Robert Yates

Kansas
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Since I started seriously board gaming again back in 2011, and though I have played and loved many games - I must admit that the fervor originated with the hunt for that elusive RPG board game - the one that would feel like a video or tabletop game, but play like a board game. Those that are familiar with this desire also know how many have tried and not quite made it. There are hundreds of crawlers, looters, deck builders, miniature games, and everything else under the sun - each of them catching pieces of the puzzle but not capturing the whole picture. Some didn't have enough loot. Others didn't have a deep enough character system. Some were repetitive. Some just too light, and some way too heavy or convoluted (See the 10,000 threads recommending Mage Knight and the followup of those that tried and failed - or those calling it Math Knight).

One thing is for sure - I have never been alone in this search, as kickstarter numbers would also show. Many hobbyists seem to want the video game or tabletop experience - but not be plugged in to have it. Or to be able to engage without a group in a meaningful way. I would like to tell you how City of Kings exceeded my expectations and finally pulled it off. Frank made the game I always wanted, and did it in the way I would have wanted to do it - bursting with content and options while just making sense. Held together with tight systems and the randomized map structure I crave - pulling it all off with only minor issues or setbacks.

My Goldilocks and the Three Bears like search has put me through so many titles over the past few years and most of the kickstarters and trades just end up back on the sales groups within a couple weeks. It is so very difficult to strike a balance between depth and content without just being too fiddly. For me, I don't care how many praises you can heap on a game - if it takes 30+ minutes to set it up and another to tear it down - I am just not going to end up playing it very much. The same can be said for overly wordy and drawn out rules. If I can't pick it up off the shelf without and hour or two refresher course, it is again just likely to not get played at all beyond the time I first play it.

My next contender for the "just right" RPG came along in City of Kings - a newer venture from a newer designer, but the more I watched it, the more I just had that feeling down in my gut that this was something special. I knew that this may be one that may not be backed by everyone the first round, but that demand and hype would explode once people began to find out about it and that they had missed it. Much like the title that it went up against at the time experienced with its first printing...

I have bought, sold, backed, traded, and learned enough games that I no longer rush to the door when UPS arrives or post pictures of a purchase on a Facebook group. Usually I open the shipping container and throw it on the shelf sealed, knowing that I won't get to it right away - and if I don't end up feeling a stir to get to it within a month, I will likely sell it. It has been this way for a year now.

But with City of Kings - I ripped open the plastic and punched it on day one. The next day I watched Frank's tutorial video, and even *shock* read the rulebook. Suffice to say, I still felt like I had something special once I received it. For me, the year wait for a title is usually enough time to cool my excitement and often for my tastes to have changed - not so here.

But let's jump into the review.



Components:


Everything is top notch, and the collector's edition is worth it. I would say that the anti-knock trays are absolutely essential. I do wish the resource trays were a little more sturdy. I also end up wanting a full insert - I ended up using the Plano standby method to finish organizing. A little of this went a long way, and the contents became manageable after adding in said extra storage box. Outside of storage -
the art is beautiful, and map tiles are thick and sturdy. The cards are also thick and well finished. Everything feels good in the hands. The quality reminds me of Raiders of the North Sea. Tokens and standees are well made and everything is sized appropriately. Cubes, cubes everywhere - manageable with the anti-knock trays, but beware without.

The videos and pictures and deceptive making it almost seem like a small footprint game - there is a LOT here, almost an overwhelming amount once it is taken out of the box and punched. This is largely because of components that are player count specific. However, with a little organizing it once again feels like well laid out structure that the campaign videos made it seem, easy to manage and set up. The map is still a small footprint as well as the cards etc. The space is dominated by the character sheets, which are quite large. Even with many pieces included, most are scenario/story specific. I would not at all call this fiddly - which is good, because fiddly I hate as much as set up time in this genre. I don't want to just keep track of moving a thousand tiny pieces around. Once your game is set here, you move very little at all.

Speaking of set up...

