This review is also dictatorially available on Zatu Games, here!
Making decisions is hard. And long. And difficult… In fact, being an adult is torture. You need to consider everyone around you and the impact your choices will have. You can’t just put your bins out whenever you want as the local folk will be in uproar at the smell. Nor can you resolve all conflicts of interest with sword fights because some might get hurt. On the flip side, you can eat pancakes for every meal, so it’s not all bad. But decisions, for the most part, are tricky because of their impact on the world around you. The King’s Dilemma by Horrible Guild is literally a game of influencing decisions. You work against your opposing houses to influence the king’s decisions regarding the trivial all the way up to the big choices. It’s a legacy game for 3-5 players that takes around 45 minutes to play.
How To Play
The King’s Dilemma is a legacy game played over around 15 games with multiple alternative happenings and outcomes. Players may play more games through decisions made, but the average is 15. Every event is influenced by the decisions of the players, with players acting on behalf of either the good of the kingdom or their own interests. Players all represent different houses with different ideals and morals. Some are centred on specific outcomes in the people’s interests. Others are opposed to particular changes, people or distributions of wealth. Although these won’t necessarily reflect a player’s own beliefs and ethos, the more a player can get behind their objectives the better they’ll do.
This game makes players question their own moral decisions and drives them to make uncomfortable decisions. It may not be for those who are easily upset or find particular practices from the feudal ages hard to discuss. Players are advised to remember that it is just a game, and does not reflect your own decisions and choices. Being detached from your own morals and beliefs will enable you to claim victory over your opponents.
Each game is set in the reign of a king. Players need to influence his decisions in a way that will benefit both their house and meet their secret agenda for the game. Players do this by placing power into Yay or Nay vote cards. Money can also be used to influence other players to change their votes or lean a particular way. Players vote Aye or Nay on a dilemma to determine the outcome, with the unanimous vote winning and the tie being broken by the current Moderator. Alternatively, players can Pass in order to claim a share of any power left in the balance collected from previous successful votes.
In the first game of The King’s Dilemm, players need to choose one of the 12 houses to represent. These stick with them throughout their campaign and their decisions stick with them. Each game, players gain an amount of money and influence that they can use to manipulate outcomes. They also gain a secret agenda card, determining the outcome you want for each of the kingdom’s traits. Players win or lose a game based on how well they can meet their agenda, and how well they can meet their house’s ethos and reputation. However, some decisions have game altering impacts in terms of responsibility. Being in charge of the round when a decision (the Leader) is made may result in a sticker being placed on the board, determining whether you gain a beneficial or detrimental token that impacts you at the start of each game.
Set Up and Structure
During any dilemma, the Leader reads the dilemma card and begins the voting by placing influence on their Yay or Nay card. Any amount of influence can be played by any player, but being the top bidder results in you becoming the Leader and opening a new round of voting. Ties are broken by the Moderator player, meaning they can have a bias. Alternatively, players can vote to Pass by placing a coin from the reserve on their card. This will enable them to claim a share of the power tokens from previous successful votes but gives them no chance to sway the vote. Or, they can pass and claim the Moderator token. They won’t claim more power but will remain Moderator for the remainder of the round and then on until it is claimed again.
Each game of The King’s Dilemma centres around several dilemmas supporting an overarching story, following one king’s reign from the royal bloodline. The history being developed as decisions are made is shown through stickers being added to the board. These have lasting effects and will influence how players may want to vote outside of their agenda’s and houses. Often, the repercussions or benefits gained are tied to the Leader who enacted them. These are open agendas, and let all players know of any bonuses they may gain in the end game scoring based on trait positions.
Every resolved dilemma influences the kingdom’s resources and changes in game narrative. Some are more morally, story rich to adjust resources, others impact the game in a wider way. Reducing and increasing resource tracks destabilises the stability track, meaning the king’s reign weakens. Some dilemmas introduce new ones for later games or instruct players to open special envelopes to add more elements to the game or unlock lost lore. As players resolve dilemmas, they will either have the king abdicate from being a poor ruler, have the king be forced to “disappear” as his nobles and allies will be too powerful, or the king will have a chance of dying and ending the game every dilemma after seven have been resolved.
How It Handles
The King’s Dilemma is a legacy game like no other I’ve experienced. Heck, it’s like no game I’ve ever played! s an experience, it is unique in itself and drives players to role play without consciously knowing they’re role playing. You’ll be arguing around the banquet table endlessly, pointing fingers, pleading and disagreeing, all whilst the king hopelessly listens in and nods with the majority!
The Loudest Voices, Win!
The King’s Dilemma is a social game, through and through. Not just any socialisation, though. Passionate determination to succeed. The game provides the theme, components and scenarios, players provide the attitude. They bring the sass. They, inevitably, bring the noise! And that noise is the thunder fuelled rage of being incredible biased. Morals? Throw them out the window. Friendship? Get rid of that too. Manners?… let them stick around – just in case. But ultimately, you’re going to be trying to get your way around a table where you’re not sure what everyone wants. Whether they’re morally driven or driven by objectives, there’s little chance everyone’s ideals will align.
