A well produced empire building and dungeon exploring game that offers a fun play, but IMO has some design deficiencies that may lead to player frustrations. 6/10
Theme and feel
The game is of course based on the video game of the same name but is by no means a role playing game. To me it most closely feels like Thunderstone in that you are building up your little town/party and then go fight monsters from a dungeon stack. The art looks great as it is lifted from well crafted game.
There are two distinct mechanical parts of the game - empire building and combat. Each turn you get a random hand of "kingdom" cards and a random set of resources. You can use the resources to build however-many of the kingdom cards you can afford. The cards you have built give you a couple different classes of powers - combat/defense, victory points, resource manipulation, hand manipulation (how many cards you can hold etc.). If you don't use up your resources, your opponents get them. Thats the empire building part.
As for the combat part - you may either send your troops to explore the dungeons and get special equipment and VPs or you can attack another player and destroy his or her buildings converting them to VPs for you. The combat is simple, based on a sum of attack and defense compared between the two parties, most troops having some additional special powers that may create useful synergies. Troops can be upgraded (once) using soul gems (loot from dungeon) granting them additional powers.
There's also a stack of tasks cards that give you VPs for fullfilling them.
The game ends when either the dungeon or the kingdom cards are used up, most VPs get the win.
The biggest draw of the game is the exploration - mainly you will be eyeing the dungeon stacks (three stacks of rising difficulty) and wondering what treasures you can get but you will also look forward to your next hand of kingdom cards hoping to draw an awesome hero or a powerful building. This is where the game shines.
You'll have to balance your hand making sure you can build at least something with the random set of resources you'll get (perhaps discarding some expensive cards in favor of the cheaper ones) as well as you'll have to balance your adventuring with leaving some troops at home for defense against other players. PvP combat is something you will have to consider carefully as it generally makes the situation worse for both of the players, perhaps leaving the non-combatants at an advantage.
Problems with the design
While I find the game enjoyable enough, I'm afraid it's not ballanced well enough. The problem is too much randomness. If a player gets to build a good resource producing building early on she will have a great advantage over the others. Similarly if a player gets a run of a couple of rounds of mismatched resources and cards, he will never catch up again - this problem is exacerbated by the fact that you hand unused resources to your opponents.
The general problem with getting behind on development is that the other players can just keep crushing you like a bug each turn forcing you to hand them your cards, never being able to recover again. But even if they play "nice" and don't take advantage of that, they will be burning through the dungeon stack while you are just sitting around building up your army.
Unfortunately this problem has lead to at least one severly frustrated player in each game. The design desperately needs some catch-up mechanism. It tries to provide that with the random event die that curbs the well-developed players somewhat but it feels very heavy-handed and insufficient.
Despite the above, even the frustrated people wanted to play the game again, feeling the thrill for exploration and hoping for better luck next time. This is a testament to the fact that despite the deficiencies the core of the game is attractive enough.
I agree with basically everything here but think your score is too generous.
I also agree with everything you are saying. My only other thing I would add is that the game is LONG. Even when you use half of the city deck, the game took us over two hours.
Great review and write up.
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Thank you so much for the review. We value every comment and it helps make our games better and better.
One strategy that is an important part of the game is cycling cards. Holding onto a hand of expensive cards will mean you aren't building/hiring which also slows down the game. You want to have cheap cards for off-turn which you can build with the leftover resources. It's also important to have cheap troops available for soaking up damage and protecting your heroes. Also cycling cards has the benefit of giving you more options during the build phase. It might be awesome to have 2 treasury's in your hand but it will be tough to build them and they are wasting valuable hand space.
Hope that helps and enjoy the game!
One strategy that is an important part of the game is cycling cards. Holding onto a hand of expensive cards will mean you aren't building/hiring which also slows down the game. You want to have cheap cards for off-turn which you can build with the leftover resources. It's also important to have cheap troops available for soaking up damage and protecting your heroes. Also cycling cards has the benefit of giving you more options during the build phase. It might be awesome to have 2 treasury's in your hand but it will be tough to build them and they are wasting valuable hand
Thanks for the answer. We were aware of this principle - that's why I briefly described it in the game play section.
The imbalance still happens as described roughly to one player in a 4p game...