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Subject: "The monarchy is a labor intensive industry" rss

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Benjamin Maggi
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"The monarchy is a labor intensive industry." - Harold Wilson


Introduction

There are several different categories of games in the vast universe of board gaming goodness, though among my regular group the biggest distinction appears to be "euro games" and "Ameritrash" games. I am fine playing the first but absolutely love the second. Sadly, I am in the minority in this regard but in a way it works out well because my collection is mostly wargames and by playing titles from other people's collections I get a broader perspective of the hobby as a whole. I also am introduced to games I normally wouldn't buy but later discover I enjoy. For me, the biggest turn off for euro-games is that some don’t feature a lot of interaction built into them.

Sure, most of them have lots of choices and by the selection process their availability or value decreases or increases over the course of the round. But, I really enjoy more head-to-head conflict then the typical "Gee, you took the spot I was going to take." What I don't like is what is sometimes referred to as "multiplayer solitaire," and have played enough euro-games where players sit around a table barely talking and only occasionally speak to find out what a certain card says or for a rules clarification to decide that those types of games are not for me. Thankfully, even for the purest of euro-games our group is pretty close and we laugh and taunt each other for their decisions- or more likely the results of poor decisions. There is always TONS of interaction during our gaming sessions, even if it isn't part of the game itself.

I also enjoy luck in a game, which is sometimes referred to as "randomness." It can come in many forms and can include everything from dice rolls or random chits pulled from a bag, to starting territories or locations or even turn order decided by cards being dealt out, to having the enemies that players fight against drawn from a larger pool of possibilities, and even can include [dare I say it] what spaces are left to be chosen from on a euro-game board. Whatever the form, part of me likes it because it increases a game's replayability, it removes the ability for people to plan out their turns way in advance, and it also adds excitement to the game. I am upfront in admitting that not everyone likes randomness. It can hurt certain games when used as a crutch instead of solid game play mechanics, and it allows players to blame "luck" instead of taking responsibility for poor decisions. But, as Popeye might say: "I like what I like and that's all that I like."

This game strikes a nice balance between the two styles of games. As we were setting it up the Game Master started to read the rules and introduce it as a Eurogame when I cut him off to say "We know; we can see the cubes." My buddy to the right chimed in with "but all of these dice sure are confusing me." Thus, I could tell from the start that this game was special and because of that I knew I would enjoy it.

Game Components

How well a game is produced can make or break a game for me. Is that a fair standard? Probably not, but while it is possible to play Battleship on a piece of graph paper instead of the plastic folding boards with cool miniature ships I know which one I prefer. Likewise, when board games are colorful and the components easy on the eyes I think the gaming experience is better. When the price of a game is "high" (a relative term which varies per person) one expects more in the box. Another consideration is how well the pieces aid in the play of the game or help a person remember rules, which to me is a big consideration. To that end, I found Kingsburg to excel on all counts.

The game plays on a lavishly decorated board which is colorful and well laid out. There are eighteen advisors that are arranged in numerical order- the King is #18 and the Court Jester is #1- and each is well rendered and artistically drawn. There is also a clear progression track along the bottom side to help mark the progress of the game and space along one of the sides to hold the resource cubes. Ahh yes, the wooden resource cubes which are automatic it seems in a eurogame. I thought it odd that there were more gold cubes than wood or stone but perhaps this kingdom was built on a gold mine. The resources are not limited so if cubes run out other objects can be used as substitutes, though this never happened in our games.

Each player receives a set of colored plastic dice which are used to represent their total amount of influence that they have each production round. These dice have rounded corners and are very nice, though a small annoyance to me was that the six-pip side had the pips crunched together and it looked somewhat silly. This is not only a petty gripe and easily fixed by replacement dice if I wanted but also a moot point as I rarely rolled sixes. Additional white dice were provided because the game allowed for players to earn additional ones and we were surprised that they put so many in the box though technically every die they gave us could have been used. Dice are cheap but kudos still go to them for giving us lots of dice. The game can support five players and there are five sets of player dice (red, yellow, green, blue and black) along with the aforementioned white dice.

