We Were Playing it Wrong: Kingsburg

Kingsburg, by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco, 2007, 2-5 players

The Basics: Kingsburg by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco was first published in 2007 by Stratelibri and ElfinWerks (who published it as their first game ever), and was picked up the following year by FFG where it has remained ever since. Kingsburg, both when it was released and in the years following its release, was honored with several awards, including the prestigious Lucca Games Best in Show award, which has also been won by 7 Wonders and BANG!

Although Kingsburg was followed up by an iPhone app as well as the excellent Kingsburg: to Forge a Realm expansion in 2009 and also by several online scenarios published by FFG at their website, the gaming community has yet to see another game of similar prominence from either Chiarvesio or Iennaco, though word on the cyber-street is that another Kingsburg product is coming sometime in early 2016.

Kingsburg has a deliciously simple mechanic: roll your dice, then take turns spending the dice to buy stuff that increases the strength and prosperity of your little kingdom. The board is marked with many different spaces labeled 2 through 18. The spaces with the lower numbers give less impressive loot, while the higher-numbered spaces offer a lot of stuff but are hard to get to because, and here’s where it gets tricky, players have to pay exactly the amount depicted on the space to use that space. So, if a player gets lucky and rolls three sixes, he or she can use either the 18 space by spending all three dice, the 12 space by spending two of the dice, or the 6 space by spending one die. Players keep what dice they don’t use for later rounds, but here’s where it gets really tricky: only one player can go on one space. That means that players can (and sometimes should) block each other from getting onto the spaces they need.

What we did wrong: On Kingsburg’s BGG page, there’s a helpful errata notice that states, “Only one [+2] token can be used per season by each player (to influence Advisors).” While this errata is supposedly now duly noted in the latest version of the rulebook, older versions of the game such as my copy do not include it and as result I’ve been playing this one wrong for nearly eight years.

Also, after returning to the game after not playing it for a couple of years, I forgot that the King sends additional soldiers to each governor immediately before the battle in phase 8. As you might expect, this made the game significantly harder!

Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to teach Kingsburg to twenty or so new players over the years, and I’ve noticed that one thing that always seems to come up is the role and function of the King’s envoy, that fancy purple doodad that is given to player with the least buildings at the end of the third productive season each year. Some players think they get to keep it if they never use it, and other players have thought that you don’t need to spend the King’s envoy in order to use it. The King’s advisor is a vital piece in Kingsburg’s suite of catchup mechanics, so it is well worth any rules-explainer’s time to go over what the King’s envoy is, how it is used, and what exactly the player using it gets. The King’s envoy usually only benefits the weakest player, so the player who needs this information the most may also be the player least likely to ask questions or to understand the rules the first time they play the game. This means it’s doubly important to get these details right: while it may or may not impact the game’s result, correctly getting the rules on the King’s envoy will probably enhance the weakest player’s enjoyment of the game and keep that player from falling too far behind.

Conclusion: Kingsburg is a classic euro that follows the best traditions of its genre: it plays quickly, the rules are relatively accessible to new players, the players compete but don’t kill each other, and you spend an hour or so getting to build something. Some of the game’s critics point out a line of play within the game that seems superior to other options, but in my experience these criticisms are overblown and don’t hold up in actual play. The game is greatly enhanced by its expansion just as Terra Mystica was greatly enhanced by its expansion, but by no means is it required to enjoy this excellent game.

We Were Playing it Wrong: Kingsburg