Reviewed by Chris Wray

MAJESTY: FOR THE REALM (Z-Man Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 7 and up, 30-45 minutes; $39.99)


One of the hottest games of Essen 2017 was Majesty: For the Realm.  Designed by Marc André (of Splendor fame) and published by Hans im Glück (of Carcassonne fame), the game was towards the top of both the BoardGameGeek Geekbuzz list and Fairplay Magazine’s scout list.  Majesty has continued to gain traction in recent weeks, getting its U.S. release in December and topping favorite lists from many post-Essen conventions.  I’ve tried more than sixty Essen titles since October, and this is still my favorite.  I’ve logged more than a dozen plays, and I’m looking forward to a dozen more.

Majesty is a fast-paced card drafting and set collecting game that takes 20 to 40 minutes to play.  The family-friendly game has a nominally medieval theme, in which players compete to establish the wealthiest realm.  Over the course of the game, each player will recruit 12 cards, representing characters that can help their kingdom in various ways when placed into the proper location.  

Each player starts with eight different location cards.  These are arranged in ascending order from left to right, and they feature a beautiful panorama when correctly displayed.  The cards have both an “A” and a “B” side, adding to replayability, but this review will focus on the “A” side, which is recommended for beginners.  Players also take five meeples, which represent their workers in the game.  

On your turn, you take one character card from a face-up display of six.  The first card in the line is free, but going further down the line costs progressively more workers (i.e. meeples), so that the second card costs one meeple, the third costs two, and so on.  The meeples paid are placed on the cards you pass over, and other players can gather them by taking the cards on which they’ve accumulated, creating a sort of meeple economy.  (If this drafting mechanic seems familiar, it is because it was famously used in Philippe Keyaerts’s Small World.)  Players may not hold more than five meeples, though they can change in extras for a coin each.  

Once you’ve chosen a card, you place it into the corresponding location matching its color and take the action and monetary reward.  (Some cards have two types of characters, in which case you get to pick which location at which to use it.)  Set collection is a big part of Majesty: For the Realm, and most of the locations give you progressively better monetary rewards.  For example, the “Mill” location (the leftmost in the panorama) gives you two coins per character at that location, so if you’ve gathered three characters there, you’d earn six coins.  In general, the further right in a player’s panorama, the more coins the location is worth.  For example, the “Castle” (the second location from the right) gives you five coins per character at that location, plus one meeple per character, a far better bonus than what you’d get at the “Mill.”  

Some locations give you — and even other players — coins for having characters at other locations.  For example, the Brewery gives you two coins and a meeple for each character there, but every other player at the table will a character at a “Mill” gets two coins.  The “Cottage” gives you one coin for each character at the “Mill,” “Brewery,” and “Cottage.”

Three of the locations also have actions associated with them.  The “Barracks” lets you attack all other players.  If the attack is successful, each other player sends their leftmost character from their panorama to the “Infirmary,” the last location.  Cards in the “Infirmary” at the end of the game cost a coin each.  However, not all attacks are successful, because if a player as as many or more characters in their “Guardhouse” as the attacker has in their “Barracks,” the attack is stopped.  Characters placed into the “Cottage” will also heal one card from the “Infirmary,” moving it back into their panorama, though they don’t get the location’s bonuses again.   

After a player takes the location’s actions and monetary reward, the next player’s turn begins.  The game lasts for twelve rounds, and then scoring happens.  The bulk of a player’s victory points comes from the coins they’ve accumulated in the game.  However, each location also has a “majority” bonus for the player with the most characters at that location.  For example, having the most characters at the “Mill” earns a player ten additional coins, with ties being friendly and earning all players a bonus.  

There’s also a “variety” bonus for having characters at multiple locations.  For the variety bonus, simply add up the number of locations with characters (the “Infirmary” doesn’t count), and square it, taking that number of coins.  

The player with the most coins wins.  

The gameplay is clever and family-friendly, and the production value is stunning.  The first thing players notice about Majesty: For the Realm are the coins, which are small poker chips that harken back to the designer’s most notable game, Splendor.  But if Majesty draws players in with its production value, it keeps them with its exceptionally clever gameplay.  Marc André is known for building “micromovements” into his games, and his unique approach to design shows in Majesty, which features fast-paced turns that each have a bigger effect than players may initially notice.  

This is an easy-to-learn game, in part because of how streamlined and intuitive it is.  Each turn is fairy straightforward: you simply need to pick one of the six face-up characters.  But players have a lot to balance in Majesty, more than they may realize.  When choosing a card, it is tempting to look just at the monetary reward.  But that can be an amateur mistake, as the majorities and variety bonuses always have a large influence on end-of-game scoring.  Moreover, players also need to set themselves up for success on future turns: running out of meeples can be devastating, as can not having enough guards when another player keeps attacking.  

Hans im Glück is known for their rigorous development process, and it shows in Majesty: For the Realm.  There are several viable paths to victory, and the game seems well-balanced.  Some commentators have stated that the attack strategy seems overpowered, but I haven’t experienced that, and players can easily counter it by not letting the aggressor keep building up their barracks.  

I was initially concerned about replayability, but after a dozen plays, that has not materialized.  The “A” sides have kept us happy, and we’ve only turned to the “B” side a couple of times.  The “B” side certainly feels more advanced, and in a few more plays, I’m sure that’ll be how we play Majesty.  For even more replayability, you can mix the “A” and “B” sides.  I also suspect that expansions will be coming, given that they’d be so easy to implement into this design.

My biggest nitpick is the lack of “5” coins in the game.  The in-game currency includes 1s, 2s, 10s, 50s, and 100s.  The lack of fives is puzzling, and at times, it has led me to nickname Majesty “Making Change: The Board Game.”  My other nitpick is that the game is a bit math-y for non-gamers, but for gamers, this is straightforward and intuitive.  

Overall, I’m highly impressed, and I enthusiastically recommend Majesty: For the Realm.  I first played the game in prototype form back in April, when it was codenamed “Middle Ages.”  I was excited to try it at Essen, and it didn’t disappoint. This has been a big hit with me and my game group, and I think this game will work with a wide variety of different audiences, most notably family gamers.  Given the top-notch production value and clever gameplay, I could see this doing well during award season next year.  – – – – – – – – – – Chris Wray

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