To keep track of what buildings have been constructed and the special abilities that each offers, players get a colorful cardboard player mat which lays out the five structure paths that each person can use to develop their regions. Finally, each player has some thick colored cardstock circles which represent generic buildings and are placed over the spot on their player card to mark that a building is constructed.

I have no idea how well laid out the rules are because I didn't read them, and the GM had player aids which probably came from BGG but I didn't confirm it. Regardless, the rules were easy to understand and I don't believe we made any mistakes in either game we played-though it took us until the second game to understand why so many white dice were included. Not knowing how much the game cost, I think it was well produced and to even a non-gamer the pieces and board would probably draw them in and maintain their interest. Excellent.

Game Play

From what I understand, in Kingsburg each player represents a Lord sent by the King to control different outlying regions of the kingdom. Over the course of five years- with each year broken down into the four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter- players are given the opportunity to make choices in their actions which will eventually award them favor before the king. This system is based on a victory points and there are many ways to earn them throughout the game. Each time when there is a production season when players get to choose what they want to do they are actually appealing and trying to influence the King's advisors, who then reward each player with gifts. Is it a pasted on theme? Yes, but, I really enjoy it and to me it seems much more interesting then the farming theme that another game in my collection has.

Aside from collecting favors/resources from the advisors and building up your kingdom through victory points, you can also use these resources to build structures which grant you certain advantages and well as additional victory points. The structures are arranged in defined "tracks" of four buildings each and thus to build a "level 2" building you must first construct the corresponding "level 1" building. With five possible tracks which I suppose could be categorized into subjects such as "up front victory points" or "military bonus points" or "farming and marketing, etc." there are some tracks which appear to be better then others but all are situational. I suppose that it might be possible to construct every building in the game but that would be unlikely and even if you did it might not guarantee your victory. Indeed, it is not so much what you build but when you build it. In fact, if everybody builds the same buildings (as occurred in one of our games) then their bonuses tend to net out.

To be able to influence the different advisors each player rolls their three colored dice (and any additional ones granted based on different situations) and adds up the sum. For an example, let's pretend I rolled a 2, 3, and 5. With those numbers, I could do several things. Assuming it were my turn and everything was open, I could put them on the 10 spot (they all add to 10) or any of the two, three, or five spots. Each player can make once choice per round before the next player picks, so if I wanted the "three" spot I would be wise to pick it first as it might not be around when my turn to place came up again. At the same time, since the "ten" spot offers a lot more goodies then the "three" I might want to place it there. But what if the "three" were filled? I could put the five and three together on the "eight" and still get something good.

Using this system, it is quite possible (if not guaranteed) that the low spots of "one" through "six" will be filled by the end of the production phase as once players have their primary choices filled they will be left with lone dice and will scavenge for anything that they can get. Frequently, we would look at our dice and then at everyone else's to see what they were capable of before making our selection. The "eighteen" spot is the highest one possible and rewards a lot but it is hard to get as the odds of rolling three 6s is 1/216. But, players can build structures to earn additional dice and also the game gives a charity die to the player with the fewest buildings in the spring round so the odds of getting higher advisors can increase. Still, the mid-level advisors general get the most action.

I am not a game scholar and don't know if this "die = worker" placement mechanic is used a lot but I know that Alien Frontiers incorporates it as well. I like it because it is luck driven and would be interested in hearing about other games that have this system.

There are several euro-games which I have played that require you to build up some resources with a stiff penalty if you are found lacking by a certain point in the game. An example might be the need to acquire enough food to feed your family. Kingsburg is a bit different in that regard. During the winter season of each year there is a battle that each player must partake in against an unknown enemy. To fight it, a die is rolled and to that your total military points are added. Exceeding the enemy's value is a victory, while failing to reach it is a loss; there are no penalties or rewards for tying. To aid your chances of defeating it you can build structures that add military bonuses to your sum and influence advisors that grant you additional armies (points) and even let you peak at the monster in advance. But, what it frequently comes down to is a roll of the dice. Thus, you can play it safe and try to hire armies and build up your military bonuses as much as possible or you can just test your luck and hope the die roll is high. I much prefer this option over the strict rules in some games requiring you to have certain resources.

