Kingdom 18 & Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve: Preview

There’s a definite design limitation imposed on games that have only eighteen cards. Today, Fairway does a double review and takes a look at a pair of microgames coming to Kickstarter from Concrete Canoe Games: Kingdom 18 and Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve. The games are part of a promised, new series of games from the publisher aimed at small, light and fun games. Unsurprising, then, these two first games fit the series theme particularly well.

Today’s review covers two games. Both games will be available in an upcoming Kickstarter campaign by Concrete Canoe Games.  The first, Kingdom 18 by designer Jason Glover, is a two-player hand-building game in which players deploy diplomacy and might to establish control over the largest realm. The second game, Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve by designer and publisher Daniel Grek, is a two-player, tableau-building game in which players try to create the most valuable dungeon.

Kingdom 18

In Kingdom 18, two players are competing leaders vying for control over a new realm.  The game is played over a series of hands in which players use four cards to strategically bid for two face up realm cards.  These realm cards provide points at the end of the game and provide new cards for future hands.  When all the realms have been claimed the game ends.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The game is very fast.  I’d say that the estimated play time, 10 minutes, might even be on the high side.  Given the few cards in play, there are only five total hands played.  In some ways, the game ends almost too soon.
  2. The hand-building game is interesting. There is a tension between taking realm cards and earning the associated points, and cluttering your hand.

How to play ^

The game consists of only eighteen cards in three different decks: 2 starting player decks with four cards each and a deck of realm cards. To start, each player takes their starting decks which are identical and the realm deck is shuffled and placed in a draw pile.

Cards in Kingdom 18 are all divided in half.  Each half of card has one of the following sides: realm side (realm cards only), military strength, diplomatic strength, assassination counter, or defense counter.  For the realm cards, one half always has a realm side which is used for end game scoring and one half is one of the other types.  Military and diplomatic strength cards all have a value associated with them which will be added together to determine who controls a realm.  The assassination and shield cards are defensive. They’re worth no points by themselves, but will award the player the matching points played by the other player if played.  This is discussed more below.

Kingdom 18 is played over five hands.  At the start of each hand, players draw four cards from their draw pile — at the start this is just their starting hand.  In the middle, two realm cards are placed face-up between the players. In general, the object of each hand is to win the realm cards you want by having the most total value played on that realm card after two plays.  The total value is the combined score of military and diplomatic points (plus any bonuses).

To start a hand, players simultaneously play two cards from their hand face down, one in front of each realm card.   Once both players have played their cards, those cards are revealed. The current score of each realm card is only the side of the card facing the realm card.  Military and diplomatic points are counted.  If a player plays an assassination card and the other player played a diplomatic card, the points on the other player’s diplomatic card are added to the assassination player instead.  If a player plays a defense card and the other player played a military card, the points on the other player’s military card are added to the defense player.

After counting the scores, the players repeat this process for the last two cards in their hand.

The final realm scores determine the hand winner. Realm cards that were the result of a stalemate (equal scores) were simply discarded until the next game. But if a player scored higher than the other, the player took their spoils (any realm cards they won) and placed them in their discard pile with their current hand. At the start of each new hand, players draw back up to four cards.  If they don’t have any cards to draw from, their discard pile is shuffled and drawn from that.  In other words, realm cards will provide new powers over the course of the game.

The game ends after the fifth hand.  At which point, players count up their realm points. The player with the most realm points wins.

On the Green ^

Kingdom 18 is not a deep, 4X kingdom builder or even much of a deck builder. The game is too short for that. If this is your expectation, the game is not for you. Instead, there’s a clever little hand building game with a lot of other good-gaming fun packed in this package.

Strategic.  An interesting consequence of exactly equal starting hands is that players were forced to think about the other player’s plays as much as their own.  By the second round, you had a really good idea of which cards they were going to place where and forced you to figure out how to win (or keep them from winning).

Play time and portable. This game is great example of a game you can bring anywhere and play quickly. The set up and tear down make it good for a pre-dinner restaurant game. Place your order and play a few games before dinner.

Art and theme.  We really enjoyed the kindom building and art in the game.  In a way, the game brought a more strategic vision and theme to a standard game of war and packaged it up in 18 cards. And piggybacking on that, the art was reminiscent of a renaissance wood carving illustration.  Nice touch.

Where it comes up short ^

We had two issues with the version of the game we played.

The point spread.  First, the point spread on the realms often made it easy to tell the winner without getting to the end. I noted this to the designer/publisher, and they’re looking at making some changes to the point spread.  In the version I had played, the negative points on certain cards often meant that no one wanted these cards since it would put you too far behind to really catch up with the remaining hands.  And this penalty, especially late, meant it was too late to deploy the advantageous card.

Almost too short.  Second, and related, we thought the games ended too soon in some cases. This played out in a number of ways. For instance, cards gained in the last few rounds were unlikely to ever get played. So even if you acquired a helpful card, it wasn’t useful beyond it’s point value. And in the version we played, the best cards were worth negative points [publisher is adjusting the numbers]. So just as you start adding acquired cards to your hand, the game ends.

