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KING’S PROGRESS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(JKLM Games, 3-5 players, ages 8 and up, about 90 minutes; about $50)

 

Henry VIII remains one of the most dynamic monarchs in history. It’s only to be expected that members of his Royal Court would compete to enjoy the fruits of his favor. And so it goes in King’s Progress, a Steve Kingsbury design, as players follow the Kingfrom castle to castle with the goal of influencing the court’s courtiers and thus earn gifts, prestige and, at least in game terms, victory.

King’s Progress comes with 8 different colored courtier pieces, 10 scoring markers (2 each of five colors), 64 Influence cards (8 for each of the courtiers in denominations of 0, 1, 2 and 3), 60 gift cards (12 for each of the five types of gifts), majority and minority control cards (and black discs for use when a majority control power is used), King location cards, a King card and a mounted game board. Most of the board depicts the English countryside dotted with castles (the homes of the courtiers) and roads linking them to the three castles of the King.

Players choose their color and take the two matching tokens, placing one on the scoring track and the other in front of them so everyone knows and remembers who is what color. The starting player, chosen at random, receives the King card. The King location cards are mixed and placed randomly, one at each of the three King Castles. The numbers then revealed indicate the castle in play for each of the three rounds.

The Influence deck is shuffled and each player receives four cards, discarding one of them face down. Discards are then reshuffled into the deck. Three influence cards are revealed and placed alongside the deck. The gift deck is shuffled and 12 of those cards placed in pairs while six “single” gifts are slotted on their respective areas on the board. The King piece is placed on the timing track and the game begins.

Each player turn consists of four possible actions and players may do TWO of them in a turn. (Doing the same action twice is allowable.) However, actions MUST be done in the specified (and, to make matters easier, alphabetical) order: Advance, Build, Collect and Discard.

Advance simply means moving a courtier one adjacent location closer to the current King’s castle. Any courtier may be moved, even if you do not have “influence” over him. (Sometimes movement is restricted as, generally, only one courtier may occupy a location.)

Build means laying down melds of courtier cards. You may either meld any number of the same color cards OR one each of two different color cards. The value of melds is determined by the number of cards PLUS the number of symbols on the TOP, showing, card. For example, a pile of 3 cards with a 2 symbol on the top card yields an influence value of 5. Should a player have more influence over a courtier than any other player, he receives the Majority Control card of that courtier. (The player with the second most influence receives a Minority Control card.) Majority influence is very important for several reasons, including the special power that such control grants.

All 8 courtiers grant special powers to their Majority controller. Powers include a free advance of a courtier, the ability to do THREE actions (instead of two) in a turn, to collect a discard, earn additional Prestige Points, do actions in ANY order etc. But these powers are one use per round only – UNLESS someone else creates a Majority and wrests control away from another. In that case, Majority Cards are shifted and the power, once again, is in play.

Collect allows you to pick up one of the face up courtier cards. (Should all three courtier cards have no symbols on them, you may pick up two of those cards.)kingsprobrd

Discard allows you to toss one of the top cards showing from your pile of courtier melds. This can swing Majority or Minority control to your advantage if your top card is hiding a more powerful card just beneath. But no matter what you do or how you do it, the trick here is to get a courtier over which you have Majority or Minority influence into the King’s court and reap those rewards.

The active player who moves a courtier into the King’s court moves that courtier piece onto the Arrival Track. He also gets the King Card. The player with MAJORITY control of that courtier (and that need not be the player who moved him there) does two things: First, he chooses a pair of gifts from the board. Second, he MUST discard the top card of his meld for that courtier. When five courtiers arrive, the round is over. Alternatively, when a player in possession of the King card gets to his next turn, that player advances the King piece one space forward. Should the King reach the end of his track before five courtiers arrive, the round also ends. In the meantime, the possessor of that card also receives 1 Prestige Point so long as at least one courtier has arrived at Court.

Once the round ends, the Minority player gets into the act. Players with MINORITY control of each courtier who made it to court get to choose (in REVERSE order of their arrival) ONE gift from the minority gift section of the board. And, at that point, we score.

The five types of gifts – Castles, Land, Money, Offices and Titles – are scored. In the first round, only the player with the most of these gifts scores (2 points). In the second round, there is a first (3 points) and second place (1 point), in the third and final round, points are earned for first (4), second (2) and third (1). (Crowns found on the gifts act as tiebreakers as necessary.) If a player happens to score first in the color of the gift that matches their player color, an additional 1 point bonus is awarded. Players also score for having the most different types of gifts. But coming in first has its drawbacks too. Each time a player scores a first place finish, he MUST discard his choice of 1 top card from any of his melds. This can lead to difficult decisions because, with all gifts scored, Majority and Minority control is reassessed.

Players who now have the most and second most control of a courtier receive the appropriate card – and more. For each Majority a player has at this point, he earns 2 Prestige Points.

With scoring completed, the courtiers at court return to their home castles, courtiers “on the road” begin their travels where they are and the next round begins. At the end of the third round, the player with the most Prestige Points wins!

King’s Progress is a tapestry of game mechanisms neatly woven together. Advancing courtiers and making melds is essential to maximize Prestige Points as you cannot get the lion’s share of gifts unless your courtier gets to the castle and you have some sort of control. But the forced jettisoning of cards from your melds insure that majority control cannot be taken for granted; it is certainly difficult to keep. Add to the mix the special powers that majority control bestows and the game offers a wide scope for maneuvering.

Of course, some majorities are more powerful than others so it would be wise to ensure that a player doesn’t maintain undisputed control of a courtier. With the balance of power constantly shifting in a sort of “checks and balances”, the threat of analysis paralysis exists. Know your players. If they tend to love to “analyze” every move, they will spoil the enjoyment by pushing the game into the 2½ hour range, too long for what the game is.

The march of influence to gifts to prestige is the path of King’s Progress. While the game falls clearly on the lighter size of the gaming spectrum, its wide range of choices coupled with the constant shifts in power give King’s Progress enough heft and challenge for more serious gamers to enjoy too. – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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