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Subject: War of Kings: A Deeply Engaging Game of Conquest and Discovery (a review) rss

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David McMillan
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Madison
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King Lomax sat in his throne impatiently tapping his fingers on the arms of his throne. Normally, the seemingly endless line of people wanting things from him wouldn't have bothered him (he'd gotten to the point where he derived an almost perverse pleasure from saying 'no'), but something was off today. For today, he'd received word that the other kingdoms were on the move.

What could they be doing? Were they planning to amass against him? If so, why? What should he do? What should his kingdom do? His mind raced down this path and every avenue that he could see inevitably led to the same conclusion. This could only end in disaster. This could only end in war.

Well, he decided, if war was on the horizon, it wouldn't be a bad idea to be prepared. As the person kneeling before him blathered on about sheep farming or something or the other, King Lomax had finally made up his mind.

"Give him whatever he needs," he commanded his advisor, "And then call a war council."

He turned to the court in front of him abruptly. "Okay, people! Thank you all for coming here, but we are done for the day!" And, with that, he stood up from the throne and quickly left the room amidst a rush of activity and protests, his robe billowing and swirling around him.

These are dark times. The world is rapidly changing and the barbarian hordes are multiplying unchecked. The land is being crushed in a vice grip of unrest and upheaval. This is a time when great men will emerge and heroes will write their legends.

This is War of Kings.

War of Kings is a resource management game. Using unit placement and a dice rolling mechanic, players will collect resources and use them to build up and expand the reaches of their empire in an effort to crush all of those who stand before them. Each victory will serve to make them even more powerful than they were before. In the end, only one kingdom can rule supreme. Will it be yours?

Now, before I get too much further into this review, I'd like to take a moment to thank Heath and Seth Robinson for sending me the prototype copy of this game that I am basing this review upon. Seth in particular has been extremely helpful and has answered all of my many questions with patience and alacrity. Their helpfulness and quick response time, however, has not affected my opinion of this game in the least. Rest assured that if this game is terrible, I will tell you so. If you like what you read here and think that this game could be the game for you, then I highly recommend you check out their Kickstarter page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1376478938/war-of-kings But you'd better hurry! There isn't much time left!

CONTENTS

Allow me to preface this section and all of the following by reminding you that this review is based entirely upon a prototype copy. The pieces that I received do not necessarily reflect the quality or even the styling of the pieces that will be found inside of the final product. The rules may change as well. What's true today may not be true tomorrow. This review is not meant to replace the rulebook. It is merely meant to give you an idea of what you can expect from the game and let you know my personal feelings about it.

This game is loaded with components. There are seven colors in this game (red, yellow, blue, white, black, green, and orange) and each color has its own assortment of 4 village miniatures, 4 town miniatures, 2 city miniatures, 12 small wooden possession markers (that look like a little flag attached to a small spool), as well as 6 armies apiece. In the prototype version that I played with, all of the miniatures are made out of small wooden pieces that have been lovingly put together and hand painted with care. There's even a grassy texture around the buildings that adds that extra little bit of oomph. The armies are a bi-folded piece of cardboard with a standard printed on it that fits into a small black plastic stand. The game also comes with a large complement of gold painted poker chips. These are used as money within the game and add a bit of heft to the package.

In addition to these items, there are also several grey-colored wooden structures. Firstly, there are several flat discs that represent walls. Then there are several flat discs with several squarish building structures attached to them that represent fortresses. Finally, there are several fortresses that have small towers added to them to represent castles. These structures are ingeniously created so that the tiny little villages, towns, and cities can sit inside of them so that when a player is trying to represent their village or town or city being surrounded by a castle, it will literally be surrounded by a castle.

And then there are the hundreds of tokens: damage tokens, moved tokens, and tokens representing roads. There are also several decks of cards, some player reference sheets, a pad of economic ledgers, an assortment of multi-colored dice, and a lengthy but well thought out and well illustrated rule book. The cards and tokens are of good quality card stock and, considering that this prototype has passed through four groups of play testers before me, they have held up pretty well.

Finally, there is a large foldable map that is beautifully illustrated and subdivided into different territories.

