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Subject: What's worn under the King's Kilt? - with pictures! rss

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Chris Dugas
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What's worn under the King's Kilt?

Nothing. It's all in perfect condition.


There. Now that old joke is out of the way, I'll get on with my review of King's Kilt, a game I just received after backing its Kickstarter campaign. I've only had a chance to play it 3 times, once as a 3-player game and twice as a 2-player game, but since there are no reviews yet, I thought I give my first impressions to hopefully help others decide if the game is for them.




What type of game is King's Kilt?

King's Kilt is a quick-playing, light card game (basically a filler in the 20-30 minute range) for 2-4 players with a nice balance of luck and strategy based on backstabbing Scottish politics. (Fondness for tartan helps, but a love of bagpipe music is not necessary, although being half Scottish, I appreciate a good skirl myself.)

There are 8 different clans, represented in the game by their tartans: Bruce, Buchanan, Douglas, Hamilton, MacBeth, MacLeod, Stewart, and Wallace. (I went alphabetically so as to hopefully not offend anyone.)



Players each have 3 family clan cards, which represent clans whose interests they are trying advance through a pyramidal array of cards, starting with a pre-dealt base of 6 cards and ending with a pyramid of 6 rows, with 1 card in the top row, 2 cards in the second row, etc. Cards are advanced diagonally towards the top, and resulting gaps in the bottom row are filled in from a draw deck. (There are good diagrams of all this in the rulebook.) Once the pyramid is complete and people have finished or are unable to continue betraying (removing cards), the game is scored, with matching the top row representing the king worth 3 points, matching the second row representing the guardians worth 2 points each, and matching the third row representing the noblemen worth 1 point each. The bottom 3 rows are commoners and not worth any points. Family clan cards are kept secret unless you must reveal one by being the first to advance a card into either the noblemen or guardian row. This is discussed a bit more in the strategy section.


What are the components like?



This game is entirely composed of cards, which seem to be made of sturdy cardstock with a nice linen finish. They look like they will stand up to a lot of shuffling, which is good for those of us who don't sleeve their cards since the deck will get a lot of shuffling to thoroughly mix up the cards. There is a separate starting deck of 16 cards, each clan depicted twice, which makes sure all the clans are represented in the array early in the game, and these 16 cards, called clan leaders, are easily distinguished by different backs on the cards. The fronts of the cards are vivid, with a background of each appropriate clan tartan, a banner with the clan name (also helpful for colour blind players), and a pair of crossed daggers, one of which is dripping blood. (This game isn't about the referendum era of Scottish politics, after all!) There are also 3 cards which are placed alongside the top 3 rows. The one that goes beside the top row explains the scoring and the ones which go beside the second and third rows explain what happens the first time a card is advanced into those rows. There is a slight difference in what happens in a 2-player game versus a 3- or 4-player game, and these explanatory cards are double-sided, with 1 side explaining the 2-player rule and the other side the rule for 3 or 4 players.



How is the rulebook?

The rulebook is a small, fold-out booklet of 8 pages. It clearly explains the rules, with pictures explaining some of the details. I only had to read the rules once to be able to play the game as the rules are quite straightforward. There was only 1 thing I didn't understand immediately and that was the reason for how the family clan cards were initially dealt out. It was clear how to deal them out; I just didn't clue into why until I actually physically dealt them out, at which point it made sense.


How are family clans dealt and why?

At the beginning of the game, an 8-card deck is made by separating out 1 card of each different clan. From this 8-card deck, 2 cards are dealt to each player. This means that each player will have 2 unique clans that they and they alone so far are working to advance. Any cards left over after this (there will be no cards left over if there are 4 players) are returned to the draw deck and each player is given 1 more card. If they are given a duplicate to one of the 2 cards already dealt to them, they return it and are given a different one so that they have 3 different family clan cards. That third card, however, may be the same as a third card given to another player or to one of the 2 cards initially dealt to another player, so 2 (or more) players may be working to advance a particular clan. Family clan hands can overlap with other players but not too much. That overlap can have enormous consequences, as demonstrated by the final array of the 3-player game played with my husband and daughter.



My family clan (top left) consisted of Bruce, Buchanan, and Macleod, with Bruce being the third card added from the full draw deck. My husband's family clan (bottom right) had Douglas, Wallace, and Hamilton, with Douglas being the third card added. My daughter's family clan (top right) had Bruce and Douglas from the initial 8-card deck and Macbeth from the full draw deck. She delightedly spent the game watching me advance Bruce, her father advance Douglas, and ended up winning with a final score of 9 (10 is a perfect score). We did all the work for her.


