Recently my wife and I tried out The Realm as a two player game for the first time in the play testing process. She played the Averones, a family known for the average stats of its members, allowing for a certain flexibility of play. I played the Borgions, a family that possesses strength in arms and intrigue at court. We decided to play a six turn, or month game, as we had little idea what to expect playing with only two players. The only change I implemented to the base rules was having the Border Fortifications start in play. This was to mitigate the lower number of characters that could be sent to the Borderlands.
The Game Begins
My strategy for this game was to take advantage of the Borgion’s higher prowess for purposes of dominating the tournament and thus in all probability the glory track. I looked to ensure this situation by taking control of the early agenda at court and passing the Blood for Glory law which makes all rounds of the tournament to the death. I figured that she could not risk sending her characters to the tourney at all as she could not afford to have them die if defeated. This worked in the second round of the game and I thought the table was set for my cruising to an easy victory. I was wrong. She then loaded court with sufficient votes to pass the law “Chivalry” which switches the starting player determining track from influence to honor and gives a bonus in victory points to the leader on that track. Given that the Borgions are not known for their honor, and the Averones are well suited to loading the Borderlands with defenders, it quickly became apparent that I would very likely be going second for the remainder of the game. This left only influence up for grabs and I was forced to send characters to court that I would have preferred to send elsewhere. Sadly, my beautiful plan for glory through the tournament was ruined and I spent most of my time at court, the borderlands, and the temple.
The last three turns of the game led to an interesting set of events that wildly effected the final outcome. With three turns to go Heather proposed at court that a Royal Feast be held next round. This would see to it that no business would be conducted, our family leaders must attend, and protect her law of chivalry from my efforts to repeal it. I normally would have had sufficient cunning to prevent this action, but I was forced to go on the quest as the Vampire card had been turned up at the end of the last turn. If the Vampire is the active quest, and it goes without being attempted, all characters suffer a -2 to their prowess scores. Any character whose prowess is reduced to zero or less may take no action until the vampire is challenged. Seeing how two of my family members would be unable to perform any actions and hers would all be fine I was left with no choice but to take on the vampire. Due to the nature of the quest and the characters I had available this required me to get lucky on the quest destiny draw. I had around a 35% chance and got there! Whew!!! If I had failed it very well could have been game. However, with one of my characters off questing she succeeded in passing the Royal Feast. During the next game turn I refused to send my leader to the feast and was penalized on the honor track for disrespecting the king. I figured she had honor wrapped up anyway and my leader had other business that required attention. When the time came to resolve the borderlands the threat was the Pit Fiend. An enemy that not only requires prowess to defeat but a minimum piety to be present as well. We did not combine for the necessary piety and the realm was overrun! This was the first time this has happened in play testing so we laughed and were kind of excited, but quickly realized that it would have a massive impact on the game. When the realm is overrun, all other areas after the borderlands, except for the temple, do not resolve their actions, but rather the characters are returned home and their destinies are discarded! The temple still resolves, as it is considered to be far away in the holy land, but the characters assigned to the pilgrimage do not, and are returned home. As this occurred on the next to last turn it meant that no further destiny would be retrieved from the temple for the rest of the game as pilgrimages would not have time to arrive in the holy lands. Couple this with the cancellation of the Royal Feast at court, meaning it would be in effect next turn, we found that there would be very little to do on our last turn. Given that I had the glory and influence tracks locked up, along with a decent lead, I chose to do as many actions as I could that required no destiny as the current endgame scoring had players totaling their remaining destinies for victory points. These plays positioned me to have my entire destiny deck back and ready for scoring at game’s end, and due to Heather being unable to start a pilgrimage last turn, in possession of a sizable advantage.
After victory points from the tracks, characters assigned to the pilgrimage, and total gold were counted, I had a massive victory for the Borgions. The wide margin did not clearly show how close the game had been as most of the points I scored were due to my having all of my destiny cards. Heather, having missed out on retrieving hers due to the realm being overrun, had significantly fewer to score and thus fell hugely behind as a result of this one factor. However, this made me realize that the swings possible by scoring a player’s entire destiny hand were far too great and would have to be reduced in future versions of the rules or risk having it nullify the rest of the game by being such a massive opportunity for point gain. Despite the fact that this conclusion ripped my newly minted endgame rules to pieces, I considered it the most valuable play testing session yet. I had concerns about the viability of The Realm as a two player game, but it played smoothly and eased my fears. I finally got to test end game conditions and even though some changes will be needed, I now have some practical experience to draw from and can adjust the rules without relying completely on guess-work.
Observations and Concerns
Seems to play just fine as two player game.
Starting the two player game with Border Fortifications in effect worked well.
The adjustments to the laws have balanced them, but they remain a powerful weapon.
The Averones may be a little underpowered and require a slight boost to their attributes.
Endgame scoring needs redone again. This time with a lessened value placed on remaining destiny.
Need to tighten up the wording of rules related to destiny retrieval and the realm being overrun.
Having now tested with Two players I need to test with more than three.
I am a little concerned that it may be too hard for a player to come from behind. Only further testing will show this for sure.
All in all, I am very pleased with the progress of “The Realm” and feel like it is getting pretty close to being completed!