Full disclosure: A review copy of Blood Royals was provided by Button Shy.
Button Shy … Time? continues with another one of The Spiel Press’s roll and write books, Blood Royals! We covered Star Maps last week, so it makes sense to hit up the other roll and write book while we’re in town. Being in town is kind of a relative term, but hey, what can you do. Either way, let’s talk roll and writes until we get back to the wallet games.
In Blood Royals, you play as rivals with eyes on the throne. As the current monarch nears their death, you realize that you can’t just … take the throne. Instead, you decide to rally support from the people who you will rule! You’re essentially a door-to-door salesperson, but you’re selling the idea of absolute monarchy. So that’s fun. Rally the people and influence Major Supporters to try and stake your claim to rule! Who will become the next monarch?
No setup required. You’re going to want to pull out the sheet corresponding to the age you’re playing:
I’m only showing the first one, since the subsequent ones could be considered spoilers. It’s got two sides, as you can see, corresponding to the two players you could be. Choose one for each player. You’re also going to need five dice, minimum:
I ended up stealing dice from another game so that I could have 10 shared dice and a die in each color for each player, making things a bit easier. You don’t really want to run actions simultaneously, but there’s a lot less dice passing this way. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to go!
Over the course of 25 turns, you and your opponent will vie for control of the lands by rousing up support from the masses (a surprisingly democratic way to become king, so, nice). The primary way you do so is by simultaneously choosing an action, represented by one face of a die. These actions then allow you to roll the dice (usually) to attempt to gain supporters. Here’s how that works.
First, choose a value. Both players reveal simultaneously. If the same number is revealed, the round is skipped and no action occurs. Either way, write the number in the topmost unfilled space of the Timeline Track. If the action occurs, perform actions from the smallest value to the largest value:
- 1: Roll one die. You may keep any number except for the number on the bottom of the die. This means if you roll a 1, you can claim any number but 6.
- 2: Roll two dice. You may keep both numbers.
- 3: Roll three dice. If any of them are duplicates, your opponent gets to claim one of them. You keep the other two (or three). If all three numbers rolled are the same, you get two, and your opponent gets one.
- 4: Roll four dice. You choose two to keep and give the other two to your opponent to keep.
- 5: Roll five dice. You may either claim one of every number rolled or all of one number rolled. Your opponent claims one of every number not rolled. Sometimes useful, other times painful.
- 6: Do not roll. You claim an Adjustment, which is indicated by writing a circle next to the current block of five rows on the Timeline Track. An adjustment allows you to adjust any die rolled by +1 or -1. If you reach the end of the block of five rows, the Adjustment is wasted.
When you claim numbers, fill in Supporters on your player board below that value. If there are two circles horizontally adjacent to each other, you have to fill in both simultaneously (meaning you must claim two of that number at once). If you reach a line on that supporter track, you may circle that number in any location on the map without a player’s initials or an X in the box.
If you’ve circled all of the numbers for a location, you may write your initials (or your character’s initials, is what we do) on the square for that location. The other player must write an X on that square. Two people can’t claim the same spot! As a consolation, they may circle a number in an adjacent location that they have circled for that location, if one is available. A location connected to another via a bridge is considered adjacent, as well.
Occasionally, you’ll reach a symbol belonging to a character in a supporter column. If you do, you gain that Major Supporter and their ability as soon as you claim them. The other player takes an X in that Major Supporter, like they would for a location that you’ve claimed.
The game ends when the last space of the timeline is used, as that is when the current monarch dies. The game also ends once all lands and major supporters are claimed, should that happen first.
For the first game, players earn 1 VP per location claimed, 1 VP for a bridge if they have claimed the land on both sides, and 1 VP per major supporter. The player with the most points wins! Now, you can move on to the next game, but there might be some new elements given that this is a campaign game…
Player Count Differences
None. Two players only.
- I’m generally pro-choosing one number for a bit. There are pros and cons to this. It makes you pretty blockable, but your opponent doesn’t really want to block themselves, either, unless they’re in the lead, so they might choose not to do that. If they start blocking you a lot, change it up?
- Generally, 2 / 3 is better in the early game, and 4 / 5 is better in the later game. The pivot point for me is when you are about to get Major Supporters. Then, you need the flexibility around getting more than one of a particular number. This is also where Adjustments become more useful. If you use 4s or 5s a lot in the early game, you’re going to be giving away as many numbers as you’re getting (best case), which will definitely help your opponent a lot. Instead, try to keep numbers so that you can push ahead.
