Full disclosure: A review copy of The Rise of Queensdale was provided by Ravensburger.
Alright, so, we’re trying something new, friends — like I said, I think that it’s impractical to show you Setup or Gameplay for certain games (like the EXIT series and legacy games), because a list of the components is fundamentally also a spoiler for them, in a lot of cases. For a lot of Legacy games, the gameplay changes enough between games that that’s also a vague spoiler, so, I’m trying dropping those sections. I could have dropped Player Count Differences, but I’m leaving that in, currently. Anyways, this is semi-experimental, and hopefully lets me get the same level of “informative review” (my joke) to you but more quickly and with less of a chance for spoilers. Let me know what you think of the modified format. I know that this also means fewer component photos, which, I’m also bummed about, but I’m trying to avoid spoiling things and I’ve already played the full campaign (and I can’t just flip the board over like Charterstone to take photos). That said, I kind of like the angle shot on the box; it conveys a certain sense of mystery that can only be described as “mysterious”.
Anyways, in The Rise of Queensdale, you play as different family heads given a borough around a valley in which the King wants to build a castle to help restore the health of his ailing Queen. Over the next few epochs you’ll work to tend the land and acquire resources in order to build up the area around the castle into a thriving … whatever the medieval equivalent of a metropolis is. Is everything as it seems in this new, mysterious valley? Or will you be able to survive what awaits you and build yourself a lasting legacy? Only one way to find out.
Player Count Differences
So, the main difference in player count is that in order to advance to the next Epoch at two players, you occasionally have to win some Epochs twice. This isn’t a bad thing in principle, as it gives players a chance to catch up (and for certain game effects, how many Epochs you are behind another player matters, so this helps the player in front, as well). I’m not necessarily sold on it because it seems vaguely like you could end up with a pretty taxingly long game, as players winning individually could slow the game down (in terms of Max Number of Games Played) pretty aggressively.
There are also going to be times where some in-game effects matter a great deal, and supporting / not supporting other players that you’re competing against. This offers some potential for a player to be a spoiler, and try to spite the players (and occasionally themselves) by not participating in the shared goal. That can be frustrating, especially as the consequences for “failure” can be pretty dire. If that’s how you want to play the game, fine, but I’d probably not enjoy playing a game with a player like that. Just know what you’re getting into, I suppose.
I probably would not play this again at two, but I suspect three players might be more interesting than two was.
- You’ll need to do different things at different times. Your primary methods of gaining points are going to be building buildings in your Borough (similar to Charterstone), building Herb Huts (which let you collect Herb Tokens scattered around the Borough, which might earn you resources, points, or otherwise), or gaining Morale (which might again earn you resources, points, or otherwise). I know that “do the thing that helps you win” is the most banal possible advice, strategically, but I’d recommend looking at the goals of the Epoch (and trying to anticipate what comes next) before you invest too much in resources that you may not need.
- Look at what your opponents rolled. Generally, there are +1 Resource spaces of each type on the board (you can put your die on them to collect your normal resource draw +1 additional resource of that type). That’s strictly better than the other spaces. If your opponents rolled the same type of resource as you and you get to go before them, take those spots first. More resources is always better. Plus, they also get fewer, so, double benefit.
- Keep track of all your abilities. A problem I ran into (as well as my opponent) was that we had so much going on at certain points in the game that we forgot to use various very helpful effects, often to our detriment. You may need to take notes reminding you of what you can do at certain points if you’re looking to maximize your efficacy.
- Try to save resources from game to game. There are various ways to preserve your resources and carry them over to the next game. If you feel like your defeat is all but assured, it might be time to focus on resource gathering, instead. Maybe then you can perform better in the next go-around. It’s not necessarily worth spending your resources if you’re positive that you can’t win; you can’t really take your points with you.
- Augment your dice. One particular thing you can do is spend a certain something to add better stickers to your dice. Do that and be mindful about what doing that will get you. Do you want to be able to gain additional resources, or do you value flexibility? Do you want to try for more complex points-scoring schemes, or do you want to simply build build build build build? The choices you make do influence what paths you can go down, so, be careful with that.
- If you can get discounts for building, always take them. Building scores you so many points that being able to reduce that cost, even temporarily, is basically always useful. Just make sure you’re being practical about choosing the right time to build.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- In my opinion, the game starts to pick up a bit after Epoch 4. I think there’s a Meh / Con there in that the game is kind of slow for the first three Epochs, but I suppose that’s partially them trying to get you familiarized with the flow of the game.
- Dice + dice modification are always fun. It’d be nicer if they had dice that were closer to Dice Forge than Ganz Schon Clever, but it’s a fun mechanic nonetheless, especially given that the way you upgrade / modify your dice is fun and pretty interesting.
- Some of the events are a lot of fun. There were some things that popped up mid-game that made my opponent and I stop fighting each other and start working together to try and sort out the event (lest something Potentially Very Bad happen to us).
- I honestly really like the plunger, even though it doesn’t work. The game leans into it a bit with some of the iconography, but it doesn’t always do a great job lifting the tiles (you have to be careful, lest you rip out some other tiles in the same swoop).
- The Clairvoyant is a really neat concept. There’s a particular person you can meet with during the game through some effect that will give you insight into possible futures. If those futures should come to pass (out-of-game, if your decisions cause certain in-game effects or events), then you might receive an award. I think that’s a really neat way to give players incomplete knowledge of events, and I really liked it as a competitive legacy component. I would love to see something similar implemented in more legacy games.
- The game gives a lot of narrative control to the players if they’re willing to act against their own best interests, at times. This is normally not too bad, but you need to be careful to not play with particularly bad actors, lest they crash the game and just kinda screw everyone over for no reason. Why you would play a game with people like that in the first place is an entirely different question, but either way worth knowing.
