Full disclosure: A review copy of Roar: King of the Pride was provided by IDW Games.
I’ve been reviewing a lot of IDW games, as I’ve mentioned in other writeups. One thing I’ve always appreciated about them is that they run the thematic gamut — birds to court intrigue to rhino jousting to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to The Legend of Korra (hopefully soon!). This next one, Roar: King of the Pride, is another delightful thematic variant, as you take on the role of several prides of lions vying for control of Africa. It won’t be easy, though; you’ll have to deal with other lions, human settlers, and food if you want to make it to the top. Will you be able to survive?
Setup takes a bit but not a terribly long time. First thing is, as with all games with large boards, set out the board:
Have each player choose a color of lion, and take a Player Board in that color:
They’ll also get Lion meeples:
And, of course, Lionesses:
Each player should take two Lions and two Lionesses and set them near their player board.
There should be a food indicator on your player board; that’s how much food you start with. Take Food Tokens equal to that value:
Set the Bonus Tokens to the side:
And put the Baby / Cub tokens in a bag or something:
You’ll want to keep all that by the die, as well:
Set out the correct number of hut meeples for your player count:
- 3 players: 9 huts
- 4 players: 8 huts
- 5 players: 5 huts
- 6 players: 6 huts
Return unused huts to the box. Once you’ve done that, deal each player four Bonus cards:
Each player must keep one of them; hopefully you got good ones! They have a variety of tasks on them that you must complete, and like Ticket to Ride, if you fail to do them by the end of the game you lose points! Tough break. Speaking of scoring, add the Scoring Card for your player count to the board:
Once you’ve done all that, have each player place their Lions and Lionesses in any of the spaces on the board listed on their player boards. Those will be your starting locations! Choose a player to go first, and give them the lion first-player token, and you’re ready to start!
A game of Roar is played over a certain number of rounds, depending on your player count:
- 3 players: 15 rounds (wow, right?)
- 4 players: 12 rounds
- 5 players: 10 rounds
- 6 players: 9 rounds
Anyways, each round you’re going to do a certain number of things, in order, so I’ll just lay them out one by one.
Pass First-Player Marker
Honestly, I just do this at the end of the round, but it’s in the rulebook as the first thing you do so, live your truth. If you do this first, you skip this for the first round, so that the player who got the first-player token first actually gets to … go first, as you’d suspect.
This is a super informative section and you’re already glad you read it.
So, remember those Baby / Cub tokens?
Cool. So, as a thing, you’ll get to place them sometimes. More on that later. Once they’re on the board, you will age them each round as they move towards becoming real lions. However, they age in a certain order:
- Cubs become Lions or Lionesses: Replace all of your “M” tokens with Lion meeples, and all your “F” tokens with Lioness meeples. If you do not have enough, well, discard the cub token. Not every cub makes it to adulthood, sadly.
- Babies become Cubs: Flip all baby tokens over to reveal the “M” or “F” on the other side. Now all your opponents know what kinds of cubs you have! It’s like one of those announcement parties; very millennial.
You need to do this in this order so that you don’t get confused about which Cubs have already aged and which haven’t.
That said, you can’t grow your Pride too large — any one territory can only have 2 lions and 7 lionesses. If aging your cubs adds too many of either, they must immediately move out of the territory into another territory (like a Movement action; I’ll explain later). If multiple players are having this problem, resolve it in turn order.
Now, the humans arrive to make everything worse! As mentioned earlier, the humans are represented by huts in this game:
So, which player is going last? (The player on the Start Player’s right, in case you were wondering.) That player takes one of the huts and places it on the board, following these rules:
- You may place a hut on any “6” Territory.
- You may place a hut on any Territory adjacent to a Territory with a hut.
Pretty straightforward! If you place on a Territory with lions of any players’, they must immediately move those lions (again, like a Movement action; to be explained later). If they have any Babies / Cubs, those are returned to the supply, you monster.