Set UP:

I timed myself, curious with the number of components as to what I would be looking at. I took my time and stopped to read rules a few times, and went through first shuffles of all the cards. With a rules reading, shuffling, consulting the layout map in the rulebook, and unboxing I still only spent 30 minutes. I expect my next play to be in 15, and once I am fully comfortable for me to be able to throw it together quickly. Putting it away took five minutes tops. Everything made sense storage-wise (again with the trays and a plano).



Gameplay:

I took a quick break in my review playing to run to the store with my wife. I was thinking about it while I was gone, and eyeing it set up on the table with glee when I returned. One regards the combat and game state in a chess like manner, thinking about where and how to move to manage the threat. Based on their generated difficulty, these enemies thematically go from being your basic "mobs" to kaiju like in proportion, burning up sections of the map and pulling heroes across them to smash.

I had people ask me, speculation or fear-wise if it is "Mage Knight" like, or a puzzle rather than combat. I would say no. It is not a dice chucker, but neither is it merely a numbers puzzle. It is in between, which is why it feels the most DnD like to me - it is about position, countering abilities and feats, and using your own talents and skills to overcome. Think of the Dragon Age planning room, where you pore over a map and plot moves, and then venture out as your character to execute said moves - also sending some people below you to do the tasks you are too busy or important for. DnD boils down to distance and numbers in the brass tacks of combat, but relies on a system that creates a satisfying puzzle to remain from being dull. This game nails that feeling - but without having to manage multiple hands of cards or lengthy lists of complicated combos requiring multiple plays to even be comfortable with as with other board game iterations.

City of Kings has been compared to World of Warcraft several times - a comparison that I would say is fair. But to stop there would do a great injustice to the level up and skill/talent system of this game, because it is the single best one I have ever seen created for a game of its type and a thing all its own - though the inspiration for it is clear. I do not say best lightly or as an exaggeration, it is the most engaging and well designed "well of course you should level up that way" type system for the theme. I don't know why it has taken thing long for someone to come up with something so elegant and fantastic. Leveling is fun, because there are so many choices of how to build your character out, and a talent tree system that rather than being static, is also built by your selection of the talent inlays for your sheet. It sounds complicated - but is all extremely straightforward and easy to grasp. Frank nailed this aspect of his game better than any other. I know that monster generation is the highlighted design choice - but this is hands down the game's greatest win.

Frank's tutorial videos are well designed and easy to follow, which matches the theme of his game - deep and yet surprisingly easy it is to pick up and play, as he originally advertised. I read through the book (mostly) once. I watched the video (30 min) that he provided once. Though I stopped a few times to consult rules (as he intends you to do as you learn a little at a time) I still played my first scenario from start to finish in one hour.

Character turns are quick and snappy as well, while still providing so much choice. What on the surface could have been just a monster fighter - is instead sprinkled with a dozen other options and systems bordering on calling it sandbox. You discover a map and farm resources like Robinson Crusoe. You can build structures all the way from laying traps to building up fortresses and farms to you upgrade and grow on the map. There are workers at your command to send out with wagons to collect and explore, giving you the feeling of leading a faction or being a Lord - and all of this coming from your single action pool. It creates an original concept where you have a hero and workers to manage rather than just a "fighter." It called to mind Warcraft III and Dragon's Dogma to me (in a sense).


Content:

This game is filled to the absolute brim with content. There are a stack of scenarios for one off play, which all remain interesting and challenging on their own. There are seven multi-chapter stories (all brilliantly laid out on cards rather than flipping through a book) which include side missions and legendary challenges optional afterward. They can be played in order to complete the entire story - which would give many hours of entertainment to do even once. No "recharge" packs or stickers needed though, because this system it replayable as is. The maps, side quests, and items are randomly generated and the character builds vast. He even included a "respec" how is that for meta? You could finish chapter 7 and start over to a completely fresh experience. Frank has even encouraged people to experiment with building their own stories and quests, since the system supports this creativity with its core design - which is why it can seem to have nearly sandbox levels of freedom WITHOUT being that loose with scoring and mechanics. Maps are random, gameplay is not.