- Tiny text on the cards encourages skimming, which in turn will cause rules to get missed. It’s very small text, and we made a pretty major rules mistake because we misinterpreted “Epoch Level” for “number of points required to complete that epoch” rather than “that Epoch’s number”. Unfortunately, we’re post-campaign, now, so that’s kind of an unfixable problem. They’re also not particularly clear, and you have to keep a lot of them in your brain, which combine to also lead to a number of rules mistakes.
- I don’t love the distribution of the Herb Tokens. I think it’s neat that there’s random resources on all of them, but I don’t particularly care for the fact that there are certain things that only appear on certain colors of Herb Tokens. I think that that encourages kinda going specifically for that color, which may negatively influence the randomization of the tokens themselves? I’d just prefer the distribution to be the same.
- There are a few points in the story that you will never encounter, but the game continues to build off the ones that you did encounter, which leads to fairly major divergences. That sort of thing in a legacy game could be said to improve its replay value, but … are you truly going to replay a legacy game and then opt to try and do the exact opposite thing you did? And is that totally fair, especially since you’ll know how to best prepare for certain events in the game? I’d argue no. I think this is one place that Charterstone did much better, as its narrative felt better organized between games than Queensdale’s does. I never felt like I missed out on things in Charterstone, and I do feel like I have done that in Queensdale.
- Given that games can take us (at two players) 15 – 30 minutes, spending 10+ minutes on setup is kind of obnoxious. Setup is pretty significant, with a variety of tokens of various shapes and sizes and usually one or more lengthy cards (with tiny font; another gripe) to read. The major frustration I have with the game is that it then asks you to add sometimes 5, sometimes 8+ rules stickers to the manual, which takes a while, rather than asking you to do one when it first explains the rule so it doesn’t feel like such an imposition.
- If you’ve lost enough games in a row, it feels like a “pity win”. The game takes great pains to try and allow the previous game’s loser(s) to catch up to the previous game’s winners, often to the point of giving them significant advantages over the previous winner. That’s … nice, I suppose, for balancing purposes, but I can’t say it really felt like a victory for myself or my opponent.
- Several games feel vaguely unwinnable for another player. I won’t speak too much to this beyond the fact that I’ve played several games at two-player, and it’s mostly been “I win, opponent wins, I win, opponent wins” and so on, especially since we aggressively messed up a rule that governed catch-up mechanisms (just one, though, as far as we know). Oh well.
- Unlike Pandemic Legacy or Charterstone, all of the “extra add-on rules” are just on seven big stickers sheets without being hidden at all. The game seems to believe that randomizing the order (somewhat) will help make that more obscure, but in practice what it ends up doing is just forcing you to read all the not-unlocked rules (since the rules sticker # is kind of small) to find the one you need. Pandemic Legacy’s strategy of keeping things sealed behind a little punchboard wall seems to work pretty well; I’m not sure why there was a huge need to reinvent the wheel, on this one, especially since it feels like a step in the wrong direction since other games have gotten it correct.
- That one plot point. I hated it. I think that’s a really crappy thing to do as a narrative mechanic, and it was totally unnecessary to include in the overall plot of the game, especially given the reasons for it and the subsequent justification. I think it’s sort of played for laughs, which isn’t great, but I’m not sure even if it had been totally serious that it would have contributed to the overall arc of the story. Just kind of a garbage thing that an editor should have removed, in my unqualified opinion.
Overall: 6 / 10
So, I have some complex thoughts on Queensdale. By itself, it’s a fine game; I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m opposed to putting a plunger on a game board and glomping up tiles while rolling dice and using those dice to take actions. That’s all fun to me. One issue, however, is that it naturally invites comparison to Charterstone, which I think has it beat in theme and some implementation details (like how you add new rules / plots to the gamebook). That said, it has a really good plunger, which definitely beats Charterstone. I think the problem I have with it is that the game spends a fair bit of time idling before getting interesting, and then the interesting bits were only interesting because my opponent and I decided to ignore winning or losing and work on solving the problems the game threw at us (which we did, spectacularly). That comes down to the same fundamental problem I had with Charterstone: I would have preferred this to be cooperative.
I think, after two full campaigns, I just don’t really love competitive legacy games; I want to experience the plot and dig in deep on various functions and mechanics, and if I have to focus on that and winning, I feel like there’s too much pull in both directions for me to really function. Thankfully, I was playing with an opponent who felt similarly to me, so we spent a fair bit of time playing competitively while still investing 100% in plot points (to the point that we often had to stall a win so that we could complete a plot point, which was honestly amusing but kind of alarming, as any point could be the point where a player just ruinously backstabs you). The plot wasn’t anything that particularly grabbed me, but I’m not really into the vaguely-feudal-fantasish theme, anyways. I think there’s room here for preference, but I didn’t find enough was happening from game to game to make me feel consistently engaged. While that’s not necessarily always a problem, to be not engaged with a game that you have to play 19 times to get a full sense of ends up leaving a bad taste in my mouth (though thankfully I was roughly keeping track of how I felt about every play to try and provide a Decently Balanced Score).
All in all, I would say that I was somewhere between “vaguely enjoyed my time in Queensdale” and “glad to be done”, but I think the former was mostly due to me playing with someone I really enjoy gaming with (which is important!). I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Queensdale, but I may wait for reviews myself before diving into the next big legacy game in the series. That said, if you like dice placement, a medieval theme, or you’re just looking to play the next big competitive legacy game, you may enjoy this one more than I did; I’d be curious to get your thoughts, especially at 3 or 4.