New South Wales
BorderCon was a blast this year!!!
Image Courtesy of W Eric Martin
This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.
If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.
Game Type - Dice Game
Play Time: 30-70 minutes
Number of Players: 2-4
Mechanics - Dice Rolling, Dice Pool Building
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in 10 minutes)
Components - Very Good
Release - 2013
Designer - Nick Sibicky - (Debut Game)
Overview and Theme
A Royal Decree has been nailed to all the posts in the village. The King has beheaded his last forgesman due to poor taste in jokes and the position is open for an up and coming smelter-er-man.
That's where you come in! Prove yourself the best subject in an iron apron and get the job, it's that simple.
Theme aside King's Forge is a light dice-rolling game where the players need to manage their dice pool in such a way that they can craft objects of ever increasing complexity and beauty to catch the eye of the King. Be the first player to forge as many items as he desires and you get the gig...for now.
King's Forge was Kickstarted back in 2013 and is the designer's debut title. The game has found a niche though and this has allowed Nick to develop and release several expansions for the game already.
Dice rollers are right up my alley, add in some dice pool management and this should be a winner for me. But having said that, I can be critical on games in this genre too as the competition is plentiful.
Stoke that fire naive and pass me that apron...no not the booby one. that's for er...other situations.
It's time to get a forgin'!
The component quality for King's Forge is a mixed bag, with some highlights and some unfortunate decisions. Then there is the just plain bizarre.
Clearly the game was designed to not have a board, so the docks were represented by card-sized templates. But these are made completely redundant by the inclusion of a board, where the docks are printed. All of the cards can easily be placed on a table in various positions to simulate the game. What is really weird is that despite including a board (which I assume was a kickstarter stretch goal) the dock cards are still included and the rulebook still refers to placing cards on the table at various positions when this is now clearly redundant.
Somewhere quality control failed. Anyhoo...let's look at the bits in more detail.
Board - As mentioned already, the game comes with a board which represents a classic fantasy village. Its main purpose is to show various card silhouettes to help organise the game and Dock locations are also printed at the bottom.
It's nice enough but quite large for a game of this nature. The artwork is serviceable but nothing outstanding, which is a theme throughout the production.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Dice - The dice are the shining glory of the components, which I appreciate given that this is a dice game. Each dice colour or type is meant to represent a resource such as wood, gems or magic, which are used to forge items.
The dice come in 6 colours and each type has a finish that is unique and quite nice. In particular the blue (magic) dice deserve mention with their blue speckled translucent appearance and I am quite fond of the green (wood) dice also as they appear to have something of a grainy effect.
These are great and when they catch the light they add a level of quality to the game's visuals.
Size wise, these are of the smaller variety (think Alea Iacta Est) or Castles of Burgundy), which makes sense given the size of the dice pools you will be chucking towards the endgame. These dice feature square and not rounded edges.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Crafting Cards - The Crafting Cards are the objectives of the game and as such they are all items that can be crafted in a forge and given to the King as a measure of his wealth and power. We are talking Ruby Collar's, Platemails of Loyalty, weapons of various types and Arch Wizard Orbs to name but a few.
These cards have decent art which borders on the cartoonish but it works for this game. Each card has two key features; the artwork and card title on the left and a narrow wooden panel down the right hand side. The artwork is placed on a parchment background as if the King's decree has been pinned to a post or wall and this supports the theme nicely.
The wooden panel on the right side of the cards features a number of dice with given numbers in one or more colours. These represent the requirements that must be met to craft the item in question.
Above the dice requirements panel is a number, which is used during set-up (essentially outlining how hard it is to craft each card) and in breaking a tie should it eventuate.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Gathering Cards - The Gathering Cards are of the same size but that is where the comparison ends. These cards feature a black background and the card is split into thirds by making use of artwork laid out horizontally in the centre of the cards. Again the artwork is cartoonish to match that found on the board and the Crafting Cards but it does a good job of evoking the title of each card.
