Review: Brutal Kingdom

Last week I got a buzz on my phone. It wasn’t the usual buzz. It wasn’t an email or a text or even (heaven forbid, as an introvert) a phone call. Instead, it was a notification from my Amazon app. Yes, Prime Day has arrived and an item from my list was on sale.

That item was, as you can probably guess, a game. A small card game I hadn’t thought twice about had been reduced by £3, from £13 to £10. I had put it on my list on a whim, and suddenly I was thrust into the realm of deciding whether or not to buy. I did, and now I have to tell you about the game because it is amazing.

To show you how amazing this game is, I had planned to review Lords of Waterdeep this week – but that can wait. Let’s talk about the Brutal Kingdom instead.

THE PREMISE OF BRUTAL KINGDOM

Brutal Kingdom is a three to four player competitive card game, created by Michael Rieneck and with art by Franz Vohwinkel. The players take the part of playing characters from a medieval court, each unique and each with their own special abilities. The players are competing for influence, assassinating and strategising their way to victory.

As a game, Brutal Kingdom takes place over four rounds. There are two decks of characters, one deck which is considered dark, and the other which is considered light. These comprise of everyone from the King and Queen, to lesser known Abbots, Saints, and Inquisitors.

Each turn the players are dealt two cards from each deck – two light and two dark. They take one light and pass it one way, taking one dark and passing it the other. This, rather interesting, card drafting mechanic ensures that you have some control over everyone else’s hand, and thus the power struggle begins.

The games begin and each player takes it in turns to play one card. These cards have different effects from switching cards, seeing other players hands, and assassinating certain characters. The play goes around in order until every player has a stack of four characters in front of them. If a character is assassinated on the turn they come out then they, and the whole pile below them, get flipped over. Those characters aren’t worth any extra points at the end of the round. Only certain characters can assassinate other types of characters – for instance, the Poisoner can assassinate the King or the Queen whereas the Witch can assassinate the Wizard.

There are three types of influence in the game (blue, green, and yellow). If the Saint is played then a certain type of influence gets reserved on a central chapel card in the centre of the field of play.

Each card has an initiative score, and the highest initiative played in the last round is the first player of the next (assuming they haven’t been assassinated).

The game lasts for four rounds (so 16 cards each), with points at the end being calculated by each influence token that you, as a player, have gets multiplied by the number of influence tokens that weren’t taken, adding on the influence tokens of that type on the chapel card. So, if there are two blue influence left and two on the chapel, then every blue influence token you have will be worth 4. If there are only two in the chapel they will be worth 2. If there are no blue influence tokens left at all, then they are worth nothing. Yes, that does make for interesting gameplay.

The box and a select few cards.

QUALITY AND COMPONENTS OF BRUTAL KINGDOM

Yes, the tokens are die cut. Yes, they are well made. Yes, the box is nice. Okay, that aside, let’s talk about the artwork.

The art was the reason I originally had Brutal Kingdom on my wishlist, and ultimately the art is the reason I bought it. It is absolutely stunning. All the parts of the court are animals in a typical Disney Robin Hood kind of way, but they are so well thought through. They can be seen as symbolic in a way and it is so nice to hold cards where so much thought has been put into the cards.

As per the norm, the King is the Lion, the Poisoner is a snake, the Berserker is a bear, however, some of the other ones are a bit more inventive. The Abbot is a fox and the Saint is a rabbit. Make of that what you will.

WHAT IS IT LIKE PLAYING BRUTAL KINGDOM?

Brutal Kingdom is a fantastically brutal game. The games are swift, only lasting 30 minutes or so, and can be incredibly competitive.

There is a strange amount of strategy, knowing which cards to play when, and the game can be as frustrating as it is incredibly satisfying. There is nothing worse than someone assassinating your final character and thus rendering the rest of your stack immobile.

The risk of assassinations (which are also worth points as well as taking points away) is a very real one within the context of the game. Where getting points is fun, there is just as much fun in playing the players, and this is one of those games. You are always bluffing, trying to counteract all of the moves your opponents can make.

The game is, weirdly, one of the most strategic I know of for playing the players – so kudos to the designers for making such an interactive game.

The variety of the characters, in both artwork and ability, provides for a lot of replayability. Some of the characters are random (and the Wizard does nothing) but the majority are unique and interesting. The Inquisitor is especially interesting, having the ability to change the player order in a dramatic way by having a varying initiative. Others are just as unique and that makes for a really fun game.

There is one downside to an otherwise flawless game (in my opinion) and that is that it is only three or four players. This limits it for couples and larger gaming groups (our group is five minimum, which kind of means we won’t be playing it with the group).

VERDICT FOR BRUTAL KINGDOM

To be honest, I bought this game on a whim and I am very glad I did. We have had great fun playing it and against each other.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Brutal Kingdom. It’s a great game, and really quite cheap as well. It is well worth the money.

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