The description on the box does a good job describing the theme of this light family card game designed by Reiner Knizia and co-published by Mayfair and daVinci Games. The game is set in the world of King Me!, an earlier game put out by the same publishers, and has the same delightful, whimsical illustrations by Daniele Barletta.
The game is played in three rounds. The goal is to collect the fewest cards. The road tiles are placed in the bag and three groups of tiles, one for each round, are randomly drawn and placed on the table. The number of tiles in each group is equal to the number of players minus one. The castle wall is set aside for scoring at the end of the game. The cards are then shuffled and dealt evenly to all players. Some cards are removed for the three-player game, including one of the suits.
The starting player takes the king figure and turns are taken in clockwise order. On a player's turn, he chooses a card from his hand and plays it in front of another player or himself. The restrictions are that each player can only have one color in front of him and no other player can already have that color in front of him as well. Jesters are wild and can be played on anybody. Once any player's pile reaches a value of six or more, he must take all the cards face up on the table, including those of other players, and collects them in a facedown stack in front of him. He now plays a card as before and the round continues. Players can also take all the face up cards instead of playing a card. This is usually done when a player is fairly certain he'll be the one taking the cards and he wants to minimize the damage. A player also has to take the cards if he doesn't have a legal play.
A round ends when a player has no more cards in his hand and it's his turn. Players then count the number of facedown cards in their piles. The roads tiles for that round are then distributed. The player with the most cards takes the longest road segment; the player with the second most takes the second longest and so on. The player who collected the fewest cards does not get a road tile. Road tiles taken are kept in front of players but they are not allowed to compare lengths with each other. Presumably this is to make it unclear as to who is leading, but to be honest, I found it fairly easy to tell. Stacking our tiles to hide some of them worked a little better. After the tiles are passed out, the cards are reshuffled and dealt and the next round starts with the player on whose turn the previous round ended.
On the third and final round, the player who collected the fewest cards gets to exchange his longest road tile with the shortest one in the group before they are handed out that round. Then players line their segments against the castle tile so that each player forms a single road. The player with the shortest road wins the game.
The game seemed to play well with 3, 4 and 5 players although I did feel that I had a little more control with just three. Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to play a six-player game which could be interesting since there are only five suits of cards. This means that one player will not have a color at a given time during play although jesters could be played on that player.
What I did not care for was the scoring method. The road tiles are a rather original idea, but they felt awkward. There is simply no way to randomly draw them from the bag at the start of the game as they differ greatly in size. This didn't really bother me so much however, because any groups of varying sizes worked fine. What did bother me was the rule that in the last round the person who collects the fewest cards gets to exchange his largest road segment. This seems WAY too powerful, given that he also doesn't receive another road segment that round. In fact, the person who was able to do this won every one of the games that I played. I'm not certain why this rule was included. Players will always be trying not to collect cards so why does there need to be an extra incentive the last round, particularly one that can throw the game? I plan to play the game without this rule from now on.
Despite a few flaws, this is a very nice short family or filler game. It definitely has a "take that" aspect, but it is light-hearted and doesn't feel malicious enough to cause hurt feelings. While certainly light and luck-driven, there is a bit of simple strategy to think about. It will probably see occasional play with my adult gaming group and even more with my family, as my children enjoyed it quite a bit.
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