Kingdom of Aer: Kingmaker Review – There Can Be Only One

Cue some Game of Thrones music!

Kingdom of Aer: Kingmaker is a player elimination card game of simultaneous action for 2-5 royal backstabbers. The aim of the game is twofold: don’t get eliminated, and have the most points at the end of the game.

In Kingdom of Aer: Kingmaker, you will play as the kingmaker for one of five royal households travelling to the late King’s funeral. Over the course of the game, you will attempt to assassinate your rival households’ royal court while trying to defend against their attacks. At the end of the game only two households will survive, and these will compare points they have gained over the course of the game.

Gameplay revolves around negotiation/bluffing and simultaneous card selection, as players’ royal courts are whittled down and eliminated until only two remain.

House Cervonne’s character cards

All players start with a random Inheritance card (used to break ties during point-scoring at the end of the game) and a hand of 14 symmetrical cards in the colour of their choosing. All five households are used in every game (regardless of player count), so for every ‘missing’ player less than five, one of the households will instead be an AI player. Two player games are the exception, as they only go up to four households (two AI’s).

Every player sets up their court by placing their three Royal cards (the ones with their household’s insignia on them) on the table in front of them.

Simultaneously, all players choose one of their cards to play and place it face-down in front of them. You can change it with one from your hand as many times as you like until everyone has a face-down card on the table in front of them. With AI players, simply remove their attack nomination cards from the game and shuffle their hand each round, choosing the top card of their face-down hand to play.

I chose…wisely

Most cards you play will go to the discard pile after their use (unless stated below). There are eight card types to choose from in two categories (Attack Nomination cards and Character cards):

  1. Attack Nomination: these cards make the game go round. Every player has four of these – one for each other household – and when played, they are returned to your hand (unless you used it to murderise the last royal of a house – more on this soon). Each Attack Nomination card played counts as a vote against a particular household during that round. The household (or households, if tied) with the most votes in a round gets ‘hit’ and its player chooses one of their royal cards to discard.
  2. Jester: the Jester joins your royal court and acts as a one-time bodyguard. They are also worth points if your household lives at the end of the game.
  3. Seer: the Seer protects your royals from being hit this round, moving all attack nominations made against you to the player(s) with the next highest count of attack nominations.
  4. Marshals: If you are hit this round, the Marshals stop your royals from being hit and instead hit every player that nominated you to be attacked this round.
  5. Gold: Gold lets you buy back one of your character cards into your hand from the discard pile. When revealed by an AI player, their discarded card with the highest point value is returned to their hand. You can’t buy back your royal cards with gold.
  6. Thief: the Thief steals/discards any Gold card played this round, and uses them to buy back a character card into your hand. When revealed by an AI player, does exactly the same as if it played a Gold card. If one Gold card and multiple Thief cards are played, all Thief cards benefit from it. Note: regardless of how many Gold cards your Thief steals, you can only ever buy back one card in this way.
  7. Banner: the Banner enhances the power of your attack nominations, making them worth two votes. They don’t change the number of royals discarded when a player gets hit.
  8. Fanatic: the Fanatic is the best at what he does – and what he does is burning Banner cards. When played, the Fanatic burns all Banner cards currently in play (including yours).

House Cervonne’s character cards

“But this game revolves around simultaneous action,” you say, “how is everything resolved?” says you. Well before I was interrupted, I was just about to get to that. There is a method to this alleged madness – an order of resolution, you could say.

When all players’ cards are revealed, actions are resolved in the following order:

  1. Jesters join their courts
  2. Seer redistributes attack nominations
  3. Attack nominations are counted
  4. Any household(s) with the most votes (individual or tied) are ‘hit’
  5. Marshals reflect ‘hits’ back to their attackers
  6. Royalty are ‘hit’ and their players choose one to discard
  7. Any Thief card played steals any Gold cards played; then any Gold card buys back one discarded card
  8. Banners are added; then Fanatics burn all Banners

House Cervonne’s Attack Nomination cards – one for each enemy, er, other household

Whenever the last Royal card of a household is ‘hit’, that household’s player has been eliminated from the game. When this occurs, any player that voted to attack them that round gets to turn their used Attack Nomination card sideways and slide it under one of their Royal cards as a trophy. These Attack Nomination cards are worth 3 points as trophies at the end of the game (if the Royal card holding that trophy isn’t ‘hit’).

So around and around goes the merry-go-round of assassination until only two households remain. Assuming you made it through this bloodbath of backstabbery and came out as one of the final two households, you will actually be a contender for rulership! All you have to do is out-score the other surviving household.

For the lucky two survivors, you score points from the top-left corner of any cards on the table in your court plus points from the bottom-left corner of each Character card in your hand. If there are any ties, refer to your Inheritance cards to break them – the closest player to the front of the line for the throne wins – otherwise the player with the most points wins.

Inheritance cards – they could come in handy if you’re alive by the closing act!

What I Liked:

  • The opportunities for negotiation, bluffing and backstabbing this game provides make for some great fun and epic gaming moments
  • There is a nice spread of card choices that can come out in the game – these inject a good amount of strategy into the game
  • Reference cards, yes! All games should have them

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Kingmaker is in the name, and kingmaking is the game. But this game has the potential for actual kingmaking and power blocs by players during play. This isn’t a fault in the game by any means, I’m just not a huge fan of the whole ‘kingmaking/power bloc’ sitch when players team up like that.
  • The earlier you are taken out in an elimination game, the longer you have to wait. But bear in mind that such is the nature of the beast with player elimination games. With a relatively short game length, there shouldn’t be much of an issue with this

What I Would Like to see:

  • An expansion with moar card choices, moar intrigue, maybe even some secret goals and agendas!

Recommendations:

  • First Timers: This game is simple enough mechanically for first timers to understand, yet the social interaction and bluffing is where the magic will happen – this game makes a very nice gateway game
  • Family: Kiddos from about 14 and older would better grasp and enjoy the nuances of diplomacy, bluffing, negotiation, and straight-up assassination (if you play this with younger kids, there could be some tears)
  • Friends: Time to murder your friends…no, wait! I meant their royal households! This is a great filler game to restart the table’s competitiveness or get in that much-needed tableflip between two games of Forbidden Pandemic

Conclusion:

Kingdom of Aer: Kingmaker has a surprisingly good amount of strategy jammed into a small pocket-ish-sized box. This is a solid filler game packed with a lot of fun betrayal, er I mean negotiation and bluffing. Kingdom of Aer: Kingmaker is a great entry point into the wonderful world of board gaming, and I highly recommend it.

BTW Disclaimer: I received this review copy for free from Centennial Games.

View the BoardGameGeek link here.

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