Designer: Marc André Publisher: Hans im Glück and others Players: 2-4 Ages: 7+ Time: 15-40 minutes Times played: 8, with German copy purchased at Essen Spiel.
Majesty was a game that I had completely missed in scanning the lists of new releases in my preparation for Essen Spiel. Looking back on things now, I cannot understand why it didn’t grab my attention but I’ll use the traditional excuse of there being far too many new games to make a realistic cut of which games warrant checking out at the show. After many hours spent walking around the halls, with the timely opportunity of a free seat at one of the tables demoing Majesty, I thought that I would give it a go. What I didn’t realise at the time was that Hans im Glück were actually running a tournament and if you won two successive rounds of the game, you got your own copy of the game. I won against my first three opponents but then came third in the final round against three previous first round winners. The upshot was that I liked the game enough to buy my own copy, which due to a lack of English language versions, is in German. With minimal text in the game it is easily understandable and has not caused a problem.
Majesty: for the Realm is a card game set in medieval times with players competing by adding Citizens to their Realm with the aim of becoming the wealthiest. Majesty is well produced and comes with a functional box insert which holds the components securely. Each player starts with a set of 8 Location Cards (numbered 1 to 8) which are laid out in a line in front of them starting with location 1 on the left and increasing left to right. These location cards are double sided (A and B) and whilst the locations are the same on each side (e.g. Brewery) how they function in the game is different which allows for plenty of re-playability. I recommend playing with the A sides for the first few games to get to understand how the different locations interact with each other. These Location Cards make up a player’s Realm to which Citizens will be added during the game.
A number of Worker Cards equal to the number of players, but always including the Worker Card with the Start Player icon, are shuffled and one dealt to each player. The player with the start Player icon becomes the start player. Each player takes 5 small white meeples (Workers) and places them on their Worker Card, with any remaining Workers forming a supply.
The coins in the game are small, plastic casino style chips in various denominations (1, 2, 10, 50 and 100) and these are placed as a supply. The aim of the game is to develop the wealthiest realm in the kingdom and thereby win the crown.
There are two decks of Character Cards: red backed tier 2 cards all of which are used in every game and green backed tier one deck which is reduced by a number of cards depending upon the number of players (e.g. 7 cards are randomly removed in a 4 player game). Both decks are shuffled and then the green deck placed on top of the red deck to form a draw pile. Six Character Cards are then drawn from the deck and placed in a row next to the draw pile. It is these Character Cards that players will take and place in their Realm where they become Citizens of that Realm.
The game is now ready to begin with the starting player and continuing clockwise. On a turn a player takes one of the Character Cards from the central display and places it in their Realm. The Character Card furthest from the draw pile is free but other cards have to be paid for by placing a Worker on any cards further from the draw pile than the card chosen. For example to take the third card (counting from the card furthest from the draw pile) a Worker needs to be placed on the first and second Character Cards. When card is taken, any Workers on that card are taken as well and are used to replace any spent Workers on the player’s Worker Card. As the Worker Card can only hold a maximum of 5 Workers any surplus Workers returned to the supply and the player receives 1 coin for each returned Worker.
The Character Card is placed below the appropriate Location Card and then the action described on that Location Card is performed. Each Character Card has a colour which indicates which Location Card it is to be placed below. Some Character Cards have two colours and it is upto the player to decide which of the two Location Cards the Character Card will be placed under. It is the action that takes place when a Character Card is deployed that is the crux of Majesty and how the Location Card actions work in combination.
Below are the actions for the side A Location Cards:
1 Mill: For each Miller citizen: gain 2 coins. As the action is performed after placing the Miller, then the Character Card just placed counts towards the total. For example: placing the third Miller will gain the player 6 coins.
2 Brewery: For each Brewer citizen: gain 2 coins and 1 Worker (surplus over 5 are returned to supply for payment of 1 coin each). Additionally: All Players with at least 1 Miller citizen gain 2 coins.
3 Witch’s Cottage: Remove the topmost Citizen from the Infirmary, if any to and return to the appropriate Location. Additionally for each Miller, Brewer and Witch citizen gain 2 coins.
4 Watch Tower: For each Guard, Soldier and Inn Keeper citizen gain 2 coins. Each Guard will defend the Realm from attack by another player’s Knights. The defence value is equal to the number of Guard citizens in the Realm.
