Full disclosure: A review copy of King of 12 was provided by Lucky Duck Games.
Back with more game reviews! There’s lots going on. Had a game night the other day and managed to play a bunch of things, so, trying to get those reviews up and running for y’all ahead of a few upcoming trips! Exciting times, but busy times, as well. One such game is King of 12, from Lucky Duck Games! They brought a number of games to the states, recently, so there’s been a lot to talk about! Let’s see how it plays.
In King of 12, you seek the throne of the Twelve Kingdoms! To do so, you’ll need to amass support from beings across the lands. These various folks have strange powers and abilities, allowing them to use stones of power in various interesting ways. Unfortunately, they don’t really want to take sides, so if multiple people ask them for their help, they’ll just help neither of you. Churlish, granted, but it does make some sense. The stones are also a bit finicky; you don’t want to know what happens if they end up matching someone else’s. Will you be able to rally these disparate elements in order to become king of the Twelve Kingdoms?
Not a lot of setup, here! To start, choose a set of seven cards from the twelve starting cards:
You should choose cards so that there are at least two cards with the blue die symbol on the top of the card. Each player takes the same seven cards out of their stacks, so that every player has the same starting hand of ten cards. For one potential starting set, use The Alchemist, The Sorcerer, The Golem, The Parasite, The Machine, The Oracle, and The Knight. Then, set aside the point tokens:
Once that’s done, each player should get one die and roll it.
Should be ready to start up!
A game of King of 12 takes place over several rounds, as players try to accrue the most points by seeking help from various kingdoms. Each round is made up of several turns! Let’s walk through them.
To start, each player chooses a card from their hand to play. Once everyone has selected a card, reveal them! Before you can resolve them, however, check: any players who play the same card have their cards cancelled, and their effects do not resolve. After all cards are resolved, check the players’ die values! Generally speaking, the highest die value wins the round; however, if any players have the same die value (after applying non-cancelled card effects), their dice are cancelled, and are not considered for winner or runner-up.
Once you’ve determined a winner, they get 2 points, and the runner-up gets 1 point. No other points are awarded. All cards played are discarded, and another turn starts! Play until one of two conditions is met:
- Any player gets at least 8 points.
- Any player has only one card left in hand.
After that happens, the round ends! Compare points. Normally, the player with the most points wins the round, but you should know better by now. If any players have the same number of points, their points are cancelled, and they cannot win the round. Resolve that whole situation, and the player with the most points wins the round. Then, all players take their cards back into their hands, and the player who won the round must discard one card from their hand.
Begin a new round! Play continues until any player wins two rounds. That player wins the game!
Player Count Differences
For me, King of 12 really needs to be a three- or four-player game. King of 12 thrives on chaotic unpredictability, and you just don’t get that with two players. At two, it’s still fine and fun, but you end up thinking more about the tactics of movement than just sometimes throwing a card down and hoping for the best. I think where King of 12 stands apart is in how aggressively it handles ties, and at two, you do really want to avoid ties at all costs, so it feels like you’re missing out on a core part of the game when playing with two. At four, things are all over the place, which is delightful. The game can take a little longer, granted, because one player needs to get to two rounds won and there are more players, but I think it’s worth it for the fun and chaos of every player just wholly in it for themselves. It’s the chaos and the hectic play that I strive for, since this is a shorter game, so I’d recommend King of 12 at the higher end of the player count.
- Being able to predict what other players will want to play can help you quite a bit! You can either try to play around them or cancel them. You’ll need to keep an eye out for what they’ve already played and try to expect them as best as you can. If they have a low-value die, they may try to flip their die over or they might try to play a card that lets a lower value win. If they’re near the highest value, they’re going to likely try to edge out their opponent or try to help the runner-up win. Figuring out what they’re shooting for is an important part of strategizing.
- If you’re not sure what to do and you’re struggling to win the round, try to get another player to inadvertently match the points leader on points and cancel them both. It’s a very difficult needle to thread, but if you can land it, it’s pretty funny. From a strategic perspective, getting two players to match on points can occasionally clear the road for you to win the round. Actually getting multiple players to match on points is one of the most difficult possible maneuvers to pull off, because you have to make sure they don’t recognize it, either.
- With the more complex cards, watch out for downstream impacts from what other players play. There are occasionally interactions between certain cards, some that flip the die over or passes dice around or things like that. When the interactions don’t take explicit precedence, you are allowed to choose the order in which they affect you. That can sometimes allow you to get a leg up!
- The Knight rewards the lowest value, rather than the highest, so be careful! Every player has one. Well, provided you’re all playing with that card. If you are, keep in mind that it’s possible for a player to flip the objective! Keep an eye on who’s played what. I think the Knight is one of the highest-priority cards to watch out for.
- Being the second-highest is sometimes totally fine. In particular, you can sometimes be even better than fine in second place with The Gambler, which swaps the winner and the runner-up for a round. Even then, if you don’t trick another player into essentially letting you win, you’ll get one point, which is better than nothing.