After five years, victory points are added up and compared to each other's total and a winner is crowned. There is no hidden information or points in the game, and tallying the final score takes all of about a minute. Our first game lasted about 90 minutes include a rules introduction and the second game we played took about 75 minutes. Both games had four players in them, and all were experienced gamers that did not suffer from analysis paralysis.

What I like About This Game:

1.) High Quality: The game is really well made and the pieces are top notch which is very important to me. I think my non-gaming friends and family would enjoy this too. It isn't "dripping with theme" as the tired cliché goes but not every game has to be. Nothing seemed tacked on or out of place, and there weren't any unnecessary pieces or tokens or chits added just to make it more complicated then it had to be.

2.) Interactive: For me, the next best point is that it has some interaction. True, this isn't a wargame and you are not trading and attacking other players but you do have more influence on other people's turns besides the "taking their spot" possibility. Twice in the game I intentionally didn't build a structure and waited for the chance to take the little wooden pillar which granted me the ability to build two buildings next turn. There is also the combat at the end where one person's die roll is used as every player's base value for attack strength. Don't forget the ability whereby someone can look at the enemy card and then smirk or laugh to try and throw other people off the track! (just make sure to watch and if they build armies you better do the same). Finally, since dice are all over the place there is lots of opportunity for laughing and taunting at poor rolls or encouragement and support for good rolls (not in my group, but it is possible :p). True, it isn't much but it is better than nothing.

3.) Quick: our games lasted 90 and 75 minutes, with the rules explanation taking up about fifteen in the first game. For a worker placement eurogame this seems about right. It isn't so long that people will lose interest and non-gamers will probably like this. As an experiment I guess the game could be lengthened to six years but I don't think it would add much more enjoyment. To shorten the game would hurt it however, as not being able to save up enough to build the highest level buildings would make some scoring strategies worthless. No, I think the game is perfect as it is.

4) Simple: this game isn't so deep that your brain will hurt trying to figure out the optimal move. That isn't to say that Kingsburg is lame or easy. Instead, it is well thought out and light enough that it can be easily understood in a few minutes and yet it has enough strategy to encourage replayability. Without the player aid that the GM used I am not sure how easy it would be, but since the game primarily revolves around adding up dice unless you are playing with children who lack basic math skills I think anyone can get a grasp of it pretty quickly.

5.) Open: I like this game because there isn't a rush for everybody to try and take the "family management"/have a child spot on the board. In fact, based on dice rolls it might not even be possible for everybody to want the same spots. There are many different strategies in this game and based on only two plays I cannot comment on all of them but a few I noticed included: (a) build up military buildings to safely conquer enemies without having to invest in armies; (b) build up your market quickly to get that extra white die; (c) build up the bottom track to earn victory points every round like interest on a savings account; and (d) build up the top track to earn lots of points up front. While everybody wants all of these, realistically it won't happen so decisions must be made.

6.) Luck: The dice rolls will make or break you, and while you can mitigate them somewhat by building structures to earn a bonus white die or the ability to influence people one up or down from your roll (or those +2 die chits) in the end a bad roll will kill you. During our second game one player constantly rolled very low numbers and had a rough road to tread. I earned my fourth bonus die and several times had the fifth bonus one but still didn't place higher then third place that game. During my last year I rolled a 6+1+1+1 and a 3+2+1+2 which is a lot lower then four dice should be. But, I am still happy with the randomness mechanism. Not knowing what enemy might pop out but only the range he would fall in was cool, and without the die rolls this game wouldn't be as much fun. If you don't like randomness, however, this game will drive you crazy.

7.) Catch up mechanism: The game did try to allow players in poor positions (# of buildings) the ability to catch up by granting them a bonus die or higher ranking in the turn order but this rarely changed much. If you get to place first but roll poorly you aren't going to improve your position. Similarly, the ability to construct two buildings is meaningless if you cannot get the resources you need for them. But, I would rather have a mechanism in place rather than nothing.

