As a Belgian (as long as it takes with all the political arguing), I had to look for Royal Palace (Palais Royal) at Essen 2008, but couldn't find a free table the few times I passed Hans im Gluck. Buying the game without testing was a bridge too far, so I was looking for the moment I had the chance to test it at my local game store... now 2 days ago.
I opened the box and started reading. 10 minutes later, I explained the rules to 2 friends and we started our first game of Royal Palace. I know it is absolutely not done to review a game after just 1 session, but for this particular game, I had to make an exception. And the reason why is what this review is all about.
Design and materials
The castle is built up by a game board representing the castle park and 9 large tiles representing the castle spaces. It all looks nice and well designed. All is functional, everything is clear. Apart from the castle you have 100 meeples in 4 different colours, a lot of money tokens, nobles' tiles and some action cards. The material is the standard set, like any eurogame.
Design and material:
Rules and explanation
I already mentioned that I went to my LGS and started reading. After 10 minutes reading and another 5 for explanation to my opponents, we started our first game of Royal Palace. If I can read rules in German (I am Dutch speaking) in 10 minutes, they have to be clearly written, because no problems or questions were phrased during the game. Even my explanation immediately after the reading without ever having played the game is an enormous strength of the game.
During your turn, you complete some actions in a fixed order:
First you add servants (meeples) on the castle gate, indicated by the number of servants you already have in the parade ground.
Then you may move your servants horizontally or vertically (not diagonally) through the castle spaces, the number of movements is indicated by your servants on the staircases.
Then you can take money, the same amount as you have servants in the mint, you can count seals in the rooms of the king and Mme Pompadour and you can use the tie-breaker by having the majority in the office.
Indeed, for the parade ground, staircase, mint, and king's and Mme Pompadour's chamber, you have a bonus (extra servant, extra movement, extra money, extra seal) when you have the majority. If you tie having the majority in the office, you still get the bonus.
When you have seals and money, you can influence nobles, by taking the tile, paying the money and the seals. Concerning the money, you have a reduction for each empty garden field next to your noble, for the seals you take your servants out of the corresponding chamber into your personal stock (there are no tokens for the seals in the game). If you have influenced a noble, you also take your servant back in your personal stock.
You end your turn by buying cards, the same number as you have servants on the back door.
That's it, or let me add some nice details:
The game is all about points, not about the number of nobles you influence.
* Buying cards can be a good investment, they earn you points or give you extra essential actions.
* There are 2 types of nobles: the expensive ones with many victory points and the cheaper ones with special abilities. For instance, there are nobles allowing you to move diagonally, to make 2 extra movements, to receive 2 gold every round or to add 2 extra servants. The latter really can make a difference throughout the game.
* If you influence a servant on the outside of the castle garden, you have to place a servant on the empty space. Each garden side (marked by ornaments) will earn 6 points for the player having the majority, 2 points for the second one. But you have to take in mind that these servants are standing there till the end of the game.
* Every time the starting player starts another round, one counts the nobles in the garden. When 12 or less are left, the last round starts and hence every player can have just one turn to assure him the victory.
Quite easy and the rules are well-illustrated, the castle rooms have 2 sides (one lovely illustrated with icons, one with texts in German and English!), so the first time you play it, the texts are handy, but you learn them easily by heart till the end of the game.
I really enjoyed the quick reading and the quick explanation. Only 15 minutes to start a completely new game.
What about the gameplay?
The game is meant for 2-4 players. We had a 3-player game and we were very lucky that we all chose another strategy. Ronny was obviously going for area control in the garden earning him another 24 points at the end of the game. Luc was influencing the heavy and expensive nobles, earning him 7, 8 or 9 points a noble. I was going for the cheaper nobles (3 to 5 points) but allowing me to move diagonally, have 2 extra gold every turn, add 2 extra servants and make 2 extra movements. We all thought that we were running behing and going to win at the same time, without ever being quite sure of it. Every time a player influenced a noble, someone sighed and said: "he's on the lead now". And actially, it was!
During the last round, Luc bought an action card earning him 2 points, Ronny obtained his fourth majority in the castle garden and I also bought an action card, earning me 4 points.
The final score was 62 62 64, so I won the game, but just by the last action card.
The starting player is not that important in this game, at least not in my opinion after just one session. Definitely, we all three left the table already looking forward to the next session and discussing all 3 strategies and our willing to try them next time. All scores very close together and definitely influenced by the action cards. However, to discover all details and depths of the game, you have to play it more often (certainly more than once) and I surely think scores will be more spread (and the impact of the action cards much smaller).
My general conclusion
Design: nice and functional design
Materials: standard, no further comments.
Rules: easy to understand, quick to learn and to read, very clearly written
Explanation: short and easy (about 5 to 10 minutes)
Gameplay: an excellent mix of strategy, tactics and luck (action cards) with a score system by majority/area control, buying tiles (i.e. influencing nobles) and cards. Tight game, close score, pure fun!
The only drawback is probably that it is an abstract with any theme possible... and now it is about influencing/recruiting nobles. What's in a theme?
The good feeling, the eagerness to play it again and the stress of having the victory so close make this game a real top game for me. This is an excellent game and I will surely recommend this to everyone!
And for what it's worth after one session: I rate it 9.5
Great review, I'm thinking of getting the game but having trouble finding it in the UK.
and you can use the tie-breaker by having the majority in the office.
IIRC, tie-breaking resolves by majority in the cardinal's room, office is used for recruiting nobles.
Very nice review after one play though, I have similar feelings about this game. It's "just another" eurogame, but very well done.
Can't wait to try it playing with some baroque chemballo music in the background , maybe that will add some theme to generic "take the tiles for VP's".