If there are no hut meeples left to place, remove one hut meeple and place it on the next empty space in the round tracker section of the board. Once you reach the circle with your player count, that round will be the last round.
Before each player gets their turns, in player order you may sacrifice as many of your male lions as you want to the Ancestral Strength tracker on the board — they join the ancestors and become larger versions of themselves in the sky to convince Simba to stop laying around and go fight Scar. As one does. Ancestral Strength is the offensive strength of your pride, so it may be worth buffing this. Now, the rules don’t note this, but it’s worth mentioning — do not sacrifice your last male lion this way. It’s almost … never a good idea. You need male lions to … make more lions.
Each player now takes two (any combination or two of the same) of the following actions in turn order. The rules are somewhat ambiguous on a couple of these, so I’m going to explain them as I played them.
A Movement Action allows you to move any or all of your Lion / Lioness meeples up to two territories away. This can be confusing if you have quite the sprawl, so the rules helpfully recommend laying your lions down once you’ve moved them. Sleepy kitties. Just make sure you’re obeying that Pride Size rule by the time you’ve finished moving everything (2 Lions, 7 Lionesses).
Babies and Cubs cannot be moved, so be careful! If you move into a Territory with another pride’s babies or cubs, instantly remove them from the board. You … you definitely killed them. No joke there.
If you were forced to move earlier in the round by a Pride Size limit thing or Human Activity, those moves don’t count as one of your actions. Just so we’re clear.
If you want to move into a space occupied by another pride or by humans, well, you can’t. You might be able to move through that space, if you play your cards right…
So you want to move through some other pride or some humans? Easily done, sort of.
If you want to sneak through another pride, your pride must be smaller than the pride you’re sneaking through. Otherwise they’ll notice, and that’s a whole thing.
If you want to sneak through a human-occupied territory, you can do it, but you must remove one of your Lion or Lioness meeples from the board. Humans aren’t super friendly to lions in close proximity.
Subtlety not your forte? It’s okay; we have aggressive actions, as well.
As you might guess from a game called Roar, you can also Roar to do something negative to your opponent. In this case, you attract their Lionesses to your pride.
If you take the Roar action, choose one of your Lions. If they are in a pride adjacent to an opponent’s pride and their pride is stronger (# Lions * Ancestral Strength + # Lionesses) than the opponent’s pride (# Lions + # Lionesses), then remove one of their Lionesses from the board and add one of your Lionesses to the territory with your pride in it. The rules don’t say what happens if this then violates the Pride Size Rule; I would assume that you must move the Lioness to another territory.
It’s a great way to mildly irritate your opponents without being too mean. If you want to be mean, though, we can up the game:
Alright, so, you want to mess up some lions. Well, you can’t, usually, because if you attack your opponent can retreat if they lose. But let’s talk about it anyways.
If you have a pride adjacent to an opponent’s pride and their pride is stronger (# Lions * Ancestral Strength + # Lionesses) than the opponent’s pride (# Lions + # Lionesses), you may use an action to Attack on your turn. If you do, your opponent must immediately move to an adjacent territory that does not have another player’s pride or a hut. If no such territory exists, all of those lions are removed from the board. Now that’s a tough break. Again, no word on what happens if this retreat violates the Pride Size rule, so I figure that they must have to move, but can’t move into the space they just vacated (as that would be dumb).
If you’d rather make love, not war, well … there’s an option for that, too.
Provided you have a Lion and a Lioness in the same Territory, you can start playing Can You Feel The Love Tonight (actually a good idea and a missed opportunity) and spend an available action roll the Breeding Die (95% sure That’s How It Works) to add the pictured number of Babies to your territory.
If you roll a +, instead, well, you get a Bonus Token:
You can spend one of those whenever you do an action to do … +1 of that. Attacking / Roaring? +1 Strength. Movement? +1 to your movement (you can move 3 territories). Breeding? +1 Babies. Nice!