8.) Easy Scoring: What for some could be a complaint about the game, as soon as we finished battling in the winter of turn five and received our rewards the game was over. It almost seemed a let down because we rolled high, everyone defeated the enemy, and that was it. No hidden victory points, no special scoring rules, no pads of paper required. Nothing! I liked it because it meant that everyone could track everyone else and realistically see who was going to win. But, there never was a real build up of tension where we fought over the last few points or anything. It just seemed an abrupt end to an enjoyable experience.

What I Don't Like About This Game:

1.) Replayability: This is something I wonder about. After our second game one player said "it was the exact same game played twice" and he was right. For both games, three players did nearly the same actions (built the same buildings, scored the same points, fought the enemy with the same scores, etc.) and earned about the same number of points. I, on the other hand, did two different strategies which led me to lose by a ton in the first game (my "little of everything strategy where I also lost several wars in winter") and come in third place in the second game (I invested in the second building track to get the extra white die, and also the ability to influence people above and below me) and while I had a big fourth year to jump in the lead poor die rolls during the fifth year killed me. However, if three people are doing the exact same thing then very few choices will separate them in the end. Is the game flawed or broken? I don't know and would need to play more to find out.

2.) Luck: this game is driven by luck. I know I said I like it above and I do but it still isn't fun to roll poorly and lose because of it. Luck should even things out over time and thus all players should get good and bad rolls, but it doesn't always happen and that makes for a poor game. I think I lost in the end because I didn't follow the crowd (see above) but I know one player could not roll higher than 12 to save his life which is statistically correct but frustrating nonetheless.

3.) Advisor Rankings: While this is petty, to me the #17 spot (two goods, three VPs, and a peek) was much better than the #18 spot (three goods and an army). Why? Since the Queen at #17 is smiling and the King at #18 is frowning perhaps the only logical explanations are either: (1) girls just want to have fun or (2) it is the women who actually rule the world!

4.) No Climax: Perhaps it would have been better with a much stronger enemy at the end of the game, or maybe something else like hidden points, but the game felt anticlimactic. Since we had not been playing for hours it was not a big deal but still I was left with a feeling that I wanted a little more. What more, I cannot place my finger on.

Final Reflections

I really enjoyed this game. The first two games I did everything different from the other three and it didn't pay off but it potentially could have. However, as the game is played more by the same group of people it might wear a little thin. I have heard that there is an expansion to the game and have no idea what it does to add or change the rules but it might be worth looking into. I would still play this again though instead of going my own way I would probably just try and copy other people which would help me remain more competitive.

But, if your gaming group is looking for a lighter style worker placement game and you enjoy randomness then this might be a good fit. It has a lot of interesting things to offer, isn't bogged down by a lot of rules, plays in about ninety minutes, supports up to five players, and is well produced.
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David Winter
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Someone gave me 88gg for a rules translation and all I got was this lousy overtext
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The expansion basically adds 5 stand alone modules that you can drop in or out of the base game.

Module one is a new building chart with 2 new building rows, most people use this constantly after getting the expansion.

Module two is a series of strips of alternate building rows, each row of buildings on the new chart now has an alternate row with all new buildings, usually randomly distributed befor starting.

Module 3 is player role cards, giving each player a unique ability

Module 4 is an event deck, with an series of event cards to be drawn one per year, having some kind of effect that could be beneficial or harmful to all players.

Module 5, the least used as far as I'm aware is an alternate combat system that lets each player chose from a set of 1 use tokens instead of rolling a dice for troops in the battle, with bonus victory points for players managing to keep their higher value tokens unused.

All in all if you like kingsburg, but fear for long term replayability, IMO the expansion really helps keep the game more varied and interesting into the long term.
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Benjamin Maggi
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Wow, while it seems as though all of that might get complicated really quickly I imagine that is not the case. However, certainly once the base game is taught and understood the expansion "modules" can slowly be integrated depending on the player's desires. If nothing else it looks like the company found a way to add some new twists to the game which should add interest.

I think that I like the idea of the "Event Deck" (Module #4?) the best of the bunch, but in fact that all sound intersting. I am not sure I would want to use them all at the same time.
 