The two strips are key to the mechanics of the game as they represent the two abilities that each Gathering Card offers. These powers are outlined using a combination of text and icons. It is common for dice of varying colours to feature as well as boxes in which dice can be placed (effectively powering the action or paying for its cost).
The card layout and iconography is well done and it takes little time at all to become familiar with the powers of the Gathering Cards and the game flows smoothly as a result.
The one big negative for all of the cards is that they are made of very thin cardstock and lack a good finish (matte or linen). As a result the cards really need to be sleeved as I don't think they would last too long otherwise.
This is maybe an area where Kickstarter can be left wanting over a traditional publisher...but that may be unfair as Game Salute delivered this design and they are not known for their quality assurance measures.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
The Dock Tiles - As I said earlier, the game still includes 4 Tiles to act as Dock Locations (places where dice can trigger powers) but these are totally redundant when a board is provided. I guess they do allow the game to be played in a space which cannot accommodate the size of the board but it seems like overkill to provide both.
These are an exact replica of the locations on the board, offering several locations where dice can be placed in order to gain access to a benefit. The tiles are nice and thick too.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Anvil - The game comes with an oversized hefty plastic black anvil piece to denote the starting player. This is seriously one of the chunkiest start player tokens I have ever seen but it is a nice addition.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Tokens - The game comes with 4 round wooden tokens.
One pair are green and offer a +1, +1 ability which is stamped onto a shield, all heraldry like.
The other pair are yellow and feature a 6 with a crown stamped inside the loop of the 6. In a nice touch the edge is ringed with the name King Sedgewickson III to help bring the theme to life. I must confess that the game isn't nearly deep enough to require such attention to detail but it is good to see small labours of love on a design, even if I had never noticed this detail until examining them for this review.
Image Courtesy of Humulus
Smithy Tiles - The game also comes with 4 smaller tiles that represent a player's Smithy in the game (a location where newly gathered resources [dice] are placed). There is no functional differences between them but they are double-sided and offer up different artwork, which I think is meant to represent a family's house sigal.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Rules - With the exception of referring to 'playing cards to the table' when they have added a board, the rules are pretty well done. They are nicely spaced and the font is easy to read, so the game is easy to learn and key rulings can be found quickly during play. They also include a summary of the Gathering Cards to help avoid ambiguities.
In addition the game also offers up a set-up summary card, which is great in helping to get the game ready to go.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
On the whole the production is not too bad and gets a Very Good rating from me. It's just a shame that the cards couldn't have been bumped up a quality notch or two. I recognise that Kickstarter works on some fine margins (with shipping affecting the overall total cost) and every company is trying to maximise their profit but for the sake of maybe $5 more per copy I think the cards could have been far more robust and not require card sleeves.
Perhaps the board could have been left out to allow for this.
That said the dice add the quality touch the game needs to still feel pretty good overall.
Image Courtesy of HedgeWizzard
The game requires a little deck manipulation to get going but it isn't difficult in any way.
Each player takes a Smithy Tile of their choice and selects the side that they prefer (pure artwork). They also take 5 black (Metal) dice as their starting supply.
The Craft Deck is then created. A number of cards will be selected at random from the deck based on the number of players (9-13). These are then revealed and placed in order based on their numerical value in the top right corner of the cards. The 3 lowest numbered cards are placed in the open market location on the board and the other cards are splayed in numerical order above the market so that the players can see all dice requirements for each card (allowing for advanced planning).
Then the Gather Deck must be created. There are 4 cards that are used in every game which must be put to one side. These cards are always used as they offer powers that are important in helping the players build their dice pools.
To those 4 cards, another 7 are randomly selected and the 11 cards are shuffled together to form the Gathering Card draw pile.
All Craft and Gather Cards not used are returned to the box and this random selection of cards allows the game to play differently with each experience.
All other dice are then separated by colour and set aside to form the bank. A starting player is selected and they are given the Anvil Token.
