- Designer: Robert Burke
- Publisher: WizKids
- Players: 3-6
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 30-40 mins
- Times played: 2, with review copy provided by WizKids
Kings’ Struggle has an interesting premise – a card game which combines the mechanisms of negotiation, trick taking and set collection together in one small package. The description of the game itself puts negotiation first: “a unique negotiation game with elements of trick-taking and set collection”. As I have just finished out first trick taking con here locally, this one got to the table a few times.
Each player gets their own deck of 10 cards. There are two different versions of the game – a Day version which has perfect information, and each player has all ten cards at their disposal as well as a Night version where each player randomly discards two cards prior to starting the game so that each player has a slightly different and altogether unknown deck composition. Each player also gets 5 gold to start the game – be sure to remember that each Gold piece is worth one victory point at the end of the game!
The game will be played over seven rounds, with each round consisting of a single trick. The cards all have a number value from 1 to 10, but many of them also have a special ability written on them which can be put into play as well.
In each round, the first player leads the trick by playing a card face up on the table. Then, all the other players choose a card from their hand and play them facedown. When all have chosen, the cards are flipped up and the trick is resolved.
So, is that it? No, of course not. Starting with the leading player and then going clockwise, each player can choose to use the special ability written on their card. 7 of the 10 cards have a “NEGOTIATE” action on them, and if your card says that, you can bargain to use (or not use) your card in any way. The main things which can be used to bargain are gold and promises to use or not use certain actions in the future. In general, any part of the deal which involves immediate transfer of gold or placement of modifier markers is binding; that is, the player who receives money or a marker must uphold their end of whatever deal they received money for. Promises in the future (such as payments or future card actions) are NOT binding. The players must resolve their cards and card actions in clockwise order. Turn order can never be negotiated (and cards can never change hands)!
The cards all have different effects. Some allow you to add modifiers to other cards. Others force a player to play a new card. Some allow you to remove cards from play and place them in your own scoring pile. When all players have put their card into play, then the trick is resolved.
First, look at the power value of each card. Cards have a base value as printed on their card from 1 to 10, and it is possible to have either a +2 or +5 marker placed on the card as well. All cards that have the same power value as another card in the trick are removed from play immediately. They cannot win the trick nor can they be WON in the trick. The highest remaining card wins the trick, and that player takes all the remaining cards in play and puts them in his scoring stack. That player also takes the starting player token and moves the round marker ahead one space. If this is the seventh round, the game ends and the players now figure out their score.
Scoring: You first score 1 VP for each gold piece you have at the end of the game. Then you can assign cards from your scoring stack to sets or runs. You can score 1/3/6/10/20/30 for 1/2/3/4/5/6 cards with the same name (i.e. same rank). You can score between 4 and 39 points for a run of 3 to 10 cards of consecutive rank. A card can only be part of one scoring set. There is a handy scoring reminder card that all players can use for reference.
The player with the most points wins. Ties go to the player with the most cards overall in their scoring stack.
My thoughts on the game
I admit that I was quite intrigued with the idea of the game when I first heard about it. I am a sucker for games that try to cross genre lines, and this one promised to bring together three disparate mechanisms in a single game. So far, the games have been interesting, but it is clear to me (as the rules suggest) that negotiation is the predominant feature.
It is sort of a trick taking game, but not in the traditional sense. There is a trick, and it is won by the highest card played – but there isn’t the usual bit about worrying about following suit or trumping. Nor does it necessarily matter how many tricks you win. You’re really trying to collect the cards played or gold – and this is the way to get that done.
As I mentioned earlier, 7 of the 10 cards have a negotiate action on them, so it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a round that doesn’t involve some sort of dealmaking. I’m not high on negotiations that go on forever, and I will probably institute some sort of timer in future games – maybe no more than a minute per card. The game has nearly an infinite number of possible deals, and it’s super boring to sit there and listen to two people go back and forth with deal, counteroffer, counter-counteroffer, etc.
Also, be sure that you are playing with people who have thick skin as there will be backstabbing at some point. Any deal component which happens in the future is NON-BINDING, and this means that feelings will eventually be hurt when a future player backs out of a deal. Sure, that’s part of a negotiation game – and I would just make sure everyone is clear from the start on what is binding and what is not. There is plenty of room for clever play, and it does feel good to cut a deal where you and someone else can mutually benefit at the expense of others.
The art on the cards is very dark, and some of the facial expressions are severe. It kind of reminds me of the art from The Bloody Inn. It certainly adds to the overall theme, but I think it is an acquired taste. The cards stock is nice and sturdy, though you really don’t need it in this game as the cards themselves don’t get shuffled much.
Will you like this game? If you like or don’t mind negotiation games, then you will like this. It’s a different approach to screwing over your friends, and the scoring rubric makes you hunt around for specific cards – meaning that it’s not always in your best interest to just try to win every trick. You really have to try to wheel and deal your way to the cards you want to get. If you have easily hurt feelings, then I’d stay away. If you were hoping for a novel trick taking game, this probably won’t be it either as it’s just a sidenote to a negotiation game.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor