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Kingmaker Developer's Notes - 2, Kingmaker The Second: Prestige

This is the second post in a series about Alan Paull's re-development of Andrew McNeil's game Kingmaker for Gibsons Games. Posts: Basic Principles, The Board, Parliament, Random Death, What to put in the box?, Teamwork!, Controversies, Scrope to Masham, Stuff we left out.

Traditional Kingmaker ends with a single crowned king and all the other Royal pieces dead, or alternatively, with a stalemate or long drawn-out conflict as opposing camps refuse to risk a final engagement. Even simply capturing all the Royal pieces could take an age, because of players’ reluctance to risk a siege just to take control of a second or third Royal piece.

An alternative victory condition resolves this issue. At first, I looked to Parliament for the solution; but, just as with modern Parliaments, that proved complex and problematic. I wasn’t keen on conditions that involved votes in Parliament for two main reasons: first, it was somewhat ahistorical; it wasn’t really until a couple of centuries later that Parliament became the arbiter of kingship. In the 15th century, Parliament was a means of exercising royal power. It’s main purpose was to do the monarch’s bidding, even though it was occasionally recalcitrant. Second, with two Houses of Parliament come two complex sets of votes to track, and this adds to house-keeping during play.

Using an approach beloved of Eurogames, I developed a more conventional victory points idea. Thematically, I felt “prestige” was a better term than “victory points”, and I designed them as a very much simplified version of the classic game’s Parliamentary votes: a largish number for control of a royal piece, plus a point for each Office, Archbishop, and City. During playtesting, I worked out the dynamics of Prestige points in more detail, including points for battles and sieges. As the key here is simplicity, each card that carries Prestige has a prestige icon or icons on it, so everyone can readily see how many each Faction has, coupled with a Prestige Point Track for ease of recording. I have also added bonus points for what I term “dominion” over territory (all 4 cities), religion (lots of Bishops and Archbishops), and government (lots of Offices), to incentivise concentration on these objectives.

A major addition to the game - I could call it a clarification really - is that each Crown card and Prestige-carrying card in play has to be awarded or attached to a specific Noble. This simple mechanic means that we could include attractive Royal cards in addition to the Royal pieces - you can see from the Royal cards who has which Royal, and also add up the Prestige points because they’re all displayed in each Faction. As we were playtesting the new Prestige system, I introduced Prestige for major battles and sieges, which puts pressure on players to fight. I defined “major” as having at least one Office-holder on each side - so killing off little Scrope with just 10 of his own troops is insufficient; there have to be significant forces on both sides. In addition, the Major Battle or Major Siege card with the Prestige points must be awarded to a participating Noble. If he subsequently dies, his Faction loses that Prestige, which stresses that Prestige is a personal characteristic of a Noble, not an amorphous player Faction one.

Only a Faction’s “best” Royal piece counts for Prestige. For example, if you have the sole King you get maximum Royal piece points, but an additional Royal piece gives you no more Prestige (but he or she does operate as a reserve!). We needed significant playtesting to work out the various awards of Prestige points, particularly for the Royal pieces, and quite what the end game condition should be. The Chancellor of England started out with 2 Prestige, but this proved to be over-powered, as that Office is very powerful in its own right, so I decided that each Office should have 1 Prestige - it makes adding them up much easier. Each City carries 1 Prestige, so some cards that start out with control of a City, such as the Archbishop of York with York, and Constable of the Tower with London, will gain you 2 Prestige. Control of all 4 Cities grants a bonus of 4 more Prestige. It’s hard to gain control of the 4 Cities, and for this reason (as well as Andrew’s original decision) I didn’t upgrade Coventry to a City.

I particularly like this picture of Richard III, who has shaved his locks in preparation for donning his helmet and armour.

“Turtling in Calais” or similar shenanigans that tends to lead to stalemates or long drawn-out end games has been resolved by the simple expedient that a Faction cannot gain Prestige for Royal pieces that are not on the mainland of England and Wales. After all, skulking in a foreign court, or wandering around at sea, does nothing to persuade your potential subjects, especially your most powerful ones on whom you depend, that you can rule the kingdom.

The interplay of Prestige amongst the competing Factions meant that I was able to set specific targets for Prestige victory dependent on the number of players. To avoid a sudden death end, which felt wrong for the concept of prestige, and to increase the height of the game’s climax, if you have sufficient Prestige to win, you have to take the Prestige Victory card and hold that Prestige for a round against all comers.


Part of the design of the Prestige system is its implications for alliances. In the traditional game, alliances can be difficult to establish and very unstable, because the dynamic of victory is defined as a single Faction having the last surviving Royal, with no official victory for an alliance. With Prestige points, it is possible to prescribe victory for alliances as well as single player victory. Naturally, this required a lot of calculation and testing. Each Prestige Victory card specifies the final conclusion of that work.

For an alliance, only the allied Faction’s ‘best’ Royal counts, not all of them, so this does mean you cannot just add the allied Factions total Prestige values together. However, the game provides alliance markers for tracking each alliance’s joint Prestige, as well as the troop strength of the main allied army.

Alliances are more stable with the Prestige points system, I believe. Although the Prestige target for an alliance is greater than for a single player, the allied Factions not only pool their own Prestige (with the exception noted above), they also pool their ability to gain Dominion bonus Prestige. So, where an individual Faction might find it difficult to get the extra 4 points for holding all 4 Cities, an alliance might do that more easily. In addition, you can only break an alliance at the end of your turn, so your former allies have a chance to react before your next turn. This perception of alliance strength tends to hold allies together a bit more than in the original game.

The next post will be about the board, Parliament, and death of Nobles, all a little bit tricky in the original Kingmaker.


Kingmaker Kickstarter live between 26 September 2022 and 14 October 2022:


As someone who's interested in game design, I'm really looking forward to reading more. Thanks for sharing these insights.


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