I know that sounds like a whole lot of pieces to take in and I will admit that, in a six player game, it can look a bit overwhelming, but the game play is actually surprisingly easy and once you run through the first round, things will start to move much faster. Before I get into game play, though, let's talk a bit more about the initial setup and then we will talk about the various pieces in detail.

SET UP

On the game board are several large crests whose colors coincide with the colors that the various players will be playing. In the area with the crest will be placed a town. In the territory directly in front of the territory with the town will be placed a village. Inside of these two territories as well as the territories directly to the right and left of the territory containing the town are placed 1 possession marker per territory for a total of 4 possession markers. Then, on the line between the territory containing the town and the territory containing the village is placed a single road. Then a starting player is chosen.

Once every player has their beginning set up laid out on the game board and a starting player has been selected, each player will then draw the following cards from the resource card decks and add them to their own supplies: 5 timber, 7 wheat, 7 cattle, and 2 stone. Then each player will begin the game with 9 gold.

Why 9 gold? Well, this is an excellent time to talk to you about...

SETTLEMENTS, ROADS, and GOLD

A settlement is defined in this game as any type of building that could be constructed by a player. This broad term includes villages, towns, and cities. Settlements are tiered. The lowest form of settlement is a village which can eventually be upgraded into a town and that, in turn, is eventually upgraded into a city. As the settlements are upgraded, they begin to produce more and more resources.

A settlement, however, will not always provider its controller with gold. Gold requires a certain precondition to be met first. In order to produce gold, a settlement must be connected to the capital city territory (the territory with the player's crest printed on it) by a road or a series of connecting roads. Each connected village produces 3 gold. Each connected town produces 6 and each connected city produces a total of 9 gold. So, at the very beginning of the game, since each player has one town (6 gold) connected by a road to one village (3 gold), they receive a total of 9 gold to begin the game with.

So, that's one of the main reasons for building roads... collecting gold. But roads are also valuable for other reasons as well which we will delve into when we begin talking about armies and army building. A thing to keep in mind about settlements is that not only do they produce gold for you, they are also worth victory points and they also affect how you gather resources.

GATHERING RESOURCES

There are four different resources in this game (5 if you count gold as a resource) that are used to build various things. Each player will have a handy player aid that will list the costs that are associated with each thing that can be built. At the beginning of a round (defined as one sequence of each player taking their turn), the three resource dice are rolled by someone. It is not important who rolls them really, but my gaming group likes to pass the resource dice rolling on down the line to the next player so that everyone feels like they've been involved in the rise and fall of their empires more intimately than if one single person were in charge of rolling the dice all of the time. There are four colors on each die and the colors each appear twice so there is always an equal chance of any color coming up on any given die.

On the game board are some icons that look like squares with color coded icons inside of them. Each of these colors corresponds to a color that can be rolled up on the resource die. Beneath the icon in the colored area, there will always be another icon in a smaller, black area. This represents the secondary resource that is generated by the roll of the resource dice. To best explain the way that resource generation works, it is best to just give an example of a resource collection step.

Bob rolls the resource dice and comes up with 2 yellows and 1 red. He looks at the territories that he controls and sees that he has a village in a territory with a yellow icon and a town in a territory with a red icon. Bob has been keeping tabs of what he'll earn each time a particular color is rolled on his economic ledger. The chart on the player aid informs Bob that, if the village he controls will collect 2 of the primary resource and 0 of the secondary resource each time that yellow is rolled. He has also notated that the town in the territory with the red icon will generate 3 of the primary resource and 1 of the secondary resource. In the case of the village, the primary resource is wheat and the secondary resource is cattle. In the case of the town, the primary resource is stone and the secondary resource is wheat.

Bob has rolled 2 yellows. Therefore, he collects all of the items from the yellow column twice (once for each yellow die) for a total of 4 wheat. Then, he collects everything from the red column once (for the single red die) for a total of 3 wheat and 1 cattle (3 primary plus 1 secondary). This is Bob's first turn, so he has a total of 5 timber, 14 wheat, 8 cattle, and 2 stone (his original hand plus all of the resources that he has just generated). Then Bob also collects his gold for his connected settlements for a grand total of 18 gold (starting gold plus newly generated gold). Now that Bob's got a whole bunch of resources, he is ready to construct things. Another note here, any player may trade with any other player for resources at this time. Or, if the player prefers, they may trade resources back to the supply at a ratio of 4:1 or they may pay the bank 5 gold for one of a single resource. These trades may occur as often as a player wishes.

