Full disclosure: A review copy of King’s Road was provided by Grail Games.
Another Grail Game! So we’ve already taken a look at the quite-good Medici: The Card Game, which I’d recommend again if for nothing more than Vincent Dutrait’s art, which is wonderful. If Mediterranean Trading weren’t enough for you, thematically, well, wait until you play King’s Road!
In King’s Road, you play as Nobles trying to influence the King as he travels across the realm in order to gain power and prestige. Unfortunately, your other fellow nobles have the same idea (but aren’t quite as sneaky about it as they are in Cursed Court). You’ll have to try to build up your influence under their noses if you want to be successful. Can you gain the favor of the King?
Alright, setup is pretty simple. You’re gonna set out the board, first:
Give each player a set of tokens in their chosen color, but keep them emblem-side down:
The tall token is the King:
Set the King on Zen Kai’s Deep, to start, and place one token from each player on the “0” on the score track. Now, give each player a set of cards in their color:
The card backs are what determine which set belongs to which player. Once you’ve done all that, you’re pretty much good to go!
Gameplay is also pretty straightforward. So, the King (the white token) moves from location to location, and at each spot you nobles try to curry his favor. Once a player hits 40 points, the endgame begins.
How the game will work is that each player simultaneously chooses three cards from their hand and places them face-down. Once all players have chosen, reveal and resolve the cards. In general, 8 of the 11 possible cards will let you place one of your tokens on that location to represent your growing influence. The other three cards behave a bit differently:
- Knight: Add another influence to the location on the card to this card’s left. This lets you play two influence on the same spot in one turn.
- Dragon: Once per game, score the next region after the current region as well. Remove this from the game after using.
- Witch: Once per game, rather than resolve your cards, wait for every other player to resolve their cards. Now, take every card but the Witch, choose three, and resolve them. If multiple players play the Witch in one round, they resolve as a group (just like normal play). Remove this from the game after using.
Once all players have played and resolved their cards, scoring occurs. Look at the region that the King currently occupies. Count the number of Influence tokens or each player in that region, and then award the region’s points based on your placement. You must have at least one Influence in that region to be eligible for points. Also, note these fun scoring facts:
- Two players: Only the player with the most tokens scores points, and they score the topmost points.
- Three players: Only first and second-most tokens score points.
- Four players: Only the first, second, and third-most tokens score points.
If there’s a tie, the tied players get the lowest rank’s score. So if two players are tied for second, they both get third place’s points. This means that if enough players are tied, they will get zero. Try to avoid that.
Now, the player with the most Influence in that region (ties don’t count) may flip one of their Influence tokens over, exposing its emblem. This Influence token is now a Noble, and they’ll stay until another player gets the most Influence in that region (ties don’t count), and they still count as an Influence in future rounds. All players remove all other Influence tokens. Now, as it’s called King’s Road, look to the roads. The player with the Noble in that region first scores a bonus point, then looks to every adjacent region with one of their nobles, and scores one additional point for each region with a noble connected by a road to this region. Each region only counts for one additional point, no matter how many roads it connects to.
Once this has been done, for every player that has played a Dragon card, score the next region in clockwise order in the same manner. Once that’s done, move the King’s Token to the next region that hasn’t been scored, yet.
Play continues until one player has scored 40 points, signalling that this is the final round. Once that round ends, the King essentially blitzes through the land and scores every region that wasn’t scored this round, again. That’s exciting. Note that Nobles are not created or scored during this step, but they still count as Influence. The player with the most points wins!
If you’d like, you can play with Permanent Nobles. Once you’ve added a Noble, it cannot be removed. If another player beats you on the majority, well, then they just add a Noble to the region as well. All players score Nobles as you would in the base game. This generally makes the game go a fair bit more quickly.
Player Count Differences
Uh, the major difference is contention for spots at higher player counts. It’s also possible for you to get shut out if you don’t take ownership of something. For instance, at five players, since there are only four spots that earn more than 4 points, it might be worth keeping an eye on one and just trying for it, and hoping that the ties bring the other players down. I’d say 3 – 4 is probably the right player count for this one, though, for me; enough contention to stay interesting to players without being over the top.
- Keep an eye on the valuable spots. You really need to lock down at least one of them if you’re hoping to win. That said, they’re in the corners specifically to try and prevent you from getting long road connections from them, so, maybe try to lock something else down, first?