5 Barracks: Attack all other players with a strength equal to the number of Knight citizens. For an attack to succeed the Attack strength must be greater than a player’s Defence value. If the attack is successful then the defending player’s left most Citizen (i.e. the one below the lowest numbered Location Card) is placed face down below the Infirmary Location Card and on top of any citizens already there. Additionally: for each Knight citizen gain 3 coins.
6 Inn: For each Innkeeper citizen gain 4 coins. Additionally All Players with at least 1 Brewer citizen gain 3 coins.
7 Castle: For each Noble citizen gain 5 coins and 1 Worker (surplus over 5 are returned to supply for payment of 1 coin each).
8 Infirmary: This location is just used for citizens removed after an attack.
Once the action is completed then the Character Cards are moved away from the draw pile towards the start of the row and to fill the gap and a new card is taken from the draw pile and added to the end of the row nearest the draw pile. Play now passes to the player on the left. The game ends once every player has 12 Character Cards in their Realm.
Final scoring has three stages. Firstly each player pays 1 coin for each citizen in their Infirmary. Next count the number of locations (not including the infirmary) in a Realm that has at least one citizen and that number is then multiplied by itself (i.e. squared) and earns that number of coins. For example if 4 of the Locations had citizens then that player would gain 4 x 4 = 16 coins. Lastly, each Location is compared between the players to identify which player(s) has the most citizens in that location. All the player(s) with the most citizens gain the number of coins shown on the Location Card (i.e. 10 coins on the Mill side A Location Card). The player with the most coins wins the game with ties enjoying the glory of a shared victory.
My thoughts on the game
At its heart, Majesty is a card drafting game where you select cards from the common central pool and use them to build a tableau. Where the interest for me comes into this process is how collecting Character Cards and their combinations effect both your own wealth accumulation and that of your opponents. Collecting multiple Noble Citizens is a powerful way of gaining a lot of income for each additional Citizen. In fact most of the Character Cards benefit from collecting multiples of them during the game and in the final scoring. But the twist is that to maximise your final scoring you need to spread your Character Cards across as many Locations as possible, so concentrating on just a few Locations may not give you the victory. To encourage you further down this route, even single Citizens such as the Miller and Brewer gain you income if other players place certain Character Cards in their tableau. Citizen combinations add a further level of interaction as collecting multiple sets of Citizens can have great benefits such as the Miller, Brewer and Witch all of which generate 2 coins per Citizen when a Witch Citizen is added to the realm.
The “take that” element of the game comes from the Knight Character Card but can easily be defended by the Guard Character Card. Obviously a single Guard is a worthwhile investment as it adds to your final scoring and will defend against single Knight cards (which most players will play during the game in order to maximise their own final scoring). Here is another decision to be made as to whether you can take a hit on your leftmost tableau cards if attacked by another player in order to pursue your own strategy or you need to divert your attention to defend your realm. Majesty is a game where you need to keep a close eye on what your opponents are doing so that you can minimise their income from your own card placement whilst maximising your own income from their card placement. The benefit of this is that the game keeps players interested throughout and, with minimal downtime, the game really moves along swiftly.
I think that in Majesty, designer Marc André has created a very good game with plenty to think about (single, multiple and combinations of cards) that plays quickly and leaves players wanting more. With only 12 cards to place in your tableau, players need to be thinking about which cards to select right from the start of the game. Majesty is an easy game to learn (even with the German version) and with the Location Cards being double sided there is plenty of re-playability. There are very few games that deliver a sufficiently enjoyable experience for their runtime but Splendor is one of them and I am pleased that by chance I played it at Essen and it is now in my collection.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Alan H: My first three games were over before I blinked, playing with people who had played before. The game is fast or at least should be – I had one game last 20 minutes which seemed like ages. The game is fun and easy to play and teach, so it quickly builds up enjoyment with gamers and non-regular gamers alike. Like Simon, I bought the German version in Essen and the hardest aspect was dealing with the queue at the Hans im Glück booth, so someone else got my sale. The game is great to play and the plastic coins add to the value of the game. It easily becomes a favourite with anyone who plays it.
Joe Huber (8 plays): Majesty is light and fast and easy to teach – but as I played it more, I realized that for me it was also a bit empty. Not bad – I enjoyed the game enough after three plays to be ready to buy a copy. But after six, I was questioning that; after eight, I knew I didn’t need to. I’ll still be happy to play the game – the short duration makes it very playable – but I’ll live without it ever making it to my previously owned list.
