The Rose King
- Designer: Dirk Henn
- Publisher: Thames & Kosmos
- Players: 2
- Ages: 10+
- Time: ~30 minutes
- Times played: probably >50 all-time, 4 with the new version (a review copy provided by Thames & Kosmos)
The Rose King is a recent re-release of a classic two player game. As I mentioned in an earlier review of Tally Ho!, Thames & Kosmos is working on reviving the old Kosmos 2p game line for American release. Originally known as Rosenkönig, this a is tense game by Dirk Henn where the players try to score more points by creating larger areas of interconnected markers of your own color. The theme here is the English War of the Roses with the House of York represented by a white rose and the House of Lancaster with its red rose. (For you game historians out there, before Rosenkönig the game was known as Texas, a release from Dirk Henn’s own db-Spiele.)
The board here is a simple 9×9 grid. There are some castles and English town names in the background – but you really just need the grid to play. There is a nice yellow wooden crown which starts in the center of the board. There are also a bunch of double sided cardboard tokens (white roses on one side and red roses on the other) that are used to stake out control on the board. Each player is given the four Hero cards of their color – these can be used to force a previously placed marker to change allegiance to your camp. Additionally, the deck of power cards is shuffled and each player is dealt five cards.
When it is his turn, a player must perform one and only one of three actions
1) draw a power card
2) play a power card
3) play a power card in conjunction with a hero card.
You can be forced to do something you do not want to do because you have to do one of these actions on a turn.
Your power cards are face up on the table, and you can choose to draw a card on your turn – though you are limited to having five at any time.
When you play a power card, the wooden crown is moved the indicated number of steps (1, 2 or 3) in the indicated direction (look at the sword on the card) – using the orientation from the active player’s point of view. The ending space must be empty. A rose token of the player’s color is placed on that field and the card is discarded into a common discard pool. A card cannot be played to move the crown off the edge of the board. If the player’s power cards do not allow him to move the crown to a legal position, this action cannot be chosen. In general, you want to place your markers so that they are adjacent to other markers in your color.
Hero cards can be played with power cards as well. They allow the crown to be moved to a field which is already occupied by the opponent. This marker is then turned over to the active player’s color, and both cards are discarded. Since a player only has four of these hero cards, he should be careful about when he uses them. Note that a player can be forced to use them if they are his only option – that is when he already has five cards face up (so he cannot draw) and if none of the five cards allow him to move the king to an empty space…
The players alternate taking turns – each time taking one of the three action choices. If someone cannot take any of the three options, he simply passes and does nothing for his turn. The other player continues to play alone until the blocked player can take a valid move. Should both players pass consecutively, the game ends immediately. The other game end condition is when the supply of markers is exhausted (there are 52 markers for the 9×9 grid).
Once the game is over, players calculate their scores. This is a simple matter of math. You look at each contiguous collection of your markers, and you score the square of the number of markers. Thus an area of 1 token scores 1 point, 3 markers together scores 9 points, and 7 markers together scores 49. The player with the most points wins the game. If there is a tie, the player with the largest single area wins.
My thoughts on the game
I have always been a fan of this game, and it was one of my favorites back in the 1990s. It got nearly continuous play when I often only had one other gamer around along with Flower Power, Caesar & Cleopatra and Odin’s Ravens.
The components are adequate. The game still comes with a nice insert, but the wooden markers from the 1997 version have been replaced by cardboard tokens. Additionally, the cards remain small format – and while it was never an issue for me – I remember that many people wished for larger cards to be included in the game.
The game is a classic back and forth battle for control of the board. As each player can only place one marker on a turn, and the overall movement of the king is limited to three spaces at most – the buildup is gradual, and the game definitely tends to break down into different minigames in different areas of the board.
Given the scoring rules, the big challenge is to figure out how to connect your different areas into one large scoring area. A single connected area of 10 markers is worth 100, as opposed to five pairs of markers which would net you merely 20.
For me, the key in strategy is playing your Hero cards to best effect. You would ideally like to save them for the end of the game when you can use them to connect up two regions into a mammoth scoring machine (and not have as much risk of retaliation from your opponent), but you are somewhat at the mercy of the placement of the crown piece as well as the cards in front of you. The game will likely force you to decide whether to play a Hero card earlier than you want if the opportunity presents itself.
Keeping close watch on the cards of your opponent will help you figure out what they might be able to do (either on offense or defense). Pay close attention if your opponent allows himself to get down to only one or two cards – as at that point, his options will be limited and easy to see.
In the end, The Rose King delivers a nice balance between careful planning of stone placement and Hero Card use with some good old fashioned luck in the card draw. Sometimes you want the 3 cards to move the King about the board and build in multiple areas on consecutive turns, and sometimes you want the 1 cards to keep the King close and allow you to really reinforce an area to make it unbreakable (I try to not have a huge group that can be undone with a single Hero card).
Games traditionally last around 20-30 minutes for me, and as most games tend to come down to the final 10 cards, it often calls for an immediate rematch. There are definitely different opening strategies that I’ve seen – from pockmarking the board in all directions in the start and then trying to connect them together to simply trying to make a huge mass as the start and build around the edges…
I was a fan of this game when I first discovered it almost 20 years ago, and it still holds its appeal to me in its simple rules and elegant game play. I’m glad to have a new version to replace my somewhat worn Kosmos set. I’ll admit to being a little peeved that the new box is deeper than the original German boxes, but if Thames & Kosmos keeps them coming, I’ll simply have a new set of matching boxes of 2p games in the years to come!
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (28 plays, all with either the db Spiele or original Kosmos edition): Having played Texas, the original db Spiele edition, the thought of cardboard tokens doesn’t bother me. But I’ve long felt the game is best as a silent partnership game, as the rules for Texas suggested. As a two player game, the abstract nature of the game made it just acceptable for me; playing as a partnership made for a much more interesting experience.
Dan Blum: I agree with Joe – it’s definitely more interesting as a partnership game. It’s pretty silly that Kosmos still doesn’t include the rules for this since it’s just one or two paragraphs.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y
- I like it. Eric Martin, Joe H., Dan Blum
- Not for me…
I’ve had this game for years (picked the original up in a flea market). The idea that you can play this in partnership might finally get it to the table–finally a more strategic alternative to “Sequence”!
Great review. I just got a copy and have only played a couple times. I’m still not sure how I feel about the limited movement based on card options (adds a little bit of luck to the game), but it is fun.
In the photograph of gameplay, the top set of cards are upside down. The crown should be oriented the same way for both sets of cards, otherwise the distribution of possible movements will be wrong. There aren’t very many cards so it’s important.