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Kingmaker Developer's Notes - 6, Controversies?!

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

In this post, I'm going to look at some Kingmaker controversies that have arisen over the years. These will be my own personal views, as a result of playing the original games and the development process, and the Kingmaker The Second version reflects these. You may disagree!

Which fortified locations block roads?

“A piece which starts its move in a square which contains a Road, may move along that Road an unlimited distance, provided that the Road is not blocked by a Castle, Royal Castle, or Town on the Road and held by another player.” Ariel rules

“A Noble beginning his move in a square containing any part of a road may travel an unlimited distance along it as long as he doesn’t pass through a town, city or castle on the road (symbol printed over the road) which he or his faction does not control.” original Gibsons rules

The controversies with roads were twofold: "which fortified locations were on the roads", and "did neutral fortified locations block roads?" It didn’t help that many players didn’t read or didn’t remember the sections of the rules (above), compounded by the fact that the rules changed between the editions.

Out with the old: Ariel Shrewsbury and Tutbury on the left, Gibsons on the right

Typical of the first problem were the castle of Tutbury and the towns of Shrewsbury and Oxford. On the Ariel board Tutbury clearly does not cross the road at all, whereas it does on the Gibsons board. Oxford is similar; it clearly blocks on the Ariel board, but lays over only part of the road on the Gibsons one. Shrewsbury is a well-known problem, because the 2 roads to the east seemingly meet on the way to reaching Shrewsbury, thereby suggesting that the town doesn’t cut the road, but not definitively. There are also various places on both boards where roads might, or might not, touch into an area across a boundary. With the help of our artists, illustrators and layout specialists Stewart, Mat, and Diane, we have resolved these geographical issues on the new boards. All the cities now clearly dominate their local road network, as seems proper. Tutbury Castle, formerly owned by Hastings (though incorrect historically), has been removed entirely, thereby resolving that problem, and Hastings’ abode has been shifted to his castle at Ashby, upgraded from an unfortified town to a home castle. Technically, that’s Ashby-de-la-Zouch, but the full length name didn’t fit easily on the map, so it’s shortened to Ashby.

In with the new: Kingmaker II on the left. Classic on the right. Note that the Duke of Buckingham now has Stafford Castle rather than Newcastle, Hastings has Ashby rather than Tutbury, and you can just see Talbot’s new Blakemere, and the new South Wingfield for Cromwell. Classic map areas are different from Kingmaker II, because you’re counting Areas, and there’s an extra couple of purple lines on the KII map for Regional movement.

The second problem concerned fortified locations on roads that were not owned by any faction. Notice the difference between the two editions’ rules above - in the first, you can move along a road unless a blocking fortified location was held by another player, while in the second, you cannot pass through if your faction doesn’t control it. In the interests of more liberal movement, I have opted for neutrals to let you through in Kingmaker II, but have retained the Gibsons’ edition restriction in Classic. If the location is occupied by a potentially hostile faction, you can still negotiate passage for some present or future consideration - not enforceable of course.

Where do Noble pieces end up when capturing Royal pieces in fortified locations?

“A Royal Piece is controlled by a player when one or more of his Noble Pieces occupies the same Square, Castle, Town or City.” Ariel

“[after a siege] Any victorious Noble may end his turn inside the captured town, city or castle”...“A royal heir is captured by a faction when one or more noble counters of that faction occupies the same open area of a square, town, city or castle as the royal counter at the end of their move. If the royal counter is accompanied by another player’s Noble(s), they must all be defeated by combat in order to make the capture.” Gibsons

This was another piece of the jigsaw not well explained in either version of the rules, and it’s important because of Plague. If your Noble has to end your turn inside a town or city to capture a royal, they (and their new ‘master’) would be subject to Plague. If not, they can avoid those pesky bacteria. In the absence of a definitive answer, and in the face of corner cases, house rules abounded.

My view for Kingmaker II was that nobody likes to be forced to risk the random death of Plague, so my version enables Nobles and Royal pieces to end their owner's turn outside fortified locations that they moved into or captured in that turn. Bearing in mind that a round or turn represents a very variable duration (weeks or months at least), it seems reasonable to me that a bunch of Nobles could take London, meet and greet the King, and remove him and his entourage away from the capital without having to stay around for either the plague to catch him, or a rival army to turn up and besiege the city.

On the other hand, I took a stricter interpretation of Andrew’s rules for Classic. Here, the older rules strongly imply that a Noble has to be in the precise location (Square, Castle, Town or City) of the royal in order to capture him or her, and there’s no hint of sleight of hand to move the Noble out once movement or combat has been resolved. So, as in Kingmaker II, you must capture a Royal piece by entering a fortified location, but you’re not allowed out at the end of your turn, so must risk Plague or siege. Discussion with a range of players shows that this was a common interpretation, though not the only one.

