It seems we humans like to spice things up a lot. Our daily routines, our preferences of entertainment, our jobs, the food we eat, our love lives. Bland and normal just aren’t exciting, I suppose. Well that goes for gaming, too! Even a centuries old classic can be injected with new life. That is exactly what For the Crown, 2nd Edition did for the game of Chess. It may sound like throwing in over a dozen customized units and a deck-building mechanic would ruin the strategic masterpiece. But it turned out to be a rousing and innovative success! Well, even that spicy innovation has itself been spiced up!
How it Plays
This expansion to For the Crown, 2nd edition, is not a stand alone game. Shock & Awe doesn’t add any new mechanics to the original title (you can read our review here). Rather, it simply provides 10 new units and 13 more cards. Well, it’s really not all that simple.
As a quick recap, For the Crown is the offspring of Chess and Dominion. You begin the game with one King on the board, plus a small, weak 10-card deck. As in Dominion, you will use this deck to take actions and to buy more cards from a central pool with which to strengthen that starting deck. Unlike Dominion, you can also use your cards to acquire Chess units (both traditional and new) and deploy them to the board. Then, just as in Chess, you can move and attack with your pieces in an overall campaign to capture your opponent’s King (or multiple Sovereign-class units, as the case may be) to win the game.
Shocking or Awing?
The term “shock & awe” was popularly applied for the press during the Iraq Invasion in 2003 to label the long-standing military doctrine of dominance – the use of overwhelming power to rapidly and impressively achieve initiative and superiority on the battlefield. From chariots or elephants in Ancient times, to a massed charge of heavy horsemen in the Middle Ages, to the German blitzkrieg of World War II, it’s always been part power, part speed, and part psychological intimidation. Hyperbolic title aside, this expansion is all about adding some pretty powerful and nifty abilities to the base game. So just what are they?
More power. There are two particularly nasty bad boys – or actually one gal and one non-gender specific. The Amazon is a new piece that combines the movement and attacking abilities of the Queen and the Knight, making her especially versatile and dangerous. As you might expect, she doesn’t come cheap, though. In fact, the card Majesty is the most expensive in the game, costing 11 coins. The Changeling is another game-changing piece (no pun intended). This unit mimics the movement and attacking abilities of any adjacent piece – friend or foe! It cannot move or attack when isolated on its own. The Changeling is extremely flexible and can create headaches or outright nightmares for your opponent, as well as for you! When one is in play and surrounded by multiple pieces, you must carefully analyze the field and all of its possible scenarios so that it doesn’t take you by surprise. The Amazon and the Changeling are so influential they can be kings of the board in all but name.
More treasure. Shock & Awe also adds interesting means to pad your purse strings. One novel piece, the Caravan, is particularly interesting. It gives you +2 treasure in the Buy phase whenever you deploy or move it during the Order phase. Now, its movement is limited, and it can still attack opposing troops, although you only earn the bonus treasure when moving or deploying, not going on the offensive. When False Orders (from the base game) is in play, be careful, because your opponent can activate it and earn your Caravan’s benefits for himself. The previously mentioned Changeling can also exploit a friendly or enemy Caravan, thus nabbing the extra treasure, as well. The Caravan is thus a fascinating unit to experiment with and help stuff your coffers for more expensive buys when treasure in your hand isn’t sufficient.
There are a few other profitable cards. Instead of recruiting a Changeling, you may play Doppelganger for its rather unusual treasure effect. The card itself is not worth any gold. However, it allows you to gain an extra copy of your first purchase in the Buy phase. Surge is an extravagant treasure card worth 4 coins. With Reserves, you can place up to 3 cards from your hand back on top of your deck, earning +1 gold for each instance. And Goldsmith allows you to trash a card from your hand and gain another one for that card’s value plus 5 more. All of these tweaked methods of acquiring powerful and lucrative cards help to speed up the game and create more action.
More orders. Of course you can only generate that action by getting “boots on the board,” so to speak, and that was always one of the weaker aspects to the base game – the limitation of largely deploying and/or moving only one unit per turn, leading to a slow build-up before the real excitement began. Shock & Awe offers a few elements to hasten that process. In a similar vein to the Caravan unit, whenever you march or attack with Lightning, you earn a second order. Gravity lets you choose up to 3 units and march them one space each in the same direction to empty squares. Repositioning 3 pieces in a single turn is bigger than it sounds, but comes at a hefty price – the card costs 8 gold. Outpost designates all pieces adjacent to a Heavy-class unit, like the Rook, and allows you to rearrange them in any order. If you can manage to threaten multiple pieces with one unit, then you can play Surge to capture them all in one fell swoop! And with Majesty, you may choose one class and march or attack with all of the units in that class!
More blocking. There aren’t many ways of thwarting your foe in the base game beyond traditional means – just sort of standing in the way. Shock & Awe doesn’t do anything terribly radical here, but there are a couple of unique aspects introduced. Ephemera is the first 0 cost card in For the Crown. With it you can train the Ghost, which cannot attack. However, it can march to anywhere on the board. It also has an Order effect in which you can move any unit to an empty square adjacent to its current location. Both its order effect and the Ghost piece are effective means of quickly sacrificing a weaker unit to protect another. Goldsmith lets you train the Idol unit, which cannot march on its own or attack. It can serve effectively as a shield. However, it is also a Sovereign-class piece, so must be captured to win. Therefore, it can also be a good way to get another kingly piece on the board quickly, if needed.
More complexity. Not simply by adding 13 new cards and 10 new units. That indeed does ramp up the complexity as far as possible combinations to exploit and/or fall victim to. One of the issues with the base game is its learning curve because there are so many pieces with peculiar movement and attacking abilities. Not only that, but sometimes a unit moves and attacks differently. It’s hard to keep them all straight – especially when their characteristics are printed only on the cards. If none of those are available for reference in the central pool, you’ll need to go digging through the trash or discard piles, or flip through the rule book. However, there are three units in Shock & Awe that are cumbersome enough to push the boundaries of intuitiveness. The Prophet rides like a Bishop and the Golem moves like the Rook. However, they both must make 90 degree turns every one or two steps respectively. Also, they must continue to move outward from their initial position – no doubling back. I understand this idea in order to prevent circling around, but the implementation is rather wonky and disorienting. Then there is the Dayrider, who moves like the Queen, but leaps over every other space, hopping like Checkers horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
Production-wise, Shock & Awe is comparable to the original design. The counters are nice and thick. You’ll need to wipe soot off of the edges after punching them from their sheets. The cards are a light-weight stock, but stiff enough for use. Visually, they are effective with a nice design layout that is practical and understandable, despite a few being somewhat crowded. Unfortunately, the expansion card backs are a noticeably lighter shade of gold than the base game, which is a regrettable oversight. Once you’ve built up a sizable deck, it’s not a terrible issue. However, it can really affect your decisions in the early and mid game about taking actions or not as you might deduce what kinds of cards are likely to come up next – which seems a bit unseemly, and definitely unintended.
If you weren’t a fan already of this heavy, brain-burning Chess and deck-building mash-up, then honestly, For the Crown: Shock & Awe isn’t going to convert you. If you enjoy the base game, but prefer to keep it pretty straight-forward with mostly the same mix of cards every game, you probably won’t get much use from this expansion. However, if you really like For the Crown and its numerous ways to tweak, experiment, and strategically dig deep, then Shock & Awe is essential. Befitting its subtitle, this add-on ratchets up the complexity and offers some bold new units that provide some really fun swings in the game.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Victory Point Games for providing a review copy of For the Crown: Shock & Awe.