Players need to balance out how they’ll get the most out of each dilemma by managing their influence tokens, coins and relations with players. Having someone’s word is a powerful thing, but you can also “encourage” people to have your back. Deals cans be made formally or informally. Formal ones involve an giving a player a coin and they have to stick to the deal. It’s the rules and is the only resource that can change hands to be set in stone. An informal deal is more of a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of arrangement. They support your vote, you’ll support theirs later. These aren’t set in stone, and are high risk… but with no stakes exchanged. You’d assume your friends wouldn’t betray you, but these aren’t your friends. They’re nobles vying for power, and they’re bloodthirsty for it.
From game to game, people remember what you did and what you’ve done. If you stabbed someone in the back, or the front if you’re just that ballsy, it’s unlikely folk will want to have dealings with you. The King’s Dilemma is a social deduction come role playing game jacked up to 11. Your actions in game four may haunt you until game nine, hindering your houses progress at every turn. But that’s not the game’s making. That’s the social construct created by the players.
Those Tricky Decisions Won’t Haunt You!
I’ve rarely experienced a game that put me in a genuinely awkward moral dilemma. Generally speaking, I’m usually quite good at detaching from my own beliefs and biases when roleplaying. Sure, there’s a line, but it’s super rare for any game to push that. However, The King’s Dilemma is very smart in how it forces players to address these and consider them. It’s never as black and white as let people steal or don’t let them steal. There’s always a much bigger picture to consider and think about. After all, not every quandary will be presented to the king!
Whenever you’re taking on the big problems, you’ll have to consider a few perspectives. Your house’s; what does your house ethos and ethic prefer? The agendas you’re associated to; will this be beneficial to you? The good citizens’; will it help them prosper? Then your own morals; do you agree with the possible outcomes? Many of the more morally pushing problems you’ll face will make you look at the big picture.
As an example – not from the game to avoid spoilers – a blacksmiths guild from another country wants to trade rare smithing techniques with our country. The issue? The country in question is not as ethical and still conducts regular human sacrifices to appease their sky gods. The benefit is that the country will gain trade and advanced weaponry in the long run. The down side? We’d be trading with those who openly conduct barbaric practices. Do we want to show our citizens we accept these acts? Do you want to be associated to it? How might this look to our other trading neighbours? It’s a fair bit to consider, but it makes it thematic. Being able to step out of your shoes and into your noble’s will let you benefit with scoring. You’ve just got to remember it doesn’t reflect on you as a person.
Being In Charge, Forcefully!
Each house has a different agenda and preference to how they’d like things to go. More conservative houses won’t want the people fraternising with outsiders, whereas more progressive ones will open the doors to every Tom, Dick and Harry! How you achieve these outcomes is done in game, but your house determines your wants. These aren’t obligatory, but scoring lends better if you can run the role prescribed. Each house has independent objectives associated to them, including a narrative achievement. These can be completed at the end of any applicable game and grant bonuses. These may be instant points or consistent buffs to certain actions and so are worth chasing. Moreover, they’ll lend themselves to giving you a direction for the overarching campaign.
Controlling the Reins
The secret agendas determine a house’s scoring outcome for a single game. They’ll require you to have the resources of the kingdom in particular situations at game end when the king kicks the bucket. Prestige and Crave are earned based on whether it’s a good or bad thing for you, respectively. Needing there to be an overall shortage, however problematic it may be morally, may be the thing that mega you the big victory. Tie that into the open agendas too and you’ve got a lot to juggle, so it can be easy to lose sight of your house’s ethos. Being a house belligerently intolerant to fun but voting to allow everyone to party until gone 11PM won’t suit, nor help, you in the longer run. But it may mean that during that game you’re able to throw a festival that cashes in on your secret and open agendas nicely! The people may even start a public holiday in your name.
With this in mind, The King’s Dilemma forces you to choose which of the three strings you’re tied to to follow. Whether it’s the secret agenda for that game’s bonus, the open agenda for the sway to avoid or gain bonuses, or your house’s own agendas. Two shorter term, one long one. Either way, the decisions made are final and impact all players inevitably… I found that, sometimes, voting against my own needs to spite someone else was the best recipe for revenge. No one crosses House “Big Win 9000” and gets away with it. No one.
In A Nutshell
The King’s Dilemma is a game strong in theme, immersion and player interaction. It goes hard on telling a story and let’s players take the reins, reaping what they sow in their greed driven search for power. Every choice matters, every action has consequence and the people will remember your houses’ legacies. No matter the story they tell. If you’re not one for a bit of roleplaying or making those hard, challenging decisions, this isn’t for you. It’ll make you fight for a cause you may not personally agree with or have an opinion of. It’s not to the deep end of role play, but you’ll slip into the role very quickly!
If you’re wanting something deep and meaty to get your teeth into, but is surprisingly easy to get behind, The King’s Dilemma is perfect. Story telling, history and world building, voting and the right amount of arguing make for an exceptional experience build over several games. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my experiences with The King’s Dilemma, and would recommend it if you’re used to legacy games and need the next big thing!