fifth round, the player with the highest score wins.
Kingsburg has proved to be an enduringly popular game since it was released. An expansion called To Forge A Realm was released in 2009. A Lovecraftian version called Kingsport Festival was released in 2014 (with a card game version of that coming out in 2017). A second edition of the original game, containing the To Forge a Realm expansion and a new Alternate Advisors Rewards module, came out in 2017 from Z-Man Games. Also, Kingsburg: The Dice Game is set to come out later this year.
In 2006, dice were fairly taboo in Eurogames. A pair of games came out that tried to do something about that – Yspahan from Sébastien Pauchon, and To Court the King from Thomas Lehmann. Both really proved that dice could be used in a strategic way. However, where they failed to connect with the American style was in the theme. Yspahan was about wandering around an Arabic market, while To Court the King was set in a medieval court.
Kingsburg can be seen as expanding on what To Court the King did, as TCTK involved using dice to collect different advisors. But by adding a fantasy theme, as well as some less boring artwork, it managed to reach across the aisle in a way no other games really had up to that point. These days, hybrid games are everywhere, but I really think Kingsburg is the game that got us here.
So, there’s another Game Changer. Next month, we’ll look at a game that redefined a genre in the industry. Hopefully I’ll see you before then – thanks for reading!