Kingmaker Developer's Notes - 3, Kingmaker The Second: The Board, Parliament, Random Death
This is the third post in a series about Alan Paull's re-development of Andrew McNeil's game Kingmaker for Gibsons Games. Posts: Basic Principles, Prestige, What to put in the box?, Teamwork!, Controversies, Scrope to Masham, Stuff we left out.
Much of the nitty-gritty development work involved minute examination of the original boards and rules. This was necessary to clarify the precise geographical locations of named places and the borders of “squares”, and to smooth out the inconsistent and unclear bits of wording, all of which have led to the need to interpret or re-interpret the meaning of both the boards and the rules in the past.
I could list out 26 map revisions where I have changed the position of places, or replaced one castle with another, more historically accurate, one. I would just note here what I stated earlier: Andrew had to combine noble houses together to make the game playable, castles represent areas where nobles had holdings, and not necessarily definitive castle ownership. So, I have tried to be careful to make changes only where they can be defended on historical grounds, and where they don’t affect game play. I regret that this still means that many noble families and many strongholds have not been included in the new version. For the board, the most important clarification is probably the road network. In the new version, London and Shrewsbury clearly control the roads in their neighbourhoods. Even though the routes around London were in reality more complex than our board suggests, this solution has the merit of simplicity, and gives London its historical importance. I’ve also moved Newark so that it sits on the Trent (it’s Newark-on-Trent after all), giving it control of entry into its area by road.
I’ve only introduced one new noble - De Vere, Earl of Oxford, with a new castle at Hedingham near Colchester. The De Vere family were important figures during the period, John de Vere, the 12th Earl being executed in 1462 for high treason as a Lancastrian schemer against Edward IV. The 13th Earl, also John, had a colourful career as a Lancastrian rebel against Edward IV, against whom he fought at Barnet, then as a privateer or pirate, finally after many an unlikely adventure joining up with Henry Tudor. He commanded the vanguard of Henry’s army at Bosworth, and was finally restored to his estates and titles when Henry became King. As one of the most powerful houses of the kingdom, the De Vere’s deserve inclusion.
When you look at the Kingmaker the Second board, you’ll probably notice immediately the purple lines on the map. These mark the boundaries of Regions for the new Regional movement method that replaces the traditional movement of nobles by “moving up to 5 squares”. This is possibly the most radical departure from Andrew’s original game. The reasons for it were fourfold: counting squares was problematic where the edges and corners weren’t crystal clear; some players always found diagonal movement counter-intuitive, especially if the lines didn’t join up squarely; the opportunities for final destinations were many, varied, and sometimes difficult to see, slowing down the game; and some of the “squares” were very small, too small really for a stack of pieces. While Regional movement - go into any Area in your piece’s current Region or an adjacent one - looks very different at first glance, a careful design of the boundaries results in very similar outcomes compared with 5-squares movement. In other words, the number of turns of movement between the vast majority of places hasn’t changed. In addition, there is now a lot of space for the game pieces in each Area, because I’ve been able to increase their size, as their role is no longer to regulate the detail of movement, just where your pieces start and end. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at how well this change has been received by the vast majority of playtesters.
While I do like Andrew’s Parliament system overall with its strong leaning into the power of the King or the Queen Regent, I felt that Writs of Summons cards made the ability to call Parliament rather arbitrary in too many games. Without a Writ, you cannot call Parliament, and getting one relies on the draw of an Event card, or occasionally a trade with another player. In playing over the years and playtesting early in the development process, I found that player frustration suggested a revision, so that negotiation about Parliament could concentrate on the spoils of the Parliament rather than Writs.
In Kingmaker the Second, there is a Clamour For Parliament Event card somewhere in each quarter of the Event deck. Whenever it is drawn, you place it in its space on the board. While this is in play, an eligible Faction (usually with the sole King) can call Parliament in a suitable location. The caller must summon a Noble from a rival Faction to the Parliament (like you used to do with a Writ, but no Writ required). Then, Parliament proceeds as per Andrew’s rules (Parliamentary voting is included as an optional rule). Once Parliament has finished and the one round of King’s Peace in its Area has also concluded, you remove the Clamour For Parliament card.
This method means that the availability of Parliament to the monarch’s advisers is known within limits, but not entirely predictable. It is less likely that multiple Parliaments will be called in quick succession - though you can stack Clamour cards if needed! - but Parliament is likely to be available to a monarch’s advisers at some point during the game.
Reducing Random Death
The earlier Kingmakers suffered a little from what I have termed ‘random death syndrome’. These were caused in particular by Plague and by the random KILLED lists when drawing a card for combat results. Andrew acknowledged that death by plague amongst the upper classes in the 15th century was not as common as all that. And while a random crossbow bolt in a siege, or a fatal fall from a horse in battle, were genuine occurrences, as game mechanisms they lack finesse, especially if several notables are laid low through the same event.
To spare the players some of these calamities, I have toned them down; now, you only lose one Noble (your best one in the affected stack) from a single Event card, rather than all of them. If you lose a battle or siege, all your Nobles are still captured by your opponent and can be killed or ransomed. However, if you are unfortunate enough to lose Nobles, via our ‘Rally to the Cause’ rule, you gain 1 new Crown card for every 2 such cards removed from play. It is less difficult with this rule, though I would say not necessarily easy, to recover from a heavy defeat, which is in keeping with the history of the Wars.
Next time: what’s to put in the box?
Kingmaker Kickstarter live between 26 September 2022 and 14 October 2022: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kingmaker-rerelease/the-royal-rerelease-of-kingmaker/