Royals: Review

The cat-and-dog world is a place of fierce competition and subtle politics. At least it is in Royals, a full card game masquerading as a micro-card game by Level 32 Games. There’s no fire hydrants or butt-sniffing or boxes to play in in this game of political intrigue. See if Fairway comes out as top dog.

Royals is a two- to four- player card game that wraps up in just minutes. In the game, players compete for the most dominance points by establish consorts and plotting schemes. It is available for the bargain price of $9 from The Game Crafter.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. We weren’t sure what to make of the game at first: the game consists of just 34 cards and a very short rule book in a plastic container. A “game” consists of just dealing each player five cards and setting the remainder aside.
  2. Within those five cards, there’s some really interesting card-play choices.
  3. The game swings kind of wildly between hands, and could use some TLC, but it’s really clever the way it works out.
  4. Dog art!  It’s not quite the cultural triumph of Dog’s Playing Poker, but it’s adorable.

Game play ^

In Royals, players are trying to be the most player with the most domination points at the end of the game. Players earn domination points by playing cards from their hand into “consorts” and “schemes.” A whole game can wrap up in like five minutes.

To play, the deck of 34 cards is shuffled. Each player is dealt a starting hand of five cards. The game begins with a first player and proceeds clockwise until everyone has played all the cards from their hand.

Each card depicts a dog or a cat. The card has a title, a number of dominance points, a windfall, a number of supporters, and a scheme. Each card will also fall into one of two factions indicated by the frame: royalists (red) and imperialist (blue).

Image from Royals rule book

You will play cards from your hand in one of three ways: as a consort, as a supporter of a consort, or as a schemer. If you play a card as a schemer, you will place it face up, sideways in front of you. You will immediately take the effect written in the “scheme” box at the bottom.

If you play a card as a consort, you place it face up in front of you along with the number of “supporter” cards from your hand indicated in the “supporter” circle. When played this way, you will get the Dominance value of the consort card you played as well as the windfall. Generally, you will not score or get anything from cards played as supporters — though, there are cards that give you bonuses when played as a supporter.

That’s it. Once you play your card, play passes to the next player until everyone has played all their cards.

On the green ^

Cunning. Let’s start here: what a cunning little game. There aren’t really “easy” choices in the game and most cards provide you with some rich strategic choices: do I skip the points and undermine another player or do I take the points or is that other card going to be more valuable than this one and so I should keep it for support? There was also a decent variety of schemes and windfalls in the game. There’s a good amount of strategery to get to be top dog (or cat).

Always playable. It was also nice to see that even cards that weren’t “usable” for their schemes, dominance or windfalls in a particular hand, they still had a use: as supporters or more valuable cards.


Teachability and play time.
 This game is about as simple to teach as Love Letter: an example hand or two and players got the knack for it. Also, it plays really quickly: five or so minutes, maybe 10 at the start.  If you want slightly longer game, the rules even suggest adding a few extra cards to each hand.

Dog & Cat art.  We liked the idea that these were dogs and cats vying for power. Nicely played.

Player count?  It says for two to four players, but it’s unclear why you couldn’t play a game with as many as five or six players. There’s enough cards for that. I can’t see why it wouldn’t work.

Where it comes up short ^

Luck of the deal.  Since there’s so few cards in any given hand, it’s possible to get absolutely destroyed for no reason other than a terrible hand. No one seemed to care though. The games are so short, you can easily play two or three hands in which everyone gets a chance to win.

This issue did result in some players having difficult to do anything hands or simply no good way to play except to be a spoilsport or kingmaker.  But that had consequences for the next hand.

Balance. Again, we weren’t convinced that all cards fared as well as others. There might be certain combinations that turn out in favor of a particular card, but some cards were definitely more playable than others.  I really think that with a little TLC, these issues could be smoothed out.

Explications.  Some of the windfalls and schemes weren’t always crystal clear. For example, one card’s scheme says to nullify someone’s windfall. What happens if the windfall is a scoring thing (e.g., at the end of the game) when is it nullified? What happens if the schemer is removed from the game before then?  We crafted our resolutions to that: often if favor of the most punishing outcomes.

Really dark.  One thing we noticed, the cards printed really dark. I think that the game could stand to be lightened up from that perspective.

In the hole ^

Royals is a cunning card game.  With only 34 cards, and games using only five cards per player, Royals is portable and quick yet full of political intrigue. Since any given game lasts five to ten minutes, there’s lots of time to play two or three hands. The game is great as it is, and will probably become part of my bring-everywhere list, but I also think in the hands of a publisher and some extra TLC, this could be a fantastic game.  As it is, it’s available from The Game Crafter.  You should definitely snag a copy.

Royals is in the hole for a Par. ^

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