CONSTRUCTING STUFF

Constructing stuff is easy. Each player looks at all of the resources that they have collected and measures it against the chart on the player aid which lists how much each of the various things that can be constructed costs. They may spend their money however they please so long as they keep a few caveats in mind:

- You cannot build settlements in an area that you do not control
- only one settlement may exist in each territory
- Settlements must be built in tiers and only one tier of a settlement can be constructed per turn (i.e. - you must build a village before you can build a town and you must wait until the next turn to upgrade the village into a town)
- multiple settlements may be built as long as they can be paid for and the previous caveat is followed
- fortifications follow the same rules as settlements. They are built in tiers and upgraded n tiers as well.
- in order to construct a fortification, there must be a legal settlement for it to fortify
- You cannot construct more settlements than you have n your supply. For instance, if you run out of villages, you must upgrade some of them first before you can construct even more

MOVEMENT, DISCOVERY CARDS, and MARAUDERS

During each player's turn, they will have the opportunity to move around the board using their armies. At the beginning of the game, the map is largely open and unexplored, but as time goes on, people will begin bumping into each other and running into various encounters in which they will have to engage in deadly combat if they want their empires to grow. If a player moves into a territory that is unoccupied and unexplored (does not have any territory markers or anything else inside of it) then that player will draw and then resolve a Discovery Card. These cards are often beneficial in nature granting the discovering player free resources or free roads, but they can sometimes be damaging (typically in the form of marauders) as well.

If a Discovery card informs the player that there are marauders in the territory, then the player will place the appropriate number and type of marauders into the territory in which they were when the card was originally drawn (unless the card says otherwise). The marauders are a player controlled A.I. component of the game that come into play either by the use of Discovery cards or as a result of the Event die rolling up with an orange square on it (the marauders are the orange pieces).

So, let’s talk about how battle plays out in War of Kings.

BATTLE

It is through the use of player versus player and player versus marauder battle that each player’s empire rises or falls during the course of this game. The battle mechanic can seem confusing when you first encounter it, but it’s actually rather easy once you have grasped the concepts. Each battle is fought by throwing a certain number and combination of dice depending on who is attacking whom with what and how many and what and how many the person that is being attacked is defending with. So, let’s break that idea down into its smaller components to make it more understandable.

When a player’s army/ies enters a territory that is already occupied by another player’s (or marauder’s!) armies and/or settlements, then the invading player makes an offer of battle. If the defending player chooses to reject the offer of battle, then they must withdraw all of their armies into an adjacent territory that is controlled by them. This means that, if they do not control any adjacent territories, they may not withdraw and are forced to accept the offer of battle.

Since settlements are not mobile, a settlement may never withdraw and must accept the offer of battle. The game illustrates this by stating that the settlement being attacked raises a militia in its defense. The militia mechanic ensures that one player cannot simply steamroll over another player’s settlements if that other player has neglected to leave an army behind to defend the settlement. If an army is present to defend the settlement then that army has the opportunity to engage in combat in defense of the settlement or withdraw.

If the defending player chooses to stay around and defend the settlement, then the settlement does not raise a militia and only the armies are considered in the defense of the territory. If the army or armies present withdraw, however, the settlement is so disheartened by the flight of their defenders that they cannot raise a militia in their defense and the territory is immediately conquered. An army that has a MOVED token may not withdraw (an army gains a moved token as soon as it is first generated or after it has performed a move).

If the attacker finds themselves in the position of fighting against some very determined defenders then things go much differently. First, the number of attackers is compared to the number of defenders (a militia counts as a single army). Normally, an attacker would only roll the four red 8-sided dice in its attack. If it has a numerical advantage, however, the attacker will also roll one of the red 6-sided dice for each army that it exceeds the defense by. Any rolls that come up with sword icons are considered hits against the defenders and any other icons on the dice are ignored.

