Stop me if you’ve heard this one – the throne is emp-, huh, what? Oh, so I can cut to the chase, then? Good. You see, to nab the royal stool with your noble bum, you must prosper in your own little provincial dirt hole to prove worthy of ruling greater realms. That means attracting subjects to work and protect your land. Shall you do that with cheap housing and better paying jobs or cable TV? Nope! Just pick them from a line up like a playground team captain. And sometimes it’s just as embarrassing. So choose wisely. Because The King is Dead. Long Live…You! Dilly dilly!
How To Play
In Majesty: For the Realm players compete to build the wealthiest fiefdoms in order to secure the empty throne. Of course you’re of noble birth, and so the thought of working the land yourself has naturally never crossed your mind. Instead you’ll thrive on the backs of little people, like any royal worth their crown jewels, luring subjects to do their voodoo (literally, in one case) for you.
Majesty is a bare-bones card-drafting and engine building design. In fact, it doesn’t fall very far from the other few apples of Marc André’s creative tree (Splendor, Barony, Sail Away). It is simple, accessible and gives players one action per turn. But because you have only the single option, that decision deceptively influences your progress as other choices impact it like compound interest ruined Louis XIV. While Barony offers a small menu of actions from which to choose, Splendor and Majesty: For the Realm are more restricted. Specifically with this design your entire turn consists of taking a card. And you don’t even get to decide where to put it.
Eight location cards comprise your petty principality. Beautifully illustrated, they create a pleasing panorama when laid out together. Indeed, all players begin with the same cards arranged in identical order. They are the mill, brewery, cottage, guardhouse, barracks, inn, castle and infirmary. These are also double-sided for variety. Each has iconography, I think because everyone was illiterate back then, depicting how you score points when placing denizens accordingly. They also denote how many points a spot is worth for majority scoring.
Meanwhile a deck of smaller cards (based on number of players) is stacked between everyone’s lands and six are dealt face up in a drafting row. These are your loyal subjects. Or they can be for enough mead and mutton! Actually, on a turn you simply draft one. The first in line is free, but each one you pass over you must deposit a meeple on him/her ala Small World. So if you nab a subject with workers already placed upon him/her, you get those, as well. You may have a maximum of five and will score points for any surpluses at the end of a round.
Recruited citizens immediately go to work, but their resumes are quite specific and on-the-job training really isn’t a thing. You see the miller must go to the mill, the brewer to the brewery, the guards and knights will garrison your guardhouse and barracks, while nobles wouldn’t dare grace anything but the castle with their presence. And etc.
Then you earn points! I mean, that’s why we’re all here, right? Every time – and I do mean every time – you place a subject, you earn points based on that location’s conditions, which is usually influenced by the number and type of the citizens in the same location and possibly others. The more you have the more you earn, just like a banker (which, alas, is not one of the citizen types). Not only do you earn points, but the other players might earn some, also! How’s that for a magnanimous monarch?!
So for example, when you place an innkeeper in the inn you earn four points per innkeeper. Then everyone, including yourself, earns three points as long as they have at least one brewer at their breweries. To track points, you collect a denomination of chips equal to the number you earned, making change as necessary. Which it will be necessary a lot. But, again, no banker…
Play continues in this fashion for exactly twelve rounds. At the end of the game, players earn victory points for the number of their realm’s occupied locations squared, and calculate majorities. Each location awards points to the ruler with the most subjects. Nothing for ties. Those endgame bonuses are added to the chips you collected. The player with the most chips wins. It can be good to be the king or queen. But keep in mind, we’re not really sure how exactly the throne became empty in the first place…
Royal Flush or Court Jester?
Sometimes the label “point salad” is tossed around to describe a game in which the points come so easy you seemingly earn them for simple things, like swapping out a cube or grabbing a tile. Essentially, just about every move or action awards sweet victory baubles. While it’s true you’ll earn points every turn in Majesty: For the Realm, it doesn’t necessarily feel the same. Sure, you nab them for every action you take, but it’s also the only action you can take. So it’s just sort of the whole gist of the game, rather than rewarding moves willy nilly. In that sense, maybe the design’s more like a points appetizer?
Indeed appetizer is also appropo given the game’s weight. However, let me start here with something I don’t normally do: compare the title I’m reviewing to another one of similar nature. I often make brief references to other designs when writing a review, and think it wholly appropriate to do so. Such remarks help to place a game in its place and time and nature, allowing me to expound on what it uniquely offers…or blandly copies. And gives readers a ludological compass. But some deeper comparison between the two games could prove helpful here since most people are already doing so. They are from the same designer, have the same core action mechanism, use great hefty chips and share a style in terms of accessibility and substance. That, and there’s not a lot to analyze in Majesty, anyway. ‘Tis a simple and straightforward game.
