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Michael Debije
Netherlands
Eindhoven
The Netherlands
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Kings & Things* is a boardgame by Tom Wham and Doug Kaufman originally published by Games Workshop and West End Games (re-released by Pegasus, but this review is based on the former) in 1986. The game handles 2 to 4 players and takes anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to play.

What You Get

Inside a colorful box with an attractive comical illustration of a variety of fantastic creatures are 48 fairly large, colorful hex tiles depicting seven terrain types (plains, desert, forest, jungle, swamp, frozen waste and sea) nicely illustrated and sturdy. You get 351 color counters depicting Things (such as Centaurs, pixies, penguins, and my favorites: the goblins, thing, and slime), magic items, control markers, event tiles, forts, money counters, treasures, special income tiles, and heroes. The illustrations on the counters are very amusing, some of my favorite in gaming, and are fun just to browse through even when not playing the game. You get 8 plastic racks (2 per player) to hold your Things in secret, four 6-sided dice, and a rules booklet with detachable reference section.

What You Do

The goal of the game is to be the first player to build through the four stages of forts: starting with a tower, you improve to a keep, then to a castle, and, given a high enough income, produce the citadel. If you can build a citadel and hold it one entire turn, you can claim victory, as long as nobody else has a citadel themselves. If there is more than one citadel, it comes down to a game of total conquest: last player standing.

The game is begun by building the map, done by laying out the hex tiles upside down (the map for the 2-3 player game is a little smaller). Players have designated start tiles to choose from, and in player order choose two more tiles each, contiguous with the initial tile, and not touching any opponent’s tile. Then, an initial draw of 10 Things is made. Any creature tiles may be deployed on the map, with the following proviso: you may only support creatures for which you have control of a matching terrain type. That is, the sand worm is only supportable if you control a desert hex. Actually, you can place any creature regardless of terrain control, and even fight with them, unless your opponent notices you lack the terrain, then this creature is simply discarded. Watch your enemies: they can be devious! Creatures are keyed to terrain, as mentioned, and have a combat value (number needed or less to hit on a 6-sided die roll), and indications if it uses spells, ranged attacks, gets multiple ‘hit’ attempts, or if it can fly.

Other items, magic, treasure, unused creatures and events, can be stored on your rack for later: up to 10 tiles may be so kept. One may also place special income counters on the board, if you have the right terrain, like mines in the mountains or farms on the plains, or villages and cities anywhere. On the first turn only, you get a ‘Mulligan’: any unused tiles may be freely exchanged for new draws, one-for-one. This is not allowed as the game progresses. Finally, players place their initial tower on one of their land tiles (ocean is out of play: too bad) and you are ready to start.

There are nine stages of play. First, income is collected: one gold per hex controlled, one per hero, and variable amounts for special income counters. Next, special characters, or heroes, may be recruited. There are initially some ten or so available, like the Swordmaster, Jungle King, Deerhunter, or Gahog II (love the art on his counter!) An attempt to recruit means a roll of 2 dice, trying to equal or better the combat value of the counter doubled: usually an 8 to 12. These rolls may be modified by +1 by spending 5 gold before the roll, or 10 gold after the roll. Several of these leaders have special abilities: the Assassin can kill specific tiles, the Warlord can promote defections, and so on. The third phase is Thing recruitment: a player gets a number of automatic draws equal to the number of controlled tiles divided by 2 (round up). Extra draws may be acquired by spending 5 gold/draw, and by exchanging 2 tiles for every one extra draw. These are then deployed. Next, players are given the chance to play events, such as teeniepox, vandals, or the dreaded Big Juju.

Now comes the meaty part: movement and combat. Movement is easy: all creatures have a movement allowance of 4, with difficult terrain (mountain, forest, jungle, swamp) requiring 2 movement points each. Flying creatures can cross all tiles (including water) with 1 point/tile, but can be intercepted by opposing flying creatures. A key rule is the ‘pin’: if just one creature enters a hex with opposing units, it can ‘pin’ the entire stack, and thus it cannot be moved during that player’s movement phase. This makes one’s own turn of being first player very important. Moves may also be made into unexplored (face-down) hexes in order to determine what lives there, and in the hopes of conquering new land. In this case, a die is rolled, and if a 2 to 5 is thrown, that many tiles must be drawn and confronted before the hex may be claimed. A 1 or 6, and the tile is free to be claimed!