In the hole ^

Kingdom 18 is a good little game for those who enjoy having a game around to fill some time. The combination of small package, strategic card playing, and short play time makes this a good choice for diversion.  We proposed a few things that would help neatly round out the game and the designer/publisher took those suggestions under advisement ahead of the Kickstarter, so there’s some chance those changes will happen.

Kingdom 18’s combination of art, theme and quick play earn it a par. ^

Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve

Now we move from kingdom building to dungeon diving. In Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve, two players are adventurers who are trying to score the most experience by diving through the most dangerous (difficult?) dungeons.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The game is simple enough. Some of the revealing, hiding, swapping mechanisms used in the hands got a little confusing.  I’m sure that there’s opportunity to clean up the wording and the rules to make it clear.
  2. The game left us wanting some more actions to better develop our dungeon.
  3. The individual rounds played quickly enough, but individual games (up to a full 70 experience) could take awhile.  That was easily adjusted, though.
  4. We liked the art for the items and their corresponding powers.

How to play ^

In IBDD, two players take on the roles of competing adventurers in search of the greatest adventure.  The game is played over a series of rounds until one player reaches the required amount of experience.  At the start of each round, a deck of dungeon cards are shuffled.  Each player is dealt four cards (their starting dungeons) and four cards are placed face down in the middle.  Each dungeon card consists of a series of points and a special power.  The powers are used on a player’s turn when he or she reveals the dungeon card.  The points on the card indicate the number of experience the player would earn at the end of the round if it’s in their selected dungeon.

Each player plays their dungeon cards face down in the order that they want them.  While players can check their cards, they can’t re-arrange them once placed down unless they get a power that permits them to do that.

A round consists of four turns.  On each turn, players will take turns revealing one of their dungeon cards and using the corresponding action.  There are seven different dungeon cards and six different in-round actions. These six different cards let players swap cards in dungeons and do other actions to alter the state of the dungeons or to learn about face down card in an opponent or central dungeon. There is also one “Smiter” card which, at the end of the round, alters how the dungeon diving works.

At the end of each round, generally, players will reveal their dungeons.  They get the total number of experience points in their own dungeon. If the player has the highest valued dungeon, they also get a five point bonus.  If the player has the lowest point dungeon (of the three), they lose an additional five points.  This rule changes if someone has the Smiter in their dungeon.  In this case, before the cards are all revealed, the player can choose any of the three dungeons hoping that those dungeons have more points.  The other player can then choose any of the other two dungeons.

On the green ^

I think it’s inevitable that this game is going to draw comparisons to Boss MonsterBut outside the dungeon construction mechanism, this game stands on its own.

Dungeon building.  We really liked the back and forth competition for the best dungeons. In some ways, the game played a bit like Love Letter with hidden information, card switching, and the like.  In general, we thought this part was well executed.  If anything, we wanted more, see below.

Art.  The art is from Alisha Volkman and the individual dungeon inhabitants and items were cute and thematic. One thing we noted is that, while nice, the art assets seemed a bit undersized and not highlighted in the way we’d have wanted. For instance, the dragon looks small, not huge against the same backdrop as the Jiggler.

End round delve.  There’s something particularly rewarding in this game about the end-round reveal. There was just enough hidden information to make for a surprise. And the addition of the Smiter card, if kept concealed, was a nice touch that could swing any particular round.

Play time.  The number of rounds it took to get to 70exp varied from 5 to 7 rounds. Obviously games that saw players taking 20 points per round went faster.  It was easy to adjust the length of the overall game by just reducing the requisite number of experience.

Where it comes up short ^

Left wanting more. A bit like Kingdom 18, if anything, we were left wanting more options. For instance, there were left over cards each round and so it seemed to make sense that there’d be an option to add more cards to a dungeon. In addition, the revealing/hiding of cards left some mystery about what a player was doing, and so it would have been nice to have some way to add unknown set of cards into the game.

Rounds.  Also, a bit like Kingdom 18, each round felt shorter than it could have been. It was barely enough time to figure out where cards were to make informed decisions much less strategically align them or hide them from your opponent.  We would have happily traded number of rounds for longer rounds.

Theme. We understood what we were doing. But there was a light disconnect between an adventurer building a dungeon and making sense of how that adventurer was exactly re-arranging the dungeons.  This is unlike games like Boss Monster where you’re the boss building your dungeons to be attractive and yet deadly to those heroes.

Graphic design. I will say that the bright pink crystal cave isn’t exactly what we envisioned for a dungeon diving game. It was fine, but we were expecting something darker, grittier even if a bit on the cartoon side.  Similarly, the backs of the cards all looked like cave entrances. And when placed in a tableau, didn’t really look like a dark, unknown cave. Small, I know. And there’s probably still time to address both those issues before final production.

In the hole ^

We liked the pocket-sized version of a dungeon-building game. Individual rounds were good fun and the reveals exciting. While we wanted more options and slightly more per-round time to construct our dungeons, neither of those issues limited our enjoyment. This game lives up to its fitting title and is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection of microgames.

Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve is in the hole for a Par. ^

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