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Once Upon the Burg (A Review of Kingsburg)

4
It’s a very lovely burg…

Sometimes you’re competing to be king.  Sometimes you are the king, trying to subdue your neighbors.  And sometimes you’re just trying to rule as much of the king’s land as possible.

But in Kingsburg, you’re out to expand the King’s land, power, and prosperity.  You are one of the King’s chosen leaders, sent out to tame the lands, build civilization, and destroy evil monsters.  In this case, though, you’re not alone – the King and his advisors mean to help you as much as they can along the way.  Does this game have a glorious bounty, or will the kingdom crumble to dust?

How It Plays

Kingsburg is a euro-style game through and through.  You place workers (in a sense) to gain resources; then use those resources to build buildings, which in turn give you ways to earn more resources or use them more efficiently; there are a few different ways to score points; and there is very little direct player interaction.

The game takes place over the course of 5 years, divided into 4 seasons and a few in-between phases.  Each productive season (spring, summer, autumn), each player rolls a set of 3 dice.  Then taking turns starting with whoever rolled the lowest, each player has a chance to claim 1 of 18 Advisors and the benefits provided.  The higher the number, the bigger the benefit.  A player can claim an Advisor with 1 or more of his/her dice, but here’s the catch – the total showing on the dice has to match the number of the advisor.  That is, if you want to claim the King at 18, you need to have rolled 3 sixes.

There are many advisors.

Only one player can claim each advisor, and each player can continue to claim advisors until everyone has run out of dice, or until no one who has dice left is able to claim anything.

After that, going in order from 1-18, players receive the benefits of the advisor they claimed.  These benefits include points, resources (gold, wood, or stone), military might, tokens that can add to the totals of dice rolls, and the chance to peek at the upcoming invasion forces.

Finally, each player has a chance to build 1 building using their resources.  Each player has access to the same 20 buildings, on a spreadsheet-like player aid, which each row featuring a set of related buildings and each column indicating the next, more powerful building.  Buildings provide bonuses such as military might, more efficient use of resources, and ways to manipulate the dice rolls.  They also award points.

Spring, Summer,  and Autumn function identically, and after those seasons (and a few in-between phases that award the last-place player, first-place player, and last-place player again, respectively) and a chance to hire mercenaries, Winter arrives.  In winter, a card is revealed that has an enemy army.  Each player must fight the enemy individually, with the help of the King’s reinforcements (a single d-6) roll.  Beating the enemy straight out nets you a reward, tying at least doesn’t penalize you, but if you lose you might have to give up some resources or even lose a building.

After 5 years (and increasingly difficult enemies each year), the game ends and the player with the most points wins!

5 years of increasingly dangerous enemies…. (the X – Y is the range of how dangerous the enemy will be)

Dost this claim the lordship?

Oh, Kingsburg.  You have an interesting place in my life.  It’s no secret that I tend to stay away from Euros in my personal collection.  I enjoy playing them, but they all seem so similar to me that playing one or another makes very little difference.

But the dice-rolling aspect in Kingsburg really intrigues me.  This was the first game I ever played with this style of dice mechanism. And what surprised me and really impressed me is how bad dice rolls do not necessarily screw you over.  What’s more important is choosing a strategy and making good, consistent choices.

And there are choices.  The different rows of buildings offer vastly different approaches – and if you try to get everything, you’ll lose.  Better to stick to one or two rows and try to max them out.  But each row is unique.  One row offers boatloads of immediate points, but little else.  Another row offers a lot of help in manipulating your dice rolls and placements so you can get exactly the advisor you need and avoid trouble when someone else takes the advisor you were eyeing.  One row offers significant combat boosts; another offers rewards for prosperity that build up in the long run.

Each row is a different category; each column is the next level up. You can get some cool stuff at level VI…

So it is definitely important to go for something in particular.  You can try to get way ahead with points and just hang out to that.  You can try to focus on armies and get points by defeating enemies.  You can hold back to get the king’s bonuses, or push forward to have more buildings (and bonuses) than anyone else.

I like that the game isn’t necessarily locked when someone pulls ahead.  Sure, inexperienced players are certainly likely to fall behind and stay that way.  But when everyone has an idea of what’s going on, I’ve always been amazed at how close the final score is, for all players.  I’ve seen people get 20 points ahead and then lose because of someone else’s slower, patient, gradual victory.

