I have for a long time wanted to do a review of this game but I have not
ever really sat down and done it. So now I will attempt to do it
The playing pieces are made with the typical avalon hill style of care and elegance. The pieces are beautifully vibrant and full of colors and really take you back to your childhood when you imagined yourself galloping about in shining armor. The cards contain great illustrations of cathedrals, ships (not so beautiful), shields, soldiers and towns.
The map might be the issue in the components. It is full of problems. From the first glance you can't tell that there could ever be problems with it. But, when you actually sit down and play the game you suddenly realize that you're going to have to decide whether or not you can jump from this space to that one over there or if that estuary actually goes that far inland. But aside from that small defect the map board in my estimation is the best Avalon hill (and or any of the other various publishers of Kingmaker) has ever produced.
The Rules come in a rather interesting shade of pink which while one may wonder why this is the case I would say that it is because the kings and queens of England took the red rose and the white rose and put them in the same washing machine.
They are perhaps not the most easily understood rules. But, they are doable in that it is only 4 pages to tackle. After the basic rules (which are most often used) comes the intermediate rules and then the comes the advanced rules with it's indecipherable rules for advanced combat. I have never played an actual game with the advanced combat and I don't think my playing experience has suffered from it.
Another very interesting mistake is the fact that on the back of the rules the designers put an index and location of all the towns/cities. However every single last one of these coordinates is wrong! It puts most of the towns in the middle of the Irish sea. It's not the most helpful. And so instead of putting the odds chart on the back where it would be more accessible they put this list of coordinates that is defunct.
TO begin the play of the game 36 cards are dealt to the players and the players then march about England besieging castles and acquiring heirs to the throne. Which is personally not my favorite way of thinking about it. Because it makes the claimants of the throne look like mere puppets instead of political leaders. Which is why I would suggest looking at the variant of the rules which reverses the positions (I forget which General issue it’s in). Combat comes down to a simple matter of flipping a card. There is blessedly nothing else you have to do. There’s no strategy involved in combat. The only strategy in combat is prior to combat and that is a matter of figuring which cards to add to your nobles to give them more troops in hopes that you will change the odds of the battles outcome. That and choosing where to have a battle. Do I have it above it above the river Trent where I get 90 more guys? Or do I choose to move to Wales and fight this enemy on his own turf where he gets 200 guys extra?
The moral in this game is: if your enemy has the chamberlain of Chester of the county Palatine then don’t even think about going into Wales.
This game has probably only one serious flaw (everything up till now is just nit-picking) And that is its end game. Kingmaker can’t ever seem to end. It does usually at some point but only when people get fed up with how things are going on and decide to make foolish moves. But because of the locality of the different “office” cards. People who get extra troops in Wales tend to stick in Wales and people who get extra troops for being two spaces away from London tend to just tramp about in a little circle around London instead of marching off to fight. On the rare occasion that someone has a stronger army than anyone else on the board things don’t tend to end up in a stalemate instead the game just turns into a giant game of hide-and-go-seek with the smaller armies running around, jumping on boats, hiding in Calais and escaping time and time again by the skin of their teeth. Eventually the lion may trap one of these little mice and when he does that person dies a horrible death and many tears are shed. But, in a game where everyone ends up balanced more or less things turn quiet quickly into a time of peace. The war is still on but no one is moving about England. Everyone is waiting for someone else to move and no one is moving.
For this reason I would suggest that people play with a system where each town/castle counts for points at the end of the game so that people can wrap up the game a little quicker (I believe I saw some such list on one of the videos by the historygamer)
Now, all of this makes it sound like I dislike the game. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love this game. It is a permanent part of my childhood. A thing that occurs in other wargames is the occasion in which a player is eliminated from the game. In Kingmaker no such thing is possible. You can get killed 500 times if you like but you never leave the game. Sure, it’ll be a huge drawback and you likely won’t have a shot at winning. But, you never know with a game like this were there are more plagues floating around then there were in the bubonic plague anything can happen.
Another upside is that can regularly find people who are interested to play it. It’s not like playing Diplomacy or some such game where people’s eyes bug out and they look at you like you have the plague. This game definitely captures the feel of a war for the throne.
On a whole this game is extremely versatile and can be played by gamers of all ages (even 7/8 year olds) and the playing of the game never gets old