- Go for the roads! If you can get to the point where, even if you don’t do that well, you’re still scoring tons of points on roads, well, you’ll be in great shape. That often means going for the not-terribly-lucrative spots, sure, so you can get those connectors between the lucrative spots. Don’t forget that Zin Kai’s Deep and Temple Ruins both connect to each other as well as the corners, for extra road-related scoring.
- You need to be first in something. I know that saying “score points so you can win” is kind of an obvious interjection, but you should focus on locking down a location by at least three Influence, if you can. That makes it hard for other players to surprise you and steal it away from you. Just don’t spread yourself too thin, so that you have the option of actually winning something.
- Try to get into other players’ heads. Sometimes I’ll just announce what I’m going for, just to see if that works. Any game is a mind game if you believe enough in what you’re doing.
- A well-timed Witch is always a good plan. Use this to check to see if you really need to play that Knight in order to win the King’s Castle. If your opponents don’t play a Witch, they all have to go first, and you can just clean up. Sometimes you can take over completely different locations if you play your cards right.
- A well-timed Dragon is also a good plan. This is the sort-of-shock-and-awe strategy, where you place Influence on another location and then surprise your opponent by playing a Dragon and swooping it up immediately. This works best with the valuable locations or if you think you can end the game with the extra points you got.
- Don’t fight other players. If you see another player consistently getting in your business to try and out-Influence you in a region, tell them to move along. You two fighting just means that you’re losing opportunities to gain more ground elsewhere on the board. You really should not ever have like, 7+ Influence on a spot, especially if someone else does, too. That usually means you’ve wasted a fair few turns, and honestly, you don’t get that many.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Yeah, the art is pretty incredible. Vincent Dutrait is knocking it out of the park, on this one, just like Medici: The Card Game. Really impressive work. The colors are bright and bold and really it’s just all-around kind of excellent. Makes me excited for Museum.
- Easy to learn. It’s a fairly straightforward game. The only difficult thing is the Noble scoring, and even that’s just a bit of network tracing, so, not the biggest deal ever.
- Plays quickly. I always appreciate a quick and simple game.
- The components are quite nice. The tokens all have a nice heft to them, the box is sturdy, the cards are nice, and the board is thick. All appreciated.
- It would be nice if the Witch, Dragon, and Knight were labelled. Not that I can’t tell them apart; it would just be nice.
- The Permanent Noble variant just seems to end the game more quickly. I’d recommend upping the point threshold a bit, if you want. You won’t make it much beyond one loop, otherwise.
- The Region boundaries are a bit hard to see. Just makes it occasionally confusing which Influence tokens go where.
- The theme isn’t doing it for me, at all. I think that it’s not just my normal level of boredom with Generic Feudal / Fantasy Theme, but a bit beyond that. The location names feel … generic. King’s Altar, Wizard’s Tower, King’s Castle; these aren’t really getting me engrossed in the world of the game. They just kind of, well, exist. If the locations had unique names, that would certainly be a start. Sure, Zin Kai’s Deep is unique, but that feels like the bare minimum of extra flavor added to the game. The world just kind of feels kind of flat, and it doesn’t seem like there was much done to make it live or breathe. The weird thing is that Vincent Dutrait did a phenomenal job on the illustrations (see Pros), but for me, I would have felt more invested in the theme if the names had felt a bit less vague.
- It … feels like a small part of a larger game. I get the intrigue of it is the almost-prisoner’s-dilemma of choosing where you want to cast your limited influence each round, but that’s the entire game. It might just be that it has a large box and board, but I feel like there’s something missing from the game that I would have liked to see given its scale. I wonder how I’d feel about it if it were one of the Oink Games line. Probably better, which is weird.
Overall: 5.75 / 10
Overall, King’s Road is fine. I think I just feel a profound sense of wanting more from it, and, certainly, from things I’ve already read, that’s not true for everyone. I’m not sure how much of that is conditioned on the expectation you get from the box size and the quality of the contents and components (all of which are good, and I appreciate that the box isn’t mostly air), but it certainly leaves me wanting a bit more. I see this as more of a foundation on top of which you might see some pretty neat games get built, but it’s not totally what I’m looking for in a game just on its own. Like I said earlier, I think that it might be an expectation mismatch, given that other, say, Oink Games are fairly simple games in similar veins, but this feels like it should be more. Oh well. All that means is that your enjoyment of the game may differ from mine (and, to be fair, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, beyond I wish the theme had been more inventive). If you’re looking for a quick and easy game to get to the table that’s got some interesting round-to-round decisions and some fun simultaneous action, though, King’s Road might be the game to check out!