Updated: Feb 6, 2020
King Arthur's Vortex Chess is designed by Marcin Malinowski with art by Jakub Glab. It's an abstract strategy game modelled loosely on chess but with an element of luck and a larger element of bluff and bravado thrown in. His name may be in the game's full title but King Arthur plays no part in the game: in Vortex Chess, players are competing to defeat their opponent's wizard (Merlin or Medraut) rather than an opposing king.
As is evident from the prototype we have up on Board's Eye View, players each have similar armies made up of pieces with different strengths. In the Kickstarter campaign, due for launch on 5 February, the expectation is that backers will have the option of substituting minis for the standees. The standees do tho' have the advantage of showing clearly, front and back, what each minion's various strengths are. Each has an attack and defence strength but cards also show a value for two of the four coloured 'elements'. If an attack takes place in a hex that's within the control of an element icon (ie: on a hex with an icon or a hex immediately adjacent to it), then the minion can add to its attack or defence strength the indicated value of that matching element. A custom six-sided die can have the affect of changing the elements on the board.
Minions can be used in support of adjacent units, adding to their attack or defence values, so there are tactics involved in getting your minions into optimal positions. However, what makes this game especially interesting is the opportunity it offers for players to bluff their way using the action cards that are collected each turn. Action cards can be played face down for a movement value of one hex (so four cards can be played in this way to give a unit a total movement of four hexes: the maximum allowed) and, if you've collected sufficient action cards, you can move multiple units on your turn...
However, action cards can also be played face up to add to a minion's attack or defence value or to supplement the element bonus, if the card shows the matching colour element. In the core game, you can only play one action card to supplement each attack and the defender can only play one in defence, and the defender only decides whether or not to spend a card in this way when they've seen the attacker's total. In any event, the unit with the lowest total is removed from the board, and if there's a tie then both units (the attacker and the defender) are lost.
The game incorporates 'advanced rules' that shake the game up, including special skills for each minion type and 'spells' (an additional way of using some of the action cards). These are mostly welcome additions, although the introduction here of a 'castelling' move option, similar to castling in Chess, did feel a little contrived.
The publishers, El Fenix, boldly claim that 'like Chess, Vortex Chess is quick to learn but will take a lifetime to master'. We found it easy enough to play, though we hope the rule book will be clearer and make better use of examples over the course of the game's Kickstarter campaign. Tho' the standees show what each minion can do, we'd still like to have had a sheet for each player listing all their stats. The die and the possibility of lucky or unlucky card draws means King Arthur's Vortex Chess probably won't appeal to Chess purists but there's plenty here to keep the rest of us board gamers entertained. Click here to back this game on Kickstarter now.