Draw Bonus Cards
As with many games (BrilliAnts, Takenoko, Ticket to Ride), you’ll eventually find that your starting bonus cards were just … insufficient for your current needs. Want to fix that? Draw some more! You may spend one of your available actions to draw 2 Bonus cards. You may keep both, one, or none of them, so there’s really no real risk, here.
Fulfill Bonus Cards
There are a bunch of Bonus cards:
- Enter a Territory: If you move a meeple of yours into that Territory, you fulfilled this card! Naturally, this has to be on your turn, so retreating / being forced to move doesn’t count. Probably.
- Control Territories: If you control the territories (or types of territories) specified on this card, you have fulfilled it! Once you’ve fulfilled it, it stays fulfilled, so don’t worry.
- Have the least of something: There are many things you could have the least of in this game. If you have the least of that thing, you’ve fulfilled this card. You can then try to stop having the least of that thing.
- Place a hut on some territory: If you place a hut on some territory during the Human Activity phase of the round, you have fulfilled this card! That can be tricky, especially if you’re past the part of the game where you place huts.
- Be surrounded. If you’re in a situation where you have enemies on all available sides of you, you have fulfilled this card! You … probably aren’t going to be okay, though, so hope you like Pyrrhic victories.
And those are all of the available actions! You may take two of them (except for Fulfill Bonus Cards; you can do as many of those as you like) on your turn, then the next player in turn order goes.
Alright, well, your lions need to eat, so hope you have food ready! At the end of the round, all players’ Lionesses go out to gather food in each territory they’re in, as a group. They bring back food equal to the herd value of the territory (the number on the territory space). Count your total food income and subtract 2 food for each Lion and 1 food for each Lioness. If you’re still positive (or at 0), great! If you’re negative, you may either spend food tokens from your starting stash (once they’re gone, they’re gone, though) or you may remove Lions and / or Lionesses to get yourself below the total. Just make sure you don’t remove the only Lioness from a territory; only Lionesses can gather food.
Uh, if you were to somehow, completely lose all your Lions and Lionesses, you are not eliminated from the game. Good attempt, though. At the start of the next round (after Human Activity), place two of your Lions and two of your Lionesses on any empty or human-occupied territory. If you chose a human-occupied territory, well, you may move the hut anywhere else following normal hut placement rules.
Once that’s done, proceed to the next round.
The game ends when you’ve completed the final round (after placing the last hut on the round space). Now, you’ll tally the scores. Players score in four categories:
- Number of Lions;
- Number of Lionesses;
- Total Food Supply (including any leftover Food Tokens);
- Number of Occupied Territories.
Score those according to the Scoring Cards (which should be corrected in your copy of the game; if not, check the rulebook). If there’s a tie in the category, they all score that level’s points, but the next player scores as if they all had distinct places. (If four players are tied for second, the player who would be “third” scores as though they had gotten sixth, instead.)
Now, add any completed Bonus cards to each player’s score, and subtract any of their incomplete Bonus cards. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I’ve tried it at three and four, and the general difference that I see is that bonus cards become more difficult to complete at higher player counts because of the densification of prides. Sneaking is a fairly inefficient action, so if you want to get around a wall of another player’s lions, you’re often better off just attacking them. The problem is, they’ll usually attack you right back, so that sometimes just ends up being pointless. To that end, if you don’t expand early, you’re not going to be doing much exploring, and since the overwhelming majority of the Bonus cards are for exploring, well, they won’t help you much. I am generally against conflict and attacking in games, so having more room to roam is right up my alley. To that end, I probably like it best at three. Less conflict-averse players may prefer the density intensity that comes at five or six, though.
- Play to your strengths. I mean, if your player card gives you a bonus to breeding, you should probably go for that Lion + Lioness bonus. Try to align your skills with what will earn you points, as that is how the strategy game is played, as they say.
