This past Friday night – at the weekly “game night” gathering my wife and I host – we sat down to play the prototype of Warring Kingdom: a tactical deck-building game currently offered on Kickstarter from designer/publisher Harry Gao (you can catch my interview with Harry on the Week in Review podcast).

Overview

Warring Kingdom begins with the basic elements of a deck-building game. The final version will contain around 300 cards. Piles are placed in the middle of the table to buy from using “coin” cards as payment, each player starts with a deck of 10 pre-determined cards, hand size is 5, and at the end of your turn you discard everything and re-draw. If you’ve played Dominion or other basic deckbuilders these elements should be quite familiar. The similarities end there.

Warring Kingdom is really a game of tactical deployment and direct player to player conflict. Each player begins the game with a castle. Destroy an opponent’s castle and you win the game. In front of your castle you have 10 “slots” where your units may be deployed (arranged in two rows of five). Each turn you can deploy one of your units to this area or equip an existing unit with a weapon, armor, or other item. Cards deployed to your combat zone remain in play from turn to turn instead of being shuffled back into your deck. These units both defend your castle against opposing threats and can be sent on the offensive against an enemy castle. Beware – deployed units that are wounded in combat are sent to your discard pile, but occasionally they will receive a critical hit and be permanently removed from your deck.

Most unit cards in Warring Kingdom have actions you can take on them. Each turn you may take one action, and actions on these cards can be used two ways: If the card is in your hand you can discard it to perform the action (similar to other deck-builders). However, if you first deploy the card in front of you then it’s action becomes available to use each following turn – at least for as long as you can keep the unit in play. This gives you good incentive to play out the cards in your deck. However, units with the strongest actions are the civilian units that are easily killed by enemy soldiers – therefore you will need to deploy your own soldiers in defensive positions if you want to keep your civvies alive to expand your options and keep your deck lean.

Sample cards from the expansionCombat is the crux of the game. On your turn your can make an attack on an enemy castle. Units are deployed in a tactical formation (again, two rows of five), and each player in a combat has the chance to deploy reinforcements and arrange their formation prior to the start of battle. Dice are then rolled to determine which units will strike – applying their attack value to wound enemy units. Due to the roll of the dice some units may not be activated, while others may receive two or more strikes in a single round. Any rolled sixes are used as “critical hits” converting wounds into fatal blows (the unit is returned to the supply rather than discarded). After each round of combat the attacker can discard coins from his hand to continue the fight if he/she wishes.

Conclusion

We had a bit of a rough start playing Warring Kingdom as there was some confusion over the rules. Part of this was my fault – I skimmed over a paragraph and missed an important clarification on the combat rules. There was also an area where the rules weren’t quite clear (though they were elaborated in an example, which I failed to read until halfway through the game). In the designer’s defense the combat rules are really quite intuitive – had I not misread the rules initially (sending us in a wrong direction) there probably wouldn’t have been an issue. NOTE: In my interview with Harry earlier this week we discussed this particular problem. The rulebook is still going through editing and Harry is attempting to ensure it as difficult to mis-interpret as possible prior to publication. 

Whereas the rules are quite intuitive the strategy of Warring Kingdom isn’t immediately obvious. It was near the end of the game before we begin to realize the advantages of keeping weak units deployed, strategic placement of soldier units, etc. This is a plus in my opinion – the game seems to offer a good depth of strategy – enough to keep gamers interested for multiple plays. At our table everyone wanted to play it again when we finished the first game. Sadly, due to time constraints we were not able to – but I hope to get it to the table again at an upcoming game night.

Overall we really enjoyed Warring Kingdom once we got the hang of it. My friend (a very forward hater of Dominion) expressed “This is what Dominion should have been like”. That pretty well summed up the mood at the table. Warring Kingdom takes the basics of a deck-builder game and adds the player interaction that was sorely missing from the original batch of deck-builders.

Warring Kingdom is on Kickstarter now – but as of this post in only has a few days to go. A $37 pledge will get you the complete game, or $50 for the game + the first expansion.