- Designers: Andrea Chiarvesio, Gianluca Santopietro
- Publisher: Stratelibri / Passport Game Studios (EN) / Kosmos (DE)
- Players: 3-5
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 90 minutes
- Times Played: 3, with review copy provided by Passport Game Studios
Kingsburg was one of my favorite games to come out of the 2007 Essen crop. It was a strategic yet tactical dice game from a new-to-me-at-that-time Italian company called Stratelibri. One of the co-designers of that game, Andrea Chiarvesio, has found a new partner and come up with a updated version and rethemed version of the game for the 2014 game market. Now, to be clear, Kingsport Festival is NOT a simple re-theme of Kingsburg. Rather, it is a reworking of the game, one which keeps many of the core mechanics in place while changing enough things to make it a different game experience.
The most notable change is the theme – instead of being the vague (and slightly overused) castle/royalty theme, Kingsport Festival is set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. Players take on the role of cultists, and they invoke the varied powers of the Elder Gods, possibly losing their sanity in the process, trying to win the most Cult points. (I suppose thematically that Cthulhu spares the cultist with the most points? OR throws his the most horrifically awesome pizza party?)
In any event, Kingsport Festival is played over 12 rounds – each of which follows the same pattern. There is a central board which shows the different locations of the town of Kingsport. Surrounding the board are 20 Elder Gods, each of which is on its own oversized cardboard mat. Players each are given 3d6 and a bunch of markers that they can use to track their explorations around Kingsport (on the board). A whole bunch of spell cards (3 different types) and goods cubes (3 different types) are in the supply as well. Players keep track of their Sanity as well as Magic influence on the board with markers.
Before the game starts, a Scenario card is drawn – this will tell the players a few special rules for the game as well as deciding when the Raids will happen in this particular game. The rounds where Raids will occur ware marked on the turn order track. One Event Card and one Investigator card is drawn for each Raid. The scenario card may also direct you to randomly draw a Festival card that adds a unknown random scoring bonus to the end of the game.
At the start of each round, all players roll their dice and sum them up. In order from lowest sum to highest, players place their markers on the turn order track – with the lowest sum going first. The player who is unlucky enough to be going first does get the chance to take up to two Sanity points on the sanity track. The player in 2nd place gets the option of taking a single Sanity point.
The next part of the round involves invoking the different Elder Gods – to do this, you take some/all of your dice and place them on the Elder God whose number EXACTLY matches the pip count on the dice. In general, each of the Elder Gods can only be used once a turn except for one exception, which can be used once each round by EACH player in the game. In turn order, dice are placed on Elder Gods until all dice have been placed or all players have passed.
Once all the dice are placed, then it’s time to resolve the Elder Gods – going in numerical order (starting at X and going to 19), you receive the gift from the God who you invoked. They give you different assortments of cubes (which represent Evil, Death or Destruction). They may also provide with magic spells (in the form of cards) or the ability to foresee – this lets you peek at the cards that determine the upcoming Raid. Spells are special one-time use actions that may or may not cost Sanity to use. There are types which help modify your die rolls, some that produce resource cubes and some that help you with the Raids. Depending on the God, you may have to lose some Sanity points in order to get the reward.
Once all the Gods have given all their gifts, it’s time to explore Kingsport. Each location in town has a “cost” which tell you what cubes need to be discarded in order to occupy that spot. In return for that, you will get a number of victory points in return. In addition to the victory points, many of the locations also give you a special ability that can be used for the rest of the game. These abilities are listed on little placards that match each space. You can only move into one spot per turn. Additionally, you must start exploring from the House, the central spot – and every further expansion must be directly connected to an area where you already are in.
After expansion comes the Raid (well, if it is one of the four rounds in the game when a Raid is supposed to occur). First, an Event happens. The Event card is flipped up, and players may spend cubes or other resources to deal with this (generally to earn more Victory Points). Next, the Investigator card is flipped over, and you see the “strength” of the Investigator. Each player totals up his Defense (from buildings, Spells, event cards, etc) and compares his Defense total to the Investigator’s strength. If the player has more, the player gains the bonus on the Investigator card. If the player has less, he must then pay the penalty listed on the Investigator card. If it is a tie, no penalty or bonus happens.
The game continues through the end of the 12th round. If your Scenario card has caused you to draw a Festival card, you now flip this over and resolve it – generally some sort of VP earning activity. The player with the most points wins.
