Friday, April 24, 2009

First (and last) impressions of To Court The King...

Okay, I must admit that I was quite excited to play this after realizing it is a Tom Lehmann design (he invented Race For The Galaxy, amongst others...) A Yahtzee style dice game meets Magic The Gathering-style special powers? Sounds awesome! Boy, was I disappointed, partially because this game stays too true to Yahtzee and also because the endgame seems like such a joke.

I will be honest and say that I have only played two games, which for me is more than enough. After the first game I was bored and annoyed and ready to refuse the game ever again. But a little voice inside my head said, no, you should try at least one more game before forming an opinion. So I did.


Components

Okay, so the cards are nice enough, good-quality and nice artwork. I must say, though, that the symbology at the bottom of the cards is VERY small and hard to read. If you have bad-lighting or bad eyesight, this game is very hard to play. It was not uncommon for us to have to pick up the cards to figure out what they do. Verdict: Poor. Pretty pictures but not very user-friendly.

Rules

Okay, so the rules are nicely laid out but way too complicated for a game this short. I watched this game being explained to a beginner and he was pretty swamped. It's not that the play of the game is all that complicated (especially if you have played Yahtzee), but it's that every card you capture has a special power so the combinations can be a bit dizzying. And the endgame seems like it comes out of left-field with a few too many exceptions that need to be mentioned. Verdict: Poor. Way too many rules for a game that feels like glorified Yahtzee.

Gameplay

I won't get in to too many details but the basic idea is you are trying to capture various character cards by scoring different Yahtzee-style cominations (seriously, it's like Yahtzee.) The different character cards can then be tapped to provide you with things like extra dice or the power to redistribute the pips on two or three dice. So Yahtzee is a good comparison but with added powers to rearrange and reroll your dice. I find Yahtzee to be the epitome of multiplayer solitaire and To Court The King feels exactly the same. Huge boring gaps between turns and absolutely no way to affect your opponent directly (besides maybe capturing a card that they may have rolled for on a later turn.)

More characters allows you to buy better cards until eventually someone rolls and captures the King. Then the game REALLY goes sideways... Players now have a roll-off to try and beat the roll that player with the King made. So it all really comes down to a final roll using the bonuses you may have captured along the way. In our first game, the player who was in the lead the whole way through and should have taken the game lost to a great die roll by another player in the final roll-off. Fine in a 20-minute game, totally lame when you've been playing for an hour. Verdict: Crap. Boring between turns and frustrating at the end.


Strategy

Not much to say here. Of course there is strategy to which cards you might wanna capture but this is all relative to the dice you actually roll. Now I love luck in games. I think it adds uncertainty and more enjoyment. But I found every choice I made was completely determined by what I rolled at that time. Basically try and get the best card you can of what's left on the board (best almost always being highest on the display.)

In my second and final game, I had actually had four turns and captured four cards when the player beside me abruptly captured the King. Noone else had enough dice to challenge so he won immediately. Four turns. I was busy checking my email, turned around and he had won (and I wasn't the only distracted player at the table...) Wow. Not much time to develop any semblance of strategy. Verdict: Um, doesn't matter?

Conclusion

Well, as you can tell I did not like this game. It is a very luck-based derivative of Yahtzee. I know you're saying I'm taking it too seriously, that's it's a casual dice game. But then it should be easy to learn! The first game shouldn't take us an hour to play AFTER dragging ourselves through the rules. And the person rolling the best throughout should be the one who wins whereas this is not always the case. Most of all, though, I found this game to be way too boring. Waiting as people try to figure out the dice then examine the cards then figure out the dice again takes too long. I actually think the design of the hard-to-read cards adds to the slowness. On your turn you have to squint and scan to see what your different options are and it greatly increases the play time.

So now if I want a casual dice game, I'll choose something like Pickomino which has been a hit wherever we go. Simple dice game with simple rules. Easy to explain, easy to play. If I want depth and complexity, I'll stick with Race For The Galaxy or Puerto Rico.

Any idea if Airships suffers from these same issues?

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