Designer: Matthew Austin
Publisher: Mirror Box Games
1-6 players, 60-80mins
Price: £40-50 (approx)
I am in two minds about The King’s Guild, because although it’s a classic euro-style game of resource collection and VP maximisation, there’s very little in the way of innovation or new mechanics here for players to get excited about – is that necessarily a bad thing?
In The Kings Guild, players take on the role of a guild boss vying for control of the kingdom following the unfortunate demise of the previous King. To impress the general populace, each guild has to effectively ‘sponsor’ various quests for treasure by providing the resources needed for adventurers to complete quests, and offer their resultant wares to the council at the end of the game… Victory points are earned and totals tallied, etc. although in this game VPs are called ‘Prestige’. Which all sounds pretty straightforward really, and indeed the rules aren’t difficult to grasp at all, so much so that I’d have no qualms recommending this as a possible gateway into boardgames if you want to introduce somebody to the delights of Euro-style gaming…
I don’t know exactly who wrote it, but I should say that the rulebook for this game is absolutely brilliant: clear, simple, concise, and full of graphic pictorial examples. It also includes Appendices for all of the buildings, specialists and treasure cards, and even has a back page that’ll answer most questions and queries at a glance; and the whole lot fits into just 12 pages!
Each guild starts with a unique player board (see below) with space for their starting guild at the top and additional spaces for new rooms and buildings to be erected — all of the boards and starting guilds are slightly different, which adds a lot to the replayability factor. Your starting guild also shows how many spaces you have available for the storage of resources (usu 5 at the start), and there are additional resources to be earned when or if those spaces on your board get covered by buildings. If you’re fortunate enough to play The Holy Order guild you’ll automatically start with a Shrine building that has an additional specialist space, which can prove really useful later in the game, but does of course use up one of your available building plots.
Buildings can only be added orthogonally (left/right, up/down, not diagonally) and usually provide in-game or endgame bonuses for various collected sets of treasures and/or quest-types, but some provide room for additional resources to be stored (a Warehouse for example), while others will allow additional specialists to be hired, etc. All of them can be useful, of course.
The spaces along the left of the player board are for keeping track of which quests your guild has successfully completed/sponsored, and there are four spaces at the top for the placement of specialists that will earn you additional in-game or endgame benefits depending on their special abilities.
Board set-up is also pretty simple, and basically involves having a number of buildings/rooms available for purchase, a number of specialists available to hire, and a number of Quests available for completion – all of these are determined depending on how many players there are. Individual piles of different resources complete the set-up (cloth, leather, wood, metal, magic and gems), and each player starts with a handful of gold coins, more of which can be earned through selling treasures and completing quests, etc. Worth adding is that a lot of the set-up information based on the no. of players is printed directly onto the board, which is a really nice touch that other games could probably benefit from adopting.
Gameplay is as simple as choosing one of just three actions each turn:
1). Gather 3 resources of the same type or 2 resources of different types
2). Craft/Sponsor items for a Quest (and potentially claim the rewards)
3). Expand your guild by hiring specialists or building additional rooms
Play proceeds in this way until the King’s Funeral card is drawn from the Quest pile, which identifies a kind of half-way point in which guilds are invited to bid for the privilege of adding The King’s Statue to their player board (which is worth a number of victory points at the end). This feels like a bit of a ‘shoe-in’ and is probably the only aspect of the game that really annoys everybody around the table when it occurs. Play proceeds after this until the final Offering to the Council card is drawn, indicating the end of the game.
To be fair, there is a lot of variety to be found in the various skills and benefits individual specialists offer your guild, and each building or room you purchase is usually worth VPs (prestige) at the end, but the core of the game revolves around the different Quest cards which come in two forms: single quests, and double quests…
Single quests are just that: you Craft the item req’d by providing the relevant resources, and take the relevant treasure/reward card.
Double quests work slightly different, but follow the same general rules: you provide the resources for one of the quests and put your plastic Sigil on that side of the card to show you’ve completed it. If you complete both sides of the same quest, you get to enjoy all the benefits/treasures of that card, but more often someone else will complete the other side of a double quest card, in which case they get to pick up the two treasure cards and choose which one to keep, leaving you with the other one. More importantly, because you started the quest, you get to keep the Quest card when it’s completed, and these can prove really valuable at the end of the game if you have matching Quest icons in your collection — buildings like The Hall of Warriors will give you Prestige for all the Warrior Hero icons you collect, for example, while the Gallery building will give you extra Prestige for having matching pairs of Weapon & Armor icons, etc. at the end of the game. It’s all very thematic, to be honest, and this is also where it really pays to keep an eye on what buildings other players are collecting, because this is the only area where you can really influence what other players can do in terms of stopping them from earning particular Quest cards, etc.
The treasures you can earn come in three colours (Red, Blue and Yellow) and can be played at any time. Each colour deck is skewed towards a particular type of treasure so Charms that earn you extra VPs/Prestige, for example, are only found in the Red treasure deck; while additional free resources and Contracts (which are free hiring actions) can only be found in the Blue treasure deck; additional Coins can mainly be found in the Yellow treasure deck, etc. There is a hand limit of 6 Treasure cards, so you’ll almost certainly reach a point where you have to use some or sell them for Coin, which makes collecting sets of treasures particularly challenging, despite the endgame benefits they may have (sets of Relics in particular, are quite tough to collect, but the more of these you have the more Prestige they’re worth).
As mentioned previously, there is nothing new or innovative here, but what The King’s Guild does, it does very well indeed, and is really hard to find any fault with. Does this mean it’s the ultimate ‘standard Euro’? Of course not, but it certainly does pretty much everything so well that games are nigh-on always smooth, fast and fluid.
A key aspect of the game can be found in finding synergies and building an ‘engine’ of sorts (allowing you to benefit from particular quest and treasure cards, for example)
If I have a complaint to make, it’s about the mid-game pause while players all make a blind bid for The King’s Statue – this feels like a bolt-on extra that is completely out of kilter with the rest of the game, and even if you consider this in keeping with the overall theme of ‘impressing the council’, it’s still an annoying adjunct, and there are definitely better things to spend your Coin on.
It’s not difficult to recommend The King’s Guild as a good game, because it certainly is that, but the overwhelming feeling of it just being ‘more of the same’ cannot be denied. Indeed, at least three members of my gaming group all shared the opinion that it was “Okay, but nothing special: it’s a standard resource-collecting Euro.” And while that sentiment is undeniable, it will depend very much on the kind of gamer you are as to whether or not you’d be happy to add this to your collection. The addition of a relatively basic Solo mode does nothing to detract from the core game, it must be said…
It’s definitely worth playing if you get the chance, and it offers a lot of theme if that’s what you like in your games, but bottom-line I’d recommend you check this out just because of the excellent job they’ve done of making this as complete a Euro as you’re likely to ever want or need…
The King’s Guild at Amazon.co.uk