A kingdom in shambles. A ruler fallen. Greed and and strife have moved in to fill the void. The people could use some peace during these troubling times and perhaps you’re just the person to usher it in. Or perhaps this is the perfect time to strike! A little more violence never hurt anyone, right? In either case, your ambitions to rule will be nothing more than dreams and wishes without the help of your trusty pouch.
How It Plays
As a player in the world of King’s Pouch, you are the leader of a castle city hoping to become the ultimate leader of the land (i.e. have the most prestige points at the end of the game). There are three avenues you can pursue in order to achieve this goal: military strength, religious piety, and political favor. Each strategy will require the construction of specialized buildings, but the real backbone of your empire will the be the citizens that you manage to attract.
Every player begins with the same four buildings already built in their city and four common citizens in their starting area. You’ll notice that these citizens are cylindrical in shape (hexagonal prisms to be precise). There are four other types of citizens that can enter your citizenry. There are corrupt officials, also cylindrical, as well as soldiers, merchants and clerics. These last three are actually cubes. The difference in shape allows you to feel around inside your pouch whenever it is time to draw citizens and differentiate between the two shapes.
You begin your turn by assigning citizens in your starting area to any buildings already constructed in your city. The buildings are separated into three categories. The green religious buildings focus on awarding prestige, which is the ultimate decider of victory. The red military buildings award army power which is needed to conquer territory. And finally, the yellow commercial building award money, which is needed to purchase buildings and to curry favor with the various characters in the game.
Each building can usually only accept one type of citizen. The Citadel, for example, can only accept soldiers. These four starting buildings are your main avenue for recruiting other citizens into your city. Any citizens that have just been recruited can be used immediately if you have an eligible building for them to occupy.
After assigning your citizens, you will be able to construct one of the available buildings, using money you accumulated in the placement phase. In addition to being worth a prestige points, the building will give you new abilities to use in future rounds.
After constructing a building, then you have an opportunity to gain the favor of the available political characters by spending money.Once a character has been claimed by a player, no other player may influence that character for the rest of the game. These characters will grant large prestige bonuses during the three scoring rounds if you manage to meet certain requirements. The Queen, for example, will award you prestige depending on the number of territories you control.
After claiming character cards, it’s time to conquer. If your citizens produced any army power earlier in the turn, you will be able to spend it in order to expand your reach. The further a territory is from your castle, the more Army power it takes to conquer.You earn prestige points for conquering new territories, as well as controlling territory during a scoring round. A Palace in the middle of the map grants the ability to draw six citizens instead of five to the controlling player.
Finally, during the cleanup phase you move all citizens on the board to your rest and draw five new ones from your pouch. If you ever run out of citizens in your pouch, you will put the citizens in your rest area into the pouch along with one corrupt official. Corrupt officials are nearly worthless, each costing you two prestige points at the end of the game, and are difficult to get rid of.
The Pouch is Mightier than the Sword
King’s Pouch is a ridiculous name for a game with a very clever idea. Though cards are often used as a randomizing agent in board games, King’s Pouch eschews them for a pouch and some wooden bits. And whereas a deck of cards are uniform in shape and size, King’s Pouch takes advantage of its physicality. The wooden components that are placed in the pouch come in two different shapes. This allows you to feel around and try to choose a specific piece you need when drawing your pouch. It allows you inject a bit of order to the chaos.
Drawing citizens is by far King’s Pouch best idea. It’s fun to feel around the pouch and hope you get what you need. And since you can check the contents of your pouch at any time, you’re always aware of your odds. Pulling from the pouch feels less like a random event and more of a calculated risk. Seasoned card players who know which cards are left in a deck gain a certain satisfaction and thrill whenever they draw. King’s Pouch brings those same feelings to players who aren’t versed in card counting (i.e. mortals).
There’s also a decent sense of progression throughout the game as the available buildings become more and more powerful as the game goes on. The abilities that you possess snowball into more useful ones. Actions and payments that seemed far out of reach early in the game slowly move into the realm of possibility. And once you reach the more powerful buildings, you appreciate them because it was a process to get there. Best of all, you can trace your path back to your beginnings when you had only 4 buildings to your kingdom and reminisce about simpler times.
You might have noticed, there are no opportunities to react to opponents’ moves during a turn. You just sit idly and wait your turn. Quite frankly, it can get boring especially with four players. If there were some way to react to opponents on their turns or if the actual turns were broken down into smaller chunks I feel King’s Pouch would be a lot more palatable. As it stands, King’s Pouch offers is a bit of a conundrum. The game stretches beyond comfortable time constraints with four players, but the area majority on the map and character cards become less interesting with only two. You either have to pick your poison or resign yourself to only playing with three players if you want to avoid the length and still get an interesting game.
King’s Pouch has some clever ideas and everything just feels well thought out. Well, nearly everything. Player order is determined by the number of prestige points. Whoever has the most prestige points will be the first player for the round. While going first isn’t always the best option, it usually is. There is another problem that this rule introduces. Strategies that rely heavily on military tend to gain prestige points every turn whereas strategies that focus on the political characters tend to get a majority of their points during only during scoring rounds. That means that military heavy players tend to go before other players and will have first dibs at the buildings. Since they buildings you construct dictate the strategy you will execute, it is more than likely, those players will construct military buildings to bolster the military strategy that they’ve already committed to. What this tends to do is cement players into the strategies they’ve chosen early in the game. So while there is the possibility of mixing up your strategy, in practical terms it rarely happens.
King’s Pouch isn’t terrible, but it is disappointing. It’s disappointing because the central concept of drawing from the pouch and having your tactile senses be an important skill is incredibly clever and more than that, it’s incredibly fun. And it’s not a one trick pony. The buildings are surprisingly thematic (converting corrupt officials into common citizens at the Sanctum is a personal favorite). Unfortunately, the rest of the game isn’t good enough to support it for more than a handful of plays. I haven’t played King’s Pouch more than a half dozen times, but I already feel like I’ve seen all there is to offer. There’s nothing that is drawing me back. With the lack of different buildings and characters coupled with the problems mentioned earlier it’s hard to recommend anyone go out and find a copy. It’s worth playing at least once in order to experience it’s unique ideas, but after that there’s not much need to return.