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Updated: Jan 14, 2022

A revival playthrough here of the classic Wars of the Roses game Kingmaker, designed by Andrew McNeil. The game was originally published by Ariel in 1974 and then by Gibsons. The UK edition came in a long Monopoly-sized box, as was pretty much standard for board games of the period. This, however, is the Avalon Hill version which was published in the USA a year or so later. It cleared up some rule queries and included grid references that made it easier for players to find what were thought to be obscure English locations. As you might expect from Avalon Hill, it also added various degrees of complexity to the rules, especially with regard to combat. A disappointment was that, though still attractive, the mapboard was notably smaller and duller-looking than the board in the UK original.

In Kingmaker, players each control a faction of nobles. There were 23 nobles in the basic game, which meant that Kingmaker was theoretically playable by up to 23, but in reality it was always a game for between 2–7 players. In addition to the nobles they draw, players can expect to pick up cards representing titles, offices, towns, ships, mercenaries and bishoprics. These are allocated to the player’s nobles, adding to their troop strength as well, in the Avalon Hill version, as increasing their voting power in parliament. Thematically, the game represents the 15th century struggle in England between the rival houses of Lancaster and York. The royal claimants, however, are treated as mere pawns. The factions vie for their control and the winner of the game is the faction with control of the last surviving crownable claimant.

When nobles are killed, their cards are recycled into the draw deck – so the same noble’s descendant may later appear but possibly as a member of a rival faction. Titles and offices go to Chancery, which means they can be distributed by the King (or Chancellor if the senior Lancastrian and Yorkist pieces have both been crowned) when they summon a parliament. Particularly with the (anachronistic in my view) requirement for Lords and Commons voting, parliament is likely to involve a lot of horse trading.

By modern standards, Kingmaker is a game with a high luck factor. Randomly drawn event cards determine the towns where plague strikes and determine the odds needed to win a battle. Event cards are also likely to disrupt strategy by summoning particular nobles and/or office holders to specific locations. Out of all the luck and chaos though comes an engrossing game that is thematically sound and which still stands the test of time.

There have been rumours of an upcoming revision and reissue of Kingmaker. It’s something we’d definitely like to see at Board's Eye View.

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