A Month of Kingsburg

Kingsburg was this month’s Game of the Month. Remember, the point of the Game of the Month feature is not to necessarily to review a game, but to rather explore a game by repeated play over a particular month. I may refer to my initial post, so if you want to go back and read it, here is the link.

In Kingsburg, players are nobles who are sent from the king to develop the outer regions of the kingdom, using resources to create structures that will both enhance the region’s prestige and to protect the area from hostile armies. The game takes place over a series of five years (turns) that is broken up into seasons (phases).

The main part of a season is the allocation of dice to a variety of court advisers that can provide the player with valuable resources, soldiers, victory points, and information about the invading army that attacks at the end of each year in the winter.

There is an expansion set called Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm.

I only managed to play Kingsburg three times this month, but I did get to play all of the expansions, and I will discuss those a bit later, but first I want to answer the questions I had asked people to consider as they played Kingsburg this month.

  • When is this the right game to bring out?
    • I wouldn’t bring this game out too late in the evening, and I wouldn’t suggest it for a group of slower players. I would also not treat this as a gateway game because of its length. So if you have experienced gamers who want to roll dice for a couple of hours, Kingsburg is a great choice.
  • How long does it really take?
    • The box says 90 minutes, but it’s probably going to take 2 hours or more. This is my only complaint with this game. I wish I could figure out how to play it in under 90 minutes.
  • Is there a sweet spot with the number of players?
    • I think three is the sweet spot for me, but four is good too. The two player version seems clumsy as you have to simulate a third player, and hey, there are quite a few two-player games out there that are much better. I don’t plan on ever playing this again with five. It makes it way too long and frustrating.
  • Can it be played solo?
    • This really isn’t a good game for solo play. I’m not sure why I asked such a dumb question.
  • Is there an essential strategy?
    • I don’t think there is a single strategy that’s better than any other, but I think you do need to complete at least one row of buildings to have any chance of winning. I’ve won with the Wizard’s Guild, but I’ve seen the Merchant’s Guild used very effectively. If you can finish the Merchant’s Guild before the end of year four, the extra gold generated allows you to build the Church and Cathedral for lots of victory points.
  • If you are using the expansions, what modules are the best?
    • The expansion modules are:
      1. Additional building rows
      2. Alternative building rows
      3. Governor Cards
      4. Destiny Cards
      5. Soldier Tokens
    • The soldier tokens are the only essential expansion in my opinion. I don’t ever plan on playing the game again without them, and they are easy to add to your own copy if you want to try them without purchasing Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm, which I recommend you do anyway, because it really does add a lot to the game. However, you could use a set of markers or cards in place of the soldier token to the same effect. I used cards from my copy of Rat-a-Tat-Cat. In the base game, you roll a die to determine how much help you get when you fight the monster. The soldier tokens remove this random element.
    • The destiny cards are probably my least favorite of the expansions. I really don’t think they add that much to the game, although I do think they help tell a sort of story about the five years of play. That would be great if Kingsburg was a game that depended on an interesting narrative, but it’s not. If anything, it just slows things down, which is exactly what I don’t want happening in Kingsburg.
    • I think the Governor cards are fun, and I imagine that I will almost always use them. They give you the opportunity to form an initial strategy, even if that strategy can be totally hosed with bad dice rolls.
    • The alternate and additional building rows are good, but I don’t know that I would need to use them every time I play. I like them. They are big. Tarzan like big.
  • What are some important building and adviser combos?
    • The only building/adviser combo I can think of is the use of the Stable and the advisers on the five and ten spots, which will get you an additional soldier. The queen will also get you additional soldiers. I only recently discovered that there are complex strategies for Kingsburg that are discussed over at Boardgamegeek.com. They have cool names like Super Defense and the Turtle. I play most games like a mad scientist experimenting with random chemicals in hopes that I will accidentally gain super-powers. If I have to research a strategy for a dice game, then that’s going to take some of the fun out of it. Maybe I will read up on them and give one a try the next time I play.

My friend Davebo answered each of the questions in his comment on the introductory post, which is exactly what I wanted. Yay, Dave!

Even though I didn’t get to play the game as often as I wanted to over the month, I think that it will hit the table a bit more often as a result of being GotM. It’s a good game, and I just might play it tonight. If you have anything to add, please post your comments. I know some friends played a two-player game recently, and I would like to hear how that went. Another friend plays regularly on BSW, and I would like to hear about how that works. Please feel free to contribute.

Disclaimer: I have recieved no review copies of this game. I have included links to funagain.com, an online retailer that I support by including affiliate links to games. If you purchase something from Funagain, and include my affiliate code, P2RX, then I get a few pennies of store credit so I can buy more games.

3 Comments

  1. John Snyder

    I’ve been intending to write this for a while, but as the world’s greatest procrastinator, I am only just now getting around to it. I felt like the game we played last week was a good capper to playing it all through February.

    I’ve always liked Kingsburg, but focusing on playing it a lot last month really helped me to determine what I was enjoying about it so much and why. I logged 15 plays last month (ok one was in march, but it still counts, right?).