I wasn’t a fan of Splendor, yet I can get into Majesty: For the Realm. At least for what it is. Admittedly, part of the sour aftertaste that the previous design left in my mouth was the illogical love-fest surrounding it. It’s a fine efficiency puzzle and well-designed. But game of the year? Not even close, in my opinion. I couldn’t understand the masses’ fawning. And I was steeped in the center of the hype, having worked the Asmodee booth at Origins the year it was up for Spiel des Jahres. And demo’ing the game…
So while much of my distaste for Splendor might be chalked up to burnout and misunderstanding, there’s still no denying that taking a chip, then taking a chip, and then taking another chip ad nauseum, until you can finally cash a few in for a card, isn’t very exciting. But “exciting” doesn’t always matter when analyzing a game and what makes it good. Lots of people like rote puzzles. Hence Splendor’s popularity. It certainly awarded efficiency solving.
I like Majesty: For the Realm. I still wouldn’t call it a game of the year contender, by any stretch. It won’t even come close to my Top 25, but of course not many do in today’s flooded market. I can’t even claim that if offers any more excitement. But the differences are enough to entice me to revisit it, whereas I could care less to play Splendor again.
First, if you can imagine this, it moves quicker than Splendor. Primarily because it’s actually even more distilled. Again, if you can imagine! You’re still only taking one component on your turn, but there are no gem cards or noble tiles to consider. There’s still a set collection aspect, but for piling on the points and establishing majorities only. You don’t need to invest to collect greater investments. Also there are only six options to choose from on your turn, not the entire table, sans whatever players have already taken. Indeed, many times there will be duplicate citizen types, further limiting your choices. Some of the subjects cards represent dual citizens, which is a welcome addition. When selecting one, you may choose which side to use and send it to its appropriate location.
In lieu of a purposed set collecting, Majesty rewards each action with an immediate payoff, instead. This proves surprisingly satisfying. You’re not doing much on your turn in the way of game moves – it’s always the same action – but you’re guaranteed to grab points. The more you ramp up your engine, the more you’ll reap. Which means exchanging chip denominations. Often and a lot. Yes, I realize often and a lot mean the same thing. That’s how much you’ll be making change in this game. It’s an actively tangible way the design gauges your progress and exclaims, “Here’s to your success! Well done!” in a way you don’t often see. It’s inexplicably fun.
Majesty also allows you to play off your opponents’ progress. And who doesn’t like free points? For the mere action of placing a miller or brewer (or more with the B sides) you’ll nab points anytime a player recruits a brewer or innkeeper, respectively. Of course, that means you’ll be giving away points, too. It’s not enough to deter anyone from visiting those spots, in and of itself. But if you’re investment won’t prove extremely profitable in the long game, then perhaps you’ll think about focusing elsewhere and forgo doling out the welfare.
More than that, there’s actually a little bit of…are you sitting down…interaction! If only a smidgeon. Enough to make it worth paying attention to what others are doing. Unlike a certain other title. If you let your guard down too much, you may pay a little price. However, not to scare away the efficiency-loving solitaire players, the damage isn’t irreparable. Indeed, it is precisely overcomable. When someone plays a knight, any players who have fewer guards lose the left-most subject in their kingdom. In other words, usually a miller. Except they’re not quite dead, yet! It turns out it’s only a flesh wound and it’s off to the infirmary. While you are penalized for any citizens still there at the end of the game, you can make them better when recruiting a witch to your cottage. When it comes to shenanigans, it’s minor…but fitting given the design’s weight and overall pace.
Finally I appreciate the additional endgame scoring that Majesty offers. It tacks another dimension on to the rote card selection, turn after turn after turn. So not only are you concerned with comboing the best citizens to build a high horse-powered engine, variety and super majorities can prove lucrative, too. The majorities earn between 10-16 points, depending on the location. And spreading subjects throughout your realm could nab 49 if you manage to place one citizen of each type. But then that likely means your engine is sputtering elsewhere, and will definitely sacrifice a majority in any one.
Aside from its superficial depth maybe limiting replay value, the only major concern with Majesty: For the Realm is its price point. And I do hate to be that guy. Still, the game essentially involves sixteen total location cards, four worker cards, the deck of citizens and a bag of generic meeples. Plus it’s very light, casual, quick and borders on filler. The problem is those wonderful, hefty chips drive the retail price up to one that is at odds with its style and nature. And while they’re undeniably fun to handle, the game could have easily substituted a cheaper and lighter currency. Value is an elusive absolute, but most hobby gamers I know will balk at the price for this minimalist family design.
Majesty: For the Realm is a solid, if not a very stimulating, design. It serves one purpose, but does that very well. You might argue that all games serve but one purpose. However, Majesty jettisons everything else at the expense of the main thing, in a way few designs do. That means tossing out depth, but in the process gaining things like speed, immediate payoffs for every action and near universal accessibility. If you can get past the price point, this pure engine-building design is a great introduction to the mechanism and will provide a pleasing casual experience that’s worth revisiting as much as any design of its weight. Which is better than being consigned to the dungeon.
Z-Man Games provided a copy of Majesty: For the Realm for this review.