Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 15-45 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: High
Kingswood had a solidly run, nice looking Kickstarter campaign that funded with over 1,400 backers back in May 2019. Fulfillment slipped by six months due to production issues and a worldwide apocalypse, which isn’t too bad, although technically the fulfillment isn’t yet finished, but more on that in a minute. Artwork is by Tristam Rossin, which is how I personally first came across the game. It’s cute and simple but fun. Possibly lacking depth for the hardcore gamer in multiplayer mode, but a good choice for gateways, younger players or filling out half an hour when you don’t have the time to pull out a bigger game, and the solo mode is pretty punishing.
Gameplay consists of laying out a series of village locations around a central board, one of which is the Forest, the titular Kingswood. Heroes are placed in village locations and the Forest generates a series of monsters into a face up monster marketplace. Players move heroes around the locations to pick up resources, eventually moving to the forest to spend them in return for claiming monsters that translate into victory points. The control of heroes is shared by players, who represent guilds that the heroes might be members of and a blocking guard piece steps into their vacated spaces so the central engine of the game is rondel management. Most resources exhaust and need to be refreshed rather than being permanently spent so there is a sense of building power in the game. Once a player scores twenty or more points that triggers the end round and the player with the most points wins. Its competently done and results in a clear and satisfying gameplay loop.
So, tracking back to what I was saying about the fulfillment being mostly done. I’m writing this on September the 18th 2020, having received the game back in the middle of August from a February deadline, which isn’t a deadline drift that I consider problematic, particularly considering the way that 2020 has been. However, the game isn’t complete, there are two punchboard elements missing, a score tracker and a location. If this was just bad luck on my part I’d not mention it, but it’s true for everyone, the tracker and the location being part of a stretch goal that is apparently not going to be included in the retail version of the game they were not included in the main game box, instead being placed in rewards separately (a coin and a couple of cards were included, though both cards require the missing elements to be used properly). There are promises that those other bits are going to ship eventually, but clearly, not quite yet. I’ve checked the campaign and I can’t find any reference to these being Kickstarter exclusives despite the fact that they appear to have been, which is a little bit of a communication issue. I’ve got no reason to think that the remaining elements won’t appear, and I’ve got no reason to think that it’s the fault of 25th century games as such, but it is annoying coming from an experienced creator. Generally, the finish of the game is high end, but oddly it feels like a lot of finish has been spent in the wrong places. The meeples are huge, undercut and screen printed, which is certainly high end and expensive, but the result looks a little bit off. The plastic mold insert is thick and chunky and was listed as a stretch goal, but it feels a little weird in an age where companies are moving away from this sort of unnecessary plastic, also, the elements don’t quite sit neatly within it, particularly when bagged (the game includes plastic zip-lock bags to separate out the components, but exactly the wrong number of bags to keep all the components separate). Meanwhile, the cards, while fantastically illustrated, aren’t of the highest-grade cardstock. As I say, the finish is high end, but sometimes it’s just a little mis-directed.
The game itself is simple and cute, its well within reach of the 10+ age range on the box, but with enough meat to attract older gamers. Again, there are some minor quibbles here but nothing massive. On an unpleasing things level, the score tracker runs from 1-20, because the game end round triggers when someone hits 20. But there is no zero space, so score trackers have to start off the board and are flipped to their +20 side when they hit the one, rather than the zero. Its minor, but its unpleasing not to see your markers lined up on the scoreboard at the start of the game. Similarly, the Kingswood of the game’s title is, in the game, just ‘The Forest’. It’s an oddly missed piece of theme, since the game centres on that forest anyway, not to have called it the Kingswood in the game. “I’m entering the Kingswood,” feels like it could have carried more dramatically than “I’m activating the Forest.”. That said, the theme does seem a little incidental to a lot of the game. Players use the rondel to collect resources which they spend and exhaust to capture monsters for score. If the resources were spices and fabrics rather than swords and spellbooks and the monsters trading caravans everything would have made exactly as much sense as it currently does (if anything the king’s guard who spends all his time getting in the way of you saving the king’s town from the kingswood would make much more sense. I’m saving the world you idiot, get off the damn tavern!). The monsters never actually fight back, they never attack the village, by and large they seem to be peacefully minding their own business until the point where the genocidal king takes against them. To be honest there are points where hacking up rare and magical creatures that are staying in their natural habitat on the say so of an unseen and autocratic ruler in return for cash (presumably the king wants to start logging in the Kingswood, which is fair, its clearly his, look at the name) feels almost wrong.
Despite all of that, the game is good, the mechanics knit together nicely, there’s a satisfying sense of both progress and set-backs, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and it’s a much easier way of explaining what a rondel is to a gateway gamer than doing it with words. The locations and monsters can vary from game to game and the player powers are varied and useful, giving a very solid amount of replay value. If you don’t own a rondel centred game then I’d say this is a really nice solid place to start, if you do and you want to introduce a younger or non-gaming family member or friend to the concept, this is again, a great place to start them from. If you’re looking for a monster bashing forest crawl or a village defense game, or really anything where the monsters and battling them is the heart of the game, this probably isn’t for you. For anyone else, its slick, it’s fun and it’s easy to follow.
For a game with a 10+ age limit and lots of cute cartoony graphics the solo mode is actually a bit of a beast. It took me eight plays to get my first win, and that was only because I gave up on randomly choosing my guild and locations and actively picked them (which the rules do offer as an option). Generally, the rules for solo play are the same as the competitive version except that the player loses if four or more monsters build up in the market place and win if they take down two of the three most powerful monsters (the giant, the dragon or the genie). Interestingly, since players now lose if too many monsters build up it actually feels more like you’re fighting them off as they attack the village, rather than massacring them in their peaceful forest home. Its hard to say why this lose condition wasn’t offered as a co-op or semi-co-op element to the main game. Partly it could be because it makes things really tough. Because when a hero leaves a location the king’s guard takes it over, and you can’t use a location that the king’s guard is on, that means that if you ever leave the forest when it has two monsters in it, you’ve already lost. This means that things can escalate shockingly quickly from a good clean run to game over. The game’s variable player powers offer ways out, particularly the ones that allow you to use the guard’s location are extremely valuable, but if you manage to crack the game without those particular powers you deserve to give yourself a real pat on the back, because doing so is hard as nails.
Playing solo, the game allows about two or three turns of pre-planning. Since more than three monsters in the forest at the end of a turn means you lose, its rare that you can get further ahead of yourself than that. There are combos available, depending on your choice of guild and the order of your monsters, and some are genuinely satisfying.
Overall, as a solo experience its pretty solid, the story feels stronger than in competitive mode, although its still not exactly epic. The flow of play is quite satisfying and rolls at a decent pace and there’s a real sense when you get into the groove that you’re actively making choices and engaging with the game. Its far from a marathon game, but that does mean that you can mix up the locations and switch guilds to give yourself multiple runs on a single try. Victory is possible, though be aware that under the cute images and simple play this game has a solo mode that can turn on you if you make just one or two wrong choices.