And back to the dice.  It seems like rolling really high all the time would guarantee a victory over someone who rolled really low – but I’ve seen so many times the totals rolled not ultimately damaging someone’s chances for victory.  Sure, it’s nice to get the King or Queen once in a while, but I’ve had games in which I rolled 14-22 constantly (after gaining an extra die to roll through a building power) and another player never rolled higher than 12 – but that player was the winner in the end.”

What really provides the randomness is the enemies you encounter.  Each year the enemies grow harder and harder – but the enemies are chosen randomly for each year.  If the enemies skew to the weaker side, a heavily economic (ie manipulating dice rolls, scoring points during productive seasons) approach will work very well.  However, if the enemies are more powerful, you will need an army, which means spending time diverting resources to defensive buildings or recruiting soldiers instead of collecting resources, and a military-focused strategy will work very well while the economic strategy could blow up when a building with a key power gets destroyed.

One rather unfriendly enemy each year. Red indicates what you lose if you lose… blue is what you gain when you win.

The catch is – you don’t know what the enemies are going to be.  Some of the advisors allow you to peek at the current year, but doing that will sacrifice some of the resources you might collect for building buildings – which means there’s plenty of risk involved.  You can gamble on the economic strategy but you may get busted. It’s fun to try different approaches and see what happens.

There is one major flaw in Kingsburg – it’s just a little bit too long.  You MIGHT finish in about an hour with 2 or 3 players, but you’re likely going to spend 1.5-2hrs claiming advisors and building buildings before it all comes to a dramatic finish.  I’m always a little tired by the end and ready to have finished 20 minutes ago.  This game would get a much higher score if it was 45min-1hr long.  I’d like to say you could shorten it by playing only 3 years, but honestly that would destroy the game balance.  The long term strategies score a significant chunk of points in the last year or two.  If you’re a patient player, it’s not a dealbreaker, but some will definitely find the playtime too extensive.  I’m sure it moves faster and faster the more you play, but you’d have to commit to it.

The King’s Envoy will assist the player with the fewest buildings after Summer ends each year.

The art and production value of the game – being a Fantasy Flight Game – is of course fantastic.  It’s bright and colorful and an interesting, unique style that adds to the enjoyment.  Actually, I might enjoy more Eurogames if they had art like this instead of the usual drab colors and dull imagery. The iconography is clear, the rulebook makes sense, the cardboard is good.  Top-rated stuff.  It’s actually pretty token-lite for an FFG game, but what’s there is good.

As far as players go, I think 4-5 is the best – a little more competition for the advisors forcing a little more sacrifice and/or risk.  However that also maximizes the game length.  Fortunately it’s definitely playable and enjoyable with any number of players it supports – although the 2-player uses a funky “fake player” dice placement to block a couple advisors each turn.

The King and Queen will help you… if you can roll well enough.

In conclusion, Kingsburg is an enjoyable eurogame with great art and lots of good strategy.  It’s fun to roll dice and implements the dice mechanism in an extremely balanced way.  Experienced players will be able to pursue unique strategies and end the game with close scores. The only real problem is the length of the game, which runs a little too long for what it  is.

Summary

  • Rating 7.5
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Summary

Pros

  • Pretty straightforward rules that still allow for some strategy
  • Excellent art and production value
  • Interesting use of Dice that is actually very well balanced

Cons:

  • Runs too long
  • Easy to fall into Analysis Paralysis
7.5 Good

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion4 Comments

  1. This is a very popular game with my kids. It’s an extremely smooth design and a good intro to Euros and basic strategy/planning for kids and new gamers. It is the ONLY game right now to which I’m seriously considering buying its expansion, To Forge a Realm (recently back in print). I’m told that it adds some variety to help with the only issue that I have with the game: it gets quite repetitive over multiple plays.

  2. I would like to give this game a try as my favorite game right now, and one I suggest you try, is Alien Frontiers. It uses the same dice rolls as workers mechanic but has more player interaction, scales well 2-4 and plays a little faster.

  3. I would be much more inclined to try Alien Frontiers. I played Kingsburg once, and I am not anxious to revisit it, though I like the dice-placement mechanic in theory. Alien Frontiers looks like it “fixes” a lot of what I didn’t like about Kingsburg (namely, why does the game outlast the fun by an hour or more?).

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