The King’s Abbey Review

The King's Abbey
Worker Placement
Breaking Games
Randy Rathert
Randy Rathert, Anna Talanova

The King's Abbey is a dice-as-workers placement game featuring a rulebook in need of editing, lots of great ideas, and a round sequence that may leave you feeling just a little overworked.

Today, we take a look at The King’s Abbey, a worker/dice placement game that sees players building up their abbey, gathering worshipers, managing crusades, and fending off viking attacks.  Each turn, players will use dice as their monks, who will go out into the world to gather supplies, recruit followers, and, look, there’s a lot going on here, folks.

There are many abbeys. This one is yours

**Just a heads-up – Our version of The King’s Abbey has upgraded Kickstarter components.  The new printing from Breaking Games will have more cardboard bits and less wood**

Jess:  You ain’t kidding – The King’s Abbey has a pretty hefty rulebook (one that could probably have used another round with an editor), and gameplay to match.

Josh:  I’ll say!  Each round occurs over 12 phases.  12! Madness!

In The King’s Abbey, each player will manage their own titular structure (the abbey, not the king), vying to have the most points at the end of the game.  Player boards represent not only the abbey itself, but also the plots where players can pay to build structures and businesses which will add both points and unique functionality to each player’s abbey.  Players will also potentially build towers and walls around their abbey, further protecting their worshipers from the turn-to-turn threat of ‘The Darkness’.

Jess:  ‘The Darkness’?  Really?  Has anyone tried to hit it with Magic Missile?

Andrew:  It’s kind of a catch-all for all the awful stuff that killed people in the medieval era.  You know, poxes and boils and whatnot.

Josh:  Aside from Vikings.

Andrew:  Well, yeah, vikings are their own thing.

As Josh frantically mentioned, each round takes place over 12 phases.  Some of them are as simple as rolling your dice, while others, well, let’s run them down real quick:

  1. Roll Dice – Your dice, representing your monks, get rolled so that you can plan your turn.
  2. Draw Event Card – Events can be positive, negative, or Vikings, which are negative, but also awesome.
  3. Abbey& Crusade Dice Placement – At this point, your Monk dice get deployed (at least, some of them might?).  Depending on where they go, different values will be appropriate, such as how recruiting peasants requires 1, 2, or 3 face dice, while training clergy requires a 4, 5, or 6.
  4. Purchase Building Cards – Players will take turns, paying gold coins to grab building plans from the offer for construction later.
  5. Resource and Initiative Selection – Here, monks held in reserve from phase 3 can now be assigned to resource spaces to gather Wood, Grain, Stone, and Sand.
  6. Move Peasants – Peasants move forward within your Abbey, closer to the altar where they will be baptized.  Many buildings can only be run by baptized individuals.
  7. Build – Players spend resources to construct buildings which they previously acquired in phase 4.
  8. Gardening/Farming/Feeding – If a player has a garden or a farm, they produce either grain or animals respectively, and then players must feed the peasants they have recruited.
  9. Combat Darkness/Move Darkness – The Darkness, an ever-increasing value, must be fended off by each player individually.  The Darkness then intensifies.
  10. Collect Income – Peasants tithe gold to the player whose Abbey they occupy.
  11. Collect Crusade Rewards/Purchase New Crusades – Any player who has completed a crusade sets it aside for scoring at the end of the game, and they have the opportunity to acquire a replacement crusade to work on.
  12. Reset – Dice are collected, first player may shift, and a new round begins.

Jess:  Oh my glob, that’s a lot of stuff.

Andrew:  It’s actually not that bad.  Once we got into the rhythm of things, turns were passing by fairly quickly.

Josh:  That’s true, but I have to say, this one is the kind of game that will keep me up at night, as I try to figure out what the best move should have been on any given turn.

At the heart of The King’s Abbey is that very question – each turn represents a chance to optimize your actions, based on what dice you rolled.  And since dice values are public knowledge, it is also possible to get a look at what your opponents have rolled so as to get a sense of what their options are, letting you get a heads up as to what the round’s points of contention may be.

Josh:  That said, there is a lot to focus on in The King’s Abbey.  The turn-by-turn puzzle of it all can sometimes feel a little overwhelming.

Jess:  I agree with you there.  While absolutely none of the mechanisms were individually challenging, the number of interlocking steps and considerations taken each turn made things feel a bit denser than perhaps they really were.  I mean, nothing in here is actually complicated, but every little step requires thought and planning.

Andrew:  Yeah, it’s just possible (maybe even easy) to lose track of your grand plan for a turn partway through, resulting in dice placed in phase 3 when you really wanted to save them for 5, or not having accounted for your opponent who then boxes you out by grabbing a building you wanted, and so on.

The King’s Abbey isn’t really a heavy game by definitions of complexity, but until your group gets into the groove of its turn cycle, it will be a bit of a slog.  And even once everyone has a good grip on the phases, it still invites analysis paralysis, since each multi-phase turn needs to be thought through beforehand.

Thankfully this is somewhat mitigated by the dice themselves – most turns, your potential actions are simply limited by the dice faces you’ve rolled.  And while that can be a good thing, since it stops you from needing to consider literally every potential action in the game, it also means bad luck can relegate a whole turn to relatively menial tasks, rather than pushing toward your scoring goals.

Jess:  I did enjoy The King’s Abbey, but several times I felt like I was being diverted from the most satisfying part of the game, the building of the abbey itself, by things like Viking attacks and simply having bad luck with the dice or negative events.  I’m a builder, so games that let me do that are great, but this one sometimes felt a little like it was teasing me with that promise.

Josh:  I see what you mean, though I had less of an issue with that, and more of a problem with the density of the planning. With all those phases to think through every turn, you really had to be on top of your game to make it all come together and not accidentally screw yourself out of a good move.

Andrew:  On the whole, I liked The King’s Abbey well enough – I really enjoy dice placement games in particular and worker placement in general, as well as games which let you build up your base (or abbey or city or whatever), so it did have a lot of appeal to me.  For me, though, it felt like two or three ideas too many – I’m not sure we needed the crusades and the vikings and the events, just for example.  There was enough randomness with just the dice; we didn’t necessarily need more that we couldn’t control and had to account for.

Battlements aid you in your struggle against the darkness, and give you lots of points, too.

All that said, we all agreed that The King’s Abbey was a good experience, and lent itself well to filling its niche – that of a middle-weight strategic game with enough randomness thrown in to drive the traditional Euro crowd nuts.  While not immediately the most accessible game in its genre, its central ideas are good ones and the right group will get a lot of value out of its relative complexity.

So where does that leave us as far as a recommendation?  Well, as you can probably guess, our advice on this one is to dive in knowing that you’re not going to get a breezy playthrough at first, or possibly ever.  But if you’ve got an appetite for it, and if you can keep yourself organized and engaged, The King’s Abbey has tons of potential.

(Gameosity received a review copy of this title.  We were not otherwise compensated.)

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