Fraser (14 plays): We picked up a German copy at Essen and it has been in high rotation ever since. Even with a newbie or two who don’t read German and a rules explanation it consistently takes us 5-6 minutes per player total. I really don’t know where they get the 40 minute time frame from! It is short and sweet and because you never use the all of deck 1 there is always a variation in what cards are going to be available for that play. It’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it is short, sweet and has enough game in it for its length. My only gripe is that designers and/or publishers are not aware of the Greedy Algorithm. Currency should come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50.. I would estimate if it did come with that currency mix our play time would drop to 4-5 minutes per player as you wouldn’t be making change or cashing in five twos for a ten so often! There is quite a difference between the A and B sides and I notice that the insert has room for C/D and possibly more!
Larry (3 plays of the prototype): I consider this an “I Like It”, but just barely. The game plays fast, but you don’t necessarily feel in control. Too often, it seems, the card you need so much doesn’t show, or is too expensive, while an opponent finds their needed cards falling in their lap. The A side seems a little simple for my tastes; the B side is more interesting and that’s what my rating is based on. Splendor bored me to tears; Majesty is definitely better, but they’re cut from the same cloth and it may not take too long for me to consider bowing out of requests to play the latter, just as I currently do for the former. Hopefully, that won’t be the case, because a good, fast-playing filler is always welcome.
Jeff A (3 plays): Like Joe, I enjoyed my first couple of plays in Essen and considered buying a copy. It’s the perfect quick game for that convention, but afterwards, a further play gave me the same sentiment as him and Larry: there is not really enough control or depth to warrant buying my own copy for my gaming groups, and it’s a little too dry and mathy for more casual game nights with family and friends. However, it’s fast and the components are top-notch, and I wouldn’t refuse a game if someone else brought their copy.
Chris Wray (12 Plays): The gameplay is clever and family-friendly, and the production value is stunning. The first thing players notice about Majesty: For the Realm are the coins, which are small poker chips that harken back to the designer’s most notable game, Splendor. But if Majesty draws players in with its production value, it keeps them with its exceptionally clever gameplay. Marc André is known for building “micromovements” into his designs, and his clever approach to game design shows in Majesty, which features fast-paced turns that each have a bigger effect than players may notice. This is among my favorite Essen games.
James Nathan (3 plays): I picked up the German version at Essen, and after I finish adding these words, I’m going to put my copy in the marketplace for a song. I thought I liked it, but it may have been a little denial. “It’s fine” – which really is my review for 80% of the things I play. The polygraph for me was packing games so many times over the past holiday weeks: I felt no compulsion to put it in my bag, and if those weren’t the perfect occasion for it, nothing else is going to be. Cut bait.
Simon Weinberg (lots of plays): I attended Essen with my 15 year old son this year who is a seasoned fan of Splendor and loved Majesty immediately. This fast, easy to understand game nevertheless has depth in the sense that various different strategies based around getting majorities in different character cards is possible, and so it does leave you wanting to try it several times in a row. As a 20 minute filler game it is absolutely perfect.
Dan Blum (several plays): I like the design in general but I don’t always like how it plays out. It’s a bit too common to have turns without meaningful decisions. More importantly, contrary to Simon’s assertion that people normally play just one Knight, I have been in games and heard of others where several players played multiple Knights; getting the Guards to protect against this is difficult enough that this generally devolves into a game where most players have lots of cards in the Infirmary, which is just not that fun. That being said, like Larry I will give it a weak “I like it” since it’s fast enough that I don’t really mind when it degenerates.
Dale Y (5+ plays): I really like this one. I am a fan of the micro-transaction game – which really just means that I’m a Marc Andre fan, as most of his games are some sort of riff on that theme. Sure, there are times when it feels like the game is playing you – especially when “your” cards don’t come up – but, for me, that’s the challenge! You have to adapt to what’s available, and you need to keep a close eye on what your opponents are doing in order to maximize each of your twelve cards. Some players have complained that they sometimes feel like they don’t have a good decision to make on their turn, but I have found that in those situations, I’m often able to take a card that another player really wanted – and that’s a meaningful action in my book. For me, this is going to be a great gateway game on the A side, and a good super-filler on the B side.
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue (several plays): I like it. In the interesting vein of quick strategic game it shines! I really like the idea that how you have to manage your 12 actions/cards to optimize the scoring and how your score is deeply connected to what other players are doing. Deep interaction (in the sense of looking what other players are doing), strategy in a 20-30 minutes experience. Excellent!
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! Simon N. Alan H, Fraser, Chris Wray, Simon W., Andrea “Liga” Ligabue