- You’ll end up playing most of your cards by the end of the round, so it may be worth playing the Oracle (if you’re using those cards) early to give yourself a starting point, rather than ruining a high number later in the round. Trying to mess with your dice values later (especially randomly) can cast some downstream effects. If you start by messing with your die randomly, you can at least potentially account for it. That said, if you have a low number or you end up with one, you might as well roll for it.
- Try not to cancel another player’s die value, if you can avoid it, and keep an eye out for what cards and what dice values will cancel yours. Getting cancelled via die value usually can knock you out, so, try to avoid it. You can’t score any points with a cancelled die value. That said, you can’t just rely on what your opponents’ dice say; you need to also keep in mind what cards are possible and what values are possible.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art in this game is quite nice! There’s not a ton of art, just because by its very nature, the game is pretty minimalist, but what is there is quite striking! I like that the cards include the dice at various sizes and scales for the various Kingdoms, and I like how different they all are! It seems like you could have a lot of fun in this space, if you wanted to explore it more.
- The dice are a pleasant color, as well. They’re just a very nice blue.
- The sheer cruelty of ties being genuinely unfriendly (and ties happening in three possible ways) is very funny. It’s less funny when it happens to me, but it creates so many interesting options for play that it’s compelling as well as funny. I’ve tried to throw a round so that another player can inadvertently win and, by doing so, match another player on points so that I win the round instead! That’s buckwild. The fact that I can even try to so something so clearly stupid is deeply entertaining.
- I also like the graphic design of the cards! They’re very clean. I like cards with a lot of blank space on them. It’s pleasant! I do wish the text were larger, though; it would make them easier to read.
- The game is functionally pretty straightforward, which I like. You really just play a card, resolve the cards, and try to get the highest (or lowest) value, and avoid ties. It’s a pretty quick game, which I really appreciate. I get that the cards are the crux, but, it’s nice that the entire structure of the game is pretty concise. Once you get the game down, it all plays pretty quickly.
- I appreciate that the game’s thematic conceit is that everyone will help you but they’re all conflict-averse so they prefer not to choose between two people. It mostly just makes me laugh. Nothing else to it, really.
- The Lady adds a fair bit of complication to the game. Mostly, the ability to cancel every card is one thing, but adding another effect on top when the Lady gets cancelled is an interesting extra wrinkle. I think it may be a bit too much additional complexity for my tastes, but, you set the cards that you play with, so you don’t have to.
- Interestingly, these dice aren’t standard d12s, which is neat. They seem to attempt to localize the biggest and the smallest numbers to opposite sides of the dice. I don’t really think it means anything, per se, but it’s interesting to note.
- The game isn’t quite as interesting with two players. It’s just not quite as compelling. Some aspect of the game relies on the chaos that comes with more players, and honestly, accidentally matching with your opponent on cards / dice / points ends up being more annoying than humorous, at two. Plus, parts of what makes things fun is that things are hard to track and predict, and with fewer players, it becomes easier to try and guess or assume or track your opponent.
- The amount of unmitigated random chance can, at times, be frustrating for some players. King of 12 is, fundamentally, a chaotic game, but for some players, the cancelations and the back and forth can be pretty intense. As you might expect from a short dice game, that’s kind of the appeal, but if that doesn’t sound up your alley, you’re probably better off finding a game that appeals more to your tastes.
- It can, for new players, be a little difficult to track the outcomes of a round without some guidance. This isn’t too bad; you just need to have an experienced player to track the various outcomes if some players are having trouble. It can just take some time to track what’s happening, especially with the more complex cards that move players’ dice around.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, King of 12 is a neat little game! I like the art style a lot, personally; it’s clean, minimalistic, and still evocative of a fantasy realm that I’d love to know more about. Each of the cards has a neat use for the die, and it adds a nice bit of thematic consistency across the various images. Beyond that, the game is a fun bit of dice manipulation which, while random, delicately dances along the line between “chaotic” and “too random” for me, sometimes popping into both or either spot. Thankfully, it’s also a quick game, which makes my concern about feeling a lack of control a little less intense. It lessens the sting of losing pretty significantly if you can just make a new deck and start a new game. My biggest gripe with King of 12 is that there’s not really much to the two-player game, since cancelling the other player’s die or point value means that neither player progresses, which is a bit annoying. I think the game shines with more players, especially at four, where players are inadvertently cancelling each other’s cards, dice, and points left and right. It’s hectic, but also pretty entertaining. I appreciate that the dice persist during a round, and only certain cards can change them; this means that players are working hard to climb up to the highest value, but they also fear being in the same spot as another player, and that’s great! You gotta cultivate that fear in this quick little game. If you’re looking for a quick game of luck and prediction, you like games that are a bit more minimalist, or you just want to punch down on your opponents, King of 12 might be right up your alley! It’s an amusing game.
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