I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for dice. If I see dice in a game I get excited. I’m not quite sure what it is but I love the tactile aspect and watching them roll and see what the outcome is. Typically dice are used for a roll-and-move style mechanic (Monopoly), combat (Risk, Britannia, most any war game) and sometimes for other various probability things (Settlers of Catan). Lately, though, we’ve been seeing games like Yspahan that with clever uses for dice and Kingsburg is another that takes advantage of dice in a whole new way.
I’m not entirely sure what Kingburg’s theme is but that’s okay. All I know is that you are trying to construct buildings to earn victory points and fight off monsters at the end of each year so bad things don’t happen to you. Each player has a mat with 20 different buildings on them; these buildings earn you victory points and also give you various special abilities to use throughout the game. The game plays over five years with each year having three productive seasons and winter simply involves getting attacked by some nasty looking monster. Before each season bonuses are given to the player with the most or fewest buildings (depending on the season) and at the end of each production season players have the option to build a single building if they so desire. Whoever has the most points at the end is the winner.
Overall it’s pretty standard fare: collect resources to construct buildings and earn victory points. What makes the game work is the dice mechanic. Each player has three dice that you roll each production season. Turn order for the season is from low to high roll. On the central board are 18 different advisers numbered 1 to 18. In turn order players use one or more of their dice to play on the adviser whose number equals the face value of the group of dice being played. For example, if I rolled 3, 1, 6 I could play on advisor 3, 1, 6, 4, 7, 9, or 10. Placing goes around until everyone has placed all of their dice or they have no valid plays left.
(image courtesy gamephotos @ BGG)
This mechanic seriously rocks. After you roll your dice and see turn order you really need to look at the distribution of each player’s dice and figure out how to maximize your actions. Each adviser gives you a different ability that turn, typically earning you resources, soldiers or victory points. You need to figure out which resources you need and which advisers others are capable of taking. Each adviser can only be taken once so it’s very possible to block someone out and force them to use their dice differently or even make some of their dice unusable. This dice action system really adds a lot of tension to the game.
Even better is that rolling high all of the time doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do better. The higher advisers do have some good stuff but you’ll often be able to get more resources or a better variety of resources by picking multiple lower advisers. Low roller goes first, though, so those lower valued advisers will likely get taken up first. Some buildings also let you modify your rolls in some fashion; for example, one lets you play on an adviser one higher or lower than the grouping of dice you choose to play. This gives players a lot to think about and adds a lot of tactical fun to the randomness of the dice and even takes away from the randomness a bit by giving you more flexibility with each roll.
At the end of the year everyone has to face the monster that attacks. You add up your soldier strength plus building defensive bonuses and then roll a six sided die; the total is your military strength. Then the monster is revealed. If your military strength is greater than the monster you earn the bonus on the card, if you tied you get nothing and if you are under the monster’s strength you earn the negative on the card. Sometimes the negatives aren’t too bad, like losing a single victory point, but others are nasty like losing entire buildings. Each year the monsters get progressively more difficult and deadly but your soldiers are reset to zero at the start of each year so you have to spend more and more resources into pumping up your military if you want to stay in the running.
I really like Kingsburg from my few initial plays. The game itself is unbelievably gorgeous and the symbology is clear and generally easy to understand. You’ll have lots of excitement with each die roll and there will be plenty of antagonizing over how to play your dice.
(image courtesy gamephotos @ BGG)
My main complaint is that it seems like there aren’t too many different paths to victory. The majority of your points come from constructing buildings and you’ll earn a few points here and there for spending resources if you choose to do so and also from a couple different advisers. It really becomes a very tight resource management game where every point matters but I think there just aren’t enough different ways to earn points. It looks like there’s primarily four different main building strategies and then a matter of how you use your extra resources. Still, I think the dice mechanic and the tough winter battle against the monster makes things fairly exciting throughout. You can try and pump up your military for the easy victory or count on lady luck to pull you through. In a way the process of playing is almost more satisfying than the end result.
Everything in Kingsburg comes together quite nicely and I think it’s a great game to show people that dice don’t necessarily equate to lack of strategy or tactics in a game. As much as I like the game, though, I think it’ll be best enjoyed in moderation. Players would probably grow tired of it if played too frequently in a short time span but it’d be a great one to take out every few weeks and have a fun round or two.