The defenders will typically only roll two of the blue 8-sided dice in its defense. However, if the defenders have a numerical advantage, then they will roll additional blue 6-sided dice in their own defense for each army that it exceeds the attackers by. Also, if the defender happens to be a settlement, they may be entitled to roll additional grey fortification dice if there are fortifications present. The game includes a handy chart that decrees how many grey dice are added for which fortifications. Every shield that is rolled will negate one of the swords that were rolled by the attackers. For any hit that was not negated, the defender will take one single hit. An army can only take 3 hits before it is eliminated. The settlements can take a varied number of hits before they are defeated depending on what type of settlement is being attacked. To signify that damage was taken, the defender will place one damage token onto the unit that was damaged. If there are multiple defenders present, then the attacker will decree where each damage token is placed and who it is placed upon. If an army or settlement receives its maximum number of hits in this round of combat, that unit is not immediately removed, but is still able to participate in the counterattack.

After the attack comes the defender’s counterattack. The defender rolls 4 blue 8-sided dice plus any bonus dice from fortifications or numerical advantage and determines how many hits are landed on the attacker. The attacker will then roll two red 8-sided dice to defend itself plus any bonus dice from numerical advantage. If the attacker takes any hits, then the defender will dictate where and upon whom the damage tokens are placed.

After the counterattack, any armies that have taken their maximum number of hits are removed from the board. If the defending settlement has taken its maximum number of hits, it is considered to be conquered and the attacking player will place one of their possession markers into the territory. The settlement’s cultural affiliation remains (the color of the settlement does not change) but the settlement will now supply resources (and gold if connected to the new controller’s capital city by a road network) to the new controller as well as count towards the new controller’s victory point total. If the defending settlement has taken its maximum number of hits BUT has managed to eradicate the attacking army, then the defense was successful and possession of the territory does not change hands.

If there are still defending armies remaining or the settlement stills stands, then both players may choose to continue fighting (in which case the entire battle process begins anew) or one of them may withdraw (if able). When conquering a territory containing a settlement, the attacking army has the option to raze the settlement that is there. If a player razes a settlement, then they will receive free resources from the supply and the settlement is removed from the board (the type and amount of resources received depends upon the type of settlement that was razed). If the marauders conquer a settlement, then an 8-sided die is rolled to determine whether or not they raze that settlement. If the die comes up with a sword icon, then the settlement is razed. Unlike players, though, marauders will never receive resources of any kind for anything that they do.

SUPPLYING and SUPPORTING ARMIES

These two items can be somewhat confusing because they sound very similar. Supplying existing armies is how a player goes about healing armies that have taken damage. Supporting armies is how a player determines how many armies they may have on the board before they begin having to pay for the privilege of doing so.

Supplying an army costs 2 gold per army and may only be done if the army that is being supplied meets one of these two conditions: a.) that army does not have a MOVED token and it is in the same territory with a town or a city or b.) it is in a territory that is connected to a town or city by a road network. Once the 2 gold has been paid, all damage tokens will be removed from the army.

Depending on how many and what type of settlements a player has in play under their control, only a certain number of armies can be supported at any given time. If a player ever exceeds this number, then they must pay 5 gold per army that is not supported at the end of their turn or else remove the unsupported armies from the board.

PHASES

So, this is where it all comes together. The game is played in a series of rounds and each round consists of a number of turns which, in turn, consist of a series of phases. The first phase, resource generation and construction, is shared by all players and happens simultaneously. The other phases all happen one after the other on a single player’s turn before the next player takes their turn and performs all of the phases and the next person, so on and so forth until every player has taken their turns. Then the cycle begins anew. The following is a list of all of the phases in sequence along with a brief description of each:

1. Resource generation and construction: the resource dice are rolled and players collect their resources and build things.
2. Event die phase: the active player will roll the Event die and a single resource die. If they own the proper type of settlement as decreed by the Event die and that settlement produces an item of the color on the resource die, then they may draw an Event card and add it to their hand. These cards should be kept secret and there is no limit to how many they can have at one time. In fact, a player may even choose to use this Event card if they happen to be controlling the marauders to give the marauders an extra edge!
3. Movement phase: the active player may move as many of their armies as they wish as long as those armies do not already have any moved tokens. The active player makes an offer of battle in any territories that they move their armies into that already have armies and/or settlements in them.
4. Discovery phase: if the territory moved into had nothing in it, then the active player draws a Discovery card and does what it says. In the case of multiple territories being discovered, the active player gets to choose the order in which the Discovery cards resolve.
5. Battle resolution: any offers of battle are either accepted or rejected and battles are carried out as is necessary.
6. Supply phase: armies are supplied and any armies that cannot be supported are paid for and removed.