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Gabriele Pezzato
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Nice revew. As for the "Don't like" part:

1) Replayability: the expansion adds variety in spades! More buildings, governor cards with different powers, random event cards. A must when the basic games start becoming stale

2) Even if luck IS a factor, I don't think the game is totally luck driven. Some buildings at the start of the game (inn, market especially) give you more flexibility with the dice and even low rolls get something useful.

3) Rankings. It's like chess, after all, with the queen as the most powerful character. As for why she is smiling and the king is frowning, it has been pointed out that the queen and the general are the only two advisors who know what enemy horde is coming in winter...

4) The dice rolling reinforcement in the winter phase is actually the only part of the game that is questionable. It really makes the year-end phase anticlimatic. But the alternate method found in the expansion (and downloadable here on BGG) excellently corrects this problem and gives a lot of strategy to the winter battle.
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Kevin Garnica
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Besides Alien Frontiers (which I think is a WAY better game than Kingsburg) there is also Ra: The Dice Game - which I also happen to love.

And there's also an older game called Yspahan that uses dice, but in a very creative & clever way; it's one step removed from the whole dice=worker concept, yet *works* that way.

Then there's an offbeat little game from a small publisher that might be difficult to find called Caledea. This is also a cross between euro- and war game because the dice are like workers (or rather - "soldiers") that need to expand on their territory in order to position themselves to kill opponents' armies.
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Alien Frontiers
Heard several suggestions of Alien Frontiers as a fine alternative to Kingsburg. Seems to be short enough too which is always a plus in my books. With Kingsburg, it's highly dependant on the # of players. From my experiences, half an hour per player is about right for groups that are a bit on the slow side. Nongamers like rolling dice so much that they don't mind that it took that long (or probably didn't even notice till game's end), despite how some of them don't like playing any games that take over an hour. I don't vehemently object that Kingsburg takes that long, and don't mind playing it every now and then (but it's gotta be with the expansion) but to get about the same enjoyment for less time is always a plus in my books

However, it only goes up to 4p, which for some nongaming groups, will be a major issue.

.

I have heard "complaints" that in games like Kingsburg and Ysphan, there are runaway strategies where if other players don't pursue them themselves or try to stop it, then they will never be able to win.

For the former, the Embassy strategy has been discussed before, where a player gets the Embassy in before the start of year 3. The point acruement is a killer to opponents. The only thing that can mess up here is losing a battle and having a building razed, b/c here, you need to forgo some defenses. Below, it seems like I will have a major impact on this, but II and III oughtta "help" that as well

For Ysphan, someone racks up camels and goes back and forth between movements of that pawn marker on the central board and gets alot of cubes put on the caravan track for mass points.

.

Speaking of which, the expansion is "essential" for many, but even then, because you can still divert away from those expansion materials, it can still have mostly that "sameness" feeling to it.

I: Soldier Tokens are nice and do spice and kick up the game IMHO

II: Governor cards.... people are still free to pursue their original paths and strategies, but these could change things.

III: event cards..... these can be very swingy, but if you can get people to play with these, it does add a nice element of surprise to the game.

IV: extra rows.... you can always ignore these. Other player getting them shouldn't have a major impact on you

V: replacement rows.... since these are optional.

If I get a chance to play with the expansion, unless we have newbies, I will insist that out of II, III, and V, 2 of these must be used. I is also required, but IV is optional.
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Steve Duff
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Alien Frontiers is certainly shorter than Kingsburg, but that's because there's a lot less game there. You only score in one way, so you spam your colonies onto the planet as quickly as you can to win. And there's only a couple of ways to do that, and sometimes, some of those ways are blocked when your turn starts, so there's even less choice.

If someone finds Kingsburg too samey from one game to the next, they'll find Alien Frontiers even more so. In Kingsburg, you can at least force yourself to take a different route from last game ("I'm going to ignore defence buildings this time!"). In AF, it's "get more dice, build colonies" every single game.

Three games of Alien Frontiers was enough for me, I doubt I'd ever play it again.
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Jason Weed
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One of my favorite games, the degree of luck is mitigated somewhat with fewer players and allows for varying strategies. With more players the 2nd row is all but a must. A good game none the less that scales well.
 
