by Globus the Elder
“Ah, if I were not a king, I should lose my temper.” – Louis XIV
As I mentioned in my review of The Expanse, I love Twilight Struggle (TS), and its gameplay. The multiple fronts you always have to be alert for. Where is your opponent going to act? How can I shore up my position? Do I act now, or can I wait?
The downside of TS is that is two player. Getting my group to split for multiple games is hard, as the prevailing view is that everyone should play the same game. So, I search for a multiplayer equivalent.
Royals is able to capture the feel without the depth that comes from TS, and I think that’s a good thing. An actual multiplayer TS would take many hours, and though I would gladly make that commitment, not everyone can or should.
Royals is about set building, so the rules come naturally if you have ever played Rummy or the like. Each of the four Countries, France, Britain, Spain, German States, has four, or five in the case of France, Cities. Each City has two Nobles, except two Cities that have one. Each Noble has a number to its left indicating how many cards of the matching Country you have to play to gain possession of that Noble (think of it as someone from your family gaining that title). You show ownership by placing your color cube on the Noble’s portrait.
The cards you play come from the Country deck, with each card having the crest and color of the appropriate Country. On your turn, you can draw from the deck or from three cards face up next to the deck (these cards are replaced at the end of your turn). After your draw, you can play the appropriate cards, or three of different types to represent one of the appropriate type (a Britain, Spain, Spain would be one France), or you can hold your cards and pass, with a maximum hand size of twelve Country cards.
If, however, you desire to take away someone’s Noble, you need to draw from the Intrigue deck. Instead of the three Country cards, you only draw one, and an Intrigue card. To take the position, you play the Country cards required and the Intrigue card of the Country, or two other Intrigue cards in its place. The exception is the King. who requires two Intrigue cards. You then place your cube on the portrait, and move your opponent’s cube to the City’s Cathedral. Cubes are never removed from the board once placed.
The reason for this is scoring. When you have a Noble in each City of a Country, you gain one of the two victory point (VP) shields of that Country (you may only gain one from each country in a game). When you place a cube on a Noble, you also place one on their card next to the board. Whoever has the most cubes on the card at the end of the game gains those VP (split if two players are tied, unawarded if more than two). You also can gain one of the three Noble House Markers if you place a cube on each of the seven different Noble cards. The first player to take a Noble in a City gains that City’s VP bonus token. At the end of each of the three Periods, which occurs when you have drawn the last card in the Country deck, Period scoring tokens are awarded to the players with the highest and second highest Influence in each country (Influence is shown on the bottom right of each Noble portrait).
Note: in the third Period, play continues until the player to the right of the first player has taken their turn, so every player gets the same number of turns. You then score the Period and the end game scoring.
The art is excellent. There is plenty of detail, demonstrating the effort that was put into it.
More than the art, there was theme that transcended the game itself. I really felt as if I was making political maneuvers, attempting to get my house into to the positions to control the Country. Having to decide whether to gather cards for a coup on a high value target, or multiple small ones, while at the same time not betraying my plans to my opponents gave me one of the things I love most about TS.
This is the rare game that doesn’t really have one, except maybe turn length when players can be prone to analysis paralysis, attempting to divine all possible outcomes. The rules are well written and few. The cards are clear, with both colors and symbols for easy recognition. The insert is fully functional and easy to use. The components are solid…
Except the Noble cards on the side of the board. When you win one in end of game scoring, you claim it to add to your points. If you tie with one other player, you get half, and the cards are made to be split like puzzle pieces (they are made of thick cardboard). My concern is the wear from separating and joining those cards. It’s not a deal breaker, by any stretch, but it’s there.
Buy this game. It accommodates two to five players, is fairly quick, has plenty of strategy and player involvement. This is a game done right.
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