Design by: Seiji Kanai
Published by: Japon Brand
3 - 4 Players, 1 hour
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
The young and temperamental princess has fled her home and taken refuge in an old castle on the edge of the kingdom. The king is desperate to have his daughter returned to him, and charges four of his bravest knights to travel to the castle and escort her home. The problem is that the princess is quite spoiled, and it isn’t long before she begins whining about her needs and desires. Food, drink, clothing and more … she is difficult to pacify. A knight must successfully meet the princess’s desires and escort her safely to the king in order to win favor and the game.
Such is the story behind The Thorn Princess and the Four Knights, a fanciful game from Seiji Kanai and Japon Brand. Players represent knights charged with the task of escorting the spoiled princess back home, meeting her whims and desires as they do so. Players play cards to move around the kingdom, deal with the princess’s whims and other events, and battle other knights. The ultimate objective is to satisfy three of the princess’s desires and safely escort her into the king’s castle.
The game has not received top quality production attention. The board and markers are quite thin, with cartoon-like artwork. The cards, while also thin, do have decent artwork, and for the most part, the icons and graphics are easy to understand. The rules, however, are probably the most deficient, as they are difficult to follow and understand, particularly the section dealing with combat. This may, however, be a simple matter of poor translation.
The cards are the driving engine of the game. They are used for movement, combat, and to randomly place markers or displaced knights. Cards are in three suits -- fist, sword, and scroll -- and depict icons, which are used to determine movement capabilities. Further, each card will have a power ranking ranging from 1 - 12. The majority of actions and events in the game are performed or determined by the playing or drawing of cards.
Each turn, players will draw three new cards, and perform as many of the eight possible actions as they desire. These actions generally involve playing cards to move, search for items, or battle an opposing knight in order to gain an item or control of the princess. A player may move as many spaces as boot icons depicted on the cards he plays, while the "power" number on a card is used in battle and searching. The idea is to gain control of the princess, then satisfy her cravings when she begins whining. These cravings are usually satisfied by obtaining a specific item, but sometimes she has other desires, including desiring a fight between opposing knights.
When the princess is being escorted, she will begin whining on the following turn. A "whine" card is revealed, and the player has three turns to satisfy her cravings lest the princess explode in rage. If this occurs, the knight loses control of the princess, is randomly placed at a new location, and loses a previous whine card he may have collected. Since a player must possess three whine cards to possibly win, this is a costly penalty.
As mentioned, the princess usually desires a specific item: food, drink, clothing, etc. These items can be found in the corner spaces of the board, where a player must perform a search in order to successfully acquire the indicated item. Finding an item is a simple matter of playing a card, then revealing the top card of the deck and comparing the power numbers. If the card played is stronger, the player succeeds and takes a marker of the appropriate type. A player may continue searching until he is successful or desires to stop. Other items can be found by encountering the event token, which moves randomly around the board.
Fighting is the most complex and difficult to understand aspect of the game. Indeed, I’m still not sure I fully understand it. The attacker, followed by the defender, can play one or more cards. If playing one card, it is a simple matter of comparing the suits played, with the outcome being determined in a "rock-paper-scissors" format: sword beats scroll, scroll beats fist, fist beats sword. If both players play cards with the same suit, the higher power number wins the battle. If the attacker wins, he can either take an item from the defender, or grab control of the princess. In either case, the vanquished night is dispersed.
It is when the attacker opts to play more than one card that the confusion begins. The attacker must either play cards of the same suit, or play cards of the same power but different suits. The defender plays the same number of cards, and they are all revealed. If the attacker plays cards of the same suit, both players tally the power value of their cards to determine the victor. If the attacker played cards of different suits, he may choose the card that is to his advantage to compare suits against a card of his choice that the defender played. If this doesn’t determine a winner, each player discards one of the played cards and battle again.
Complicating matters even more is that there appears to be a third method by which a player can play sets of cards possessing the same amount of power, but of different suits. This allows the player to tally the power values of each suit in a battle. Want more confusion? There are special power cards in the deck, and each knight has his own special power. These can also be used in battle to create even more confusing situations.
No, the battle aspect of this game is NOT its strong suit. Indeed, I’m not even sure the game has a strong suit.
Other actions include using items, a special power, and resolving whines or events. Events are generally a matter of drawing an event card and attempting to meet the requirements of the card. Usually, these involve a strength comparison similar to that used during a search. Success will often reward the player with an item that can be used to benefit a player in the future.
The objective of the game is to successfully satisfy three of the princess’s whines and escort her into the king’s castle. This generally takes 45 minutes to an hour, but the time can vary considerably. Since grabbing control of the princess is vital to satisfying her whining, the princess changes hands often, as the board is small and it is easy to move your knight to her location and battle her current escort. Any "whine" in progress is transferred to the new escort, who must satisfy it before the princess explodes. If a player has the necessary item the princess desires, he may grab control of her and quickly satisfy her desire. Otherwise, it may be wiser to wait to battle the escorting knight until the current whine card is resolved.
Each player’s turn is usually quick. A player’s hand limit is six cards, so there is only so many actions he can take before depleting his hand of cards. Often, it is wise to conserve a few cards for a subsequent turn in order to enter battle with more options. Quick turns are actually a blessing, as the game itself seems rather basic, with few real choices to be made. There is a bit of opportunity for humor and role-playing, but not much, and the little that is present does not save the game. Sadly, The Thorn Princess and the Four Knights is not one of the better offerings from Japon Brand, and it is a kingdom I prefer not to visit again.