By Favouritefoe - www.favouritefoe.com
[I have been provided a copy of Take The Kingdom for free from the designer/publisher for the purpose of this Kickstarter preview, however, this has not affected my opinion in any way]
Wargames. The complexity associated with those words can be intimidating. Only one year into gaming proper, I have certainly steered away from many games in this combat based genre because of their heavyweight rep.
But, Take The Kingdom designed by Ian Walton and published by Walnut Games is a wargame that’s not a wargame. It’s a battle, sure, but it is one that almost anyone can play. No pedigree required. No enormous investment in table space or time necessary.
Coming soon to Kickstarter, this is a medieval combative card game for 1-4 players where players are trying to protect their own kingdoms whilst simultaneously destroying their opponents’ realms.
So how does it play?
Each player begins with a castle card, a mercy card, and a character card. I am reliably informed that the characters are based upon real historical nobles, although I am not sure they had the special powers they have in the game!
Players then take it in turns to choose a number of defend cards (up to a maximum value) in order to protect their castle. All remaining defend, action, plague, and attack cards are shuffled into a communal deck and each player is dealt 5 into their hand.
During the course of the game, a player can play up to three cards from their hand – attack an opponent, add to their own defences, or take a specific action which generally results in you either reinforcing your own kingdom or removing something from another.
Players do not have free reign, however, as there is an overarching “ first line of defence” rule which governs play at all times. In order to lay siege upon an opponent’s castle, you must first attack and remove all other lands and defences surrounding it. Given that defences are continuously being rebuilt, invasions denied, and traps set, this is no mean feat! And that is before we have even considered the rare but devastating plague cards hidden in the deck ready to lay waste to an unsuspecting player’s round. After the onslaught is over, a player’s hand is then replenished at the start of their next turn.
If it sounds like there is a lot going on in this little game then, in a way, there is. The unsuspecting and colourful deck (designed by Luke Horsman) reveals a surprising amount of battle/conflict card play. And, because of this, our first few play throughs were quite mechanical with a lot of verbal narration; working out which cards could wreak havoc on what, and likewise, how to successfully engage damage limitation.
But once you get your head around the rules and you become familiar with the cards and what they can do, the flow and momentum of the game picks up and it becomes a satisfying speedy race to be the last kingdom standing!
For me, Take The Kingdom is one of those games which, bearing in mind the small size of the box and single card mechanic, may look a little involved on paper but is actually easy to learn and fun to play. It is a lighter take on an all-out war but it does involve some strategic decision making when, for example, faced with an attack which could theoretically be blocked but may then leave you open to more devastating blows further into the game. Or when players must decide whether to “waste” cards in their hand in the hope of picking up better ones from the deck on the next round.
Over the course of the past few weeks, Take the Kingdom has been brought to our table and played when time is short and also when we have the chance to play a number of different games in a single sitting.
I was privileged to be a play-tester for this game early last year and, whilst I could see it had potential then, I think the tweaks and tinkering Ian has made so far to the cards, artwork, and rules in response to feedback have worked. For example, the introduction of a proper solo option as well as options for different playing styles make it a more versatile game, enabling it to be better tailored to the number and mood of players around the table. Similarly, the greater use of symbols and colour to differentiate between cards at a glance enhances accessibility for players with colour vision deficiency. Playing now compared to playing a year ago has given me a more thematic and satisfying experience – not bad for a little game! Plus, I am sure that through the Kickstarter process more refinement will be made, and I am looking forward to playing and (hopefully reviewing!) the finished product.