The game is ready to begin.
King's Forge is played over essentially 2 phases in a game turn with a quick Clean Up Phase at the end to get things ready for the next round.
In each phase, the players take turns in order. The options to a player look a little like this :-
Gather Phase –
Image Courtesy of John365 In this phase the players have the option to try and acquire more dice and special powers that may help them when they try to craft an item in the Craft Phase (I'm not sure why they didn't call it the Forge Phase but there you go). Dice represent resources that are used to make the items that can be crafted and are given names like metal, wood, gems, magic etc based on their colour.
The players have 3 options within the Gather Phase -
Claim a Gather Card - The game will usually have 4 Gather Cards face-up during a round and a player is allowed to take one of these cards with this action.
Each Gather Card has 2 possible abilities, one listed at the top of the card and one at the bottom.
A player can only select one of these options and a number of dice will need to be taken from their supply and placed on the ability to trigger the benefit. These costs will list the number of dice and the dice types required. The cost must be meet precisely if the power is to be activated. These costs are listed as boxes for dice to be placed in. A blank box means that the dice spent are not lost but a box with a cross (X) in it means that the dice placed there will be lost to the bank, possibly reducing the size of a player's dice pool if no dice are earned as part of the power.
Most benefits of Gather Cards are to gain 1 or more dice of various types. So often the players are able to gain additional Metal Dice (generic black ones) or they may look to acquire more valuable dice, which may come at the cost of a dice sacrifice. Dice that are gained via a Gather Action are always placed on a player's Smithy Tile (unless otherwise stated) and cannot be used in the same turn during the Crafting Phase. Therefore dice added to a player's smithy are really all about forward planning (with one eye on the requirements of the Crafting Cards that have not yet been forged).
Use a Docks Action - The game also offers up 4 Dock locations that offer access to resources (dice) and some tokens. These locations are global, meaning that any player can access them if they are still free of dice.
A Dock can be accessed if a player takes a Gather Card and then foregoes the use of its abilities. Much like Gather Cards, Dock Actions allow a player to choose from one of two abilities and they have associated costs. The difference here is that the dice stay on the location until the Clean Up Phase and thus, an action taken cannot be taken by someone else (ala Alien Frontiers).
Accessing a Dock also has some important repercussions. Dice will be lost, always, from a player's pool in order to access an ability. Taking a Gather Card is also important because it allows you to deny a certain set of powers that another player may have been hoping to access.
If no Gather Cards are left to take it will also force players to pass, so taking a Dock Action also helps draw this phase of a round to an end.
Pass - At any point a player can choose to pass or may be forced to pass if there are no more face-up Gather Cards. Once a player has passed they take no further part in the phase and the phase comes to an end when all players have passed.
The game throws up a key decision however by offering the first player that passes, a special benefit. They can either add a Metal Dice to their Smithy to be used in future turns or they can take one of the +1/+1 Tokens to help with their Crafting rolls in the current round.
This is a nice addition as it makes the players consider carefully what they stand to gain if they take another Gather Action, versus the bonus on offer.
Crafting Phase – This phase is where the players hope to craft items in order to please the King and of course this is how the players try to win the game.
Crafting one of the 3 objects in the marketplace is a case of rolling all the dice in your supply in an attempt to meet the requirements of the item(s) in question and the player holding the Anvil always crafts first.
But there are a couple of catches here. First, the players are only able to roll dice that are left over after the Gather Phase. This is known as a player's supply. Thus, any dice newly gained in the Smithy (from the Gather Phase) and any dice used to pay for Gather Cards or Dock Actions are not available. For this reason the players are often faced with the decision to gather or craft in a given turn because they won't have enough dice to do both. Well this is at least true in the early to mid game when dice pools are limited.
The second catch is that the players are only allowed to roll their dice a single time!
Each Craft Card lists a number of dice in certain colours and each dice icon features a value. To successfully craft an item, a player must have the matching coloured dice in their supply and they must roll them and be able to at least meet or exceed the values on the card's icons.
