Board Game Review

Stealing a Dragon from Under Your Nose! (Cover Your Kingdom Review)

Ever been a part of an exclusive group? Nothing classy, but those sort of more… Cliquey groups – the ones you could make up through coincidence. You know the sort: the blue jumper crew, the cut our own bangs club, the one arm longer than the other squad. Well, these “groups” often flit from fad to fad, changing alliance as it fits their narrative of what’s hot. Cover Your Kingdom by Grandpa Beck’s Games is a game of collecting these groups, and enticing them from your opposers’ lands to yours. It’s a set collection, take that game for 2-8 players and is one that hit hard with both engagement and the hilarity. Here are our thoughts…

Gameplay

Cover Your Kingdom runs a simple narrative: your Kingdom has run out of magic. You need to entice clans of magical creatures to live in your realm to score points. Have the most points cumulatively when all cards are played to win. Simple right? Well, there’s more to it! Your kingdoms are in direct competition, as every kingdom’s magic has been depleted. A coincidence, no doubt, but it’s what drives one of the game’s main features. You can use creature cards to try to claim others’ clans. The game is entirely competitive!

Setup and Background

The game starts with every player taking six creature cards and a Kingdom Card. This is where their clans are stored and there are four spaces for these; two on highlands, two on lowlands. Clans are stacked here based on their preferred habitat, alternating in orientation from clan to clan. Creature cards come in more flavours than that, though! You have highland and lowland (or both) with specific location preferences, free creatures, and wild creatures. Generally speaking, creature cards are used to form clans when played in pairs to their locations. Free creatures work as action cards and are used to get an edge, and wild creatures are incredibly valuable trump cards with specific purposes.

Taking a Turn and Winning!

On a player’s turn, they can do two actions. They can form a clan by laying a pair to their own card. Free creatures can be played to cause a hindrance, or clan creatures can be used to claim someone else’s top clan. Players may also discard a card to claim a new card. Claiming a clan is done by playing a matching creature card to an opponent’s top clan. This can be competed against in turn, and wild cards may be played here. When one player cannot play to match or beat the number of cards played against them, they claim the laid cards and the clan competed over! Wild cards are always stacked under a clan creature card and join that clan.

At the end of every turn, every player draws back up to six cards. Once all cards are used and no one can play, everyone counts up their points and whoever had the most, wins!

How It Handles

Cover Your Kingdom is anyone’s game from start to finish. You can set yourself up nicely, get some clans stacked to protect those more valuable, but as the game progresses, your options to defend may dwindle. You’ve got to prepare for every eventuality by managing your cards right… because when things go wrong, players go from first to last in the blink of a round! The game’s incredibly fun and has a lasting effect on those after a game. Everything about it is accessible and it’s got a wonderful theme to it!

Talking Tactics

Initially, Cover Your Kingdom looks to be a draw and play game. You collect sets, play sets, collect points. So you’d assume a good draw of cards would be a winner, right? Basic set collection. Well, then you get scope to claim others’ clans. This means you can let them do the work, play a well timed creature, and claim their clan. Now there’s some take that… Throw in a whole host of Wild and Free creatures with varying abilities that affect clan stacks and cards and you’ve got a party!

How many cards you throw into a clan will affect both how valuable it is, and how well it can be defended. Should you slap every Uniquehorn into one clan from your hand, over a few turns that clan is going to be a gold mine… and you won’t be the only one to notice it! Suddenly, it’s the main target for greedy eyes. It only takes one well played attack, and another clan on top of the valuable Uniquehorn to make it lost. Not to advise, but keeping some cards in hand may do you favours!

Cover Your Kingdom kindly adds in some creatures that can be used in lieu of any others. The Spydra and Cerberussel Terrier. Without going into too much detail, these cards hold value in a multitude of ways! Not only are they worth a tonne of points, they also work in defensive plays. Should someone try to take your precious clans, you can combat that with either of these. However! Even these two have a tiering of quality. The Spydra is far more valuable, being worth two of any other card, but is less frequent across the deck also. Adding these to a clan in a defensive motion is a thing of beauty, but again, makes the clan a target. Poetically balanced!

Can We Have Pistols at Dawn?

Grandpa Beck’s Games has clearly taken a lot of time with this game and it’s inner workings. But one thing was clear whilst doing a bit of background research on this… The original says 3-6 players, not 2-8. Those extra two players aren’t my concern – it’s impossible to remember eight people’s names, six is a push. But reducing a game from three to two is an interesting change. Making a game a head to head isn’t always feasible, as it’s often the third player that causes a balance!

Luckily, Grandpa Beck took the care and time to devise a way for you to annihilate just one loved one, instead of the usual host of them. The two player variation of this game works, and it works well! Four extra decks, revealed one card at a time, work as public access decks. Either player can attempt to steal the cards as if they were parts of clans, but the other player can defend against this. There’s also less cards in play so the game runs quicker for that reason too. It’s stunning how similar the feel is to regular play, but also how fluidly it works without the extra noise from others. Games are close, and tactics are still readily available. An awesome variation!

But Is It Written In The Stars?

Cover Your Kingdom’s other notable variation includes the reverse side of the player mat, and the many tokens included in the game. This removes the cute lore and makes space for the tokens. You need to collect sets of each clan to gain bonus points by flipping the associated token. The complication added isn’t heavy, but adds emphasis to variety. Creature cards have different values, from 5-15, with wilds upping this further. So naturally, you’ll want some of the bigger and badder clans. Pigxies are for suckers when you’ve got a Bragon available! Well, not in this mode. Here, having a varied set of clans gives bonuses and makes them more desirable. It’s a small change that forces you to play more tactically, adding another little layer of challenge!

We choose to avoid this one out of our own play preferences. We’re more about point chasing take that over set collection. Removing the aggression isn’t a bad thing, but it didn’t fit us as well as expected. The scoring is also more complex here, too. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t introduce quadratics! But it scales with player counts. That’s not to say it’s not worth checking out. We can see the appeal of the extra layer of tactics and need to take on a smaller clan for a later pay off. It’s not our preferred game mode, but we can see why others may prefer it.

Are You Being… Punny?

It’s no lie, this game made us chuckle. A lot. We were once like you; we frowned at bad puns. Played it cool and ignored the genius of it all… Every creature is an off colour of a classically fantastical creature. And every card hosts some hilarious puns and spins on names. You’d be shocked as to how many Star Trek and Lord of the Rings references can be combined to make quality puns! And the Vulkents that associate to them are every so slightly unique too across their cards. On artwork alone, we fell in love with this game. The theme is friendly and fun, and presents itself as accessible to all players. Though you will spend time every-time you draw a card chuckling or saying “I get that reference!”.

Final Thoughts

Cover Your Kingdom is an incredibly versatile game with a vast number of variations. It has something to appease everyone’s tastes. What’s more is how well the game flows. It sits well on the table and always has you on your toes! Are you a target? Who has what? What’s the most valuable asset to “acquire”? Missing anything will no doubt make you miss out! There’s great quality in the game’s opportunities for players to interact. You could try to avoid all discussion and conflict, but it won’t work. The temptation of an easy steal is too much – greed trumps all. But it’s that constant interaction that makes the game so fun! We’ve held vendettas in game for those who have stolen from us, and rightfully so. Like the Mobgoblins would expect, it’s an eye for an eye in any magic kingdom!