Strategy versus luck in the game.

Obviously, with a randomly shuffled draw deck, there is a fair bit of luck in the game. Your family clan cards may just not appear in the pyramid at the right time. Too early and they get picked off by betrayal (explained in a minute). Too late and there's not enough time to advance to the top 3 rows to score. Mitigating all that luck is the 16-card starting deck, from which the 6-card base of the pyramid is dealt, followed by the remaining 10 cards being placed at the top of the draw deck, so each clan will enter the array at least twice in the first 16 cards.

As far as strategy goes, that's where the backstabbing comes in. As well as being dealt your 3 family clan cards at the beginning, each player is also dealt 5 influence cards (simply 5 cards from the full draw deck), which may be spent influencing one of the cards on the table (commoner, nobleman, guardian, or king) to betray one of the up to 6 surrounding cards (diagrammed well in the rulebook), which is then removed, allowing you to advance cards up the pyramid to fill the gaps until a gap in the bottom row is filled in from the draw deck. In fact, even once a king is crowned (top 1-card row is filled), the game is not over until everyone is finished backstabbing, either because they are happy with the setup of the top 3 rows or because they are out of influence cards to alter the setup. As well, care must be taken when using these influence cards. They are a tiebreaker at the end of the game, with the player having the most influence cards left at the end of the game winning if the points ended in a tie. More importantly, they must be used strategically. Cards in the bottom 3 rows, the commoners, can be influenced by paying any card. I guess they'll betray one of their surrounding clans for any old dram of whisky or slice of haggis. Cards used to influence noblemen, guardians, or the king, however, must match the clan of the card you're trying to influence. Having to match the card is a more difficult bribe, perhaps representing sheep, land, or gold. (That's just how I distinguish the two types of influence, matching versus nonmatching, in my mind.)

Also strategic is how quickly you fill up the pyramid versus using those influence cards. Do you run your clans up to the top, leaving them sitting targets, and hope they don't get betrayed, especially since being the first to play in either the noblemen or guardian row has some players revealing one of the clans they are rooting for? Or do you use your influence cards early down in the commoner rows, trying to get the other players to play first in the top 3 rows, thereby finding out a clan they're rooting for and use that knowledge against them? Timing this definitely has a strategic feel when playing. And do you only advance your own clan cards or throw in a few red herrings (preferably smoked...mmmmmm, kippers)?


How thematic is the game?

At it's core, in King's Kilt you're arranging cards into a pyramid, with scoring for matching the cards in the top 3 rows. It could technically be played with a couple decks of cards with sufficiently different artwork between them that you could have 8 suits/clans (or 1 deck if you wanted just 4 suits/clans). Technically. I happen to like the tartans, however pasted on it may seem to give the game a Scottish theme. Certainly it could also be rethemed to any hierarchical structure, such as a business, with CEO, etc. I happen to prefer the Scottish theme, but that's just my personal preference. The theme isn't integral to the game mechanics.

There is some Scottish flavour text in the rulebook. The start player is supposed to be the player, "with the clearest line of inheritance to the Scottish Crown." Also, if the game results in a tie and is still tied after counting remaining influence cards, "resolve the tie with a friendly toss of the caber."

That brings me to my only, admittedly completely unreasonable, disappointment with the game. Looking at the box with the components inside...



I wish the top of the cardboard insert had been trimmed and a miniature caber included in the box. Picture a little caber, 6- or 8-sided rather than round, numbered on each side, which could be tossed in place of a die (and in place of closeness to the Scottish Crown as per the rules) to determine the start player. I know, I know, any added element, especially something not standard, would have increased the cost of the game, but that miniature caber would have been sweet! (I might make one to add to the game, and if I ever do, I'll add a picture to this review.)


Overall opinion.

Compared to my other filler card games, I did enjoy this one quite a bit. It's definitely a keeper for me. It's quick, with a nice balance of luck and strategy, and some backstabby fun that doesn't get too nasty. As I said at the top, this is based on 3 plays and is therefore a first impression, but at this point I would rate it 8/10.




Edited to correct a couple of typos and smooth out the wording on the explanation of dealing the family clan cards.


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Suzanna
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I feel like the mini-caber would be a great promo item.
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Michael Van Biesbrouck
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Perhaps a golf pencil with numbers written on the sides? (Traditional for multiple choice tests.)
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Chris Dugas
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mlvanbie wrote:
Perhaps a golf pencil with numbers written on the sides? (Traditional for multiple choice tests.)


That's a good idea! I might have a bit of trouble writing that small on the pencil sides, but it definitely sounds doable. Caber tossing, here I come!
 
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