If you like some RPG in your board games, which I do, then you will understand my excitement at seeing The City of Kings with all of its moving parts, from the board to the character sheets.
Theme and What is it?
The City of Kings is a cooperative game for one to four players (though if playing solo, you should play at least two characters) and uses action selection in a combination of tactical combat and worker placement.
The game will play out over a number of rounds as you try to resolve the objectives of your current story. During game setup, select a Story or Scenario and related story cards and then follow the directions on the setup card for which tiles to use to build the game board.
Place the tiles face down as they must be explored during gameplay. After setting up the supply areas and shuffling the various Position, Equipment, Quest, and Skill decks, players should also build the creature supply using the stat bars and boss bars that correlate to the number of players (there are different sets for 2, 3, and 4-player games).
Players then select a character and set up the appropriate character sheet as instructed. Often, a creature will start on the board.
The City of Kings has a really interesting system for creatures. First, there are the stat bars. These are arranged in an ascending order of difficulty prior to the game start, and provides a baseline level of challenge. Some stat bars will include a number of creature abilities of varying difficulties which direct you to draw an ability at random from the matching set. These random abilities can make an otherwise easy creature significantly more difficult or be an ability that seems relatively negligible. Some location tiles can also add abilities to creatures that spawn there.
Play will occur over a series of rounds. In each round, players will first Resolve Story which involves checking to see if the current objective has been met. In the case of the starting round, players will simply read the Chapter 1 card to identify the objective. Players then advance the Time Tracker.
As time progresses, tokens such as fire, ice, and poison, will slowly weaken and ultimately be removed. At midnight, players lose one Hope on the tracker and also remove one focus token from every tile that has one. After these two steps, the players each get to take their turn.
On a player’s turn, they first resolve any impairments from the tile they are standing on. Next, they activate any creatures under their control. When a creature activates, it too resolves impairments, then heals if it has that ability on its stat bar. If the stat bar shows a basic attack and/or an attack all action, the creature performs them. Any attack abilities of the creature also trigger during the basic attack step. Finally, any special abilities of the creature trigger. Creatures will attack the players according to a priority list detailed in the rules. After the creature activation, the player will take their turn.
Players will spend action tokens to assign actions to either their hero or their workers. Players begin with four action tokens and can unlock a fifth during gameplay. Heroes can Move, Explore, Attack/Heal, perform a Special ability, and Interact. Workers can Move, Explore, or Work. Some actions can only be performed once, while others can be done twice as indicated on the character sheet. Movement must be orthogonal and you cannot travel through multiple unexplored spaces. Heroes can move through impairments and creatures while workers are stopped by creatures. Performing an action ends your movement.
Exploring allows you to flip over tiles with either. Some tiles allow you to gather resources, trade, gain a quest, or spawn a creature. When a monster moves or is summoned, players draw a Position card to determine the destination. If you Attack or Heal, the outcome is a base deterministic value, but is augmented by luck, rolling one luck die per stat point of luck, allowing bonuses to the outcome. As players earn experience, they can progress through their Skill tree you can acquire stat improvements and special skills. There is a combination of passive and active skills. You may only select one skill per tier, and skill tokens must form a solid line back to the bottom of the skill tree. Workers also have the ability to gather and scavenge in which they will roll dice to determine the number of resources acquired. Workers have a carry limit and must return regularly to the City tile to deposit them in The Old Barn. Resources in The Old Barn are shared among players and are used to buy new equipment. Certain tile locations are buildings which can be upgraded through a Worker’s Build action. There are also temporary structures that workers can construct and place onto the board for strategic or tactical bonuses. If the players complete the objectives of each chapter in the Story or chosen Scenario, they win. If the City loses all Hope or the Heroes lose all Morale, the game is lost.
Game Build Quality
Age Range & Weight
I liked The City of Kings quite a bit. I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of cooperative games, trying to get into position to complete your objectives and working within the rhythm of the game. I enjoy the mix of spreading your actions out between hero and worker actions. There is also quite a bit of tension when you are exploring the tiles, particularly when there are already one or two creatures on the board.
The creatures in this game can be very tough and require a good bit of thought sometimes as to how to approach the combat. The last thing you would want to do in an already precarious situation would be to uncover more creatures, however, you desperately need to discover some of the better resource tiles to try and improve your equipment through the market.
I like the way the stat bars work for the monsters, and that the designer has created multiple different sets to ensure that it works at different player counts. Drawing abilities at random also makes the creatures feel very different from each other and gives a lot of replay ability, but can also create a large spectrum of monster difficulty. The character sheets have a lot of information and tracking all of your stats and abilities is relatively simple, however it can be quite a bit fiddly with all of the various cubes and tokens. The stories and scenarios offer numerous options for both longer and shorter gaming sessions.
The City of Kings feels like a passion project and while it probably could have been streamlined in some places, I like that it feels like an un-compromised vision. Sure there are a lot of moving parts and it takes a while to set up, but the payoff is very good.
You just cannot have an experience like this when everything is truncated. Having the depth of mechanisms gives me an opportunity for some deep gaming and while there is a lot to manage, it does not feel superfluous and many people will enjoy their time here.
Some people may think it tries to do too much, but others will relish the scale and scope of The City of Kings. It certainly felt like a unique experience in my collection.
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