And you thought this game couldn't get more complicated.
Since I moved to Auckland I've tragically been separated from my troupe of fellow Gathering Magic-ers and my decks went on the shelf. After a little while my new flatmate Jimmy-jam showed interest in learning how to play. Needless to say I was delighted to bust out the old 60-card decks and let the spell slinging start anew.
It didn't take long for his investment into the game to deepen and after he had a solid collection of cards I introduced him to Commander. His friend Pat-pat had enough cards to pull together an EDH deck of his own, and with Richie using my spares we had enough for an awesome-foursome. With the release of the new set and my enthusiasm renewed, I went and put together a new deck full of spicy Zombois and fun times. So in the spirit of Commander-centered antics, here is a fresh post on an expanded version of the Kingdoms style of play.
The version I will be discussing here was created by a friend of mine and his original MtG crew. You can find his posts on Reddit or MtG Salvation that discuss the expansion and have all the appropriate resources free to download.
There are two things this expansion accomplishes. Firstly, it pushes the player cap of six all the way up to nine without any significant upset to game balance. Normally playing EDH with more than six people puts the game time up to something stupid and players who don't have the patience of a giant turtle are left drumming their fingers between turns. Things get especially dull for anyone who is eliminated early, as these games normally take a good two-or-so hours to finish.
This is where the second major differences comes in; role cards now have added functionality. Each role comes with a unique power that grants the player more political influence and/or survivability. It's effectively a 'free' ace up your sleeve where the only cost is revealing your role. These abilities won't speed rounds up but can cause enough upset to keep a player in the game and maintain engagement in larger groups, especially when the player's true agenda is revealed as a result. While these role abilities are powerful, if everyone decides to gang up on you there's little you can do except bring a good book to read while you wait for the game to end. Personally I recommend "Git Gud or Die Trying" or "How to get Better Friends."
These new role cards add another delicious layer to an already enormous, if not convoluted, cake. They've been strategically designed to maintain and intermingle the political alliances that naturally form in Kingdoms games while aiding players towards their respective goals. The old roles were King, Knight, Bandits, Assassin and Usurper, while the new roles are divided into similar factions. The King, Knights and Bandits are still punching each other up but now the Assassin and Usurper are factions known as Nobles and Renegades. Nobles are still functionally the Assassin but now there can be a team of them. Renegades are wild cards that have their own agendas and provide the necessary padding for playing with awkward numbers where an extra Knight, Bandit or Noble would tip the balance too far.
So let's have a look. First up is the King.
In the original Kingdoms the King starts with 10 more life than normal and starts the game. These rules aren't mentioned on this card but I believe they should be maintained. The main reason is that the King is the only role who doesn't have a set goal beyond 'don't die.' Likewise, their win condition is the most prolonged and can only be reached once everyone else has failed theirs (Knights excluded). The bonus 10 life acknowledges this and is somewhat symbolic of their role as King over all. Within the context of Expanded Kingdoms, the King's active abilities can only affect other players so I think it's important to maintain the original bonuses, else the King becomes the least desirable card.
Another element that's been added is the punishment for a King killing one of their Knights. As brutal as it is, I love the addition of this rule as it increases the significance of role-based discussion. Bandits, Renegades and Nobles have more reason to lie about their role to redirect the King's aggression. Having a Bandit convince the King to kill a Knight could be the turning point for a close game.
Speaking of Knights, here are the King's (mostly) loyal defenders:
Each Knight's ability is a great way of changing up the pace of the game. Sometimes the King just has a bad time but with the Bastard, Kingslayer or Oathkeeper, the Knight has a chance to make up the difference rather than being doomed to a premature defeat. Something to note about the Knights is that they all have reactive triggers in one way or another, which supports their inherently defensive role. This little quirk, alongside the predominant Game of Thrones motif, is a nice design touch that makes Kingdoms feel more like a proper expansion of the Magic: the Gathering and less like homebrew.
Next up are the big bad Bandits.
The Bandits have the simplest goal in any Kingdoms match and consequently the fastest to reach. This also has the unfortunate consequence that from every other role's perspective, confirmed Bandits are the most expendable players to target. It seems appropriate then that each Bandit's ability enables or rewards aggressive tactics. Often flipping a Bandit can be the key manoeuvre in a turn that decides the match. It only seems appropriate that they received the colouring they did.
The third major faction, the Nobles, make up the last of the inherent alliances.
The Nobles generally have to pay the most attention to the politics of the game. The Bandits have the target chosen for them and the Knight just has to kill everyone who isn't her or her King. The Nobles, however, are trying to do what the King is without triggering a premature victory for another faction. It makes sense then that all of their powers are utility-focused. The one I don't like to play with is the Spymaster. While built for flavour, it messes with the game dynamic too much. Not only does it enable what is effectively cheating, players who are new to the game won't know to look for it. Alternatively, it could always be announced before role cards are distributed that the Spymaster is in play which is both ironic and removes the surprise of what people are playing from randomly distributed roles. I love the ability to look at other player's role cards while the Spymaster is face up because it allows for some fantastic bluffing, so it is a shame that it's first ability has such an effect on the game's dynamic. An alternative I would suggest is that the Spymaster may instead be turned face-up at any point to draw a card for each remaining opponent divided by two, rounded up. Their ability to look at other player's role cards would be limited to one player during the Spymaster's upkeep. This gives the Spymaster the choice of revealing themselves early to gain extra cards and investigate other players (at the cost of making enemies) versus holding onto their political ambiguity (and ability to make false allies).
To round the game off are the Renegades.
On a whole, the Renegades are a bit all over the place, but maybe that's the point. They all seem more concerned about doing their own thing than what's happening around the table. Given that these cards only ever appear when the other roles don't divide in a balanced manner, it makes sense a lot of them take on roles/alliances of other players under unique conditions. The two I have issues with are the Executioner and the Sellsword. On paper the Executioner is fun but much in the way the Spymaster messes with the dynamic, it's unfair on new players and is a nuisance to set up otherwise. All it takes is a dishonest player to ruin a whole game. Even when played properly the only time it gets revealed is to end the game prematurely, which doesn't mesh so well with the political dynamic everyone else is playing to.
As far as the Sellsword is concerned, it's full of flavour but favours anyone playing a deck with adequate life gain. When you have an opponent who has managed to get triple figures in life total and can triple the highest amount you could bid, the last thing they need is another ally. I've spoken to my friend about the design of this card and he said it's always been troublesome to get the balance right but even with this revised version (it used to consume all life bid, not just the winner's), I still find it better to play without it. Not a fan of the rich getting richer...
Lastly, we have the Queen.
There's not much to be said about her that hasn't already been said. The fact that she doesn't have a flip ability beyond picking sides is a little disappointing but it does make for an interesting debate every time it is triggered. Perhaps giving her access to a set of the King's tap abilities when she's active would make this card a little more appealing. I had an incredibly satisfying match as King where the Nobles were in an advantageous position so when the Queen was revealed they sided with them rather than me and my then-dead Knight. Funnily enough, I managed to built a big enough pillow fort to survive and managed to kill off each Noble, saving the Queen until last. Oh how sweet that victory had been.
The final verdict is that this is a game mode that deserves the attention of anyone who enjoys large multiplayer matches or wants to spice up their Commander experience. It's been the catalyst for some of the most memorable, dramatic and downright hilarious matches I've played. Kudos to the boys for putting this online and accessible to all.