Sunday, 1 April 2018

Majesty: For the Realm

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Majesty is designed by Marc Andre (Splendor, Barony), and you can see his style in this game too - simple actions coming together to make a richer-than-expected strategy game. You feel the game is more than the sum of its parts.

To summarise the game in one sentence - you collect twelve cards to score points. It really does come down to just that. It is amazingly simple. Everyone starts the game with his own kingdom. These kingdoms are identical - the same set of eight buildings. You also have 5 workers (the white meeples).

You have a card row at the centre of the table. This is your sushi belt style card row, like in Through the Ages and Century: Spice Road. On your turn, you pick a character from the card row to add to your kingdom. You place the character below a building matching his profession, and trigger the building power. Usually the benefit you gain is proportional to the number of characters you have at the building, i.e. existing employees plus the new recruit. So you are incentivised to collect many characters of the same profession.

When picking a character from the card row, if you take the first character on the left, it is free. If you choose a character further down the line, you need to pay a worker for every character you skip over. Those workers are placed directly onto the characters you skip. In this photo the first two characters have many workers because they have been unpopular and people have been skipping them. As characters amass more and more workers, they become more attractive. When you take a character with workers on them, you take the accumulated workers as well.

The building powers are all straightforward. When you place a character at the mill, every character at the mill including the new recruit earns $2. When you place a character at the brewery, every character here earns $2 and gains one worker. Then all players with at least one character at the mill earns $2 flat.

Money is victory points. All that money you earn during the game are points. At the end of the game, you do two types of scoring to earn more points - breadth and depth. Breadth refers to how many of your buildings (aside from the infirmary) have characters. The square of that number is your score. If you have characters at all seven of the normal buildings, you get 7 x 7 = 49 points (or $49). Depth refers to having many workers at each building type. For all seven normal building types, you check who has the most characters. The winner or winners gain the point value shown at the bottom right corner of the building card. In the photo above you can see the mill gives you 10pts if you have the most characters here.

That rightmost building is the infirmary. You don't recruit people here. Only injured characters come here. Whenever a player recruits a soldier, he triggers an attack on all other players. Whoever doesn't have enough guards to repel the attack suffers injury - the leftmost character is injured and sent to the infirmary. This means the character is no longer working at the building he was originally assigned, and the building is now weaker. You can heal injured characters by recruiting healers at the cottage. Each time you recruit a healer, one character at the infirmary is healed and returns to work.

The building cards are two sided. The A side powers are simpler, the B side powers are more advanced. You have a variant game right out of the box.

The coins are hefty, much like Splendor.

The draw deck is adjusted based on the number of players. By the time it is exhausted, everyone will have claimed exactly 12 characters. Your job is to make the most of your 12 employees to earn as much money as possible. You not only have to think of the combos you are going to make, you also need to consider what others are trying to do. Some buildings affect others. You need to consider the breadth and depth scoring at game end. You choices are constrained by what cards appear in the card row by the time your turn comes around. You often need to adjust your plan to make the most of what fate deals you.

The Play

I did a four-player game with Jeff, Kareem and Allen. Both Jeff and Kareem had played Majesty before. Allen and I were new. The pace of the game was brisk. Afterall, all you do on your turn is simply pick one card. Sometimes you do need to think a bit before deciding, but most of the time you can already plan and think before your turn comes. Also if you are low on workers, you can't choose far anyway and normally don't need to worry about the cards you can't reach. The card row is constantly changing, so the game can feel quite tactical. You are often responding to the situation and trying to make the best of it.

From what Jeff and Kareem said, the queen strategy seemed to be a strong one, so I decided to try that out. Every queen earned $5, so each time I married a new queen, the dowry increased to $10, $15, $20 etc. The blue character in the middle was a guard, who protected my kingdom from attack. Jeff went the soldier route early, when the rest of us were not well prepared to defend ourselves. Whenever a player attacks, he attacks all other players. If one player attacks early and attacks frequently, it is hard to defend against, because if your number of guards doesn't catch up and match his number of soldiers, every time he attacks, you still get hurt, and he becomes even harder to catch up to. Also if all other players try to defend themselves by recruiting guards, there won't be enough guards to go around.

Refer to the photo above. If I failed to defend against an attack, my mill employee, being the leftmost character, would be injured and would go to the infirmary. My two queens were on the right, so they would be last to get hurt. Usually the characters on the left becomes cannon fodder, shielding other characters in the kingdom.

At this stage I had 4 queens. I wasn't able to defend myself well, and had two injured characters in the infirmary now. I needed healers (characters for the 3rd building) to help them recover and resume their duties.

Some cards are dual character cards. If you claim such a card, you may choose either one of the characters. The second and third cards both had a soldier, so all of us wanted to take them to prevent Jeff from attacking again. It is often expensive to make such a defensive move. You would be preventing a setback but would not be advancing your position. You would be saving others too, but would get no reward. Dual character cards give you an option to use the card for another purpose, which may be helpful to you. You may gain something while averting disaster.

This game has high player interaction. The soldier is the most direct form of player interaction, but it is certainly not the only such element. At game end, everyone compares their characters in every building type. That's area majority competition. You need to watch which buildings your opponents are trying to win. The worst case is coming second in all the buildings you compete in. You earn nothing. You must watch your opponents to understand what they want, and which characters they highly value. Sometimes you must deny them, and ideally you gain something while you do that.

The Thoughts

Majesty plays like a lightweight game but satisfies like a midweight game. 12 moves are all you get, but they entangle you in an intricate network of strategic considerations. It's a serving of lembas bread. It's just a small bite, but it is filling. It is easy to teach so you can play it with casual gamers and non gamers. For old timers, this is no deep strategy game, but it's a clever little gem worth exploring and appreciating.

No comments: