Keith Gaudry-Gardner
Canada
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I first posted this on my personal blog, where I occasionally talk about game design. You can find it here: http://ofxandy.blogspot.com/2014/03/of-kings-and-cards.html

For the Crown is a fascinating beast. Buy the designer’s own admission, it’s little more than chess and Dominion smashed together. A few small changes made to make the two games play well together, but if you’ve played those two games, you know 90% of the rules. While the idea is simple, the execution is masterful.

There’s a few paragraphs of designer’s notes in the back of the rulebook the talk about the process, the ideas, and why these two games fit so well together. A lot of it is insightful. I quite like the idea that Dominion’s late game can be boring, what with the best decision usually being to just buy the largest victory card you can, and having the final goal be outside the deck can mitigate that. In fact, the changing board state adds a moving target for your deckbuilding decisions. You’re not building to have the most victory points in your deck, you’re building to respond to the way the chess game has played out. It also deals with Dominion’s lack of player interaction, not just by having the board combat, but by incentivising knowing what’s in your opponent’s deck. Their strategies are limited to the cards they buy, so you can see a lot of it coming. It also prevents Dominion’s huge, runaway turns by limiting each piece to a single movement per turn.

One of my favorite touches is the barracks, where you must summon units to before they hit the board. By virtue of the turn structure, where training actions -- adding units to this barracks -- takes place after orders -- when you would move them to the board -- you can always see a piece coming at least a turn away. Without this, the board would change far too quickly, and you’d lose that very chess-like analysis of working through your opponent’s possible moves. Between that and the one-move-per-turn limit on pieces, you always have a brief window in which to react. Somehow, in a card game, nothing feels like it comes out of left field.

These are all great touches that anyone looking at For the Crown from a game design perspective should consider. However, the most fascinating part for me is how the game goes about restricting your choices. First of all, I want to note that limiting choices is definitely not a bad thing. Trying to wrap your head around the long-term strategy and options in game with this many moving parts is absurd. In most games, carefully pruning the options a player has at any given moment is the key to reducing AP and maintaining the pace of the game. Sure, there’s a balance between complete freedom and oppressive restrictions but, in general, not overwhelming the player is a good thing. As an example, would you spend more time thinking about picking 4 a list of 8 options, or picking one of two options four times? Likely the former, simply because of the combinatorial options that have to be considered. A nice, manageable, finite list of options can go a long way to making a game accessible and unintimidating, as well as maintaining the flow of play.

This is an especially important concept when you’re dealing with the supporting framework of the game. In the case of For the Crown, the biggest decisions are what to buy and what to move. This is as it should be, in a game designed to be a mashup of chess and Dominion. For everything in between which binds these elements, your options are almost always fundamentally binary. Orders generally allow you to either move/attack with a piece, or add one to the board. Essentially, orders boil down to “how do I want to alter the board state?” All the cards have two options. Orders have two variants, while the action cards usually have a training option as well as another action. Even when it comes to deciding whether to focus on the board or the deckbuilding, that too is a binary decision.

This game is full of thoughtful design. It’s never more complicated than it needs to be, but doesn’t shy away from giving the player strategic options. The balancing act of the two disparate components is excellently executed, and produces a great game I’m looking forward to enjoying for a long time to come. It’s a shame it doesn’t get more attention.
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Starkiller
United States
Wasilla
Alaska
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Yeah, it sounds AWESOME!

If only I could find someone to play with me....angry

Back to your comments, thanks for accurately explaining what you like about the game!
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Alan Emrich
United States
Irvine
California
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It's usually not to hard to teach someone to play the game. I can do it in just a 2-3 minute now (I've taught a LOT of new players). I've had to teach half of them "deck building," but even that's easy to start with.

The secret is to "let them discover" what the other cards do as they acquire them and not worry too much about winning the first time out. It's a very cool world to explore, and players always agree that it is.

Alan Emrich
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Starkiller
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Wasilla
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Oh, I know they could get it. (They're very intelligent, and I'm actually considered a very good rules explainer.) They just don't want to. soblue

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Joshua Gottesman
United States
Las Vegas
Nevada
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akinfantryman wrote:
Oh, I know they could get it. (They're very intelligent, and I'm actually considered a very good rules explainer.) They just don't want to. soblue



Are you anywhere close to Barrow? A gaming friend of mine moved up there a few months ago and could probably be persuaded to play it.

And yeah, I realize it's Alaska so the chance of being "anywhere close" may not be too high.
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Starkiller
United States
Wasilla
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Joshuaaaaaa wrote:
akinfantryman wrote:
Oh, I know they could get it. (They're very intelligent, and I'm actually considered a very good rules explainer.) They just don't want to. soblue



Are you anywhere close to Barrow? A gaming friend of mine moved up there a few months ago and could probably be persuaded to play it.

And yeah, I realize it's Alaska so the chance of being "anywhere close" may not be too high.

Only about 3 days dive...on a road that may/may not be open due to weather conditions. So not really.

If he's ever in the Wasilla area for weekend, though, we could try for something.
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Rich Gowell
United States
Michigan
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Aaaaaaaaargh! I was on my way to essentially designing this game (to a first approximation) and just now found it exists, apparently in top notch form.......drats!!
Kudos to the designer.
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