Published on June 6th, 2016 | by Nicole Jekich0
A Rivalry Between Sisters
Our Review of Monarch, A Successful Kickstarter Game
The kingdom of Minervia needs a new ruler but this time the throne is contested between you and your sisters. Each player represents a royal heir looking to claim the throne as queen. Each princess will be gathering supporters to their Court and each can choose to pursue a different path of leadership; however, victory ultimately relies on how many votes for the crown you collect by the end of the game. The sister with the most crowns will become the new queen!
Collect Resources From a Shared Kingdom
Monarch is a simple tableau builder where players gather resources from a communal land and spend those resources to acquire cards for their Court. At the start of each game, players randomly select and build a 3×3 grid of land tiles which include either a Small Village or Simple Farm. Farms produce Food when players take the Harvest action and Villages produce Gold when players take the Tax action. On their turn, players can a) take either a Harvest or Tax action and b) buy any number of cards from the Market.
The Market deck features an array of cards to assist the princesses on their path to the crown. The Court cards are the cards players will purchase that will fill up their Court tableau. The first sister to have 7 Court cards triggers the end game. “Court” is the general term to refer to the people, animals and even possessions that support or give legitimacy to your bid for Queen of Minervia. Many of the cards are categorized into 5 different paths: Bounty, Culture, Might, Wisdom or Balance. Adding cards to your Court that have matching paths will result in more crown points. Cards with the same path often have abilities that will benefit from having more matching path cards or very specific cards. For example the Gazing Glass above is a Wisdom card and allows the player to buy additional Wisdom cards for their Court at a 2 gold discount.
Having multiple matching path cards will also allow players to add Banner tiles to their tableau. These Banners signify the sister’s commitment to a certain path either, Bounty, Culture, Might, Wisdom or Balance, and gives that player additional Crown points for cards in their Court at the end of the game that share the chosen path. These Banner cards also have unique abilities which will help players throughout the game like the Culture banner which allows a player to rid the Market line up of a single Unwanted Guest each turn. A sister can only have one Banner in their tableau a game and must meet the requirements before they can acquire it.
Some combinations of Court cards are dependent on their type like Beast or Garment. Unfortunately there aren’t easily identified keywords on the card to state which type a card is although there is a watermark behind the ability text that is hard to read and isn’t referenced in the rulebook. The other card design we came across during play is the size of the numbers for the Crown points, Food/Gold resources and Market card cost. There is plenty of room on the tiles and cards to enlarge the text. These issues with the watermark symbols and tiny text is likely an oversight and one that is easily corrected in a second edition printing.
In addition to Court Cards, players can buy Land Improvement cards from the Market row that upgrade the current Small Villages and Simple Farms. These upgrades are placed over a corresponding city or farm tile and allow for the land spaces to produce more resources. Everyone in the game receives the benefit of the upgraded land for the rest of the game when performing a Harvest or Tax action. Upgrading the land throughout the game was my favorite part of Monarch because building the improved cities and farms added more thematic buildings and gave the country a new look each game.
All the cards and tiles are done up in detailed scratchboard illustrations by Kate Adams which gives Monarch a very artistic look when it’s all set up especially with Land Improvements like the Hall of 1000 Wonders, Blue Ziggurat and many more. I could see many more Land cards added to Monarch that could change the game drastically or add some different thematic structures. Monarch is a beautiful game with a lot of imagination and story scattered through the cards.
If helping your fellow opponents in a competitive game isn’t your idea of good strategy, you’ll be pleased to learn there are Unwanted Guests which you can purchase from the Market too and add to a fellow sister’s Court. Unwanted Guests subtract from your Crown total and you cannot get rid of them unless you acquire a card that will let you remove an Unwanted Guest. Thankfully these cards don’t count towards your 7 Court limit and players can only have two Unwanted Guests at a time. The Unwanted Guests like the Drunk Juggler, Jealous Cousin, etc lovingly commemorate a few backers from Monarch’s Kickstarter campaign.
Weather Prosperous & Unfortunate Events
Going about your turn in Monarch is routine until you reveal a Moon card. These Moon events resolve immediately and affect or dictate certain actions that the sisters may choose to follow. Usually these events will ask for a certain condition or payment that the sisters must agree to follow and each sister will receive the benefit (of additional food, gold, etc) or prevent a disaster (like discarding a Court card or losing resources). These Moon events are shuffled into the Market Deck and their appearance is entirely random. Usually random events aren’t an issue but in Monarch where players have unlimited buy actions and can sweep the market for just 3 gold, there are times where event cards come up very frequently.
During our first game of Monarch, one player revealed three Moon cards in a single turn which helped him amass a lot of money that he could then immediately use to acquire multiple court cards. The other players were playing catch up the rest of the game and finished with less Court cards and a lot less points than the leader. With his sudden random gift of Gold combined with unlimited buy actions meant that there was know way to catch up to the leader who could easily trigger the end game by filling his court with 7 before his opponents. There is little other players can do in game to compete with a runaway victory. They only way to react to this kind of snowballing luck is to give that player unwanted guest cards; however their negative 1-3 points do little to bridge the victory gap. These randomized events could be more evenly distributed throughout the deck or appear at the beginning or end of each round to prevent multiple events dictating a player’s turn.
Count Your Court:
The game continues until a princess acquires 7 court cards and after each player has an equal number of turns. Players are looking to have the most Crown points and because players can switch up cards in their Court and add in bonus points from their Banner, the total points each player has is not easily calculated until the very end. The winner gains the kingdom and the new title and responsibility as Queen!
With the exception of the first game of Monarch we played, each game after went more smoothly without any runaway victories. When we play we randomly space out the Moon event cards to limit the number of random events that pop up in a single turn. Monarch is a very fun building game and having upgrades that all players can access is a great idea. Like many tableau building games, Monarch’s gameplay is very solitary with little interaction between the players. The main interaction comes from purchasing and assigning Unwanted Guests to other players and looking for opportunities to sweep the market or “hate draft” cards that you know other players want to buy. Paying close attention to each players commitment to a certain path or card type is a big factor with winning Monarch. Monarch is a game with a lot of possibilities and definitely has me thinking and hoping for more expansion content which can build upon this base game structure.
You can learn more about Monarch on their website and about the designer Dr. Mary Flanagan and her team at Tiltfactor: a creative space for designing games for social change. Monarch will also be on Season 4 of Tabletop!!