Engaging Your Players with Kingless
If I didn’t know better, I would assume that board games that are quick and short would automatically be less engaging and immersive than their longer duration counterparts. I would think this because presumably, a board game where you would invest less of your time in, would mean the game and the victory would mean less as well. But this does not seem to always be the case. I’ve seen tables of board gamers who are on the edge of their seats when playing Incan Gold, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Codenames, etc.
With that said, I do think that if the shorter board game doesn’t do a proper job of engaging its players, it would be detrimental to the experience. This is why I reached out to Two19, the company behind Kingless, to learn about their design decisions on engaging their players. They were happy to share with me, their strategies on making an engaging game as well as their “FEF Principle”.
Kingless is a fast-paced and easy-to-learn card game designed to capture the imagination! You will compete against 1–5 friends in snappy 20-minute games, the goal is to obtain the highest influence and become King earning an advantage in the next round.
Each player has a hand composed of Dwarves, Events and Items drawing from the deck each turn or when certain cards are played. Dwarves and Items have an associated score which when in play counts towards a players influence. Events can be used to remove other players’ Dwarves or even make them your own. Turns are taken sequentially until an end game condition is reached leaving all players a final turn to either try get the highest score or drag their friends down to their level.
What was your inspiration for making a short and fast-paced game?
With Kingless we really wanted to hit the balance of an easy to pick up game that you could teach to anyone, be it an experienced gamer or someone new to tabletop gaming. This easy to learn nature of the game must be balanced with enough depth to allow good strategic play. With those goals in mind, the best design choice for us was a shorter fast-paced game. We did not want a long and confusing rule book but instead one where someone inexperienced to tabletop gaming could pick it up, read it and understand how to play in minutes.
Another reason we decided to make Kingless, short and fast-paced, stemmed from our desire to make a game that could be introduced to any social circle or family group and be enjoyable for all quickly without the confusion of learning a difficult game. We really wanted Kingless to be a game that could introduce people into the wondrous world of tabletop gaming without the steep learning curve but still be engaging for experienced tabletop gamers.
How do you get your players engaged? What mechanics do you employ to encourage this?
Some games get a bit boring halfway through with declaring the victor becoming more of a formality rather than a close competition between the players. We wanted to avoid this at all costs with Kingless. The main mechanic that I believe keeps the game engaging and entertaining throughout the whole round is the mechanic behind becoming the King or the Fool. At the end of the game the person with the highest influence is declared the King and has won the game, whereas the player with the lowest influence is dubbed the Fool.
Our lead designer, Nathan, grew up with card games using the classic deck of cards. His favourite game was one in particular, where the person who came in last place was penalised with a not so flattering title. “I loved that this made the game a competition to win but almost and, more importantly, it made the game a competition to not come dead last.” This really gave the game a play one more round attitude as the person who came last would want to try to have another chance to lose their title. This is the inspiration behind the King and Fool mechanic in Kingless.
We have expanded on the idea and included a minor penalty for the Fool to have to give their best card, from their starting hand, to the King. The King returns whatever card they see fit. This does not negatively impact the Fool, as all cards in Kingless are powerful in their own way. From extensive playtesting we found the Fool has had no issues becoming the King in the next round. The main penalty of being the Fool is more of a social one as other players will refer to you as such. There is no escape until you lose the title in your next game as you have the Fool’s hat card in front of you as a constant reminder of your lowly title.
Fast-paced games usually have a lot of player interactions. How do the players interact in Kingless?
Influence being the deciding factor between victory and defeat in Kingless is a very important number to keep track of. How much influence you have compared to other players will affect your strategy greatly. Is there one player a mile in front? Do all the other players gang up on the leading player to lower their influence? Or do you target someone near your influence to make it less likely for you to be the Fool?
Influence is gained by playing Dwarfs or Items into your play area. To interact with other players, you use event cards. Event cards ensure rapidly changing gameplay which allows players to make a strong comeback or to even fall from a seemingly secure first place.
The end game of Kingless is triggered when any player has a combination of 6 dwarfs or items in their play area; otherwise it is triggered when the deck of cards runs out. All we know is, you better keep a few tricks up your sleeve, for when the end game is triggered, all players will have one last devastating turn to try and become King or avoid being the Fool.
There are a lot of strong and outcome altering cards, how are the cards balanced?
This is a really interesting question, but also something we have considered a lot during development. We knew from day 1, the style of game we would like Kingless to be, so to help us keep us on target for that goal, we devised a rule we coined the “FEF Principle”. FEF stands for Fast, Easy, Fun and has been mostly an internal phrase for us. Everything from the core mechanics, rules, even the artwork was applied to this principle. If something didn’t meet any of those aspects, we removed it from the game.
One such aspect was called “Fake Dwarfs”. Fake Dwarfs existed in Kingless all the way up to Alpha Version 9. For reference, that was about 12 months into development. It was really hard to let this feature go, we had a lot of fun with it. But as Kingless matured further, it was clear this component didn’t meet our requirement of FEF.
Balance was a huge part of our playtesting. Thankfully, we had the opportunity to use Tabletop Simulator throughout this process. Tabletop Simulator allowed us to play with people from all around the world and gather feedback as we continued to refine Kingless. We’d gather a whole host of information from each playtest that we could then use to help balance the game and ensure we were still meeting our FEF requirement. Having Kingless in Tabletop Simulator also allowed us to play around with how the game played. We ran a few playtests where we (unknowingly to everyone else) gave one person a certain combination of cards. Doing this allowed us to test rare events and combinations to ensure the game played exactly the way we wanted.
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Article published on www.fourtato.com