What's Eric Playing?

#161 – Cursed Court

Base price: $50.
2 – 5 players.
Play time: ~15 minutes per round.
BGG Link
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 10

Full disclosure: A review copy of Cursed Court was provided by Atlas Games.

So I’m checking out another game from Atlas Games, publisher of the solid deckbuilder with a super-weird-theme, Witches of the Revolution. This theme is, frankly, a bit more run-of-the-mill with the whole “kingdoms and intrigue”, but hey I like the art so I’m gonna give it a once-over.

In Cursed Court, you play as lesser nobles trying to figure out which Nobles (I keep typing Noodles for some reason) are going to be most in favor at the end of the year. If you are favored by them, well, it stands to reason that you might stop being a lesser noble and might become an actual Noble with a title. It’s a good goal to have, I suppose. The problem is, you’re not the only person trying to convince these Nobles that they should support you. Will you be able to impress them?

Contents

Setup

Game’s pretty easy to set up. Lay out the board on your table:

Leave some space to the side, about the same size as the board. (Give or take.) Give each player coins in a color of their choice:

There will also be score markers, but they’re not particularly exciting to photograph. They come in the same colors, so put the relevant ones on the 0 on the board’s scoring track. Also give them four crowns in the same color:

Now, shuffle the cards:

Give one player the Start Marker and set the Scoring Tokens on 0:

Once you’ve done that, you’re basically ready to start!

Gameplay

A standard game of Cursed Court is played over three Years, though frankly you can play as many years as you want, if you’d like. You do you. I generally just treat each “year” as a full game and we play until we’re done, but, like I said, no real preference.

Each year is composed like so:

I’ll explain more. Each season is effectively one turn in which players see some information publicly and then use that information and their private information to make a wager. A season works as follows:

After the fourth season in a year, you move on to Scoring! Scoring works as follows:

Tally the scores and the player with the most points wins the year! Or just keep the scoreboard and shuffle the cards in the tableau back into the deck and play another year. Best of three wins!

Variants

As mentioned, there are lots of interesting variants, each with their own name. I’ll explain them, here:

The Court Remembers

In this variant, rather than shuffling the tableau back into the deck after each year, leave the cards out for the rest of the game. How good’s your memory? If you want to play a kinder version, you may leave the cards face-up. The more intense version should test your memory a bit, especially by Year 3.

The Coinless Court

This is the Friendly Introductory Version for Nice Gamers, as it removes bumping and plays without coins. If you want to bet in a region or on a Noble, you may place your Crown there as long as there is not already one of your Crowns on that space. Organize Crowns from North (top of board) to South (bottom of board) in a space to indicate which crown got their first (you can also stack them, if you’re feeling ambitious).

When you score, each successive Crown earns one fewer point. So if there were 3 Dukes and four players all put their Crowns on that space, the first Crown earns 5, the second 4, and the third earns 3.

The Great Exchange

If you want to play an endurance round or run your own tournament, this might be the version for you. In this one, each player starts with 100 coins (you may want to use the various colors of chips as various denominations, unless you already own poker chips). When you would remove your non-scoring bets from the board, just remove the Crown instead and leave the bet on the board. Whichever player scores the most points at the end of a year takes all chips still on the board and adds them to their supply for use in subsequent years. Rough! You’ll probably see the bets get a bit crazier as a result.

This is an elimination challenge, now! When only one player has chips left, they’re declared the winner!

If you want to get really intense you can also allow players to buy back in and get another 100 chips.

The Royal Masquerade

If you really want to mess with other players, this might be a good variant for you. Take a sharpie or some white-out or something and mark one Crown of every color underneath the Crown, where it can’t be seen. This Crown is your Feint Crown. You only use this for your Bamboozle Bets. Basically, when you play this one, you cannot score points with it; it and any coins you bet are returned to you at the end of a year, before the face-down cards are added to the tableau (though that doesn’t really matter).

If you’re using this with The Great Exchange, the player who played their Feint Crown gets their coins back, not the winner of the year. This adds another level of intrigue to the game.

Player Count Differences

Honestly, it’s really interesting at all player counts. At two, it’s definitely a game of trying to read the other player and get a sense of what they’re betting on. At higher player counts, it’s more reading between the lines and seeing what people are betting to try and figure out what nobody has so that you can avoid it. They’re kind of similar but also fairly different play styles, so I don’t really have a strong recommendation of a player count to play this at. I will say that I prefer playing a single round variant of this game at higher player counts, as the rounds take a fairly long time with more players just due to analysis paralysis.

Strategy

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

Mehs

Cons

Overall: 8.5 / 10

Wow, Cursed Court surprised me. Sure, there are some quirks in the game, but honestly I spent an entire evening playing it and a few people almost bought it on the spot (I stopped one of them because we live together and they can literally play it whenever, but I mean you can spend your money however you’d like). That’s pretty high praise. I think if I’m being honest, it’s probably an absolutely incredible game to play with a few drinks, as the betting / wagering / information-leaking components become even muddier (and I expect people play faster). If this sort of game sounds like it’d even be slightly up your alley, I’d overwhelmingly encourage you to check it out! It really surprised me, but in a way that ensures I’ll definitely keep it around for a while.