- Fulfill your Bonus cards. The scoring categories are fickle and occasionally can be disrupted by shenanigans, but once you get Bonus cards fulfilled, they’re yours. Sure, they might attract you some unwanted attention if you’re suddenly up a lot of points, but, I mean, risk versus reward, right?
- Don’t take difficult Bonus cards, generally. I don’t know if there’s a ton of point risking a -2 for a potential +2 six turns down the line. If you think that you personally can fix some Bonus card for yourself, then sure, go for it. Generally, I’m going to take the ones I either already have or can get within one turn.
- At low player counts, go for lots of Bonus cards. The scoring categories are what, 7 points each, at three players? You’ll generally get something, so if you have another 16+ points in Bonus cards, you might be able to cruise to victory pretty easily even if the categories don’t break in your favor.
- At high player counts, do a lot of end-game breeding. You really want to get those high-value scoring categories. Sure, you’re a bit vulnerable to getting your babies wiped out by angry enemy lions, but the babies still count as Lions / Lionesses for endgame purposes, even if they can’t or haven’t grown up! That’s always nice.
- Attacking is really only worth it if you really want that Territory or want to wipe out some other player’s baby lions, you monster. I mean, it’ll take your whole turn to move into an area after attacking it, so, unless you super want to hurt someone, I generally end up roaring or moving around them more often than not.
- Use the huts to draw a line in the sand, especially if you’re the Orange player. You can block other players out, especially if you leave one spot open and occupy it. Sure, you might get screwed if another player places a hut there, so just … wait until the last hut is placed to go to your new home, Orange.
- Watch out for being surrounded. If you get surrounded and someone attacks, you just get wiped out. No fleeing to a nearby region; just dead.
- Always keep track of your food supply. You should make sure (especially if you’re going first) that you have some extra food to keep your lions fed; you never know when someone’s going to attack or roar you and you do not want to lose a lot of food and have to starve out some of your lions. That said, I tend to play fairly non-aggressive (as a playstyle), so this wasn’t often a problem for me.
- Don’t forget the important stuff. The two most important things I’ve seen players forget consistently in games of Roar are that lionesses are the ones that gather food and that Ancestral Strength only matters for offensive attacks, not defending. Those are both critically important to play, so make double-sure to keep them in mind before you make some gratuitous mistakes.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. It’s lions! Lions are great. And you can like, move them around! That’s a lot of fun and it’s also something pretty different than anything I’ve played, before. That’s always nice. I love surprises, at least, pleasant ones. The art’s pretty nice, as well, if a realistic style is your preference.
- The lion meeples are awesome, as well. There’s lions and lionesses! Also great! It’s fun to have a whole pride to move around the board. Or multiple prides, depending on your lion strategies. Categies? Not sure; lion puns aren’t my forte.
- The hut placement mechanic is pretty interesting. I like that it opens up avenues for blocking other players and restricting high-value parts of the map as well as serving as a timer for the game.
- The board really looks quite nice. I have some questions about what happened to Madagascar, but in general it’s very striking on the table and it occupies a nice amount of space.
- The rulebook is a bit tough to parse. For one thing, it’s unclear if Movement applies to all your meeples on a territory or all your meeples on the entire board, which is a pretty big swing. The example used only shows one territory. For every action besides Sneaking, it mentions some form of “you can use this action”, whereas Sneaking is just referred to as a special move, which makes it sound like it’s part of a Movement action, rather than something separate. If it’s not, well, that’s confusing, and if it is, … why is it a separate action on the player board and in the rulebook? I’m treating them as distinct for this review, but that wasn’t particularly clear. The examples also use dark-colored meeples which are … difficult to distinguish between for me, even, and my vision is pretty solid. That could be an issue, as well. That said, I’m probably becoming grouchier about rulebooks as I play more and more games, so your mileage may vary on how big of an issue any one of these things are, to you.
