It has been quite awhile since I have the chance to work on The Realm. I have been in a bit of holding pattern as I develop the variable family powers and family specific castle actions I discussed in the last post. In addition, I simply have not had the opportunity to get any playtesting sessions in the aftermath of Gen Con as everyone has new goodies to play with. However, last Sunday I was able to get in a couple 2 player games with my friend Nick Garwood. It was his first time playing, so we stuck with the base game rather trying to introduce the new elements. I was excited for Nick’s feedback, as he is an experienced gamer with interesting tastes and perspective. Plus, he specifically requested to play The Realm, and a little enthusiasm never hurts.
After explaining the game, which took about 40 minutes, we randomly drew for our families.
Nick would playing the Croesians, an ancient family known for it wealth and influence, both at court and in the church.
I would be once again playing the Borgions, known for their cunning machinations at court as well as their ruthless pursuit of power.
We decided to play a 6 month game for learning purposes. As it was a 2-player affair the Border Fortifications began the game in play. With the Borgions influence of 6 I began the game as starting player. Money was handed out and the game began.
Given the great advantage in prowess that the Borgions hold over the Croesians in prowess, I figured that a wise strategy would be to dominate the Tournament and Borderlands and seek victory through honor and glory. I know it is not normally the Borgion way, but one does what one has to.
Nick was very interested in the law deck, and wanted to use political power to make up for his family’s lack of strength in combat. His first order of business was to pass the law Inquisition, which only allows characters with piety greater than 5 to be placed at court. His reasoning was that I only had one character that could be sent to court with an inquisition in effect and that he could then pass other, more damaging laws unopposed.
We jousted over the various hirelings, both for their useful effects and the value of delaying the placement of a character for strategic purposes. This seems to be an interesting feature of the 2-player game, in that players seek to place after each other while in games with more players it is crucial to get into areas before the good spots dry up. I am not sure if this is a bad thing, but it simply an observation of how the game changes based on the number of players.
In the second round the first quest card was revealed. It was the Unicorn, which is less of a quest and more of a positive effect for the entire realm. It may be tamed and taken as a mount by a female character, or it may be killed and its horn taken as magical item at great dishonor to the killer’s family. If the unicorn remains unchallenged it increases the number of destiny cards that a character receives at the temple due its presence being a blessing to the realm. We were both quite pleased with its positive effect and it remained in play until the end of the game despite a last turn effort by Nick to kill the Unicorn for its horn in hopes that it would give him and edge during in the tournament as he was simply out gunned in the lists.
Through some sneaky play and use of the of the courtesan I was able to repeal the Inquisition law and essentially undo Nicks first turn. With my continued dominance of the tournament and strength in the borderlands I was quickly pulling away in all three categories. (Honor, Influence, and Glory)
In the fourth round Nick attempted to kill the Unicorn in a desperate move, but his plans were crushed when the Unicorn instead smote his would be murderer. The death of a character, my lead on all three tracks, and my admission that I would happily allow the borderlands to fall so that I could ride out the game with a protected lead was too much and Nick conceded.
He wanted to play again immediately, always something a game designer wants to hear, and we reset the board and chose new families.
In the second game Nick played the honorable and warlike Kriegers.
In the second game I played the philosophical and scholarly Averones.
The game was set up to be a classic showdown of brains versus brawn. I had no doubt the Kriegers would dominate the tournament and attempt to control honor at the borderlands. I intended to concede glory and focus 100% on honor and influence and use my greater cunning at court to pass targeted laws to punish the Kriegers.
The game began in exactly that fashion. I passed the law commissioning the construction of a cathedral which cost the Kriegers money that they could ill afford and would be able to cut way back on my family’s pilgrimages. In essence, this move would gain me actions over the Kriegers as he would still have to send characters to the holy land to regain sufficient destiny cards to compete. All was going perfectly until the second turn when the quest was revealed as the Cyclops. This monster prevents activity at court if unchallenged, by throwing boulders at the keep. As the Kriegers had no interest in doing business at court it was going to be up to the Averones to deal with this problem. Unfortunately, the odds of a successful attempt at defeating the Cyclops by an Averone are extremely long and I delayed taking this important risk. I was ahead in influence and figured I could hold on to that and compete for honor at the borderlands while buying extra at the temple by tithing. This was a terrible mistake as Nick was able to out maneuver me into placing characters at court despite no actions resolving. He stole the influence lead and took starting player. This meant he was able to hire the sellsword every turn before I could and prevent me from sacrificing it to the Cyclops. I failed to properly recognize my grip on the game slipping away until it was too late. Like Nick in the first game, I conceded at the end of the fourth month. There was simply no way to recover in the time remaining and I admitted defeat.
Following the second game we discussed several issues regarding the events of both plays at great length. First off, Nick really enjoyed the game and expressed interest in playing again, but with more people. I told him was a little surprised by his enthusiasm given that the core mechanic is worker placement and he is not a big fan of Agricola. He smiled and said, “This game is nothing like Agricola. It has a freaking tournament!” He loved the idea of tournament, law making, and the thematic elements of the quest area. It was really great to see how much fun he had playing The Realm, and it made me glad to be back in the groove on its development.
The positives that we discussed:
He was a big fan of the tournament.
He enjoyed the creation of laws and agreed with me that they still required some balancing.
He liked they flavor added by the various quest, but he felt, and I am starting to agree, that the impact of some of the monsters may be too great. I will consider further changes to maintain the awesome thematic feel of the quests, but lessen their realm wide effects and as such lessen the randomness in the game.
He was also a big fan of the hirelings, and like some of the other testers, inquired if I was planning on adding anymore in the future. As of right now, I am uncertain whether I will be adding more hirelings or not.
All in all, he said it was a lot of fun, and could not wait to play it with more people and the new family specific actions and traits.
The concerns we discussed:
The turn order monster is still rearing its ugly head. I am considering a few options for changing it from purely influence or whatever attribute it may have been switched to via laws. Perhaps a destiny bidding phase at the start of each month would help to solve the problem.
Realm wide effects of unchallenged quests may be too extreme. Looking to lessen the effects while keeping the quests for flavor.
Quest assigned rewards. Still considering a royal treasury from which a character completes a quest chooses an item from any available.
The first edition of family traits and castle actions have been completed. They will require a great deal of playtesting and in the end may not even be playable in a two player game.
I am working assigning game elements to exactly the right phase and the best order for their resolution. By doing so, I am attempting to stream line the rule book and thus the learning process.
In conclusion, it was another successful and fun playtesting session of the Realm. I am looking forward to trying out the new elements during the next game. It will be very interesting to see how they play out!