Dale Yu – Review of Royal Visit

Royal Visit

  • Designer: Reiner Knizia
  • Publisher: IELLO
  • Players: 2
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Times played: 3 on newest version, at least a dozen of Times Square or  Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb zwei

Though I don’t wasn’t tracking my plays of games way back when, I’m guessing that I first played a version of this game in the summer of 2007, likely at Gulf Games or the Oasis of Fun, and likely with Stven Carlberg as my teacher/opponent.   I can still remember that Stven was enthralled by this game, and he would often carry it with him at game conventions, trying to spread the love of his current favorite game.  It’s one of those games that honestly takes longer to explain than to play…  And, if I remember correctly, it did not get a great initial welcome – probably because the game has so many rules for such a short gameplay.  Given that warning, I never gave up on the game, but it did take a number of years before I had played it enough to really appreciate it.  

Of course, by that time, I had already traded or sold the game as my initial impression of it wasn’t good – and because I didn’t have the “must collect all the 2-player Kosmos games” sickness that a lot of other gamers of that era had.  I guess I could have tried to acquire the English version, called Times Square – but I never did that either.  Over the years, I had passively thought about getting this back in the collection as it is truly one of the few 2 player games that I wanted to get, and I was extremely happy to see that IELLO was planning to reprint it.  Of course, it has yet another new theme – now set in a vaguely medieval Royalty setting.

I remember being told once that the game was a deluxe game of tug-of-war.  In this game, players sit on either end of the microfiber towel board and play cards to move the five characters on said board.  Based on the positioning of the five wooden characters (King, Wizard, Jester, and 2 Guards), you might also get to move the Crown token.  The overall goal of the game is to move the King figure or the Crown token into their castle area (the final two spaces of the board on their side).

Setup is pretty simple.  Lay the cloth board out on the table with each player sitting at one end.  The two spaces of the track closest to the player are highlighted a bit to outline the victory zone.  The King is placed on the center space (where the fountain is), and the crown token is placed on the other track at the same level – on top of the star icon.  The two Guards are each placed two spaces away from the King, and then the Jester and Wizard are randomly placed on the remaining two spaces, each one space away from the King.  This starting setup is helpfully printed on the board, so you’ll not forget it.  The deck of cards is shuffled, and each player is dealt a hand of 8 cards.  

On a turn, the player either plays cards (all of one type) or uses a special power.   Second, the crown is possibly moved, and then finally the player draws his hand back up to 8 cards.

Each of the four types of characters has their own card type (the two guards share cards).  I’ll describe each separately.  The cards in Royal Visit also include the move(s) right on the card, so it’s easy to remember once you know the rules.  You can play as many cards of one character type on your turn – though there are a few other movement rules which must be obeyed.

King – the king moves one space.  Also, if you play a pair, you can move the entire court – that is the King and both guards- one space in the same direction.  Note that as you move the King, he must always be between the two guards; the King may not even share a space with either Guard.

Guards – They have three different cards.  (1) Moves a single Guard one space.  (1+1) moves both Guards one space or one guard two spaces.  The third type moves both guards to the two spaces directly adjacent to the King, one on each side.

Wizard – The wizard can move 1, 2 or 3 spaces.

Jester – The jester can move 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 Spaces. The “M” card moves the Jester back to the Middle space on the board.  Alternatively, if the Jester starts the turn closer to your end of the board than the King, your Jester cards become wild, and for this particular turn, they can be used to move any one type of character (all other rules still must be followed).

Instead of playing cards, you could instead use the Wizard’s Power – this is to summon the King or either Guard to the Wizard’s space.  When doing this, the King must still remain between the Guards.

After the movement phase, then the Crown token possibly moves.

  • One space towards you for each character in your Chateau (the two outlined spaces at the end)
  • One space if the entire Court (King and both Guards) are on your half of the board

Finally, draw cards into your hand until you have 8 cards.  Your opponent now takes their turn.  If the drawpile is empty for the first time – shuffle the discards to make a second deck (and flip over the crown marker to the little crown side to remind you that you are on the second deck).

The game ends when one of two things happens:

1] The game ends immediately if the king or crown is in a player’s chateau area.  That player wins!  Note that due to the movement rules, for the king to be in the chateau area, he must be in the second space because one of the guards must be in the final space.

2] The game ends when the deck runs out and the crown marker is on the smaller side – that is at least the second pass thru the deck.  When the draw deck is exhausted, the game is won by the player who has the King on their side of the board.  If the king is in the exact center of the board, shuffle the discards to make a new deck and continue playing!

My thoughts on the game

So, when this first came out, I was honestly lukewarm on it.  Why? Not sure. Maybe it was some sort of internal rebellion against Knizia games.  Maybe it was because the rules to this game were on another level complexity wise from the other Kosmos Fur Zwei games to date.  Regardless of the reason, I traded it away without much second thought.

I later returned to the game, probably through my brother – who has collected all of these Kosmos games – and I found that it was way better than I had originally thought.  There is a fine balance of to-and-fro here; each turn, you can move one type of figure – and you are constantly trying to make a move that is slightly better than your opponent’s.  Getting the crown to move is a slow and steady thing, often taking a few turns to set up a move that gets you a space or two on the crown track.

But, no matter what your overall strategy is – you are ultimately at the mercy of the cards.  You are limited by what you have in your hand to play – though with a hand size of 8 cards, you’ll often have 3 or more cards of at least one type (after all, the “worst” possible hand distribution wise would be 4 pairs).  So – you are limited to what you have in your hand, and honestly there is a good deal of hand management going on as well.  Sometimes, you may not want to play that suit you have 3 of… because you’d rather wait for another card or two to make your play stronger.  Or, maybe, you can’t play it all at once because of the movement limitation put upon the king.

I like that the cards in this version have the possible actions summarized on the cards themselves; this helps players remember their options.  You’re still on your own to remember the Jester’s wild function and the Wizard call action – but that’s not too much to ask!  I really do like the art on the cloth board, but I’m less a fan of the actual functionality.  Short of using an iron, it’s always a bit lumpy and wrinkly, and at least once a game, one of the pieces falls over after it’s placed on a wrinkle. 

I can see one possible advantage – though I haven’t quite figured out how to hold it all together – i’d like to someday create a handheld pouch out of the cloth board with all of the cards and pieces inside it.  This would make a perfect travel container for this two player gem.

The game takes 15-20 minutes to play, and the games tend to be a tight affair. I’d say that in my experience, the game more often ends on the deck exhaustion criteria than either of the sudden death endings.  I rarely see the King ending – as this takes a fair amount of setup to pull off, and seeing as you need to have one of the guards end the previous turn on the last space of the board – there is almost always a card play that can be made to prevent the winning condition from happening.   This is a great game that honestly deserves a reprint, and if you’re looking for a slightly more complex 2p game; this would be a good choice.  I think it is a game that is quite a bit better than its BGG rating would suggest, as I’m sure that many people had the same initial impression of the game that I did (Way back when…) and didn’t give the game the chance that it deserves.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

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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