For example, a Craft Card may feature 2 Metal Dice of values 3 and 4 and a Gem Dice of value 6. A player needs to roll at least 2 black dice that feature a 3 and a 4 or better and at least one red dice with a value of 6.
This may seem easy enough if you are rolling a handful of the required dice but it is amazing how many times you seem to come up just one or two pips short. Thankfully those Gather Card Actions often have abilities to re-roll, flip dice, turn 1's into 6's or add +1 or +2 to a given dice.
This is a nice feature of the game because it gives all those Gather Actions a nice balance. Players need to decide carefully how much they need to acquire new resource (dice) and how important dice manipulation powers will be.
Success - If a player is able to meet the requirements of a card then they can take it. They must then put the dice they used to craft the card onto the card itself, featuring the values that were rolled.
If a card is taken, the next Craft Card in the line-up is moved into the open marketplace position and this card can be crafted in the same phase if a player has the dice and the roll to match.
That is an important point too...a single player can craft multiple cards in a single Craft Phase if they have a dice supply big enough and can roll the required values.
But even when you succeed at crafting, you may still be nervous.
Image Courtesy of John365 That's because players cannot lock their newly crafted items away until the end of the Crafting Phase. This means that any players that follow others in the Crafting turn order have the chance to steal newly crafted items! Of course they have to have the right types of dice in their supply if they want to attempt a steal action.
To successfully steal an already crafted item, a player must be able to at least match or better all of the dice values used to craft the item in the first place. This makes it really important to try and maximise the values of your dice at all times.
Towards the end-game the players will be carefully assessing how many items each player has and how close the players are to victory. Stealing becomes quite important in order to stave off a victory for the opposition and that means the players are always looking to acquire the right dice types. This leads to something of an 'arms race' as the players seek to escalate their dice pools in order to always have an answer to any given problem.
The stealing mechanic also has big implications for the turn order. Going first always makes you feel a little queasy when Crafting, whilst going last gives you a fair degree of comfort that you 'hold all the cards'.
End of the Phase - Once everyone has had a chance to Craft, the phase is over. Quite often there may only be 1 or 2 players that attempt to Craft because the other players have gone for Gather Actions instead and don't have the dice required to craft any of the 3 marketplace items.
For this reason the Crafting Phase can be very quick.
Clean Up Phase – The Clean Up Phase is really a point in the game when the players are clearing things up and getting everything reset for the next round. For this reason it takes a matter of seconds.
First the players remove all dice that were assigned to Gather Cards, making sure to return any dice that were on 'X' boxes to the bank...meaning they were sacrificed. All other dice on these cards plus any dice that were on their Smithy are put together on the table to reflect the size of their supply/dice pool for the coming turn.
All dice on the Dock Action Spaces are returned to the bank because these locations are always marked with an X.
All 11 of the Gather Cards are put back together and shuffled up to form a new draw deck for the coming round and the top 4 cards are turned over.
Finally the Anvil is passed on to the next player on the left to change the turn order for the coming round.
That's how one entire round of King's Forge plays out.
Winning the Game - The game comes to an end at the conclusion of a Crafting Phase in which at least one player has forged their 4th (or higher) item (based on the number of players).
In the event that two or more players achieve the same feat and finish with the same number of items, the tie-break is won by the player that forged the highest numbered item (as this is the most difficult item to Forge based on the number of dice, the type of dice needed and the values that needed to be rolled).
The winner promptly takes down all job ad signs from the posts in town and smiles wickedly at the competition. They then stop smiling when they realise that they had better work out pretty quickly how to avoid being the next Forgesman to be beheaded.
What Makes King's Forge Work and Given the Competition, Is it Worth Owning?
There is certainly no shortage of games in the dice-based area of the hobby. So in this section I will look at what makes King's Forge work and then consider how it stacks up against other games in the same sphere.