    •When is this the right game to bring out?
    ?For me it works any time. Even though there’s a lot of dice rolling, it’s a very strategic, “thinky” game, so I think it works well as the “main course” in an evening of gaming. I think the many expansions also allow players to determine exactly how deep they want their game of Kingsburg to be. The play with all 5 expansions was a much more involved game than the base game alone is.
    •How long does it really take?
    ?I think the base game with people who know what they’re doing is about 90 minutes. Adding expansions adds time, and I think once we tried the expansions, we ALWAYS added at least 2. So I’d say it’s a 2-hour game. Online play on BSW is noticeably faster – I’d estimate 45 to 60 min. It’s worth noting that the only expansion available online is the Soldier tokens, so that’s probably a factor.
    •Is there a sweet spot with the number of players?
    ?Agreed, three is prime. I actually enjoy the two-player version quite a bit, but as Jeff said, there are better 2p games to play, so if it wasn’t game of the month I’d probably prefer to do something else when it’s just me and a pal. Four is OK, but I actually DON’T like how cluttered the advisor board gets with that many players, and the extra time added pushes it just past the prime time-to-fun ratio that three has. Five is right out.
    •Can it be played solo?
    ?I sure don’t see a way to.
    •Is there an essential strategy?
    ?I’m going to guess “no”, but I haven’t read any strategy articles on the geek or anything. It appears to me that there are several *good* strategies, but that you ought to pick one of them early and plan out your general path to victory through the 5 game years, and then try not to deviate from it too much. I am in love with Farms, so I almost always go for the Merchant/Fortress building rows (I’m not sure if this is a “real” strategy, but it’s been working for me and I have fun with it). It couples amazing production with the ability to defend yourself well once your framework is up and running. It seems to work out very well when it works, but if I make one false step, it’s usually a disaster I can’t recover from. It’s worth noting that I’ve had the most success with this strategy when my Governor card gives me extra defense (such as the Paladin or Mercenary).
    •If you are using the expansions, what modules are the best?
    ?Best: Soldier Tokens are essential. I think we’ve all agreed at this point that there’s absolutely no reason to play the game without them. They’re not harder to learn than the king’s dice roll, and they removed that compeltely random element from the game. It’s very frustrating to try to plan for the battle at the end when the amount the king is going to alter the enemy total (1 to 6) is greater than the enemy variance itself (3 to 5 for example). Soldier Tokens should have been part of the base game.
    ?2nd: Governor Cards. I really love these. They make you feel “special”, like your character is you and you have a super power. They also strongly influence what type of strategy you’ll attempt throughout the game. I still haven’t got to try the variant by which they are auctioned off for points at the start of the game. Originally I thought I would like that better, but after doing the “draw three and choose one” variant several times, I find I really enjoy it and think it’s probably more fun that way.
    ?3rd: Alternate Building Rows. I think they’re neat and interesting at the very least, and I like that you have to sacrifice one of your standard building rows if you want to use them. That being said, I’ve played with them twice and both times I chose not to use them, because I wasn’t willing to give up the buildings they would have replaced. Still, a very interesting concept that I hope I get to try sometime.
    ?4th: Additional Building Rows. I don’t like them. Except for Improvised Defenses (which is ridiculously better than the Barricade or Palisade), I think the new buildings pretty much suck. I’ve never felt like they were good buys after I got them, and I’ve never seen someone win and attribute it even partially to the additional buildings. More variety is always good, so I would never complain about someone wanting to use them. And if they did, I would always build Improvised Defense. Otherwise, they just do nothing for me.
    ?Last: Event Cards. They don’t really add anything to the gameplay except another fiddly thing to forget about and have to correct yourself on. In general, they just make the game harder, which doesn’t add to the fun-factor for me. Kingsburg should be about who can GROW their kingdom the best, not about who can avoid disaster the best. The monsters are a well balanced concern on their own, they don’t need extra cards taking away your goods and making you lose turns without warning. What I like about Kingsburg is the same thing Hannibal likes about the A-Team: I love it when a plan comes together. When I have spent all year predicting how much of what I can gather and store, and when I need to build what and how long I can wait so that I get the Envoy or the Extra Dice or the Bonus Point, and it all works out perfectly (or falls apart because I forgot I needed to hire one more soldier!) When an event card turns up and says “oops throw three of your stone away and ha-ha, now you can’t afford the Church this year, which would have won you the game” I say “screw you event deck”. I guess I just spend 30 sentences saying “it adds randomness and fiddliness, neither of which make Kingsburg better”.
    •What are some important building and adviser combos?
    ?There are probably lots but I haven’t found many because I’m so single-minded in my strategy. The Paladin worked best with my Farm plan. In year 4 I was able to say “to hell with defending my kingdom, time to stockpile!” and I just made gold and stone like a madman, no need to hire soldiers or build defenses. it was well worth the 3 points he cost me.

    I think Kingsburg is a much deeper game than I originally did, and I also think the expansions add a ton of meat to it. I really enjoyed playing this as game of the month, and I see myself continuing to play it on BSW a lot. For a guy who hates randomness, it’s really amazing to me that this game which is totally dependant on dice-rolling can be so strategic. I think it’s because once you get the rythym of the game, you realize that the advisors are balanced in a way that means low dice rolls aren’t really BAD dice rolls, they’re just more limiting. More games ought to mitigate luck in this manner, because it’s a very unique and attractive way of adding randomness without killing fun. That’s a hard combination for a game to pull off with me.

  2. John, thanks for taking the time to share this. My favorite part of this is the A-Team reference. That is the best part of the game, making your plan and watching it build to the end.

    I am looking forward to playing again soon. I think if we got Jackson in a 3 player game, he might convert.

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