Andrea Chiarvesio &
Luca Iennaco




In Kingsburg, the players take the roles of local Earls in a fantasy kingdom, and during the game they must try to collect victory points by constructing useful buildings in their counties and by interacting with the different personalities at the court of the High King. The game is played over a duration of five rounds (years), and each year is split into eight phases (two phases for each season) in which the players acquire resources and build differing kinds of constructions to enhance their county. Being located close to the wild Borderlands, the counties of the players are threatened by invasions of monsterous hordes, and so they will have to face an invasion force at the end of each year which they must ward off in order to prevent destructions in their counties.

Each player is given a stockpile of three dice matching his playing colour. These dice will be used by the players to interact with the people at the High King's court in order to gain resources and other benefits. There is a possibility to gain an additional dice for the player with fewest buildings at the start of each round, but since all players start equal (meaning that nobody possesses a building in the first round) nobody will benefit from this bonus in the first round.

The main phase each Spring then is an interaction phase in which each of the players rolls his hand of three dice. The results of the dice rolled by each player are added up, and the player with the lowest result becomes the first player for the phase whereas the other players follow in the order of their results so that the player with the highest result gets to act last. In turn, the players now regard the 18 different characters of the King's Court which are printed on the gameboard, and using either the result of one of the dice or the combined result of two or three dice the players now may assign these dice to the character bearing the corresponding number. This way, all the players place their dice with one or more of the characters at the Court, observing the rule that no character may be approached by more than one player so that more and more spaces become restricted to the placement of dice. In the end, this may result in some dice being not useable and thus lost for the players who have rolled them, unless they chose to combine them with some others of their dice to get a result which hopefully is still unoccupied.

Starting with the lowest numbered character, the players who have placed dice on characters now make use of the characters' abilities. The higher the number of the character, the better are the benefits which the character has to offer, so that a player may only get one resource from one of the lower characters, whereas the King himself (space 18) grants a full set of three resources (Gold, Wood and Stone) plus a Soldier. Also available are some other benefits like addition markers which may be used to improve a player's result during the next interaction phase or a sneak look at the Invasion card which will be turned up next Winter, giving all players a new foe to deal with at the end of the round.

When all characters with dice on them have been evaluated, each player may use his resources to build a building, and the prices and abilities of each building are shown on the playing mats of each player. Five different categories of buildings exist, and in each category four different buildings may be built in increasing order and with increasing powers. The special powers of the buildings have considerable influence on the player's options, since they may provide extra defensive points, allow an increase of the roll of the dice in the interaction phase or even a complete re-roll, the easier recruitment of soldiers etc - the options are manifold. Also, most of the buildings provide one or more victory points for the player, and as long as he possesses the building he may advance his victory point marker on the track on the mainboard.

Once the players had a possibility to build, the phase ends and the round continues. Two more identical interaction phases will take place in Summer and Fall (phases four and six) of each round, and in the two intermediary phases before these seasons the players may get a small benefit depending on their current situation in the game. Thus, phase three brings all players with most buildings an additional Victory points, whereas phase five allows the player with fewest buildings at that moment to take the playing piece of the King's Special Advisor. This figure may be spent during the interaction phase of the following Fall, Spring or Summer, allowing the player either to interact with a personality which has already been approached by another player or to build two buildings in the same phase. However, after the Advisor has been used, he must be handed back so that he may only be used once.

After phase Fall comes Winter with phases seven and eight. In phase seven, players may use resources for recruiting additional Soldiers, before finally the Invasion card for the current round will be turned over and needs to be faced by each of the players.

For each of the five rounds a separate stack of Invasion cards exists, so that the value of the Invasion card is not known before the eighth phase. However, the players know the approximate value of the strength of the card, and also that the general strength of the cards increases from round to round. Thus, they can make a broad estimation at the strength of the upcoming monsters and adjust their defense troops by purchasing as many soldiers as they may think necessary to win the onslaught. However, the benevolent King does not want his Earls to face the monsters alone, and so he sends one dice-roll of soldiers to assist each player against the monsters, thus adding these additional soldiers to each players' total strength. Then the Invasion card is revealed, and to win each player has to reach total army strength equal to the strength of the Invasion card. The players who are successful will get a bonus, whereas the unsuccessful players may loose some of their resources and possibly also one or more buildings. A draw means no gains and no losses.

This way, the game continues with players erecting new buildings and gathering victory points, until the fifth and final round has been played. After the final Invasion card, the victory point markers will be adjusted and the player with most points will have won the game.

I first playtested Kingsburg with just two players and the game's mechanics worked rather smoothly with both players being able to chose a good number of characters at the Kings Court and to add quite a few buildings to their counties. With more players participating competition increased considerably since the number of available characters was not increased so that in many cases it became rather difficult to interact with more than one character. Here the intermediary phases one and five were a palpable counterbalance, since these phases bring a reward to the weaker players so that they may get a chance to catch up again.

On the one hand this was desirable because competition was kept up, but on the other hand this mechanism was somewhat impedimentary and unsatisfactory because it was rather difficult to strengthen a leading position. Still, I think that be beneficial side prevails, because growing familiarity with the game mechanics brought players to experiment with the benefits available. Thus, players well up on the Victory points score tried to "highjack" the benefits by falling behind on a voluntary basis, and whereas this strategy worked in a few occasions there were also situations when this approach strongly backfired (much to the applause of the other Earls).

There is an increased element of luck in the game since the players often resort to rolling their dice, but due to the fact that dice results can be combined the influence of luck is managable. What I really liked about Kingsburg was the fact that the rules are rather self-evident once a few phases have been played, and the colourful gameboard is not only really nice to look at but also is a perfect player help since all needed tracks for scores and game progression are included so that all information constantly is at hand in a very ordered way.

However, I think I should also mention that the replay value of Kingsburg gets a small reduction after a few games, and this is due to the fact that - apart from the Invasion card at the end of each round - the whole game progresses in a rather self-repetitive way. While it is true that the players have a chance to try different building strategies (all 20 buildings cannot be built by a player in one game), there comes a point when these strategies have been tested so that tension for future games is reduced. This issue will be addressed by the expansion set which is scheduled to arrive in 2009, since the players now will get different player characters with special attributes, event cards and new building options which will bring additional variation in the game. I am quite hopeful that these additional elements will gear in quite well with the nice resource management mechanism of the basic game, and together they should give Kingsburg an even higher attractiveness.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany