Kingsburg

(image courtesy laiernie @ BGG)

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.

(image courtesy MartinStever @ BGG)

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.

More on Twilight Imperium 3

(image courtesy @ nollan BGG)
This weekend I managed to get in another game of Twilight Imperium 3, this time with four players. I’ve now played three games but this was the first that we successfully completed! Our final play time was around the eight hour mark I think; for learning games it certainly seems like two hours per player is about right. I would guess with more plays that time will go down but the game takes just long enough to not make it a viable option for a regular game night during the week.

My love for the game continues to grow with each play. Twilight Imperium is a space epic that has players competing to be the first to earn ten victory points which are earned by completing public objectives. These objectives range from owning a certain number of planets to spending resources and destroying other player’s craft. We play with the “Age of Empires” variant where all objectives for the game are made visible and available from the very start which I really think helps get the game going. Normally objectives are revealed as the game goes but I think that doesn’t give players enough focus in the early rounds. With 10-15 points out for grabs from the start players can decide early in the game which they want to focus on.

The interesting part is these objectives don’t necessarily require a lot of aggression but you’ll certainly get pulled into conflict. At a glance the map looks large; with four or six players there are 37 over-sized hexes that make up the map. Once you start playing, though, you realize that you’ll be butting heads with your neighbors within two to three rounds. Planets earn you resources for building new ships and influence for maintaining your ability to command ships so getting and holding planets is very important. There’s enough room for everyone to have their share but I think it’s rare that anyone is completely happy with what’s given to them! You’ll get fun contention over some planets and it almost never fails that at least one zone becomes mutually considered neutral.

Some objectives are going to require you to extend outside of your boundaries and the secret objective each player is given tends to force conflict if only in the very middle of the board on a planet called Mecatol Rex. Mecatol is a high influence planet which makes it very useful for commanding your fleet and controlling the senate votes. There’s usually a race to get to Mecatol and then some fun, heated exchanges to fight for control over it.

(image courtesy kilroy_locke @ BGG)

Yes, you’ll get some diplomacy – as much as players want to have – but at its core it is a light war and resource management game. You need to balance spending resources on your fleet and technologies to keep up with your neighbors while planning ahead to claim victory points. Many of the victory points are just a matter of time before you earn them: research a number of technologies, spend resources or influence, etc. The fun comes in deciding when and how you’ll claim these points to push you into the lead and figuring out how to earn the last few more difficult ones.

Typically each player can only claim a single public objective at the end of a round so there’s a limit to how quickly you can earn victory points. The expansion added a role that, when taken, allows that player to claim multiple objectives at the end of the round. I really love this mechanic as it allows players to try and plan ahead for a big move that jumps them ahead of everyone else, possibly pushing them to the win. There is certainly a lot of randomness in combat and in card pulls but I think the fate of your race really falls on your own shoulders. You can make good and bad choices throughout and I think playing with public objective and the right mix of expansion content really makes for a great strategic and tactical game.

At the heart of the game’s play are eight roles that players pick from each round of play. These roles determine turn order for the round and also give each player a special ability they can use, along with a secondary ability that all other players will get to use. The original game came with a set of roles and there was a lot of discussion and argument over the balance (or lack thereof) surrounding these roles. Later the expansion (called Shattered Empire) added a new set of roles that could replace or mixed in with the base roles however players desire. The role mechanism really drives the game and good timing and choosing of roles is really key to success.

(image courtesy Santeler @ BGG)
One of the guys commented on how “stressful” the game was and I agree that it is but in the best possible way. The map closes up quickly and you’ll constantly be on the brink of war and probably fighting on at least two fronts (unless you can negotiate peace with your neighbors). If someone sees that you are pulling away with the win you had better be prepared to have everyone else at the table turn on you. That tension and need to find balance really makes the game extremely fun and engaging. Sure it takes a long time to play but that time really flies. You’ll be deep into the game, look at the clock and be shocked that six hours have passed already!

There’s a lot going on in Twilight Imperium but it all comes together to make one of the best board gaming experiences I’ve had. The basic rules are really quite simple but there’s so much breadth and depth that every single game will play out differently. I can’t possibly cover everything there is about the game in a single writing, at least not without the majority of you completely glazing over. Maybe I’ll do a few featurettes here and there to cover some of the more interesting aspects of the game.

Needless to say I’ll never turn down a game of Twilight Imperium… nor should you. Assuming you are free for a good six to eight hours.

Light Games for Four or More

I was recently asked for suggestions on short to medium length games that work well with four or more players. The group of gamers is made up of some guys and their wives; they’ve been paying Settlers of Catan and enjoy it but wanted something a little lighter and with less of a time commitment. Here’s the list I came up with, feel free to share your own list if you’d like! If you haven’t played any of these games I highly suggest giving them a try:

Ticket to Ride
image courtesy Pr Halios

This is probably the first many would recommend. You are trying to collect sets of colored cards that allow you to build various length connections between cities on a map of the US. It’s really easy to learn and play and the game can be as friendly or competitive as players want to make it. Plays up to 5 (I think it’s at its best with 3 or 5) and will probably take around an hour to and hour and a half depending on your players.

If you haven’t played Ticket to Ride before and are thinking of a purchase, head over to the Days of Wonder website. You can register on the site for free and play Ticket to Ride online. If you like what you see I highly suggest picking up a copy.

Alhambra
image courtesy myadestes

Each player is trying to build the best Alhambra. Yes, I know there is only one Alhambra but never mind the logistics behind that. It’s a pretty game and there’s no real confrontation (each players has their own play area), just a little bit of competition to purchase the tiles you want. You can play perfectly fine by only paying attention to your own Alhambra but you’ll do better if you keep an eye on what others are doing. Plays up to six although I think it gets too chaotic for my tastes with more than four.

Bohnanza
image courtesy spearjr

Fun little game about bean farming. You have a hand of bean cards that form a queue so you must play them in the order you receive them. The fun is that you may only have two fields of beans in front of you at a time but on your turn you can trade away cards with other players to try and set yourself up for future plays. Bohnanza is very light, easy and entertaining. It has a fun social aspect as you trade with other players and requires just a little bit of forethought to try and plan your moves.

Category 5
image courtesy m . a b e

I’ve already mentioned this twice on the blog now but it fits perfectly on this list so I thought I’d bring it up a third time! A single round takes no more than a few minutes and there’s a minimal amount of thought that needs to go into any given round of play. It also supports up to ten players, making it one of the most flexible games you’ll find.

I promise to make this the last time I mention Category 5 for quite some time!

For Sale
image courtesy Jormi_Boced

Players buy up houses on the market and then try to sell them for the most money. It’s a theme most people can relate to and the rules are incredibly simple. Just enough light strategy that you can put some thought into it and try to figure out the groupthink mentality each round or you can just play a card and see what happens. The art is fun, it plays up to six and I think I have yet to find someone who hasn’t enjoyed it. For Sale is light enough to introduce to new gamers but there’s enough substance there to work as the perfect filler for a more serious game group.