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Benjamin Maggi
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[q="UnknownParkerBrother"]Alien Frontiers is certainly shorter than Kingsburg, but that's because there's a lot less game there. You only score in one way, so you spam your colonies onto the planet as quickly as you can to win. And there's only a couple of ways to do that, and sometimes, some of those ways are blocked when your turn starts, so there's even less choice.[q]

I have played Alien Frontiers only once, when it first came out, but my conclusions were pretty similar to yours.
Session Report/Review: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/575629/a-space-age-thriller

EDIT: quotes messed up
 
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Andrea Chiarvesio
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Thanks for your nice review.

I would highly reccomend you to put your hands on an expansion, since it will add a lot to the replayability for gamers, and mitigate the luck factor widely.

Have fun!
 
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Benjamin Maggi
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oeste wrote:
From what I have seen in kingsburg, it looks like all that matters is what the numbers add up to. Is that the case? If so, does that at all lend to a diverse feel between the two games?


At least for the base game, rolling doubles in Kingsburg does nothing special for you. In fact, it can actually hurt you! I would much rather roll a 6 and a 4 (total = 10) then two 5s (total = 10), because the 6 and the 4 are much more flexible. Rolling doubles takes away flexibility which is crucial in this game because you cannot split them up as easily. I don't know if the Kingsburg expansions does anything special with doubles rolled.
 
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Steve Duff
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oeste wrote:
From what I have seen in kingsburg, it looks like all that matters is what the numbers add up to. Is that the case?


Not at all. Rarely do you place all your dice at one time.

What's important is how you choose to split up the dice, how you use your dice modifiers and buildings to interfere with what your opponents have left to place, etc.
 
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
oeste wrote:
From what I have seen in kingsburg, it looks like all that matters is what the numbers add up to. Is that the case? If so, does that at all lend to a diverse feel between the two games?


At least for the base game, rolling doubles in Kingsburg does nothing special for you. In fact, it can actually hurt you! I would much rather roll a 6 and a 4 (total = 10) then two 5s (total = 10), because the 6 and the 4 are much more flexible. Rolling doubles takes away flexibility which is crucial in this game because you cannot split them up as easily. I don't know if the Kingsburg expansions does anything special with doubles rolled.
Agreed ^^ as mentioned a 3-7, 4-6, and 5-5 provide different options, since you can place the dice single bit at a time, or combine them to place them into a larger value.

To help counter that, it helps to have a +2 modifier token and/or the Market built (once per season, you can make a set of dice placement +1 or -1 result.

With the former, even if you have multple of them tokens, it's still only 1 per season (e.g. roll a 4-3-2. Even if you have 3, you're limited to one for 6-3-2, 4-5-2, or 4-3-4. You can't use the same 4s twice on the same spot, but you could combine them to place them on 8.)

WIth the latter, two 5s can then give you flexibity of 4-5 or 6-5.

The only significance of rolling triples in Kingsburg in the base game is the Statue where if built that and you roll dice and all #s are the same, you get to reroll one of them. This ability is much too rare to use regularily, and gets worse if you gain the ability to roll 4 or even 5 dice.
 
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Morgan Rose

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It has already been pointed out, but I wanted to stress a point:
Rolling die does not mean a game is all about luck.

While the author does have a rough total with a 6+1+1+1, this is but one roll amoung many, and there are several moves he should be making to work around a bad roll (one might call those moves "strategy").

The game is finely balanced, so those single pip victory points, and single die resources will add up. (in fact, if we looked closely, I bet we would find resources are almost always attributed on a 1 resource to 1-die-expended ratio. So a low roll just gives you fewer options, but doesn't make you "poorer").

What I see in the games I play is that players really don't like getting closed out of their preferred choices. This I am more sympathetic to - but I will not agree this is luck. More often than not a player uses die manipulation to screw me out of my highest advisor spot or stick me with a wasted die...thats not luck, thats a game allowing players to screw their neighbor - just like in the real world

I love this game. As the author points out, the time frame is perfect for the depth it asks for and it is kind to new players.
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