- It’s odd that the game sort-of-allows you to screw yourself over. I don’t totally understand why the game allows you to sacrifice your last lion to increase your Ancestral Strength; without male lions, you can’t breed more lions, and attacking is worthless because only male lions use Ancestral Strength for attacking. There’s a specific warning in the rules about not doing this, but it’s … allowed. I don’t really see why that is.
- Calculating food stuff for Starvation is a bit of a pain. As I mentioned in my Code Triage review, counting higher than, like, 10 is kind of annoying to do more than once (most players will tolerate it if they have to do so for scoring). Sure, it’s relatively simple addition, but you may run into some players in your group that might find adding 4 + 5 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 1 + 1 for 15 rounds to be vaguely tedious, which may negatively impact the game.
- The Bonus cards feel pretty random. Drawing cards that reward you for placing huts when you no longer can is frustrating, especially when your opponent may draw cards that they can immediately score on their next turn. In lower player counts, as well, the score differential on the end-game bonuses is so low that it’s almost more advantageous to spend time cycling the deck for bonus cards rather than doing anything else, especially after the halfway point in the game. Since you can discard both of them, there’s no real penalty to doing that (as opposed to Ticket to Ride, where you need to keep one of them as a punishment for those silly shenanigans).
- The random effects in general will frustrate some players. Rolling a die to get a number to draw random tokens out of a bag (and that having a substantial impact on gameplay) is likely going to draw the ire of some players (though from a thematic standpoint, it makes sense). If it were a shorter game it probably wouldn’t bother me, but in longer games I tend to have a decreased luck tolerance.
- Attacking seemed to have a limited benefit, so players in the games I’ve played stopped doing it after a certain point. In low player-count games they’d spent most of the back half of the game cycling through the bonus card deck (one player scored 19 points on bonus cards) and in higher player-count games they’d just breed aggressively, especially when the cubs were never going to mature before the game ended. In the latter case attacking made a bit more sense, since you could wipe out their cubs and they’d take a pretty massive points hit, but once you score bonus cards nobody can take them from you so they’re a pretty solid investment. This made the endgame a bit unsatisfying in both cases, as players stopped interacting with each other and just tried to exploit the game’s scoring mechanics in order to win. The problem is that attacking is sort of a two-round action: you must first attack and drive the lions out, and then you must move in, which is the second action of you two-action turn. This means there’s very little else you can do, especially since you can’t move -> attack -> move, meaning you have to start your turn adjacent to the player you’d like to attack.
Overall: 5.75 / 10
Overall, Roar is okay! To me, it kind of comes off as “Risk, but with lions” (DISCLAIMER; HAVEN’T PLAYED RISK SO THIS IS KIND OF SPECULATIVE), which, while cool, isn’t really my kind of game? I’d’ve loved to play something a bit shorter (since I tend toward shorter games anyways), as that might have made me feel the random effects a bit less. It also seems like it might be worth forcing players to keep one of the Bonus cards they draw to disincentivize just … spending the last few rounds cycling on Bonus cards instead of attacking or breeding or something. That said, it’s definitely going to appeal a lot to players that like having a lot of pieces on the board and like the area-control and combat aspects that it brings to the table, especially given that you’re limited in your aggression, practically, since attacking and moving into a territory is your entire turn. For me, it’s not quite casual enough to hit the table with a lot of frequency, but it’s got a lot of random (and compounded random) effects for it to be something that I think my heavy game / Euro-loving friends would really enjoy. I could, however, see a really cool niche for this in schools, as it could be an interesting gateway into discussion about six breeds of lions (or at least a gateway into an interest), human activity and its effect on nature, or even African geography. Plus, I’m always excited to take a look at games with less-samey themes, and this was a delight, in that regard. Anyways, if you’re looking for a piece-heavy game, or you’re fine with a few random elements, or you’ve always wanted to prowl the Savannah and keep your pride in line, Roar may be worth checking out!