At the conclusion of a round of play, players will update their ledgers to reflect any changes that have been made (resources and gold gained or lost, victory points, etc.) It is at this time that a winner will be declared if any player has met one of the win conditions.

WINNING the GAME

The object of the game is to be the first player to reach 13 victory points. In the rare instance that two players hit this goal in the same round of play, then the player with the greatest amount of victory points wins. There is a series of tie breakers laid out in the rulebook for the rare instances in which the two players are STILL tied after this. Victory points are achieved by reaching various economic and military goals which are laid out on the player reference sheets.

There is one additional way to win and that is simply to be the last player standing. Although it is incredibly unlikely, there is a very slim possibility that every player except for one could be eliminated from the game through military conquest.

THOUGHTS

For being such a large game with such a huge scope, War of Kings is surprisingly easy to learn and surprisingly fun to play. When I first saw all of the pieces, I was overwhelmed and I thought that this was going to be one of those incredibly long drawn out and overly complex games. However, aside from a few grammatical errors, the rules are so well written and so clear that I had no trouble picking up the game and learning how to play.

There was never a point during the huge 6 player game that I played that I found myself feeling disengaged or overcome with analysis paralysis. Due to being boxed in early on in the game, your options during your turn become very limited so the typical turn really doesn't take very long at all. The combat is fast and fluid so that goes by rather quickly as well. The thing that takes the longest and is incidentally the one thing that most people that were having trouble seemed to be having trouble with is the economic ledger. This is kind of ironic since the point of the economic ledger is to actually help the players save time. When playing this game for the very first time, I highly recommend that you spend a little bit of time getting used to filling out the ledger. Once you understand it, you'll love it.

War of Kings is an incredibly well designed game that presents enough strategic choices to keep it intriguing and fun. After one single playthrough, I had my people in my gaming group begging me to bring it back because they wanted more. Any game that produces that kind of reaction is a game worth watching. War of Kings has my stamp of approval!
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Andrew DiGregorio
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West Babylon
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i believe there are a few typos where gold is concerned (60 instead of 6, 180 instead of 18) that you might want to correct.

Otherwise, great review! Definitely glad i KSed this...


How long did your 6 player game take?
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David McMillan
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Madison
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slyde wrote:
i believe there are a few typos where gold is concerned (60 instead of 6, 180 instead of 18) that you might want to correct.

Otherwise, great review! Definitely glad i KSed this...


How long did your 6 player game take?


Thanks for the catch on those typos. The prototype that I received actually had all of the values listed in values of tens instead of values as ones. I was trying to write my review with the newer rules in mind, but old habits die hard. I've gone back and fixed those now.

As far as the six player game that I was playing, it is hard to gauge. The explanation took awhile because people were constantly having side conversations and I had to repeat things for their benefit. Also, the hostess was called out of the room multiple times so the game got hung up a few times while we were waiting for her to reappear to finish up her turn. After two hours, most of us had at least 10 victory points out of the 13 needed to clinch victory. Had it not been for the interruptions and the waiting, things would have obviously gone much faster and it would have taken less than 2 hours from explanation to finishing the game. Also, I am not factoring the set up into that time estimate as I had arrived early and set up the game to try to lure more people into playing it (which worked like a charm). This is a game that is so visually appealing when it's laid out and ready to go that you feel drawn to it. If you've backed this project, then you have made a wise investment.
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Andrew DiGregorio
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thanks, thats good to know!

And im happy to hear that it clocked it around 2 hours, even with that many players. That is typically around the sweet spot with my group... games that go longer dont hit the table as often...
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Seth Robinson

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Hey David, I'm so glad you and your gaming group enjoyed playing War of Kings! I enjoyed reading your write-up and believe it definitely provides a great deal of information to our backers and the rest of the community. We are very excited about all of the stretch goals we reached, and it is worth noting here that the game-board will now be double sided with two completely different maps...

If anyone should have any questions regarding the game, please do not hesitate to ask!
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