Or I couldn't think of any other reason why this game, originally themed about cattle ranching had been rethemed around the War of the Roses, the struggle of two houses to wear the biggest hat in England.
Rosenkönig is a simple 2-player abstract game where players seek to create continuous areas of their own token. The most interesting part of the game are the highly constrained token placement rules. The most recently theme applied to the game is one of attempting to gain political control of large sections of England during the Wars of the Roses.
Rosenkönig comes in a typical thin Kosmos 2-player box. Inside are the rest of the components, tightly packed. The board is a really pretty medieval map, but sadly all the complex imagery and names are simply flavour for the game which is played on an undistinguished 9x9 grid.
The wooden components of the game (it is a German game, after all) are plentiful. There is a supply of blue round wooden tokens with red and white roses on the two sides, which are used by both players. There is also a yellow wooden crown which marks the position of the King's progression around the board. As the game processes, the spaces on the board will gradually be filled with these pieces.
Finally, the players share a common deck of cards that constrain the movement of the king. Unfortunately, these cards are in the mini-euro format that has been showing up in so many games recently. The players each have five Hero cards and share a deck of cards indicating direction and distance of movement.
Each turn, the players choose to either draw or play a movement card. The hands of up to 5 cards are laid out in front of the players and drawing is only possible if a player has less than 5 cards already. The cards are not limited and the draw pile is formed of the reshuffled discard deck whenever necessary.
Movement is done by playing one of the five movement cards from the player's open hand. Each of the cards is inscribed with a crown which fixes its orientation the same way as the crown on the board, a sword, indicating one of the 8 compass directions and a roman numeral between I and III. When a card is played, the crown piece moves the number of spaces indicated in the same direction as the sword is pointing. A red/white token, turned to the side of the player's colour is placed under the crown in this new location.
Players are forced to use the whole movement of the card and the destination space must be completely empty.
Five times during the game, players can choose to use one of their Hero cards which permit them to take over a region controlled by the other player. A movement card is played as normal, and one of the player's five hero cards are discarded. For this move, the crown's destination space must contain an opposing token which is flipped to the player's side as the crown moves.
The game ends either when the last stone has been placed, or when both players have no legal moves. If only one player has no legal move, they are forced to pass and the other player may keep on playing.
Scoring is done by regions. Each connected (diagonally doesn't count) region is counted and scores points equal to the square of the number of points, so a size-12 region scores 144 points to a size 10's 100 points. Larger regions are incredibly important to winning.
A normal endgame might look something like this. In this game, Red has leapt away to victory with a size-14 contiguous area that makes counting most of the other points pretty irrelevant. In the final interesting few turns of this game, there was a frantic effort by white to sever some of the links through the red group and create a larger white group.
The game is quite tactical, since you can only plan a few moves ahead, but a key element is keeping an eye on what cards your opponent has available. If you can strand them, or force them to play a card which moves the crown somewhere helpful for you, that's a great move. Open hands make it entirely possible to see how they can respond to your move.
The hero cards are most critical part of timing. The most important role for them is to cut large groups built your opponent or join your own large group up. Usually there will be a few key points where this will happen, so the last part of the game often is a struggle by the leading player to keep the crown away from this decision point. In effect, the trailing player should have made their move earlier, before too many pieces were placed, congesting the central region. It's also important not to let you opponent run riot with too many un-countered hero cards, since they can make a break directly for the choke points.
It's interesting that even with hero cards you can be completely hemmed in by your own pieces, since you can never jump to a space containing your own pieces. Forcing your opponent to pass like this can be quite a neat way to end the game.
I'm not the only one to have been a little disappointed by the theme thinly layered onto this game. Some of the elements, particularly the map, look fascinating at first glance but have nothing to do with the game. If you're happy playing a pretty abstract, though, that shouldn't be a problem.
This game has been available, although somewhat difficult to find, in the Kosmos 2-player line for years. In the last couple of months, Kosmos have just released a new version in a 2-p classics line metal tin. I'm not sure if there are any component differences, but the game should be a lot easier to find, at least in German speaking countries or game stores that import from them.
I enjoy this as a moderately stabby aspect. The small amount of damage you can deal to other other player's plans as well as the strict limits on the placements make this an interestingly tense game that I'm happy to play. Scoring can be a little fiddly, but it's usually obvious by comparing largest regions whether a full scoring is likely to be needed and the manual even has a handy table of squares.
The girlfriend and I are inordinately fond of this one. Plays well online, although the detached nature of the digital interface encourages outbursts of wrath that would never surface in the face-to-face game.
Nice review. Until today I've deliberately ingored Rosenkönig completely, but now after reading your review, I think I just might give it a try someday.
ahh....I love the smell of a stack of sketchily placed animals in the morning!
At first blush, I didn't think there was anything interesting about this title until I played it at Yucata.de and realized, though relatively simple, the open hand and card driven combat were fun and challenging.
I am also a fan of abstracts, however.
Try it on the iPad, it's quick and deliciously addictive, plus the computer adds up the scores as you go. I'd like to get the Kosmos version now to play on the table.