As a game in its own right, King's Forge is a good time for the following reasons :-
Plenty of Options Equals the Scope for Decision Making -
King's Forge offers up a pretty good variety of options within each round. That is largely thanks to the dual powers offered up by the Gather Cards (22 in all) and then there are the additional 9 options offered by the Dock Actions.
The best part is that these options never feel overwhelming and their function is easy to remember after only a couple of plays. But they do allow the players to go about building their strategy in a myriad of ways. It's not as flexible as a Castles of Burgundy certainly, but it feels nice and varied all the same.
Player Interaction - The game offers up a more subtle form of player interaction and a direct form as well.
The subtle form is in the taking of Gather Cards, sometimes because you really need that ability and other times you may take something because if it falls into THEIR hands...yeah that player in the corner over there...then bad things are going to happen. The need to weigh up what you need and what you really can't allow the opposition to get is always good fun in a game.
Of course the more direct form of player interaction comes in the form of stealing already Crafted items in the same round. There really is no reason not to do this as the gain is two-fold (one less for you and one more for me). Surprisingly it doesn't feel overly aggressive in the game and I think that is because the players can see the various dice pools in play and almost expect a steal attempt to take place. You just have to hope that luck is not on their side and that you have made it hard enough to be able to keep your valuables.
When to Gather and When to Craft -
Image Courtesy of John365 A really important part of the game's strategy is in knowing when to focus solely on gathering and when to really give crafting a major crack. However the consideration of timing is also important. There is nothing nicer than being able to Craft a given item when the other players cannot steal it due to not having the required dice types. Sometimes your own odds of being able to Craft something may be quite low (in relation to how many dice are in your pool/supply and the odds of rolling the requirements) and therefore you are better served to focus your efforts on Gathering as much as possible.
I like this aspect of the game and I think it makes for some interesting decision making.
The Importance of Seat Position - This is really an extension of the last point to some degree as seat position is really important in King's Forge. Unlike some games I have played where this really seems to screw you, here it feels more fun and just another aspect to consider.
I think the game does a pretty good job of getting the balance right between going first and last. The first player is really in an odds-on position to get access to a Gather Card that is important to them and possibly other players around the table. The downside is that they are also the first to Craft (should they chose to do so).
The last player is not resigned to getting access to only crappy Gather Cards, there is a good chance they will get something half decent but to mitigate any possible disadvantage here they get to Craft last in the Crafting Phase, which means they can see the lay of the land for stealing purposes and of course nobody can steal from them in that round!
Dice Pool/Supply Management - What drives King's Forge is that it is a dice pool management game. How the players go about adding additional dice to their supply, when they sacrifice dice to attain more valuable dice and how many they set aside for Gathering and how many they keep available for Crafting rolls will determine to a large degree how well they will fair.
I haven't played too many games like this. I rather disliked this aspect of Quarriors but I really enjoy the experience here. It's a really fun aspect of the game.
Assessing the Crafting Line-Up - A clever feature of the game is that the players can see right from the get-go, the types of dice that feature prominently in the Crafting line-up and that allows for some longer term planning as you go about Gathering various dice types (resources).
This is a clever aspect of the design and as the game unfolds you are constantly assessing your own dice pool versus the competition and hoping that you can stay just one step ahead.
The Arms Race - If I combine points 5 and 6 above, the game really feels like something of an 'arms race' as the players attempt to amass the dice required to Craft those last few items needed for victory. That is a little unique in my experience although Quarriors! and the re-themed Marvel Dice Masters may also have this feature.
Them Bones! - Of course for lovers of dice, one of their appealing features is the fact that you never quite know if the dice will go your way.
For some this is all too chaotic and a negative in a game. For me this is nirvana and I've already lost a game or too because I was sucked in by powers that could give me some strong dice for almost free but I had to gamble on a dice roll.
