A vast treasure sits recently discovered in the heart of the dense Kingswood. You lead one of the great merchant houses who naturally feels entitled to its wealth. Unfortunately, the forgotten forest’s roads lie in utter disrepair. Can you pave new paths from your outposts to the dilapidated keep which hordes the abundant fortune? Work quickly before your competitors beat you to the richest gates, cut you off, or block your path with soldiers. Because it’s all there for your taking, in The Kingswood!
[Ed. note: This is a preview of a non-final, non-production prototype demo of the game. Our opinions reflect that of the game at the time we played it; the final product will feature some variation in game play, art, and components.]
How It Plays
The Kingswood pits you against 1-3 other wealth-seeking merchants trying to construct a path or road through dense brush and overgrown foliage to reach a trove of royal treasure, inexplicably long forgotten. Each turn you’ll select a special role that determines turn order and grants you a special action and/or ability. Then you’ll lay tiles in hopes of connecting one of your outposts to the former castle to grab some of the gold, which is literally just sitting there. Players can lead one of the four powerful trading families – House Ostrich, House Llama, House Manatee, or House Sloth. More on that later…
The game board represents the great forest via a 6×6 grid, with your merchant outposts bordering the woods and the great treasure smack dab in the center. Some grids have default roads already visible, while others are overgrown with greenery, which breaks up the nice little paths. The treasure itself is represented by special 2×2 tiles – there are four of them which can be oriented at a player’s discretion when placed on the board. Each one has two gates on every side worth varying values. These gates are your destination goal when building roads to connect with the castle.
A round begins with the King’s Hand phase. Players chose which of five roles they wish to play that round, which are resolved next during the Role Phase. Everyone has the same set of roles. Along with determining turn order, these characters grant special actions – as well as a special bonus if you’re the only player to have chosen that role. If two or more merchants select the same role, a special mechanic then resolves the tie-breaker for turn order.
After performing their special abilities, players then conduct the Roads Phase, again in turn order. Each player builds roads, collects gold, and draws new tiles before play proceeds to the next. To build roles, you may lay down two roads tiles on any space (with a couple of restrictions) and in any orientation. If in the process you’re able to connect one of your outposts to an unguarded gate, you may collect an amount of gold indicated by the gate’s banner. If a guard token is already present, that means another player beat you to it. You may only collect gold from a gate in this manner one time during the Roads Phase. To end your turn, draw back to 4 tiles.
When each trader has completed his/her individual Roads Phase, there is a final Rush Phase. Here, outposts connected to any remaining unguarded gates may collect the gold from them, even if that gate is linked to multiple outposts. Everyone marks gold accumulation on a score track that rings the board. The first time someone reaches 25 gold after a completed round, a new treasure tile is revealed in the middle of the board. Or, when one or more players has 50 total gold, the merchant with the most coinage wins the game.
Can’t Wait to Get on the Road Again?
Okay. House Sloth? In a game where you have to race to beat others to the richest gates? Indeed, The Kingswood is a bit abstract. It has a whimsically painted on theme to add some flavor and neat artwork. Playing Ostriches and Llamas is cool. And the members of House Manatee are drawn in little barrels, because you know, ocean life on land. All-in-all the “theme” is fun and sets the perfect mood for the game – which is casual and family-friendly. Yet, there is a twist of interaction that more experienced groups can appreciate and run with.
At its heart, The Kingswood is a tile-laying game. And you don’t even have to match up tiles so that roads connect with adjacent paths. In fact, sometimes you will deliberately break up a path to hinder your opponents. So the main goal is quite simple, the design extremely accessible. From that starting point, it adds a few layers of complexity. But rather than inhibiting gamers, it enhances the design.
Role selection is the thickest layer applied to The Kingswood, yet even that is limited to five of them. Even still, the abilities are easy to understand and quick to resolve. For example, if you play the Merchant, you gain 2 gold. If you’re the only one to choose that character, you get an additional 2 gold and you may place a guard on any gate to prevent others collecting from it during that round. The other four roles are similarly straight-forward. The mechanic brilliantly adds a layer of depth which prevents monotony, without convoluting game play.
There are a couple of restrictions to tile placement – and one bonus. Some tiles have Mercenaries printed on them, which appear to be badgers? In any event, you must pay 1 gold to lay a tile over a Mercenary. Also, when selecting the Soldier role, you may place a Soldier token on a space; which blocks further placement there for the remainder of the round. Not to be outdone by obstacles alone, some roads have Fairies (bunnies, naturally) which grant a bonus gold to any path traced through it and to a gate in scoring. These all give you some nice options so that game play isn’t just about making automatically optimal moves. You can weigh the pros and cons of concentrating on connecting your own paths versus maybe hindering another’s.
While the character roles and special tiles create a little variety and replayability, interaction gives The Kingswood some heart. Blocking paths and hindering your opponents is not only fun, but adds some tactical decision-making. The game can be pretty random and it’s difficult to plan ahead, because the board is constantly changing between your turns – especially with 4 players. So you can use some direct intervention and outright spite to thwart another’s fortunate opportunity or provide another option in the event of unlucky tile draws. However, the beauty of it is that your group can tailor the amount of interaction to its tastes and sensibilities. Families may dial it down, while experienced gamers will use it to add weight.
Then there is the racing element, a more indirect form of interaction. This aspect really highlights the importance of maneuvering for turn order through role selection. It also forces players to think efficiently about making the best progress for themselves, so that the game doesn’t become a full-fledged spite-fest! Finally, it heightens the game’s puzzle nature, which many will already enjoy, by injecting tension and excitement. The bottom line is you never feel that you’re solitarily going about your own business without a care for the activity about you.
The Kingswood is a nice abstract, tile-laying design that should serve a couple gaming groups, thanks to its light rules and meaningful interaction. There aren’t very many special exceptions or fiddly details to the standard rules and phase order. Therefore, it’s a nice option for family and casual gaming. Those sorts of gamers might even downplay and deemphasize the interaction, so as not to sour too many feelings. However, a healthy measure of spite and some hearty variability may prove a nice change for experienced players when reaching for a mid-weight filler that’s not overly light or fluffy. In either case, The Kingswood may not be a trove of strategic, deep-thinking wealth; but it will prove golden enough for some light-hearted, mischievous, and puzzling fun.
The Kingswood is currently seeking funds on Kickstarter. The project will run through February 18, 2015. If you enjoy tile-laying games, variable role selection, and subtle interaction, then head over to the campaign page to join in on the action with a $42 pledge, which includes U.S. and Canadian domestic shipping. Luckily for you, the path is already paved better than The Kingswood itself, so rush over there now!
This article is a paid promotion.