Speaking of side quests, the amount of this is just absolutely nuts. Frank has put as much flavor text, life, and love into this game as the DnD computer games of old. Seriously, look at this stack of just the side quests (not the story quests or scenarios):



I even pulled one of the Dexterity (CE or addon mini-expansion) and just loved it. I needed to stack wood for a widow, which meant stacking the pieces one handed vertically - doing so meant xp, collapse meant nothing. Another quest had me gambling by guessing card flips for items and xp. With so many cards there was still so much heart and uniqueness to all of it - and yet still breaking down into archetypes so that the rules kept swimming along easy to follow. I was excited for every new quest, and there are a lot of them to see.



Combat and Enemy Generation:

A big feature of this game is the randomly generated enemies - which receive their own stat bar and skills randomly pulled from a bag. This is the only part that can be a little tough to grok early on, and the only time I was flipping through the book. I know that this was part of the vision of the game to have this randomized monster set up, but the (laid back and lazy) part of me would have almost preferred stock enemies with stats on cards - however, this unwillingness to take the extra time to learn would sap the game of one of its satisfying puzzle elements. Time will tell if it is the best course for the series - but the core game should not be touched.

Though as should be mentioned, combat and enemy generation is only part of the game. Exploration, empire/engine building, questing, and leveling up are all a part of the experience. This is not "button masher" of a board game.

Summary:

As it says above, I loved it. This was the RPG board game I have been looking for, and contains the most interesting and well designed level up and talent tree system I have ever seen. It exceeded my expectation and will be played and shared for years to come. I even liked playing it solo and did not get caught up in trying to hurry up the game or tempted to cheat it (due to die rolling and randomness leading to frustration).

Pros:
Components are top quality, the art is brilliant
More content than you can shake a stick at
Best level up system in a board game to date
DnD in a box better than the competition
Easy to pick up and learn, difficult to master
Interesting quests and tons of them
Gameplay moves smoothly as do turns
Both a puzzle and DnD styled combat - not one or the other
The depth of a heavy game without the learning curve
Shared XP table
Shared Resources
Not a grind/limited to monster hunts to progress

Cons (Nothing major, but what I could find to whine about):
Monster generation and function is a little tough to grok
Character sheets are a bit flimsy, as are the resource trays
Organization is critical for easy set up and putting away
The footprint is much larger than expected - character sheets are huge

Suggestions:
Are randomly generated enemies the best execution for future development? The rest of the systems are so strong on their own to allow tinkering with this.

I would recommend doubling the available item pool, while not light - cycles enough to demand a quest sized stack. Recommend consumables, ones that have abilities, and legendaries/epics.

Final Note: Since someone commented that didn't think my opinion was clear enough - I love it. I don't evangelize games, but I will be doing so with this one. My rating in my library sits at 9/10.
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John Van Wagoner
United States
Bluffton
South Carolina
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Re: Finally, The RPG Adventure in A Box I've Been Looking For - The Sleeper Hit for 2017 You Need Right Now.
which of frank's videos did you watch (which one helped the most as far as learning how to play)?

thanks...
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Michael Duchesne
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Re: Finally, The RPG Adventure in A Box I've Been Looking For - The Sleeper Hit for 2017 You Need Right Now.
John_VW wrote:
which of frank's videos did you watch (which one helped the most as far as learning how to play)?

thanks...

https://boardgamegeek.com/video/167659/city-kings/how-play-c...
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Matt Brown
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Okemos
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Re: Finally, The RPG Adventure in A Box I've Been Looking For - The Sleeper Hit for 2017 You Need Right Now.
It made the list of Top 20 Most Anticipated so I don't think it can really be a sleeper hit.
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Patrick van Gompel
Netherlands
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Re: Finally, The RPG Adventure in A Box I've Been Looking For - The Sleeper Hit for 2017 You Need Right Now.
Wow, this review is just a joy to read! Makes the hype live up again, for me anyway. I definately want my game now cool
Thanks for a wonderful read.
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Big Tom Casual
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Oregon
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Re: Finally, The RPG Adventure in A Box I've Been Looking For - The Sleeper Hit for 2017 You Need Right Now.
Yes, but did you like it?
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Jeff C
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Re: Finally, The RPG Adventure in A Box I've Been Looking For - The Sleeper Hit for 2017 You Need Right Now.
CasualToast wrote:
Yes, but did you like it?

