Saturday, 11 April 2015

Kingsport Festival

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Kingsport Festival is a remake of Kingsburg with a completely different setting and some changes in gameplay. It is now Cthulu-themed. You play cultists rolling dice to pray to the elder gods, the Old Ones. They give you stuff to help you expand your influence in the town of Kingsport, which gives you special abilities as well as victory points. The game is played over 12 rounds, and whoever scores highest at game end wins.

The twenty large square cards on the right are the elder gods, numbered 1 to 20. At the start of every round, each player rolls three dice. You take turns placing your dice on the elder gods to invoke them. Each elder god specifies the exact total dice value required to invoke it. Also, it can only be invoked once per round. This is worker placement. Players can and will block each other. You can invoke a god using all three of your dice, or just two, or even one. However you need to consider whether you will be able to place your remaining dice on your next turn, since the spots you want may be claimed by others by then.

You get various types of resources when you invoke the gods. In game terms they are something like death, violence and tentacles, but I tend to think of them as wood, stone and iron. Every round you may spend resources to expand your influence to one new area in Kingsport. To me it's a little like constructing a new building, so I naturally think of building materials.

The main board on the left is the town of Kingsport. You always start with establishing influence in the house at the centre. Thereafter you can expand to areas adjacent to those where you already have influence.

Every area specifies the cost (icons with spikes) of establishing influence, the victory points awarded (green circles with a star) and the special abilities awarded (text). When you establish influence you place a disc of your colour in the area. The graphic design is dark, and it's hard to see the discs of the black and purple players. I bet you didn't see the black tokens at first glance.

Throughout the game, a semi-random investigator turns up every three rounds to investigate the suspicious events in Kingsport (i.e. the dodgy stuff you have been up to). The strength of the investigators are semi-random. If he is stronger than you are, you will be penalised. If you are stronger, you gain a reward. If your strengths are equal, nothing happens. You can increase your strength by influencing some areas on the board. There is also a type of card you can use to boost your strength. The strengths of the investigators will generally increase as the game progresses, and this keeps the pressure up for the players.

Some elder gods give you cards. You have three types to pick from. One type is for scoring points, one for defeating investigators and one for manipulating dice (e.g. allowing rerolls, increasing values).

This guy on the left is one of the earlier investigators. The card on the right is an event card.

God #3 lets you take one death resource or one tentacle resource. God #4 lets you take one violence resource and one magic point, at the cost of one sanity point. Everyone starts the game fully sane (12 points). Each time you invoke any half-decent elder god, you got nuts a little. That's the price you have to pay for worshipping these mad gods. If you go completely crazy, you won't die or lose the game, but each time you need to lose more sanity, you lose victory points instead. There are ways to regain sanity. Players who roll low totals may improve their sanity for free. Some actions let you recover sanity too. One twist is some cards and some areas are more powerful when you are somewhat crazy, so you don't really want to be too sane, yet you want to avoid being completely bonkers. It's a tricky balance.

The Play

I played with Ivan, Dith and Boon Khim. The highest player count is five, and I think the game is best with more players, because there will be more competition. I've played Kingsburg before, but I had forgotten what it felt like. When I played Kingsport Festival, it immediately felt familiar. The hook in this game is the dice mechanism. Since there are die rolls, there will be luck in this game. If you roll high all the time, you will do well. There are some balancing mechanisms - players who roll low get an earlier turn order, and also get to restore some sanity.

Deciding how to place your dice is the core of the game. You need to consider your opponents' die rolls. If you are going to split up your dice, will you be able to place your remaining dice on your next turn? Do you want to intentionally block your opponent? Which elder god is giving you the resources you want? Do you simply go for that or do you change plans so that you can screw an opponent at the same time? How to expand your influence is the strategic part of the game. You need to consider both the victory point scoring and the abilities you will gain from the areas you have influence over. The areas you expand into should be consistent with your overall evil master plan.

The investigators are a constant pain in the neck. Your first instinct will be to keep increasing your strength to beat them off. However I suspect ignoring them is a valid strategy too. The effort and resources saved this way can be spent on other, possibly more profitable, activities. In our game we were all rather conventional and none of us dared to ignore these pesky busybodies. So I can't prove my theory yet. Maybe next game.

The Thoughts

Kingsport Festival is a mid-weight Eurogame, even though the setting is very Ameritrashy. The mechanisms are definitely Euro, despite the death and violence. And tentacles. When Kingsburg first came out in 2007, the dice mechanism received high praise from many gamers. It is indeed clever, but I didn't particularly like or dislike it. So I am quite neutral towards Kingsport Festival too. I'm not a Cthulu fan, so the setting doesn't attract me. Nor does it bother me. However I do think the changes from Kingsburg make Kingsport Festival a better game.


DivinePotato said...

Hi there,

May I know where did you managed to get a copy of Kingsport Festival?
I am rather interested in this but could find any copy listed in the BGC and Meeples netstore. T.T

I am living in KL btw.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi! If I remember correctly this copy belongs to Ivan, one of my regular gaming kaki's. Not sure where he bought it but I don't think it was recent. Sorry.

Try joining the Board Games To-Go (MY) group on Facebook, if you are not already a member. You can ask around whether anyone letting go.

DivinePotato said...

No problem.
I just got a copy of Eldritch Horror expansion a few days ago so I guess I will not be getting any new game soon.

I will keep an eye out on the Facebook group though.