Dale Yu: Essen Preview of The King’s Dilemma (spoiler free)

The King’s Dilemma

  • Designers: Lorenzo Silva, Hjalmar Hach
  • Publisher: Horrible Games
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 60 minutes per session

The King’s Dilemma is an interesting take on the Legacy concept; in this game, players each control a House in the kingdom of Ankist – a medieval like kingdom.  Each player chooses one at the start of the game experience, and they will keep this house throughout the entire campaign – which appears to be a minimum of at least 15 games.   The game is set up to give you choice; though you will only have 5 players in a game, there are 12 different houses to choose from! Pick your name carefully, as the name you choose will stay constant over the course of the campaign, and you may have to sign things with your game name.

all the house shields

In each game, players will get a Secret Agenda card (out of a supply of 6). There is a slight drafting mechanism used here so there will be some imperfect knowledge of who might have which card.  Each player also gets power markers and coins; all Houses start with the same starting materials, but as the campaign progresses, the Houses will start with different amounts. The Dilemma deck is taken from the box and placed on the board (if the first game, you’ll have to create the Dilemma deck).  The board is setup by putting the markers for the resources (influence, wealth, morale, welfare and Knowledge) in the middle of their appropriate columns. The Stability marker is also placed on the midpoint of its track. You may also have some changes to make to the board (legacy style – with stickers and markers) based on what has happened in the last game. Finally, if there are Story cards saved from previous games, you might want to take a second and re-read the cards so that everyone in the group can remember what has happened in previous games.

In each game, play essentially lasts for the reign of one king – whether it be that the king dies due to the passage of time or whether the king is forced to abdicate due to the Stability marker moving to either extreme end of the scale.  In each round, a Dilemma card is taken from the deck.

On the back, you will be able to read a dilemma – and then see which categories will be affected by a Yea or Nay vote (though not the magnitude of the shift). There is an area on the board where you can put Outcome tokens to show these possible changes – and this is quite helpful as an easily seen reference for all players to see – you can see which resources might move positively, which might move negatively, or perhaps whether a positive or negative sticker would be added to the board. 


Of course, the icons shown on the Dilemma card are not comprehensive, there can be some surprise results that also happen – but you’ll never know until you vote and flip over the card to read the next part of the story and see what happens!

In the voting phase, players will place power tokens on their vote (Aye or Nay) or they can pass.  If they pass, they will gain coins and eventually more power tokens which you can save up to use for later votes.  Voting takes place clockwise around the table. During this phase, the players can freely negotiate and bargain with each other.  Verbal negotiation is OK (though non-binding), but the game is set up to allow you to spend or trade coins in order to create binding agreements concerning the voting.   The first player to vote takes the Leader token. The Leader token can move in this round each time a player places the most number of power tokens on their vote (doesn’t matter if Aye or Nay).  Voting continues around the table until the player to the right of the Leader token votes. As the leader token can move though, this may mean that some players get multiple chances to vote. If you get a second (or third) vote, you can either choose to do nothing or add more power to your previously chosen vote card.   Once the voting is over, the results are figured out. The side which has the most votes wins, and the player who has the most votes for the winning side becomes the leader and takes responsibility for the decision. The winners place their vote tokens under the balance on the board while the losers simply take their power tokens back into their supply.  All players who passed split up the vote tokens taken from the winning side.

Then, the dilemma card is flipped over, the correct side is read (depending on the vote result), and then the board situation is changed for the resources and stability. If told, place a Momentum sticker on the board. If told, open a new envelope of cards – most envelopes have 1 Story card and 3 Dilemma cards.  The Story card is added to the Storyline (often signed by the Leader of the decision), and the 3 new Dilemma cards are shuffled into the Dilemma deck. Place the completed Dilemma card onto the Time Counter and then check for the end of the round – either the Stability meter is at either extreme or the Time Counter has been filled up with cards.

At this point, players revel their Secret agendas and agenda points based on how a particular resources ended up and what the player’s ranking amongst players in money is at the end of the game.  Open agenda tokens are scored and then points for the most and second most power tokens. Then, based on ranking in agenda points, campaign scores are given based on the results. There are two types of points, Prestige points (white crown) and Crave points (black crown).  Crave points are generally awarded to players who do poorly in the agenda point standings, but these points are not considered to be a negative, and they still may count towards your final score at the end of the campaign. Finally, check for achievements – for your House as listed on the inside of your House shield as well as due to achieving your secret agenda in this particular game.

Now, you can put the game away for the next time, or if you’re in the mood, set up the next game and keep going.  The campaign will end after the sixth Mystery sticker is used – certain Dilemma cards will tell you to place a sticker; but it’s unclear when/how this will happen; I haven’t even seen one yet!  Furthermore, I don’t know how the campaign is scored. The rules make it clear that we’ll learn how the endgame is scored when we need to!

big mystery stickers

My thoughts on the game

I haven’t gotten too far into the game yet, but there appears to be an interesting dynamic here. (And frankly, I wanted to write something up in time for Essen when many of the readers here will have a chance to see it for themselves!)  In each round, the dilemma comes up, and it really can be a difficult decision to decide what to do at times. The way that the story evolves is nicely done (so far), and I like the way that the story cards are kept so that you can review how the story has developed along the way.  The particular dilemmas that we have seen have definitely been thought provoking and set up in a way to make the players really discuss the pros and cons of each decision.

Each House has long-term objectives as seen on the back of their House screen, and each player also gets a new short-term objective as found on their hidden Objective card given to them each game.  These objectives will clearly affect the way that players vote on certain dilemmas, and there can sometimes be interesting conflicts. The game will require a bit of negotiation, and maybe even role-playing – and the game is setup to remember some of the decision made as there are stickers that will be placed on the board as a result of certain votes which will give the game some memory of decisions made in the past.  Furthermore, the story diverges as early as after the first Dilemma card as you will often be directed to draw a new envelope after a vote, and this changes the path of the story that will happen in your particular campaign.

I didn’t have time to actually play the special GenCon prequel scenario, but I was given a spoiler peek at the cards/envelopes in that setup, and it was amazing how different the story could be based on how the votes went and which of the 6 different envelopes was opened in that scenario.  Now, imaging how much more branching there would be in the full game with 75 envelopes!

For me, the big question is honestly whether or not we’ll have enough time to finish the game. As with many campaign/legacy games, there is going to have to be a large time commitment made to see the game to its end.  From my discussion with one of the designers at GenCon, Hjalmar Hach, I was told that 15-18 games would be a reasonable expectation for a campaign. It is definitely unlike anything I have played before, and I look forward to continuing to explore this one.  The storytelling that I have read so far makes me want to see more. It’s hard to review a game that I’ve only scratched the surface of, but I’m hoping that this gives you a little idea of what it’s like. I think that after reading a little bit about it that you’ll probably know whether this is your sort of game or not.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Dale Yu: Essen Preview of The King’s Dilemma (spoiler free)

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