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Subject: A theme! A theme! My kingdom for a theme! rss

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This review is originally published at NiceGameHub, where everything looks nicer.

I was a little hesitant to pick up Korea Boardgames co., Ltd.'s King’s Pouch after last week’s review of Burano.

They’re both fairly weighty worker placement games, and I was worried about covering similar terrain. Do we really need more talk about pushing cubes?

However, King’s Pouch really is quite a different machine – and not just the bag building.

Wait, what’s bag building? To answer that, we need to travel back to 2014. Dominion was a smashing success, deck building was beginning to show its age, and publishers were looking for the next big variation.

This is the best way to understand King’s Pouch, and why it became so overlooked.



Theme

After the king’s death, our realm has fractured into competing fiefdoms, each ruled by a would-be successor. Like you!

From the rulebook:

Quote:
You will use your citizens to develop your lands, muster armies and amass wealth. You may even try to secure the goodwill of influential public figures, like the remainders of the royal family.

But never forget to keep the dishonest parts of your society in check: Excessive corruption may lead to your downfall sooner than you think.

It’s stock-standard medieval material: knights, taverns, lots of concern for wheat crops.

However, there’s also an emphasis on corruption, represented by good-for-nothing, layabout officials who stink up your kingdom with their greed. Corrupt officials are lazy so can’t be placed anywhere useful – a big problem in a worker placement game.

I love ordering the city watch (manned by my finest red soldier cubes) to throw them out!

City construction is also satisfying, with a little tableau reflecting each player’s strive for commercial, religious, or military might. There’s a real sense of accomplishment in placing the Festival Plaza or sending your armies to (extremely abstract) victory. Unfortunately, almost all of this theme is conveyed mechanically.

You’re hiring workers, training them, setting them to work in various businesses – everything makes sense. But the artwork places that action in a generic medieval Europa.

With a little more effort, King’s Pouch could have been its own place in the world.

Mechanics

So, what’s a bag builder? It’s deck building with a bag.

At the beginning of their turn, players draws five colored workers from their own pouch. These could be generic common citizens, soldiers, merchants or clerics – or despised corrupt officials.

Workers are placed on constructed buildings to generate resources (such as money or military strength), alter workers (such as upgrading common citizens to merchants) and trigger various unique abilities.

For example, the School building requires a cleric to activate, at which point it generates 5 victory points and converts a common citizen into a specialist. Makes sense, right?

Players generally construct a building each turn, and can also use military strength to conquer and re-conquer land representing the wider kingdom. All drawn workers are set aside and replaced with new workers at the end of the turn. If there aren’t enough in the bag, old workers are returned and randomly re-drawn.

Like I said, deck building with a bag!

For newer players, there can be a strong ‘multiplayer solitaire’ vibe, but over time the strategies and interactions become clearer. The military struggle is particularly tense with two players, and adds some nice take-that to the mix.



Components

King’s Pouch runs with the noble Euro tradition of wooden blocks.

Interestingly, specialist workers are cubes, while common citizens and corrupt officials are hexagonal prisms. This means they can be identified (with a little work) when players are pulling from the bag – allowing for some control and strategy in the draw.

This isn’t something I grok as a design choice, but many players enjoy the mini game, and it certainly leverages the bag building mechanic.

Otherwise, there’s not a lot to say about the components. The graphic design is functional but a little generic, and small cards reduce the overall visual impact on the table.

So King’s Pouch is all about the gameplay. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but it is a missed opportunity.



Conclusion

King’s Pouch draws a lot of different elements into a cohesive whole, while building on the (then) novel mechanic of bag building.

Everything flows incredibly smoothly – the listed play time really is much quicker for experienced players – and even when you’re being completely thumped you can see how to do better next time.

If you can look past the vanilla theme, King’s Pouch is definitely a game that deserves more attention.

4 grand banquets out of 5.
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