Thankfully though the game also offers up a good number of ways to mitigate pure bad luck by adding +1 or +2 to a result, flipping dice to their opposite side or turning all 1's into 6's. From that point of view I think the game does a good job of allowing most game players to enjoy the experience regardless of their attitude toward the 6-sided beasts.
The Unknown and Adapting to the Gamestate - The last point I think worth mentioning is that the game also has a cool element in that the players really need to adapt to the nature of the game with each play.
This is because each play will always include 11 Gather Cards and it is these that really provide the players with the unique options in each game. Seven of these are not known at the start of the game and may take 1-2 rounds to all be revealed. It is the combination of the powers on offer that can make each game quite different from the last and I find this aspect really exciting.
It reminds me of another game with that mystery aspect in Starship Catan, although here the mystery is not quite as pronounced.
So considering all of the above factors, does the game have enough legs to warrant a place on your shelf when up against those other Dice Classics?!
On the whole I think the answer is yes.
It doesn't have the euro-depth of a Stone Age or the thematic integration of a Kingsburg (with the building options and fighting hordes at the end of each turn). It doesn't have the awesomeness of a sci-fi inspired Alien Frontiers or the point salad scoring or a myriad of options found in Castles of Burgundy.
I don't think in a head to head battle it is better than one of these titles (and Marvel Dice Masters clearly has it beaten for theme and I think the use of dice there is a little more deep also). But what it does do it does really well and it is a pleasant way to pass the time with a simpler set of rules than any of the above games.
Do I need to keep this game given the competition it has? No I don't. But I will be because my oldest son really enjoys it.
The Final Word
So what we have here is an interesting situation. It really isn't high on the theme scale, the artwork is serviceable but not outstanding in any way and the game play and mechanisms are nothing extraordinary. I can easily think of 5 dice manipulation/pool games I would enjoy playing as much or more.
But for all that I think King's Forge is a really cool title. It achieves what it sets out to do and whilst none of its parts are unique in any great way, they have been blended together to create a really enjoyable title.
It's also worth noting that the game already boasts a number of expansions in the form of small box releases and I do look forward to trying some of them out as they may enhance the game even further. Even something like Kingsburg was significantly improved by its expansion and I have similar hopes that the depth may just be tweaked that little bit to raise this from a 7 or 7.5 to an 8.
I should mention that the game scales pretty well too for the 2-4 player count. The 2-player game really ramps up that 'arms race feel' and we are knocking games out in the 20-35 minute range.
With 3 and 4 players the number of Craft Cards are increased and we have found games taking anywhere from 40 to 70 minutes, which is about right for this weight of game.
Till next we meet may your King be kind and your forge be hotter than ever!
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David G. Cox Esq.
Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
Just keep hammerin' these reviews. You just keep forging ahead.
Hey, that's my picture of the tokens! Great review, thanks for posting. I was a kickstarter backer of King's Forge and have really enjoyed my plays of it. I actually hadn't played for a long time before pulling it out just a few days ago, which reminded me how fun it can be. My 8 year old son just played and he loves building his dice pool and chucking them all.
A note on the board: this was originally a kickstarter reward for backers of the deluxe version of the game. Deluxe was an extra $10 and got you the board and the Queen's Jubilee expansion. Maybe the board is getting packed in with all copies now but you used to have to purchase it separately. I really like that the board has places for all of the dice and cards; it makes setup and playing the game much easier. Especially useful, though totally unnecessary, are the tick marks in the box for the craft cards that show how many should be placed for carious player counts whether playing the base game or Queen's Jubilee.
One problem I have noticed with King's Forge is there can be runaway leader, especially with two players. This is compounded with the cemetery die, which can really affect who is able to craft anything. One lucky cemetery roll can put or keep one person in the lead. There are ways to mitigate this, but it is especially tough if playing with only two people.
Thanks again for the great review.
New South Wales
BorderCon was a blast this year!!!
I do suspect I have a deluxe copy as I got this in a trade and I do have the Queen's Jubilee expansion to try out.