What the heck does a game 'round' mean?

Undefined in the Ariel rules, and only briefly in the earlier Gibsons’, the word ‘round’ becomes important when you gain royals from both houses, or when you’re in an Alliance and cannot move or attack more than once in a ‘round’. This turned out to be relatively straightforward: we just needed a definition that works.

In fact, it’s even simpler for the ‘royalty from both houses’ difficulty. Here, you must, ahem, remove from play the royals from one house at the end of your next turn (Kingmaker II) or turn after that (Classic).

Alliances are the main messy problem, because you can declare an Alliance at any time, and in some options, break it at any time too. That causes a raft of ‘gamey’ corner cases. The main principle in all of the rules was that you cannot move or attack more than once in a ‘round’. The problem is where does a round start and where does it finish? Some players ruled that it started when declared, so ended at the same point in the next round. That felt very unsatisfactory, because it requires tracking in complex game situations, especially where you might have simultaneous or overlapping or changing alliances. I don’t believe that Andrew wanted this level of complexity and potential confusion. The Gibsons rules definition is: 'When all players have taken their turn a round of play is completed.' Following this guideline, coupled with a defined Starting Player (originally Chancellor or senior Archbishop or Bishop), we have a round as all players having taken a turn, beginning with the Starting Player. This has the benefits of simplicity and clarity, and with a Start Player marker, all players can physically see how a round flows. It might take a little getting used to for players who used a different method in the past, but our playtesting experience has shown that it works well.

An allied Force of 5 Nobles led by de Vere and Stanley attempts to take London from the Duke of Buckingham and Henry VI. They can only attack in either Blue or Pink’s turn in a single round, not both.

5, 6, or 7 players

“...from two to a recommended maximum of 10 or 12.” Ariel 1974

“... from 2 to a recommended maximum of 7 players.” Gibsons 1983

My experience of playing Kingmaker with more than 5 was a lot of downtime and a lot more chaos. For those reasons, I’ve pegged back the player count of Kingmaker II to 5 players. However, acknowledging that many players like playing at higher player counts, I canvassed opinions from a range of players. There was a reasonable consensus (a very strong majority) that more than 6 was problematic, even if technically feasible. So, we decided that we would use a 6-player limit for Classic. That also had the by-product of slightly reducing the cost of production, because each player has their own set of pieces - a useful innovation - but that was not a factor in this decision.

Ambushes – good or bad?

Kingmaker combat corner cases can cause carnage! In the ‘70s, games could get away with random ‘take that’ occurrences that modern games really cannot. In the original game, a player could attack a rival army with a solitary weak Noble (Scrope being a common example, for some reason) in the hope of killing off a tooled-up powerhouse, such as Mowbray with the Constable of the Tower of London (200 extra troops in the London region) or Neville with the Chamberlain of the County Palatine of Chester (200 extra troops in Wales), simply through them being named on the KILLED list on the combat resolution Event card. This happenstance was somewhat ameliorated by the optional Ambush rule that prevented Scrope from undertaking a full-blown battle, but allowed Scrope’s owner to kill the Noble at the foot of the KILLED list only. I’ve left Ambush as an option, but Kingmaker II simply disqualifies Scrope from attacking at less than 1-4 odds - he’s automatically captured instead. This has the merits of simplicity and reducing the very random bad stuff that can lead to a poorer player experience.

Town and City cards – troops or not; if so, how many?

I made one change stimulated by playtesting and house rules from a variety of play groups. This was the addition of 10 troop strength to Town cards, and 20 troop strength to Bristol for Kingmaker II. These additions make Towns like Ipswich and Lancaster of some importance, albeit relatively small, even though they don’t block roads, whereas with no troops, they dwindle to insignificance. I left the troop strength relatively low, so that it remains with the Nobles to provide each Faction’s main forces - in keeping with Andrew’s original vision. The other cities, London, Norwich, and York, don’t have troops associated with their City cards, because these are subsumed within the troop strengths of the Crown cards that control those Cities. For Classic Kingmaker, you can use replacement cards with no troop strength, though you remain at liberty to use the Kingmaker II versions if you wish.

I haven’t delved into the weeds of making these allocations historically accurate, partly because the historical evidence is difficult to come by, or in some cases completely lacking, and also because the numbers raised varied throughout the period, and depended on who was asking.

Next time: Kingmaker historicity!


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


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