The rule book provides a simplified version of the game board setup you can use to get familiar with the mechanics, but regardless of whether or not you play that, when setting up the first "real" game, the amount of character options and the randomness of the tile layout may be a lot to take in.
This post is intended to help provide some considerations and strategy when reviewing player characters for choice (including the princess variants).
Princess Cornelia has 4 variants. I don't recommend using the Social variant for a first game, or for a game with new players. The other three are all good picks.
Princess Cornelia - Lucky Girl - Difficulty: Medium
- Also known as the "fun" version, this princess variant has lower stats and thus lower durability, but all the additional cards at the start of the game can make an enormous difference, especially with a high player count (or not, because random cards!).
Princess Cornelia - Social - Difficulty: High - Not recommended for first game
- Of all the princess variants, this one is probably the hardest one. While her ability may sound nice at first, in practice it allows her to easily get ahead and stay ahead of the players, putting her in danger frequently. If you play with this princess version, you will probably want to use support cards to move her backwards during the game to keep her out of danger.
Princess Cornelia - Tactican - Difficulty: Low
- Being able to direct the princess' movement almost feels against the spirit of the game, but you still have to consider the time limit. This version of the princess is much easier to use as an additional military unit, so it may be a good consideration for a 3 player game where the players have less coverage of the board.
Princess Cornelia - Warrior - Difficulty: Medium
- This variant is durable which makes her much more likely to survive a round of bad luck or player oversight.
Player characters will be classified as either offensive combat, defensive combat, or support, or a mixture of these. While the group should not spend undue time on selecting an optimal mix of players, the group as a whole should definitely include a couple characters strong at combat.
NOTE: Due to the fact that closing in on the enemy Emperor at the far end of the map creates a choke point problem for the players, typically there will only be room for 1-3 players at a time to get in close enough to battle the Emperor near the end of the game. The group should understand ahead of time that, as the rules indicate, this is a game where there probably won't be room for everyone to be blazing a path to victory in the front lines. Towards the end of the game you may find yourself behind the front line and feeling useless, but don't let that get to you; you can still aid the quest by using Send actions and playing Support cards. It's a team effort!
Annelie, the new strategist - Support
- While her reroll ability in battle may draw your eye in your first game (like it did mine!), due to her being able to Send without costing an action, you may find yourself staying behing the front line to assist your allies and not even getting into battle yourself for the entire game (like I did!). While not a strong combatant, she is very strong support character, provided the map layout has some larger cities along the main path to the capitol.
Donia, the sand maiden - Offensive combat / Support
- Gaining a free support card every turn can be useful and having the top event card visible will be a boon for first time players taking in the entire game. She is good on offense but poor on defense. She is also the only character who can give away support cards (other than the healing potion).
Gato, the half dragon - Offensive combat / Defensive combat
- The main thing that makes Gato so powerful is his mobility. Since he does not keep or use resources or bring troops with him, he is the most mobile character in the game while also being quite strong. Recommended for a 4+ player game but especially in 5-6 players because you won't feel like you need to 'waste' as actions on collecting resources. This character is also an especially strong starter if you play with the Lucky Girl princess variant.
Godfried, the temple knight - Offensive combat / Defensive combat / Support
- Due to his ability to heal combined with a pretty good dice chart, Godfried is a very solid character choice. On his own, he is able to range with an army and take damage to his own HP to keep his dice pool large and then heal himself, which is mathematically equivalent to recruiting new troops, except he can do it in any space on the map rather than only in cities. Since he can also heal allies an entire tile away, he can also be a great support character as well, and he is an exceptionally potent duo with Mirza.
Havok, the old knight - Offensive combat / Defensive combat
- Well rounded dice chart, but he excels when sticking closely with the princess. A great character to blaze a trail directly ahead of the princess.
Ilsahati, king of the wind - Offensive combat
- Both his special ability and his dice hit chart heavily favor offense. Gaining three dice when attacking is a pretty big deal and can let him easily overpower small Imperial units and even Imperial characters, especially aggressive ones who have moved onto terrain without a defensive advantage.
Madam Josephine, the wealthy merchant - Support - Not recommended for first time player
- Worse at combat even than Annelie, so only pick her if you plan to not get in (m)any battles. However, her ability to gain resources and troops no matter where she is can be very helpful, as this allows her to be a free-ranging Sender, unlike Annelie who must hop from city to city.
Magnus, the hermit - Support - Not recommended for first time player
- Due to his starting tile he may not even be within 2 turns of another fort or city in which to resupply, which can be a real drag at the early phase of the game. The best first turn for Magnus may simply be to Send what troops he starts with to someone else so he can travel light to a better location for gathering supplies and troops. His dice chart is not impressive, but at least he's durable in the sense of only taking Loss on rolls of 1. His special ability is extreemly useful for sniping off the troops that travel with enemy boss characters to weaken them before combat, but just keep in mind it cannot be used against the Black Kinght or the Capitol tile due to the Emperor's special ability.
Mirza, the royal guard - Offensive combat / Defensive combat
- Honestly, despite starting with no troops, she is one of the strongest characters in the game if you can heal her with potions or if you have Godfried nearby. If she is able to get any Allies or Ongoing support cards for extra battle dice she becomes a monster.
Mountain Cat Robber Band - Defensive combat / Support - Not recommended for first time player
- This one is a bit odd, but essentially durability is their main strength, and the best way to play them is to position yourself in defensive spaces (such as mountains and forts) so as to bait attacks by normal enemy troopers. Because of their mediocre dice chart and Command value, they are not very good on the offensive and should especially avoid attacking fortified enemies without some additional dice (like support cards). In the second half of the game you will probably shift to more of a support role.
Urgan, the fortress king - Defensive combat
- This guy is amazingly strong if you play smart with your supplies and positioning. One of the few characters that can easily end up rolling all the dice that the game includes in a single battle.
Zyne, the shrewd general - Offensive combat / Defensive combat
- Very strong dice chart in any kind of battle and high stats make him a powerful character. While his special skill is plain, it can be very potent, especially in a 5 or 6 player game where everyone is only getting 3 actions per turn. While the reality is you'll probably often just be using that extra action to collect additional supplise for your large trooper count, hey, you can't argue with the results.
Not going to go over them all in detail because most are pretty straightforward, but there are a few things to point out.
- Don't forget about him if he is on the edge of the map or something! You need to get rid of him! If he becomes an ally, his character stand is removed from the board which will terminate his victory-obstructing ability (so will killing him).
Dahaka, the black drake
- This enemy does 10 damage to the princess if he encounters her in battle. He will instantly kill the Social or Lucky Girl variants no matter what, and will kill Warrior and Tactican variants unless they are at maximum HP and troop count when the battle happens (max HP+troops = 11 on those variants). Be careful!
Demian, the dark noble
- Don't forget he will respawn if the conditions are met. Note that enemies that are allies are not considered "defeated."
Emperor Lionel VIII
- Don't forget that you can't use cards and special powers like Magnus to move or kill Military Power around him.
Ravinith, the necromancer
- As far as I can tell she is treated just like any other Imperial character despite the red ring around her portrait on her tile instead of a black ring, so mix her tile in when building the map.
The black kinght
- While his ally power may sound tempting, you will need a character good at offensive combat to have a chance at recruiting him. I recommend you don't go too far out of your way trying to recruit him because it is likely to be a multi-turn effort and with a bad roll you might even outright die to him in a single battle since he has 12 power and a fortified position.