Today Jeremiah reviews Royals, from designer Peter Hawes and publisher Arcane Wonders. It's a game of political influence in Victorian-era Europe that has players vying to influence the most powerful nobles in the land in order to score the most victory points. So does Royals sit on the throne of my game shelf, or is it just a court jester? Let's find out!
Royals' board features a section of Europe that includes Spain, France, The German States, and Britain. There are two decks of cards: The Country cards, which feature a single crest bearing the color that matches one of the countries, and Intrigue cards, which have two crests matching two countries. You also get a whole mess of wooden cubes (in 5 different colors) and a ton of punch-out score tokens.
The turn sequence is quite simple: Draw cards--either 3 Country cards (blind or from a three-card lineup), or 1 Country card and 1 Intrigue card. Then you play cards to influence a noble. That's it. When and how you use the cards is where the meat of the game lies. So let's take a quick look at the varied ways to score both during the game, after each Period, and at the end of the game.
City Bonus: Each city has at least one, and usually two, nobles in it. If you're the first player to influence a noble in that city, you snag the City Bonus token. There's only one in each city, so these early points can be very influential in the the game.
Country Bonus: There are two of these, and if you're the first to influence a noble in each city of a country, you score the highest bonus--the next player to achieve this gets the second bonus.
Noble House Bonus: Every time you influence a noble you place a cube on the particular one you're influencing (in that particular city), but you also place a cube on the portrait of the noble rank sitting next to the board. If you place a cube on each of the seven portraits, you score this bonus (there are three of these in descending point values).
All of these bonuses can cause huge point swings and become the equalizer in a game that may be getting away from you!
Each time the Country deck runs out it triggers the end of a historic period in Europe, and you perform a Period scoring round. Each time you influence a Noble there is an influence score that goes along with it. During this Period scoring you look at each country and see who has the most influence, and the top two influencing players score the tokens in each country.
Intrigue: The real player interaction happens with the Intrigue cards. As the game goes on, and nobles are influenced, it's possible to overthrow another player's influence by playing an Intrigue card (with a matching crest of the country you're playing into) along with the right amount of cards to influence that noble. That kills off the previous player's cube and sends it to the cathedral square in that city.
The game plays out for three Periods and the final scoring is done, which also includes seeing who influenced each noble rank the most and awarding yet another bonus for each noble rank.
Obviously, the player with the most points wins.
Royals plays 2-5 players, the box says it plays in about 60 minutes and I've found that to be fairly accurate.
I love Royals! Okay, so when you learn it and play it, it feels very much like Ticket to Ride: drawing cards, playing sets of them to claim an area on the board--wash, rinse, repeat. But the theme, the scoring, and the intrigue definitely put some fresh and fun wrinkles into these comfortable mechanics.
Royals is another artistic and aesthetic triumph for Arcane Wonders. Everything about the game looks and feels great, from the extra thick, chunky tokens, to the beautiful artwork and graphic design, to the gorgeous board itself. I think my favorite component is the portrait tiles for each rank/title of the nobles for end game scoring. Instead of just being a tile that you place cubes on, it displays how many points you earn from winning it, and it also breaks in two for purposes of a tie, showing a full portrait on the back with the halved point value. Mechanically it really doesn't add much to the game, but it is such a great amount of attention to such a small detail it really shows how much effort went into making this game an amazing experience.
As the game moves on you'll find that more players are holding cards at the beginning of the second and third Periods, which will cause the deck to be smaller and thus the Period shorter. This can lead to analysis paralysis, and while Royals should be picking up, it can actually slow down. This is a very small issue, and is by no means a deal breaker.
While there are comparisons to Ticket to Ride, Royals shines due to its interactive nature. Being able to kick someone out of their spot of influence really takes it to a next level of player interaction.
Jeremiah's Final Verdict: Royals is definitely in my Top 5 for 2016. It's approachable for casual gamers, deep enough for serious gamers, and an aesthetic achievement that Arcane Wonders should be proud of! Royals has replaced Ticket to Ride for me!
Theology of Games would like to thank Arcane Wonders for providing a review copy of Royals. This in no way affected our opinion of the game.
Thanks so much for reading!