Publisher: Talon Strikes Studios
Game Designer: Jason Washburn, Mike Wilster
Artwork: Rebecca Barnes, Jason Washburn
To crown a champion
Following up on last year’s successful Kickstarter House of Borgia, Talon Strikes Studios is bringing us their second title, one that’s been two years in the making. King’s Champion is the brain child of designer Jason Washburn that blends euro mechanics with ameritrash action while tackling a unique subject, jousting.
No, this isn’t a dexterity game, although that idea does open up a world of ridiculously fun sounding possibilities. What you’ll be doing here is getting in touch with your inner Don King, training and managing a stable of three knights through the kingdom’s big jousting tournament. Each knight’s success or failure reflects directly on your household. Prepare them properly, vanquish your opponent’s morale and you will be crowned the King’s Champion!
Ready, set joust!
King’s Champion is a unique and innovative game in an uncommon and heavily thematic setting. The designers Jason Washburn and Mike Wilster have mixed worker placement and other familiar euro mechanics with good old fashioned dice rolling action, creating a middleweight game that is as challenging as it is entertaining.
As the head of one of two competing Households, Bloodguard or Echelon, it is your task to select three knights to represent you in the Kingswood Tournament of Champions. Knights are selected from different codes, Conviction, Truth, Righteous, Humility, and Discipline; no two knights you choose can have the same code. Currently, there are eight knights to choose from in the base game but more will become available through the Kickstarter project.
The game takes place over six rounds, each with five different phases:
- Draw phase
- Worker phase
- Planning phase
- Jousting phase
- Ennoblement phase
In the Draw phase, players draw one enhancement and four ability cards. Enhancement cards provide equipment and squires, which give you more dice for your knights along with some special abilities. A worker will need to be placed on any equipment card you use during the planning phase, in order to keep the gear in working condition for your knight. So if you intend to use the equipment, keep that in mind and don’t spend all of your workers during the worker phase.
Ability cards are boosts to your knight, either offensive or defensive in nature and are also selected and placed during the planning phase, in preparation for the joust. There is a hand limit of four but that can be expanded through other actions during the progress of the game. If the cards you have won’t benefit you as you’d like, others can be gained through worker actions on buildings.
The worker placement aspect of King’s Champion is an interesting and challenging puzzle, and is the heart of the development of your knights, all leading up to the center point of the game, the jousts. Assigning workers to buildings across the board allows you to earn more workers, build your dice pool and add bravery tokens among other actions. This is where you need to think long term and tailor plans to your overall strategy. With only three workers at the start, one of the first orders of business is to attain more of them. Having extra workers means you can cast a wider net and build your knights faster, but as with everything in the game, it’s a tight balancing act.
If you’ve worked the right magic in the earlier stages, the planning phase is where you bring it all together. Here you assign dice, favor actions, enhancement and ability cards to your knights, all to make them ready to knock the other knight on their keister. Don’t forget to keep a worker or two handy for any equipment you want to use.
Favor actions are unique and inherent to each knight. They are strong but not overpowering and help whittle away at your opponents morale, or minimize damage to your own. Some examples of these actions are re-rolling a die, blocking a hit, scoring a free hit or gaining morale. Small but have great utility, especially in the later rounds.
Another interesting and strategic and aspect of the game happens in the planning phase, determining the jousting order. It may seem a bit random at first, and it is, but the subtleties of your choices certainly become more tactical as the tournament progresses. Observing how your opponent is building their knights gives important clues as to the order they’ll likely go with, allowing you to potentially mitigate their chances with proper counters.
All of the prep and planning has been done, your knights are ready, or are they? Well, you’d better hope so because the next phase is the joust! Jousting combat is handled through good old ameritrashy dice rolling, spiced up with ability card play to knock your opponent’s morale down to zero.
Morale is the currency of damage in the jousts, and is not dealt individually but collaboratively. Each house starts with a base of 12 morale which increases by adding of bravery tokens, perks, favor actions and promotions. Generally, things tend to be in the neighborhood of around 20 points before the first bout. This is after adding the green and white starting dice to your knights, coinciding with each knight’s black fealty die. This morale number fluctuates up as you gain boosts and dice, and down as your knights take hits.
Dice color signifies the strengths of each, with white being the weakest and red being the strongest. White dice hit on a 6, green on a 5-6, red on 4-5 and black on 5. Rolling a 6 on red counts as a critical hit, inflicting two damage on your opponent while a 6 on black has the Aftershock effect.
Aftershock works as a possible crit, allowing you to roll again and attempt another hit. Unlike other games however, in King’s Champion you keep going until you stop rolling a 6. While it doesn’t happen often, a run of good luck can knock your opponent’s morale down a few pegs pretty quickly. Having a really strong dice pool on your knight will make them a beast at dealing damage, proper planning can pay off very well here.
What’s most interesting with the dice play in King’s Champion is that no roll is ever wasted. While hits are scored on a sliding scale based on dice color, even missing counts in your favor. In a smart design decision to avoid finicky dice solely determining the outcome, misses gain reputation which in turn can be converted to morale. Think of it as gaining experience on the field of combat, which in turn enhances your household’s overall morale. This aids you in extending your overall ability to continue the fight, a little bit at a time. This feature has a significant impact in keeping the game both balanced and interesting.
The Ennoblement phase acts as a cleanup and prep phase for the next round. Here you spend the reputation that you just earned from the joust, increase your political influence, add bravery tokens and if possible, promote your knights. Promoted knights have more spots for dice and better favor action choices.
The advanced game takes things up a couple of levels, adding more buildings and options to the game. Six more buildings come into play, allowing up to eleven on the board at once and increasing the starting worker count to six per player. Power dice and imbuements add even more depth and variability, further increasing replay value.
All of this is tied together in a beautiful graphical package, centered on the gorgeous art by Rebecca Barnes. Look closely and you’ll see quite a few faces you may already know from around the board game industry.
A game fit for a king
I always find it interesting when a designer digs deep and finds a unique theme and then develops it into a captivating experience. King’s Champion’s does just that with its marriage of euro-style strategy and ameritrash mechanics, providing multiple paths to explore, coupled with exciting dice combat. All of this makes for a game with high replay value.
Through my plays I’ve found the game pretty well balanced. The luck of the dice can be fairly mitigated or boosted through smart choices from a wide selection of enhancement and ability cards. Combat effects are minimal at first, but ramp up quickly as dice pools are expanded and knights customized.
I can’t say enough about the art of King’s Champion, it is simply gorgeous. The work done by Rebecca Barnes is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. She has a distinct way of balancing beauty with ferocity that is uniquely enchanting. I put her work on par with Fernanda Suarez, whose work I also adore.
There is a LOT of game in this box, and for only $23, backing this one is a no-brainer.
If you’re looking for a very fun and challenging two-player worker placement game that rewards good strategic thinking mixed with exciting dice combat, King’s Champion is one to back!
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