Interview: Seth Robinson


War of Kings Box Top

Looking for a strategic war game that satisfies that epic appetite, yet can be played in an evening?  War of Kings just may be what you’re looking for.  This new title is seeking support on Kickstarter.  The medieval-inspired conquest game breaks many of the cumbersome tropes associated with the genre to create a grand strategy game that is streamlined and friendly to non-war gamers, yet still retains enough depth and complexity to satisfy experienced players.  Recently, co-designer Seth Robinson sat down with the Dragon to talk about his design.

Seth, I’m sensitive to the fact that monarchs are busy people, what with running their kingdoms, an all. So for the sake of brevity, describe War of Kings in one sentence.
War of Kings, a 2 to 6 player medieval strategy board game suitable for play in a single evening, combines exciting combat with a well-balanced and engaging economic system that allows simultaneous play.

Then again, kings and queens do have advisers they can pawn off on people like me. In that case, give us the “elevator pitch.”
In War of Kings, you will find yourself in control of a small kingdom, facing decisions about how best to expand your realm and take control of the land of Arowyth. Each round, you will be generating resources, collecting gold, raising armies, and building settlements and fortifications. We took an innovative approach to the economic system – all 6 players will play simultaneously during the Construction Phase. This adds a lot of excitement and interaction between all players, creating a fun gaming environment. The combat system is equally intriguing and provides many opportunities for tactical and strategic decisions. Battle it out with our custom combat dice using a mechanic that engages both the attacking and defending player. Of course, a kingdom’s military strength is tied directly to its economic health, so only a balanced realm will thrive. Further, the Maladorian Marauders are an evil horde with which each player must contend. They are controlled by a card-based mechanic that allows the players to decide how best to wreak havoc on the other kingdoms of Arowyth.

What particularly motivated you to create a medieval strategy game? And how did it develop as non-historically based, rather than on real events?
This genre has always been one of our favorite. As brothers, Heath and I played countless games growing up and often found ourselves manipulating the rules and tweaking mechanics to make them more to our liking. One day while we were sitting around playing a board game with family, our uncle suggested we should make our own. We took that to heart, and began laying the foundation for what eventually became War of Kings.

Originally, War of Kings was going to have a 12th century historic theme. It wasn’t until we really began to get our artists involved that we began to incorporate a small amount of fantasy into the game. The Maladorian Marauders, which you can see on the box top, really took on their identity as a result of James’ work. While a historic game has its merit, I think the small amount of fantasy adds a lot to our game and our players will appreciate the small liberties that were taken in this regard.

Is there a particular target audience War of Kings is designed for? Or which gamer types do you feel it will appeal to most?
We hope that War of Kings has something for everyone. As cliché as that sounds, it is true. As we designed the game, we tried to keep the casual gamer in mind. It was important that War of Kings was a game that can be easily played in a single evening. We really cherish our family game nights, so we made sure it is a game that appeals to a variety of people. However, we also wanted to provide a rich gaming experience for the more hardcore gamers. You will be faced with no shortage of tactical and strategic decisions as you expand your kingdom.

And of course, what do all gamers drool over? Miniatures! We think everyone will love our unique settlements and fortifications that we had made specifically for our game. Additionally, we have partnered with Pendraken miniatures to be able to bring an original line of 10mm armies that will be great for those hobbyists out there who want to field a magnificent army.

3D Game Board

One aspect to this genre that has always been popular is dice-based combat – especially custom dice. Can you explain just a bit more about your system and what it means when engaging both attacker and defender?
Sure! Our goal with the combat system was to provide excitement, so we wanted to get both players involved. By engaging the attacking and defending player, we simply mean that both players will be actively rolling dice. If my armies are getting steam-rolled by some Marauders, it is a bit of a helpless feeling to just sit there and watch someone score hit upon hit. In War of Kings, once an offer of battle is accepted, a round of combat begins. The attacking player will have the opportunity to score the first hits by rolling the combat dice. At the same time, the defending player will make a separate roll of his/her combat dice in an effort to mitigate the damage. Then, the rolls are reversed, and the defender has the chance to counter-attack. At the conclusion of the round, the attacking player may choose to press the attack or withdraw his/her armies.

The response to our system has been very positive, and usually the whole table is intent on watching the action. There are several intricacies to the combat system which really elevates the level of play. A few of these include: road systems that allow armies to move further than normal, armies can sustain multiple hits without degrading
their combat effectiveness, a slight mathematical advantage to the attacking player, rewarding more dice for outnumbering your opponent, and of course providing an incentive to defend from a fortification.

The War of Kings combat system is very intuitive. There is a set of combat dice for the attacker, and a set of combat dice for the defender. A combination of weapons and shields make up the faces, so it is very easy to tally the results of a dice roll.