- Speaking of giving numbers away, there are definitely numbers worth giving away. Eventually you’re going to be blocked on needing two of a number to make progress. Give your opponent 1 of those numbers if they need two; they can’t get two unless they roll them themselves, so they’ll end up with a die that they can’t use. Cruel, but fair.
- You should be snooping your opponent’s board pretty regularly. If you know what they’ve got a big lead on, you know what you can avoid. You don’t want to go a location if they have more than like, three of the numbers already circled. Plus, this will also tell you what numbers you can give them that will be wildly unhelpful. Just, you know, courtesy dictates that you shouldn’t spend an inordinate amount of time doing this.
- If you can, go for the smallest territories, first. They’re the easiest to get, but they have the highest risk of contention for them (since your opponent can go after them quickly, too).
- Bridges are super valuable if you can get both sides of them. I’d strongly recommend considering it; that extra point you can get (or two if you get both) can often be enough to decide the game.
- If you’re already in the lead, you can just mess with your opponent. If you already know what values they want to roll, just block them consistently. It’s super mean, but it will work for you.
- Similarly, if you’re already in the lead, using the King’s Maid to end the game is kind of rude, but it’s a good dunk. It lets you basically bypass two rounds of the game. Hope your opponent wasn’t planning a come-from-behind win in those two rounds.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I do love a roll-and-write. It’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite genres. The tug-of-war aspect of this one is unique. I wonder if the Kingdomino Duel R&W is going to do something similar.
- The simultaneous action selection leads to some interesting mind games. It’s annoying that you can block each other (more on that below), but it does lead to some interesting struggles.
- Very portable. It’s just a book. Star Maps tends to win this one since you only need two dice, but Blood Royals isn’t much worse in this category. I’m hoping there are more in this line.
- The book is a very nice purple. I maintain we don’t see nearly enough purple games, honestly. I’d love to see more.
- Putting all the spoilers on adjacent pages can be a bit frustrating. It’s pretty hard to avoid looking at the page with spoilers for the next chapter when you need more information on your Age’s Major Supporters.
- There’s not much to do if you and your opponent keep picking the same number. There’s actually some strategy to that once you’re in the lead; if you keep blocking your opponent, then neither of you can score, so you win. It’s definitely a “I want to win a war of attrition” strategy, which will not only aggressively not make you friends, but kind of seems like a fundamentally bummer way to play? It would be nice if there were some way to fix this, like, if you both match then you both take a 1 so at least some part of the game advances. That’s not my proposed fix but rather I mean that it’s frustrating when nothing happens for 20% of a game because players consistently match (especially if one player is trying to match).
- The rules lack some pretty critical explanations and examples. I tried checking BGG to no avail, but there are things (especially in the later chapters) that aren’t very clear. We struggled and came up with an interpretation that we’re decently satisfied with, but that meant some of the design elements on the board didn’t really match up super well, so the whole thing ended up looking a bit weird. Not great for the final two games.
- You may legitimately never roll the doubles you need. Your weird-sunk-cost-fallacy-lizard-brain won’t realize it, but it’s actually better to pick a six and then use the adjustment on a five, later (or four) so you’re guaranteed doubles, should you get close to them. It’s just counter-intuitive that it might be more helpful to skip a roll and get nothing.
Overall: 6.25 / 10
Overall, Blood Royals is fine! I think, for me, I was a bit frustrated as the rules grew more complex that there weren’t examples of the maneuvers that were now available to us. As the game grows more complex over the course of the campaign, then, it becomes harder to tease out what moves are available / correct and you end up stuck with some house rules that may be totally wrong. In fact, I’m pretty sure ours were totally wrong. Even then, the blocking can be a bit frustrating for players, as it’s possible for an opponent to completely clown you (and it leads to several rounds every game where nothing happens, which isn’t terribly exciting). I understand that the risk of doing so means that the scores will be lower, so it’s possible that your opponent can quickly turn the tables on you, but, it’s still not as engaging as, say, Star Maps, where you kind of float quietly through space. Either way, I think the core concept is neat, as you compete to gain favor with your supporters and eventually win support across the land. Haven’t played a ton of area control + roll and write games, which I really appreciate. Oh well. Part of my disinterest might be the generic medieval theme, but that’s a personal thing, so whatever. If it were in space I’d probably be a bit more sold on it? I don’t dislike it, though, I do appreciate a lot of the things it’s got going for it, like its portability or its super-slick purple cover. I’m hoping this isn’t the last we see from The Spiel Press. Either way, if you enjoy roll and write games or you’ve always wanted to be a feuding king, Blood Royals might be for you!