As is customary in most forms of fiction, the King is dying, again. With his demise will bring about a power vacuum that just may plop you right into that cushy throne. Sure you’ll have to deal with the petty squabbles of your subjects daily and then there’s the constant throng of feasts and celebrations, but you’re willing to give it a shot, even if it means taking on a few cyclops to get there.
The King’s Men is a nifty little card and dice game that pits players in a race to be the first to collect eight prestige points. This is done by recruiting dice and playing cards. Attacks are frequent and harsh but can be countered depending on your hand. There is a deck filled with dangers and quests to the left. A constant stream of challenges marches its way towards a second deck on the right. This right hand (kingdom) deck is where players draw their resources from. On their turn, players draw cards then recruit or promote dice (there are three levels of dice). The player then declares one of the targets waits to see if anyone plays an attack card then rolls. After they roll they compare their rolls to the threshold on their particular target. Players then have another chance to attack with action cards before the player either ends their turn or uses any remaining dice to go for another target. As cards aren’t attacked they slowly march their way closer down the line to the kingdom deck. There are a particularly nasty set of cards called “perils” if they make it all the way to the Kingdom Deck then all drawing of cards stops. If a second peril reaches the kingdom before the first has been dispatched, all players lose the game.
Another day another monarchy up for grabs. This theme is not going to be what you tell me in order to hook me into playing a game. It’s not that it’s a bad premise it’s just that it feels like it’s been done before, but only because it has. Now, for the majority of people that may be just fine and dandy, but you’re going to need to tell me more about the game than just that. We’ll get to that in a minute. The art for this game is, for the most part, pretty good. It’s comic bookey, which is what they were going for and it certainly evokes the theme and a sense of danger showing a kingdom in the cusp of destruction. That being said there are a few pieces in the game that I feel really missed the mark and just look… off. It’s not incredibly jarring, but certainly some cards fly better than others. The rules book itself is a little clunky and might take a bit to decipher, which is unfortunate because the unique mechanics of the game make it shine, but also can easily cause some confusion. Another minor annoyance with the game is the play time. The box lists 15-45 minutes which, while mostly accurate, is a heck of a range. For the weight of this, I would be willing to play a 15 minute game, even a 30 minute game. 45 minutes is a stretch and there have been games that have gone longer. As you approach the 60 minute mark you’re opting to play something that’s a little buffer than a filler for the same amount of time as a medium weight strategy game. Perhaps fine and dandy for some, but a little tiresome for me.
Now, all that to say, it’s worth taking a look at because of one very important fact: it’s fun. The mixture of action and event cards and dice recruitment is both thematic and mechanically fresh. It can get a little “take-that-ey” with a higher player count, but there’s a solid ratio of options that make defending yourself an actual option. I love that you earn money from particular quests and that the money can be used for a variety of options, each turn you feel like you’re setting up an expedition of some kind. You have to weigh the potential of attack not just from a quest, monster or peril in front of you, but from the potential attack from other players. You’re then forced to decide if you want to divide your forces in an attempt to take on more than one challenge on your turn. You’re mitigating the potential losses against the luck of the dice and the malicious intent of your opponents. I also love that, while there is dice rolling, you can mitigate the luck by upgrading your dice to a different tier. Each tier offers a slightly better chance for success. All wrapped together, The King’s Men, while generic at first sight offers something pretty different than your standard card game. The components are fine and allow for a pretty solid gaming experience.
Like any game, there are quirks and unfortunately some of them are pretty glaring in this case. However, if you can carve out a little more time than your standard filler and are looking for something a little different in a dice chucking card game, this just might be worth looking into. I’m personally a fan of the game, but to be honest it doesn’t hit the table much at all. I wish it did, because it’s a pretty fun game, more so than a good number of fillers in my collection. The biggest issue lies in the fact that it isn’t an intuitive game to play. There’s a small, but annoying, barrier to entry that some people just aren’t going to want to get past. If you can convince them, however I’ve found that it is widely regarded as a good time.
Unique gameplay offers an interesting take on dice and card actions.
The game is really quite fun.
There is a high level of player interaction.
Rules and therefore game play can be a little clunky.
The play time is too varied, you start a game and don’t know how long it’s going to take to end.
The theme, while effective, still feels pretty generic.