Designed by: Andrea Chiarvesio, Luca Iennaco
Art by: Mario Barbati, Davide Corsi, Roberto Pitturru
Published by: Z-Man Games
Playtime: 90-120 Minutes
Review copy supplied free of charge by Asmodee UK
Games usually get a second print run if they’ve done something right, so this second edition of Kingsburg seems to indicate that when it first came out people must have quite liked it. Me? Well, I’m still a relative noob, so I never played it when it first came out or in the intervening time since. Now its gotten a bit of a royal makeover with all-new artwork, some rather sexy dice and the entirety of the To Forge a Kingdom expansion rammed into the box for good measure. But thousands of people are wrong all the damn time about things, so is this dice-placement game actually any good? Have I really been missing out?
Under orders from the wise and bearded King your job is to hob-nob with the court advisors in order to gather wood, stone, gold and other valuable things that can be spent on building up your town, adding all manner of walls, statues, churches, barracks and other things in order to earn victory points and claim the title of Best Builder of Stuff. How you build your little township is entirely up to you.
Right, so how do you get all this stuff? Three times per round (there are five rounds total) every player will grab their three dice in what is called a “productive season” and hurl them onto the table like they had been personally offended by something the dice had said about their mums. Players then take it, in turn, to place their dice on the eighteen available advisors who make up the Royal court, matching the number on the dice with those listed on the spaces and combining dice to reach the numerically higher spots which offer more resources. In other words, if you roll a three, a four and a six you could combine them all to reach the 13th spot, or the 10th, or the 9th or the 7th and so on, or you could just take the number 3, 4 and 6 spaces.
The catch is that when a spot is taken nobody else can go there, and thus depending on your roll you can easily find yourself struggling to get exactly what you want. Everyone’s dice are public knowledge, too, so if you’re feeling a tad villainous you can eye up your opponent’s roll and then proceed to block them where possible. Man, you’re such a c***. This is why nobody wants to play with you. Or me.
Once everyone has placed their dice all the action spots get resolved, and then all the players get a chance to spend their new resources and goodies on adding buildings to their personal towns. This is the main way of scoring victory points in Kingsburg, but there are a few intriguing limitations due to the local planning office being a bit peculiar; to build the more advanced buildings you must already have constructed the prior ones in the row, so if you want to erect a church you first need to toss up a chapel and a statue. You’ve got to commit, in other words, perhaps even propose marriage and then settle down to have some kids. This is where all the compelling decisions in Kingsburg come from because while some buildings just give you more points others can do more than just that. The crane decreases the cost of building everything else, for example, while the Merchant’s Guild will produce a steady trickle of gold to line your pockets with.
It’s a simple system to understand and quite a bit of fun. It’s here that Kingsburg is going to divide opinions because obviously, it’s heavily luck-based. It’s tricky to make long-term plans about what you want to build when you can’t ever be entirely sure that you’re going to get the wood you need or the gold, but this also means that you can enjoy swapping your plans on the fly, reacting to whatever you’ve rolled and just going with the flow. You just have to relax, maaaaaaaaaaan. You can still have those long-term ideas about what civic improvements you’d like to make, it’s just a case of adapting that plan along the way. In other words, if you prefer your games to be about pure planning with no luck involved it’d be best to steer clear of Kingsburg.
Not everything is sunshine, lollipops and arguing with the local planning office about why you have to have an inn before you can have a market, though, because at the end of every single round a card gets flipped over that reveals an incoming threat in the form of goblin hordes and angry barbarians who presumably want to do some raping and pillaging. I don’t really know what goblins want. More screen time in the Lord of the Rings films? The point is aside from shiny new churches and farms and other lovely stuff you can also invest some time in your military infrastructure, maybe adding a watchtower, a barracks and a stone wall to keep out immigrants. The bad news is that military buildings typically score very little points, but if you don’t successfully repel the attack you take a penalty, sometimes in the form of a few points and sometimes in the form of a whole building.
Aside from building defenses, there are a few more ways to increase your military abilities; various advisors will offer boosts to your power, and when the fight actually starts one player will roll a die to determine the number of reinforcements the King himself will be sending and that number will get added to everyone’s total. Just keep in mind that player’s total combat value is reset at the end of each round. You still get to keep any bonuses that come from your buildings, but any troops gained from being nice to the advisors or from trading in resources disappear. Maybe they wander off to join the barbarians in a bit of pillaging?
It’s a neat choice; do you go all in on the pretty buildings and hope to weather the invaders? After all, on the back of each enemy card there’s a rough estimate of the strength, so if you’re close to the total you need maybe it’s worth risking relying on the Kings Reinforcements so you can keep focusing on building up those points while your opponents spend their time shoring up their defenses. Or do you have a city bristling with pointy objects, soldiers and enough implements of death to make Satan give an appreciative grin? Or do you just ride the middle-ground and hope for the best? Maybe you can have that church AND a barracks!
Between each of the dice rolling sessions, there are also a few bonuses handed out. At the very start of the round, for example, the player with the fewest buildings gets given an extra dice for the rest of the round, and later on the person with the most buildings earns a bonus victory point. Y’know, for having dealt with that bloody planning permission. Before the final dice rolling of the round the player with the least resources gets granted the Kings Envoy pawn which can be used during any productive season to either take the same action twice, including one blocked by an opponent, or to let you build two buildings rather than just one. These little bonuses are a nice way of trying to keep everyone in the game.
It’s also a game that I feel works with more players taking up the available spaces. With two players the game includes a mechanic where you roll dummy dice and plop them onto the board in order to block some advisors, but it’s just not the same as having real players who might try to get in your way. Once you’ve got three or four people the order in which you claim spaces becomes so much more important since waiting to claim a certain spot might result in it getting nabbed before you ever get there.
Since this is the second edition of the game a bunch of extra content has been jammed into the box, including town sheets which massively bump up the number of things you can build. If that wasn’t enough there are modules that introduce special playable characters with unique abilities, random events and more. In total, you get six expansion modules to play around with, with five coming from the original To Forge A Realm, and a bonus new one added into the mix, and while their quality varies quite a bit there’s really no doubt that you get your monies worth.
This new edition also gets a few other changes. For starters there are some rather pretty dice which are a superb improvement over the original’s standard dice, I reckon, though I suppose one could argue that these new ones are a bit harder to read at a glance due to their intricate designs. The new board artwork is a bit trickier because it’s pretty subjective, but personally, I think this new art doesn’t look as good as the original, having swapped out the exaggerated, almost cartoony style for a more serious look that’s rather bland, in my opinion. This was due to necessity as apparently a deal could not be reached with the original artist to use his work, so new art had to be commissioned.
One thing I’m not a fan of in terms of component quality is how the tiny discs that you place on your town sheet to indicate what you’ve built don’t really stand out. It’s a small gripe, but one worth mentioning.
What works about Kingsburg is just how fluffy it all feels. The massive luck element will probably put a lot of people off, but if you can embrace the randomness that dice bring to the table then this a really enjoyable game here that taps into the simple joys of throwing dice around the place and building up your town, and best of all it’s easy to learn meaning you can play it with practically everyone. It’s easy to see why Kingsburg got itself a reprint, and it’s easy to see why I reckon you should go out and pick it up if you don’t already own the original.