MtG: Kingdoms

Frontier Guide - by Wayne Reynolds (waynereynolds.com)

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any artwork from Magic: the Gathering depicted in this post. Magic: the Gathering is the property of © Wizards of the Coast 1995-2016. Please support the official release.

Back in First Year I discovered a wonderful game called "Mafia." From what I've gathered it's a very common game in camps, halls of residence and the like because all it requires to play is eight+ people and a deck of cards (or shreds of paper and a hat for less civilized folk). For those who have not encountered the game or a derivative of it, Mafia revolves around deception and deductive thinking. Players have very selective knowledge of what is going on and have to figure out the other player's roles based on their behaviour.

Taking things forward to the end of Third Year, my roommate Rosco managed to stumble upon a new game mode for Magic somewhere in the depths of Reddit. The mode was called "Kingdoms" and played like a game of EDH where players took on roles in a similar manner to a game like Mafia. As I've said before, I am a huge fan of the EDH format and the Kingdoms rule-set provides an alternative and highly replayable way to enjoy the game (in an already very replayable format - it's like Kingdoms put all its skill points into this one thing and whenever people are like "hmmm, I don't know what to play" it's all like "don't worry guys, I've got this."). But yes, very, very fun.

Kiss - by Todd Lockwood (toddlockwood.com)

So how does one play Kingdoms? The game mode can theoretically be played with any kind of format in Magic but through experience, the slower paced nature of EDH really helps for allowing people to get into their role and do some proper scheming. Basic requirements are:

  • Five to six players (preferably forgiving friends - alternatively, people you have no qualms about openly lying to then stabbing in the back).
  • A spare plains, forest, two mountains and a swamp (plus a spare island card if you have six people).
  • About an hour of time. Games can certainly be over by then but the best one's I've played are those where people were heavily invested in the politics of the game, which is arguably the whole purpose of this mode.

To begin a game, shuffle the spare land cards and deal each player a single land. This card becomes the player's role in the forthcoming match. Each role has a specific goal they are trying to achieve and the game ends when a player reaches their goal. Sometimes multiple players can reach their goal simultaneously. Sometimes players' goals can be achieved even after they've been remove from the game. The roles are as follows:

The King/Queen (Plains) - Starts with a bonus 25% life (e.g 50 in EDH). The King/Queen's goal is to be the last person standing, removing other players through convention means for a game of Magic to the appropriate format ('21 commander damage' rule applies in EDH Kingdoms). The King/Queen is the only player who reveals their role card, which they must do before the first round of play.

The Knight (Forest) The shield of the King/Queen. The Knight's goal is to keep the King/Queen alive by any means necessary, even if it means sacrificing themself. If the King/Queen wins the game, the Knight also wins the game, even if they have been removed. The Knight plays as a standard player with no special privileges, meaning they cannot block for the King/Queen with their creatures, share mana or cards in hand, or perform any table-top maneuver's that would otherwise be illegal in standard Magic play.

The Bandits (Mountains) - The only role of which there are two. The Bandits are a team whose goal is simply to kill the King/Queen. If the King/Queen dies at any point (and not to the hands of the Usurper or the final kill of the Assassin) then both Bandits win regardless of their status. Although they are on the same team, the Bandits have no way of guaranteeing who their fellow Bandit is. Similarly to the relationship with the King/Queen and the Knight, the Bandits share no special rules with each other, only the win condition.

The Assassin (Swamp) - The Assassin has one of the trickier goals; to be the last person standing. Although this is functionally identical to the King/Queen, the Assassin must be careful as to when they target each player. Kill the Knight too early and you risk the Bandits taking out the King/Queen. Kill the King/Queen too early and the Bandits win. No other special rules apply.

The Usurper (Island - only played with six people) - The Usurper's goal is to become the King/Queen. If the Usurper manages to deliver the killing blow to the current King/Queen, they reveal their role card. Instead of dying, the original King/Queen is reduced to 1 life and acquires the Usurper role card. The Usurper's life total then becomes that which the King/Queen started with (even if that means losing life) and the Usurper becomes the new King/Queen. The Knight's allegiance changes immediately, as does the Bandits' target. The old King/Queen becomes the new Usurper. Usurpers kill other players normally and gain no special rules for interacting with them.

Tariel, Reckoner of Souls - by Wayne Reynolds (waynereynolds.com)

With all that said, the most important rule of Kingdoms is to never reveal your role card, even when you are removed from the game, until the entire game is over. This is integral for players like the Assassin who may take on the guise of a Knight or Bandit to gain favour with other players until the time is right to deliver a fatal blow. Sometimes a Bandit may pretend to be a Knight to avoid drawing heat from the King/Queen and potentially convince them to kill their only ally. These kinds of plays rely on no player being 100% sure on who each other person is (with the exception of the King/Queen of course).

This potential for deception, flimsy alliances and backstabbing is what makes Kingdoms so much fun to play. It takes the standard Magic game, with all its banter and rivalry, and adds a juicy layer to the politics that changes how everyone views their opponents. Although the level of deductive think present in a game like Mafia isn't quite as deep in Kingdoms, it does give players something else to focus on other than the next combo they're going to play. It also makes for some dramatic betrayals worthy of a Game of Thrones reference.

An added bonus I found after playing Kingdoms a couple of times was that it is great for dispelling post-match tension. While Magic may be just a game, I know how emotionally invested people can get into a match and how upsetting it can be when things don't go the way you planned. Although I hate admitting it, I am not above getting sulky over a particularly bad loss. Kingdoms holds the advantage of forming random alliances. The person who mercilessly crushed you as a Bandit may end up being the Queen to your Knight in the next match, forcing you to work together. There is no room for lingering feuds. These fires are salt-free, so to speak.

Kingdoms is also one of those game modes that gets better the more you play it. Once people are familiar with each role and start to learn their opponents behaviour patterns, it opens things up for double-bluffing and baiting in a way no other version of Magic I've played allows for. For anyone who wants a good laugh and a dramatic game experience, I'd definitely recommend it. There are plenty of variants of rules and roles for this type of game mode, which means there is a heap to experiment with depending on how your group likes to play. So pull together some friends and check it out!