Nightsbane wrote:

Summary:

As it says above, I loved it. <snip>


I may be reading between the lines, but I think OP likes it...
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Brian L
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Lafayette
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CasualToast wrote:
Yes, but did you like it?
whistle
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Robert Yates

Kansas
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Jlc2 wrote:
CasualToast wrote:
Yes, but did you like it?

Nightsbane wrote:

Summary:

As it says above, I loved it. <snip>


I may be reading between the lines, but I think OP likes it...

I thought that my opinion was clear, but just in case I updated my final thought. Also, thanks to everyone for the feedback and thumbs thus far!
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Marius Friedrichs
Germany
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Thanks for your thorough review and your enthusiasm throughout! I hope GamesQuest decides to finally ship my copy this week. I can't wait to get it to the table.
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Dan
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Thanks for the great review - I fully agree. So far my second favorite game this year.

Based on my (only) two solo plays so far, my only additional suggestions is that I wish there were a better method for pulling items that are maybe more level appropriate. It sucks to find a shop and get excited, then pull up 3 arms items, which you're never going to level up to in a standalone scenario.

Guess I could house-rule something, but not sure how elegant any change would be.
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Steve Marano
United States
Nutley
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oddbod wrote:
Thanks for the great review - I fully agree. So far my second favorite game this year.


Can't resist asking: what's your favorite game this year?
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Dan
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smarano wrote:


Can't resist asking: what's your favorite game this year?[/q]

Gloomhaven

We started playing it late last year, but it's still holding the top spot for us, both in most played and most fun. But we'll see if that changes once tCoK hits the table a few times!
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D. Lund
Norway
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I'm mostly worried about balance. Having such a huge selection to customize your character is great, but it risks opening up to overpowered builds.

Will be interesting to see as time passes what people find out.
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Herefor Thecomments
Australia
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Unfortunately this kind of review exists for every RPG in a box.
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Burt Mcpherson
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Hereforthecomments wrote:
Unfortunately this kind of review exists for every RPG in a box.

So what? Let someone enjoy themselves and be so entertained that they are willing to provide content.
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Derek H
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Hereforthecomments wrote:
Unfortunately this kind of review exists for every RPG in a box.
This is my top-rated "Most Meaningless Comment" on BGG for the month. Congratulations, sir!
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Florent
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Quote:
Unfortunately this kind of review exists for every RPG in a box.

As if different people were looking for different things in RPGs.
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Bryan C
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Ohio
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Hereforthecomments wrote:
Unfortunately this kind of review exists for every RPG in a box.
Interesting. It appears from many reviews that people who like a game take the time to review it.
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Daniel U. Thibault
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"where you pour over a map" --> "where you pore over a map"
 
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Ann C
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Colorado
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Urhixidur wrote:
"where you pour over a map" --> "where you pore over a map"

Man, I HATE it when people pour stuff on my maps! ;-)
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Michael Bacon
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What a weirdly random bunch of criticism. Here's mine :this game has nothing meaningful in common with a roleplaying game. That's not a criticism of the game, just of the review.
 
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corum irsei
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matthean wrote:
It made the list of Top 20 Most Anticipated so I don't think it can really be a sleeper hit.
Well, _I_ never heard about the game until today.

And this may very well be the one game I've been looking for for years!
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chris Halpin
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Llanarth
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Obviously didn't like it that much as you no longer own it!!
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