Meaningful economic elements are often difficult to incorporate into strategy games of this nature. How have you designed yours to successfully influence play, while not bogging down overall session length?
Throughout War of Kings, you will find several mechanics that link the combat system to the economy. Our desire for a balanced game was the driving factor behind these decisions. We did not want a player to be able to focus entirely on conquest and triumph. Similarly, we wanted to ensure a player who did not protect their kingdom would be vulnerable to attack and risk losing everything they built. One of the most prominent ways the two are linked is by making the number of armies you may field at a single time contingent upon the size of your kingdom. If you end a turn with more armies than your kingdom can support, you must remove an army or pay a stiff penalty. Your road system, which is necessary for generating gold, also enables your armies to move through two territories, rather than one. When deploying your army units, you must place them on a town (or higher level settlement). This rewards players who expand their realm by allowing them to get their armies to the front line sooner.

Game length was a huge concern for us from the beginning. As I mentioned, it was important for War of Kings to be a game we could sit down and play with our family on game nights. The small twist to our game that really enables us to achieve our goal is the simultaneous play during the construction phase. It really brings so much excitement and interaction to the table! At the beginning of every round, there is a Construction Phase. One player will roll the Resource Generation Dice, and then all players in the game collect their resources, receive gold from their road network, and then begin constructing settlements, fortifications, and roads. This is also when you may recruit new armies. If that isn’t enough, trade between players for resources and gold also occurs during this phase. Needless to say, it is a busy time. After the Construction Phase, players take turns around the table moving their armies and resolving combat. This format definitely presented some unique challenges to avoid granting the first or last player an advantage. However, a couple of small, clever rule changes kept the playing field even and added even more depth to our game.

The Maladorian Marauders sound intriguing – sort of a “Huns at the gates” wild card, both controlled and not controlled by players. How did that aspect develop and what do you feel its real contribution to the design is?
From early on in the initial brainstorming sessions, Heath and I both fell in love with the idea of some sort of non-player component. I think this idea has its roots in one of the games we played growing up called Wizard’s Quest. You may be familiar with the frenzying orcs? Once the idea took hold, it grew, and grew, until it became a core component to our game. Let me give a brief overview of how they work, and then I think it will be easier to see how much value they bring to the design. As each player goes around the table to move their armies, they will roll the Event Dice. There is a certain roll that triggers the Malador. That player draws one of the Malador cards, and follows the instructions. These cards direct the player to either place Marauders on the board or perform some action with any Marauder that already exists. While the actions are specific in nature (attack, move, reinforce, etc), it is left up to the player to choose who they attack or where they are placed. Most cards have two options, so the players
have a lot of latitude in how they are deployed.

The contribution of these Marauders is three-fold. First, they provide an element to the game that cannot be predicted and ensure that every game takes on a different identity. Your best laid plans can be disrupted quickly if you run into a horde of Marauders on your doorstep. Second, the Malador provide a way for all players to have an opportunity to interact with one another. If two players are on opposite sides of the map from each other, then it is likely they will have very little direct contact with each other. The Malador provide an opportunity for these players to impact each other to some degree. Retribution for ignoring my pleas for 3 gold coins last round? You better believe it. Finally, and this ties into one of my favorite things about War of Kings, the Marauders really enhance a two-player game. If you read “The Vision” on our web page, you will see that one of the core principles was to provide a game that truly is fun for two players to sit down and enjoy. Having a non-player aspect to account for makes all the difference in the world.

Card Spread

You mention your history in gaming and the influence of family game night. What sorts of games hit the table most often or prove more popular at these sessions?
The game that immediately jumps to mind is Hero Quest. It is definitely a staple, and I can’t begin to count the number of times my family has played. Usually we have more than 5 players, so we had to adapt the game to add a 5th and 6th hero. I’d wager our Hero Quest board is the only one to have seen both an Amazon warrior and a hobbit join forces against Zargon! Past that, games of Risk were fairly commonplace. When left to our own devices, Heath and I usually opted for the likes of Feudal, Diplomacy, or Axis and Allies.

And, of course, the most important question of all! If you had to recommend one game for a bunch of squabbling kings to play together, which one would you pick and why?
Fluxx! They’d be so consumed with keeping up with all the rule changes that they would forget about world domination and other such trivial matters. I do not play many card games, but I love keeping up with all of the small twists and turns in Fluxx. I usually end up trying to play as many different rules as possible and forget entirely about winning the game. Besides, I can totally envision a “Marauder Fluxx” edition.

War of Kings is now on Kickstarter and is already more than 50% funded. If you would like to support this engaging, medieval strategy board game, charge on over to their campaign page. The project will run until March 23. A $69 contribution will get you a copy of the game with all of its fantastic miniatures and other bits, plus access to any stretch goals the project earns. Other funding levels for added amenities are available, too. So go and back it now to get your copy, and live like a King – or be left out the Jester.

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Thank you for the interview, Jason. I really enjoyed it! If anyone is curious to hear more about the game, just let me know. I’ll be happy to help any way, I can.

  2. Pingback: Today in Board Games Issue #136 - War of Kings - Today in Board Games

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