Royalty, man. They’re a demanding bunch. When they’re not lopping the heads off perfectly talented craftspeople, they’re wanting replacements who can build them… well, pretty much whatever their whims desire. And we’re the fools who are stepping into the shoes of the Middle Ages equivalent of etsy types in King’s Forge, a new game from Nick Sibicky that turns the incredibly hard job of smithing into an hour long session of rolling stacks of dice. Hard work hasn’t been this fun in ages.
[Admission of interest time – King's Forge is published by Game Salute, the company for whom I spend my days toiling away over a hot iMac. However, all games on The Little Metal Dog Show are given an even and fair crack of the whip no matter who they've been made by. I had no real involvement in the creation of the game and, as such, believe that I can check out the game objectively – and when I say that this is a cracking little affair, believe it.]
I am, of course, a sucker for dice games, especially ones that involve rolling fistfuls of them across your tabletop – see Lords of Vegas as a perfect example – and later rounds in King’s Forge can see you needing to cup your hands if you’re to even try to hold the piles of D6’s that you accrue. When you begin though, you have only five to play with, along with your representative Smithy Tile. You’re going to need to build up your collection, and quick.
Each game needs a little time for set-up, but it’s worth it for the fact that you’re working with a lot of replayability. While there are two good sized decks in the Gathering Cards and Craft Cards, you only use a randomly drawn few each time you play – eleven Gathering Cards per game and a different set of Craft Cards depending on how many people are playing. There are four standard dice types that are also laid out – black for Metal, green for Wood, red for Gems and sparkly blue for Enchantments. Once those are all sorted out, it’s time to play; give the HUGE plastic anvil to the first player (one of the best start player markers I’ve ever seen) and away you go.
So many bits! And that anvil is both silly and amazing.
Rounds are split into two phases: Gathering, where you’ll spend the dice in your pool to get your hands on more dice, and Crafting where you use the dice you’ve collected to build the items that are desired by the King. The first person to craft four of these items will be declared the winner and the brand new Master of the King’s Forge – until His Majesty gets sword-happy again and someone loses their head.
Gathering is straightforward enough, with each player taking one of the four available cards and activating one of the two abilities on there. Most of them will involve spending dice to add more to your pool, all of which you put on your Smithy Tile for use in the next round (unless a certain symbol tells you to use them immediately). Many of the dice you use will come back to you next round, but should the ability you trigger show a box with a cross in it, they’ll be lost and returned to the stocks. A few of the abilities are used in the Crafting phase and normally involve the manipulation of the dice, but we’ll cover that shortly.
Gathering Cards are all icon driven. The Shrine’s top ability says that you lose one die of any colour and spend three to claim a red one. At the bottom, spend seven (!) to get a very valuable Magic die. The Mill meanwhile lets you grind two dice of any colour to claim two Wood dice, or lose a red or blue and spend three to claim… well, loads.
Should you need a certain type of dice and the cards just aren’t coming up with what’s required, you can always pay a visit to the Docks. These are a bunch of tiles that are always open which allow you to buy any of the four different types – however, they’re pretty expensive and you will lose the dice you spend. Sometimes they’re your only option though, and needs must when the King wants an enchanted weapon or jewel encrusted piece of furniture. The Docks also let you trade dice for special tokens that can be spent to screw with the dice rolls, adding 1 to any two dice rolls or making one an automatic six. Oh, choosing to use a space on the Docks also requires that you remove one of the Gathering cards as well – perfect if you fancy screwing over someone else.
During the Gathering phase, you can pass at any time. Why would you do that? Well, you have to save dice to use for Crafting but any committed to Gathering are locked and can’t be used to make stuff for the King. The first person to pass also gets the choice of a free metal die or one of the green +1/+1 tokens, so there’s something of a benefit to ducking out early. Of course, everything is then open for the other players to plunder, so choosing the best time to pass is a good skill to learn.
Now, finally, onto the Crafting Phase! This is where you get to actually make various items for the ever-demanding King, and with three different things available you should be able to make something when you’ve got a handful of dice. Each card has a numerical value and shows the types of dice and the minimum amount you have to roll for you to claim it. Beginning with the first player again, you roll all of your unused dice and – should you hit the necessary values – claim items one by one. When a card is taken by a player it’s immediately replaced with the next one in line; just remember, there should always be three available.
Make an Anvil with three Metal dice with a minimum of 2 on each – simple. As you get further into the game, you’ll need to get higher rolls and different dice. And did I mention that you can go higher than a 6 with those +1s and other modifications?
However! Just because a player has claimed an item, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s theirs… not until the end of that Crafting Phase, anyway. You see, should someone roll better than you (in other words, higher that you) they get to steal the item from under your nose. In game terms, they’ve managed to make a better thing than you. Take, for example, a Table which requires three wood dice that are all at a minimum 4. Your opponent rolls their dice, gets two 4s and a 5, then claims the Table card and places it in front of them. Crafting then comes around to you, you roll three 5s… and you’ve also got that handy yellow token that turns any die into an automatic 6. You’ve done better, you steal the card away and hoorah! You’re a quarter of the way to winning the game.
And that’s it. Play continues with Gathering and Crafting Phases until someone has four items at the end of a round. The Start Player Anvil moves around each time, meaning that you’re always going to have to change up your strategy. If you’re first, great – you get the pick of the actions when Gathering and the potential to snap up all the good items in Crafting. Unfortunately, it also means that you’re the target when it comes to other folks taking things from you. Being last in the turn order isn’t bad at all – when no-one can steal from you, it makes life a lot easier to get those four items made and seize the title of Forgemaster to the King!
The game may look like a light and airy festival of dice rolling and card grabbing, but there’s a surprising level of strategy once you peel away a few layers. It’s all about timing, taking the opportunity to create items at the perfect moment when you can guarantee no-one else will be able to. A streak of cruelty runs through King’s Forge where you’ll need to cut in front of other players in order to better your chances – if you’re a fan of games where opponents mutter curses at you under their breath during most turns, you’ll want a copy of this for your collection.
King’s Forge is beautifully illustrated throughout and has been produced to a very high standard – the cards are printed on a decent stock, the dice are grand (especially the lovely blue ones) and a special mention should be given to the awesome First Player Anvil, possibly the greatest bit of schmutter ever seen in a board game. If you fork out a little bit extra you can also pick up the Unnecessary but Totally Cool Board (actual name!) which gives you a hand in laying all the cards out and removes the need for the Docks Tiles as they’re printed right there. Again, it looks gorgeous and really adds to the game – while King’s Forge on its own stands up brilliantly, the addition of the board makes things a little more special.
Yeah, that’s one pretty board. King’s Forge is totally playable without it though – it just makes things a little neater.
For those who want to enhance the experience even more, the Queen’s Jubilee expansion adds more Gathering and Crafting cards that raise the complexity level a fair bit but still make for a highly entertaining game. Whether you throw in the expansion or just stick with the base game, you’ll often see folks standing up for those big dice rolls that could decide the whole thing – in my eyes, truly the sign of a good time when playing. King’s Forge might present itself as a bright and fun little game of throwing fistfuls of dice around in a bid to create curiosities for a demanding tyrant, but opening the box will reveal that this one has teeth! Filled with replayability, easy to pick up and play, and – most importantly – highly entertaining and lots of fun, this truly deserves your attention next game night.
King’s Forge was designed by Nick Sibicky with art by Jonathan Kirtz and was published by Clever Mojo Games in partnership with Game Salute in 2014. Between two and four people can play with games taking around 45-60 minutes. Copies should set you back $40 from your local game store but these are a rare sight as the First Edition is close to selling out! If you see one, grab it and get forging!