My thoughts on the game
As I mentioned at the outset, Kingsburg was/is one of my favorite releases from Essen 2007. Is Kingsport Festival an improvement? Thus far, I think so – though the fact that it is a fairly modified version of the game makes it a little harder to compare directly.
I like the central board in the game – it’s easier to follow where people are going in this version (in Kingsburg, each player had their own mat). I have always loved the idea of using dice to activate the different gods. Certainly the better spaces can only be had if you roll well (or use well timed abilities / spells to improve your roll), but the way the turn order goes, a player early in turn order can sometimes cleverly place his dice to maximize his own gains while forcing those with better rolls to only take a single Elder God.
The Spell cards can be very useful – and depending on your rolls, you are often forced into spaces where you have to take them. When you get to draw spell cards, you at least get to choose which type of card you want (for cube production, die modification or defense improvement) – but it’s otherwise a crapshoot as to what you get. There aren’t many different varieties in each deck, but some of the cards certainly seem better than others. Unlike the dice rolling though, there isn’t a lot you can do when you draw a card that you can’t really use – other than shape your future plans to get you the resources you need to use that particular card.
The Event and Investigator cards are each drawn at random, and certainly it’s better to be lucky with these. Sometimes you’ve got the cubes to take advantage of the Event, and some time you don’t. Of course, you can try to get a Foresee action to allow you to peek at one of these cards, and this can also help you plan your attack. And while the Festival cards seem not much different in principle than the Event Cards, having another randomizing VP producing card in the game, which cannot be foreseen until after the final Raid (and thus, cannot really be planned for that well) seems a bit much for me.
The game itself has the tendency to run long. We have been pushing two hours in our 5p games, though in each of them, we have had at least one gamer who was new to Kingsport Festival/Kingsburg, and it does take a bit of time to wrap your head around the system. I’m hoping that we can get the game length down, and certainly with 4p, which our usual number, we should be able to play in about 90 minutes.
Production quality of the components is nice – board and cards have a nice finish to them, and the artwork certainly evokes the Lovecraftian horror feel. Unfortunately, there are also a number of issues from my perspective.
First, this game definitely hits one of my sore spots – namely having resource cubes that are the same color as player pieces – when this is not necessary. Either set could have been changed to different colors to make sure that no one accidentally mistakes one for the other. Admittedly, there isn’t much interplay between the player pieces and where the cubes are – but it’s still an unnecessary confusing issue in my eyes.
Second, the rules are a design nightmare. There is a LOT of flavor text in the rules outlining a bunch of Lovecraftiana, etc. A lot of this is placed in the sidebar area, and it generally doesn’t get in the way. However, there are a number of rules (like the Spells) that somehow got stuck out in the sidebars, and as a result, can easily be missed because the reader has already tuned out from the sidebar by that point. Another issue is the fact that all of the examples are written in a flowery, nearly impossible to read font. Unsurprisingly, there are also a number of rules which only appear in the example text – so this information is both in a location where you wouldn’t expect it and also in a font that you can’t read anyways.
The other thing that gets me is the tokens which are placed on each of the board locations – the special ability for the space is ONLY found on this token. Frustratingly, they are not numbered – so the only way to set them up at the start of the game is to match the artwork up. Second, they are always placed on the same spot in every game, and it seems like it would have been easier to just print this information on the board. While the tokens may have allowed for a more beautiful board because a full piece of artwork could be drawn for each location, this is rendered moot anyways because you cover up that same art with the token – so why not just put it on the board anyways?
My only other comment about the components is not necessarily a criticism but something that needs to be commented on for people looking to play for the first time. Make sure you have a big table. The board is a traditional sized board, but you still need to make room for the 20 Elder God mats, which take up as much surface area as the board! At least they are modular and you can arrange them in whatever way you can make them fit on the board – but this is definitely not a game that will fit on a regular folding card table…
Overall, this is a nice reimplementation of a game that I really liked 7 years ago, and I’ve enjoyed my initial plays of it. It took a little bit of time to get through the rules (to figure out what rules to play with), but the game has a lot of depth to it which pays you back for the time invested in getting started. I’ll admit that I was probably pre-disposed to liking it because I liked its predecessor so much, and this also helped me make sense of the rules when I couldn’t initially find the information hidden in the blue cursive blurry font.
It is definitely the sort of game that you have to accept some randomness / variance in (after all, the main mechanic is powered by a dice roll), and the game is long enough that a lot of it does seem to even out after the twelve rounds finish. But if you’re looking for a more involved game with a Cthulhu theme, this one my definitely be for you!
Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers:
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, John P
- Not for me.