Royals Review - A Noble Effort That Pays Off

This is a slight cheat in that I've played the original version of Royals already from another publisher, but at most I could only do a first impression of that game. This new edition by Arcane Wonders via Dice Tower Essentials is as far as I'm aware, identical in rules with at most a couple of minor tweaks. The main change is the production quality and artwork improvement. Now that I've received a review copy of this new shiny version, I can finally give it the review it needs as I suspect it's one of those titles that unless you live in the US and come across Kevin from Board Game Theater regularly, it's probably flown under your radar.

First glances should make you think I should hate Royals. Not only having a pasted theme, but also a boring theme. Seriously does anyone get a kick of dealing with Kings, Dukes and Counts these days? I see them used so often in these historic setting games like Madiera and Lancaster and whether I like the game or not (spoiler, I like Lancaster and got bored with Madiera), it's just such a dull theme for me, almost sleep inducing.

So do the mechanics and depth of Royals propel me past these issues? It's happened before, I still enjoy a good game of Terra Mystica, Tigris & Euphrates and Amerigo after all. Here goes!  


Designer: Peter Hawes
Publisher: Arcane Wonders
Age: 12+
Players: 2-5
Time: 60-120 minutes
RRP: £46.99


From Board Game Geek:

In Royals, players take on the roles of the great noble houses of the 17th century, fighting for supremacy in Europe at that time. With the help of the right country cards, they occupy influential positions and obtain bonuses for this in the form of victory points. The higher the rank of the title associated with the position, the more country cards required. Already-occupied positions can be contested by playing intrigue cards.
The game proceeds over three periods, with a scoring taking place after each of them. During scoring, the players with the greatest influence in each of the four countries score victory points. After the third period scoring, the game ends with the scoring of the individual titles. The player with the most victory points wins.

A Dish Fit For A King


I don't remember the original Royals winning any asthetic awards, let's put it that way. But Arcane Wonders have continued their run of really putting some effort (without going nuts) into the production quality. Yes you have to deal with cubes and cubes are boring, I wish there was another way. But other than that, the board is really gorgeous and colourful whilst still being very functional. On top of that the new shaped point counters for all the different cities and countries are large and thick allowing for easier set up and take down. Even the artwork on the portrait tiles is decent as well, I swear the Count looks like John Malkovich. . .

The insert does a good job of keeping everything separate albeit with some wasted space, but it's still a pain to get all those cubes out of their compartments with your bare hands. Do yourself a favour and bag those cubes up, you'll at least get rid of that burden on setup. But to contrast this, it's a relief to see that Arcane Wonders are one of the few publishers who remember to allow room for premium sleeved cards in their games! Seriously publishers, what the hell, all that wasted space in the box and you can't even give us a couple of millimetres?!


Dabbling In Politics


For a game that promises a lot of depth, Royals is actually really easy to teach and play and the rule book does a good job of carrying that with pictorial examples and clearly worded text. Essentially you're using the same card draw/play mechanic from Ticket To Ride except you have a second deck of cards to also draw from and a hand limit. Aside from that you just need to explain how point scoring works and how to steal cities from other players and your job is done, get playing!

Royals is therefore very accessible to a lot of players, however the options you have and the choices you have to make would elevate this I believe outside of the Gateway Game category. It can burn your brain a little and new gamers would likely be unsure of the best path to take at a particular time. Once they're more comfortable though, this is easily a Next Step game.

Now of course, as stated, this is entirely themeless. It's a dry Euro and you're harvesting points, that's the straight and narrow of it. I try hard to add some thematic roleplay flair into it depending on what countries I'm in (apologise in advance for my horrible impersonations), but it takes a lot of effort! It doesn't take too long either to wrap up with 2-4 players, keeping nicely to a 60-90 minute game timer. 5 players can drag a little too long, crossing past 90 minutes, but the downtime isn't that long providing you don't invite the Analysis Paralysis player along!


Adaptable Intrigue


So where is the depth I speak of? Well that comes from the multitude of options you have of where to get points. There are four key areas to focus on - influencing all the title cards whether by spreading the load or focusing on a couple, being the first in a city, controlling a whole country and having the most influence in a country during a "scoring" period end. Which ones you focus on and when are going to depend on the board state and your own personal goals and these will change dramatically over the course of the game.

During the first period you might try to grab all the cheap cities for all the little points. Then move on to focusing on a particular country later and stealing precious influence at the last minute. Then either continue that trend or change tactics again. This is not multiplayer solitaire at all, you need to pay attention to what they are doing and in turn they can have a direct impact on your play by stealing cities from you.

This lends itself to giving you a lot of choices to make throughout the game. Yes some of that depends on the cards you draw, but you can mitigate that with the face-up cards or base your new strategy on what you have. For example I became the King of Spain quickly on one game, held my own in Spain for period scoring and country bonuses, but when the yellows dried up for me and another player starting kicking me out, I emigrated over to France and focused on getting all the missing title cards I needed for those points. Royals can play out very differently in each game, adding to its replay value. If you think the luck is going to put you off, fair enough, but your choices are still important and a little bit of luck helps to allow for some more balanced outcomes among groups.


Verdict on Royals


Royals is one of those surprises in that I shouldn't like this game, but I do. It's a super dry Euro involving Dukes, Kings and Barons, that's about as far from my interest as I can get without going Splotter or 18XX on me. However despite that, Royals actually manages to get me to ignore those shortcomings and focus more on what makes it good and that's the simplicity of the rules combined with a strong level of depth with a little luck thrown in to keep things balanced.

You've got several paths to victory, none of which have so far appeared unbalanced, but strategy is only a small part of the game. What really elevates this is the tactical adaptability you need to employ based on the cards. Start off playing one way and then later, focus on other entirely different areas to grab every last potential point you can.

Now it's not one I'm going to pull out all the time due to the dry theme and with 5 players it does drag a bit. But Royals is for when you want a simpler Euro to teach with impressive production quality and don't mind a little bit of luck. Essential? No. Decent? Yes!




BROKEN RATING - 7 English Dukes......Counts.....Kings, who cares?! 




YOU WILL LIKE ROYALS IF:


You want to experience a true "Euro" style game, but one that isn't too complex.


You like the "Ticket to Ride" style of card selection and want to take that further.


You enjoy a game that rewards both strategic planning, yet requires tactical flexibility.




YOU WILL NOT LIKE ROYALS IF:


Super-dry games are not your thing - there's no theme here whatsoever.


You aren't going to like the constant take-that factor of losing your nobles.


You feel it's going to drag with high player counts.


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