Combat is divided into phases. First all creatures with a magic ability go first, and each roll a die. If the number is less than or equal to their attack number, they score a kill, and cause the opponent to remove a creature. Losses are simultaneous. After all magic creatures, those with ranged weapons get a throw. Finally, melee takes place, with creatures with a ‘C” rating getting to attack twice. After each round, the attacker has the option of retreating. Otherwise, last stack remaining claims the tile. Magic items may be used to enhance combat or give special abilities, but all magic items are one use/one combat only: use with caution!

After all combats are complete, players are given the option of building new or upgrading their forts. This costs 5 gold, one stage being allowed per turn. In order to upgrade from castle to citadel, the player also needs to have achieved a specific income level for the turn (20 gold for the 4 player game, 15 gold for the 2-3 player game). At this time, two of the special characters, the Assassin and the Master Thief, can ply their trades, trying to eliminate one opposing character, or steal all an opponents money, respectively. Lastly, the first player turn order is rotated to the next player, and a new turn started if nobody has achieved victory.

What I Think


Kings & Things*
is in the tradition of the old fantasy battle and conquest games like Divine Right and Titan, but in a much more humorous vein. The modular map makes every game play quite differently, but can also cause considerable grief as the asymmetry of the starting position can severely hamper a player’s first few turns. The map gets quickly filled up with counters, and care must be taken to keep things orderly. The tiles can be a bit thin, and the stacks can be up to ten markers high. The number of variable powers by the leaders adds some real spice, as does the bluffing afforded by deploying forces face down, keeping your opponents guessing as to your strength and army composition. Throw in random events, magic items and hidden treasures, and this becomes a wildly unpredictable game, with tremendous comebacks and great collapses of the mighty possible.

There is definitely room for kingmaking here, and it is often a good tactic to beat down a weaker player. If the game comes down to a struggle between two (or more!) players owning citadels, it can be a very long affair. But you know what? I don’t care: this game is a lot of fun. The artwork on the counters is hilarious, and the rules are fun to read, with an entertaining timeline of the history of the land of Kadab on the back, and little vignettes throughout the text. This was from the heyday of Games Workshop, when they could actually make some entertaining games. The Tom Wham stamp (he of the Awful Green Things and Snit’s Revenge fame) is ever-present, and the chaos high enough to keep things unpredictable, but not so high as to nullify strategy. In particular, movement and timing of moves is quite important, as are the timing of use of items and event tiles. So, I give my recommendation to this game, but warn that not every game will be a balanced affair, and will not regularly clock in at a specific length of time, and the endgame can be a bit drawn out. It is an American-style game with lots of dice rolling, randomness, and mayhem, but below all this seeming chaos is a good system that leads to some nail-biting finishes.


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Sheamus Parkes
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Nice review Micheal. It's hard to find a lot of good information about some of the "older" games out there.
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Michael Mitchell
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Quote:

What You Do

The goal of the game is to be the first player to build through the four stages of forts: starting with a tower, you improve to a keep, then to a castle, and, given a high enough income, produce the citadel. If you can build a citadel and hold it one entire turn, you can claim victory, as long as nobody else has a citadel themselves. If there is more than one citadel, it comes down to a game of total conquest: last player standing.




I think this could be where you're creating an excessively long game. The rules state that if more than one player gets a citadel then the new requirement for winning is 2 citadels! (So you don't have to be the last man standing - just get another citadel! )
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Martin Melhus
United States
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"The rules state that if more than one player gets a citadel then the new requirement for winning is 2 citadels!"

Also note that the rules state that if you already have one citadel, you can't build another one. The second one must be taken by combat. However, if you build one citadel, and then an opponent captures it, you can build another (provided that you meet the requirements to build one.)

So the endgame does have some strategy, and there's no need to slog it out to the bitter end.

Regards,
Martin
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Ian Allen
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nice review - just played the game for the first time despite owning it for years - was quite fun, but very chaotic and luck driven ... not sure if the group will play it much ... need to play it a couple more times to firm up my opinion...
 
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