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Take the Kingdom

Reading through the rules of Take The Kingdom, I soon realised it is similar to a game I have made and played with one group for the last two decades, a 'take that' game that we played so much and there were so many requests for copies of, that I actually went to the effort of making it a real thing with art, box, rules... the works, via GameCrafter. It was a vanity project and one that has not travelled outside of that group, but it has given me a unique insight into the math behind this kind of game: I'll run through a few numbers at the end.

Take The Kingdom, a 2017 release designed by Ian Walnut and published by Walnut Games, and due to be relaunched shortly on KickStarter, is a 'take that' card game for 2-4 players that plays inside 30 minutes and now boasts a solo mode too. The ample deck contains three main card types: Attacks - troops and weapons from 1-4 damage; Defences - buildings and troops from 1-5; and Actions - special cards with potentially game-changing powers.

Set up is simple but does necessitate a thorough shuffle afterwards: each player takes a 3 Defence Castle, a Noble with varying powers, and a flexible Mercy card; then, in rotation, draft cards to a total of 12 Defence, with each Castle or Land allowed to have two other Defence cards on them. Undrafted cards are returned to the deck.

On their turn a player draws cards up to their hand size - usually five - then plays three, either improving their Defence or attacking another player's Kingdom via Attack and Action cards. Castles cannot be assaulted immediately; the target hierarchy is Land defences before Land before Castle Defences before Castles; which makes sense both thematically and mechanically. The deck is gone through once, with player elimination only likely towards the end; the winner is the last Noble standing, or the one with the most Defence points in their Kingdom. Ties are broken favouring the Noble with the highest number, which is the least potent power.

Play is quick and simple, with undemanding but not meaningless choices on a turn such as where best to attack, or even whether to do so at all or instead bolster your defences. Each type of Attack and Defence has Actions that neutralise them, and some can Deny card plays too, though no Denying of Denying is allowed - unlike the iteratively irksome Zapping in Cosmic Encounter (Fantasy Flight Games). Rarely are there no options on a turn, though a bad draw can see a player forfeit a card play. There are three Penalty cards in the deck which prevent the player from using one type of card for a full Round and count as a card played as well... nasty. There are also Trap cards which add a little bluffing and risk-taking to proceedings too.

The net result of the numbers is a tad attritional, though edge cases like the Knights (Defence 5) and Cannon (Attack 4) do exist. Only if multiple players gang up on one other could a player be eliminated early. The Action cards can be very powerful: Conquest is the main culprit here, potentially transferring 9 points of Defence (Land+Knights+Archers) from one player to another: an 18 point swing in a game where you start with 12 points. Take that! Oof! The Knights are a huge boost if drawn from the deck; though the lesser Defence cards reveal their worth as they soak up a big attack card with 'no change given'.

I don't know if the visuals are being revisited in the new edition, but the art by Filipe Ferreira and Luke Horsman is good and the design of the cards serviceable, even if the font makes the word 'to' look like '+0'. The large icons identifying the card types are not referred to in the powers text, which could have clarified some questions we had. The stock phrasing of many Attack cards could be embellished on a card-by-card basis to provide a little more personality and/or mechanical individuality to them.

The solo mode being introduced offers four levels of difficulty, pitting you against two enemy Kingdoms, drawing one Attack, Defence and Action card in each of 18 rounds and allocating them where best suits you. Again, having the highest Defence is the victory condition. Simple, but effective, and the difficulty settings feel right.

Take the Kingdom - or, perhaps, Take That, Kingdom! - does not pretend to be a deep game and is best played with a light-hearted 'beer and pretzels' attitude, especially when the luck of the draw skews things substantially. The Action cards are very powerful and, if drawn unevenly, can dictate matters. That said, if a player is eliminated, the game won't outstay its welcome and the opportunity to try a different Noble, or draft a different set of Defences was one readily taken.

Crunching the numbers... I eventually settled on a 4 attack cards to 3 defence cards ratio in my own game and the numbers balanced out at a similar ratio at 1.32:1 (damage to defence/healing). In Take the Kingdom, Attack and Defence cards are evenly distributed and, excluding the Action cards, come to around 1:15:1 ratio, which accounts for that feeling of attrition. Empowering the defence further is the 'no trample' rule, where a 1 Land blocks the whole of a 4 Cannon attack. The majority of the Action cards balance each other out, depending on their variable use, with the ratio rising to 1:33:1 with those Conquest cards, though they do feel overpowered and almost necessitate holding on to a Deny or Mercy card to block them; perhaps making them count as whole turn, or sacrificing another card to play them, would help. As it stands, the act of transferring three cards from one player to another is the equivalent of six card plays or two entire turns.

Click here to check out the Take the Kingdom! campaign on Kickstarter.

(Review by David Fox)

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