Kingsport Festival from Passport Games is something of a unique creature. The Cthulhu Mythos genre has precious few worker-placement games, but this medium-weight comes quite close to fitting the bill.
Designed for 3-5 players at an estimated runtime of 90-minutes (though we burned through it much quicker), Kingsport Festival is a game of evil cultists all trying to earn the favor of the dark forces promising to devour our world.
Over the course of 12 rounds, players will invoke the fell powers of the elder evils, earn resources, and extend their influence over the city of Kingsport. Each round is divided into 6 phases which, once everyone is comfortable with their options, will go by quite quickly.
In a neat bit of game design, turn order and action space availability are determined by dice rolls: each player will roll their dice and then use those dice as ‘workers’, either assigning each die individually or combining them to invoke the Ancient Ones, each of which provides resources, often at the cost of a player’s sanity (not unlike full-time employment).
Jess: The ‘dice as workers’ idea isn’t unique to Kingsport Festival, but I like how they implement it here. Spending dice of lower values give resources at a lower cost, while high values let you get lots of stuff but probably drive you a little bonkers doing it.
Diana: Yeah, it’s a neat balance. You need to keep one eye on your sanity score, one eye on your magic track, and another on your dice placement if you’re going to expand your cult’s influence effectively.
After you roll your dice and gather your resources, everyone will have the opportunity to spread out over the city. Each new space requires the sacrifice of some resources, and each location your cult spreads to will provide some semi-permanent benefit and semi-permanent points to your cult. While this adds a certain ‘area influence’ portion to the gameplay, cults do not block each other’s expansion at all – we may all worship different star-spawned nightmares, but with rent prices being what they are, there is no reason not to look for some like-minded roommates.
Rob: We say ‘semi-permanent’ points and benefits for locations because any effect that makes you lose control of a location, like those darned investigators, will make you give up not only that location’s granted ability but also any points you earned by claiming that location.
Four times over the course of the game, the players will come under attack by an investigator (read: the good guys from the other Lovecraft games) who are trying to intervene on behalf of humanity against your spreading influence. Each player must face the investigator alone, and while winning might snag you some resources, losing to them is frequently crippling and embarrassingly easy to do, if your cult hasn’t prepared for their attack.
Andrew: The good thing is that you know when an investigator is going to hit. The bad news is that you won’t know exactly which investigators are coming after you (though they always go up in difficulty), and there is a random event which directly precedes the investigators attack which could easily undermine whatever prep you’ve done to deal with them.
You see, Kingsport Festival has a good bit of replayability in its design. There are lots of investigators to fight and many events to draw, and you’ll only use four of either during the course of any given game, so it will definitely be a while before you duplicate an experience exactly.
Also, once you have a game or two under your belt, we highly suggest using the ‘scenario’ cards. These cards change up the game setup and add extra rules which will influence how you play. Some scenarios make it easier to expand territory, affect magic or combat, and many other variants besides. By drawing a scenario during setup (we suggest randomly!), you are changing the kind of game experience you’re going to have.
At the end of the last turn of the game, a randomly-drawn (and completely secret) Festival card is revealed, providing a last-second twist that will shake up the point balance and add some more excitement!
After that’s resolved, the cult with the highest point total is the winner and is therefore devoured last! Or first, maybe! Honestly, I have no idea how to define ‘winning’ in this case!
Andrew: Personally, I think the dice, the events, the festival, all that controlled chaos is actually perfect for the game. Most worker-placement games rely on carefully planned strategies and canny action selection.
Since Kingsport Festival embraces its Lovecraftian inspiration and lets the chaos in on a fundamental gameplay level, no two sessions will ever play out the same way and that’s a great thing.
First, the art in Kingsport Festival is fantastic. Thematic, moody, sinister, each board location really speaks to the oppressive atmosphere of rising evil, and claiming those locations is a critical part of gameplay. But the significance of these locales is nowhere to be found on the board itself. Instead, silly little tiles will need to be laid on each location, completely obscuring the really nice art and cluttering the board tremendously.
The Ancient One cards are equally creepy and provide snippets of the individual mythos for each of them. Except, there isn’t even a name on the face of the Ancient One cards, let alone some text about what makes Nyarlathotep such a spooky badass. All that stuff is on the back of the cards, with the face showing nothing more than some (awesome) art, the dice total needed to invoke that Ancient One, and the rewards for doing so. So you don’t ever think of yourself as summoning aid from Cthulhu, you think of yourself as spending a 15 to get some points and some Evil.
Which brings me to my next gripe – there are 3 primary resources you will gather and spend in Kingsport Festival: Evil, Destruction, and Death. And while I completely understand that we’re the baddies in this scenario, thinking of Death and Evil as a currency (represented by generic cubes) used to purchase real estate feels a little…I don’t know. Silly. But that’s just me.
And yes, I think the dice are awful. They are cheap-feeling and wooden, coming in the surprisingly garish player colors. For as excellent as all the artwork in the game is, the color choices for the players are disappointingly generic and oddly, well, colorful – not particularly iconic of a bunch of evil cults. And there is no difference between the cults – unique player powers would have really pushed this game over the top.
Finally, some may complain that there is little player interaction (and basically none of it negative), but that isn’t atypical of the worker-placement genre.
Material annoyances aside, Kingsport Festival is definitely a good game. Bringing worker-placement mechanics to the Mythos genre is a really smart move (hah), and flipping the scenario around by making the players the bad guys is a neat little thematic element. The artwork is really solid (where you can see it, anyway) and the mechanics are well-tuned and straightforward.
Solid, light gameplay, quick player turns, and plenty of chaotic replayability earn Kingsport Festival our recommendation. If you want to host your own nightmarish party (with or without cheese/blood platter), you can grab a copy of Kingsport Festival right here!