04th May2018

‘Eternal Kings’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

eternal-kings-box

Eternal Kings is the result of a recent and successful Kickstarter that exceeded its goal by more than 125%. It is based on a hybrid system that merges the fundamentals of chess with the complex rule-bending card play of games like Magic: The Gathering. It is still available for pre-order via the Kickstarter link, here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/366186251/eternal-kings

Given that chess has been around for thousands of years and even Magic has undergone more than twenty years of iterative improvements, Eternal Kings designer Rolando Issa certainly has big shoes to fill. I’ve been testing Eternal Kings for about two months now, and I finally feel as if I’ve played enough to comment on whether or not he’s been successful. I should note that the version I played was a pre-production copy, although it is clearly fairly representative of the final build. The game is played on an eight by eight board with alternating white and black checkerboard spaces. In my version, the board is printed onto a large, canvas map which makes it easy to slide cards around on.

There are four decks of cards provided, each of which includes a full set of cards to represent traditional chess pieces, albeit with a few twists. Firstly, each card has a strength and a hit point value which is used to resolve combat. Each card can also be exhausted (turned over) to gain discipline, which allows the player to activate abilities on the cards themselves, or to activate action cards that are held in the players’ hand.

The prebuilt decks align themselves well to a particular style of play. The most aggressive is the strength deck, which focuses on direct offence. There are then decks for wisdom, agility and intelligence, each of which has its own specific focus. All of the traditional paired pieces (rooks, bishops and knights) is identical, whilst of the eight pawns in each deck, seven are identical whilst the eighth is arguably more powerful – or at the very least different.

The four decks act like starter decks, basically, but much of the fun in Eternal Kings comes from customizing the game even more by merging decks and trying different combinations. Whilst I liked that there were four decks in the base game (rather than the usual two) I can only imagine that the long term plan is to add additional expansions and similar to increase the range of cards available.

The King and Queen are each unique, although I should mention that I was a bit disappointed to see few named female characters – whether Queens or otherwise. Card abilities tend to become more powerful as the piece value increases, so pawns often just allow a card to be drawn, whilst rooks might be able to pass through other pieces, for example. King and Queen Abilities are of course the most powerful and on the whole, the most thematically linked to the style of the deck that they are drawn from.

In terms of how the game plays, pieces move exactly like they do in chess, with the exception of very occasional omissions or changes (like the absence of En Passant.) One piece is moved each turn and when it is activated, it can be flipped to its exhausted side to gain the amount of discipline shown. Usually, this is intended to allow that card to use its printed ability, so whilst the game does allow for powerful and complex sequences and highly strategic gameplay, it is basically very simple to play.

Whenever a card is exhausted in this way, it will not usually be refreshed until it is moved again, although it is still able to defend itself based on its standard hit point value. This is important because whilst most abilities can only be cast during the active player turn (whitecast) some are redcast, which means that they can be cast at any time, which can affect the outcome of combat.

Most redcast abilities are found on the action cards that are drawn from an offboard deck of sixteen cards. These cards can increase strength or hit points, place traps on the board or do similar things. The design team made a sensible decision in not making these cards too powerful, so it is rare that they will affect the board more directly than the pieces themselves. Examples of redcast card abilities include those that can add hit points to an adjacent ally, effectively saving them from death on some occasions.

The combination of chess and complex card play is certainly interesting and it is, if nothing else, a different tactical proposition to vanilla chess. There is much less predictability of outcome in Eternal Kings, largely because of access to special, asymmetrical powers and hidden cards and abilities. The specific focus of each deck becomes highly evident after several plays, meaning that players can either specialise with a prebuilt deck or attempt to mix the best of two (or more) other decks to create their own.

My version of the game didn’t come with a manual (the retail release clearly will) and so I wasn’t sure how to handle the deckbuilding element of the game fairly. To address this, I worked with my most experienced playtesting partner to create a piece by piece draft system, which undoubtedly resulted in some of the wackiest and most unpredictable games. Using the prebuilt decks had the opposite effect – games were closer to the original chess form, albeit still with a distinct flavour.

Everyone who played Eternal Kings and already enjoyed either chess, Magic or both found it to be a very interesting take on a classic system. The artwork is attractive (although it is largely grotesque fantasy in nature) and there doesn’t appear to be a traditional “good” side to choose among the four. Although that did turn some of my group members off the game, everyone agreed that the relevant information was presented on the cards well, which is probably the main thing.

I enjoyed Eternal Kings immensely, overall. Whilst I know that it is not because of the lack of options, it has been an absolute age since I actually played a chess variant that I enjoyed. Eternal Kings fills that void admirably and I really hope to see more expansions and card options introduced in the future. Anyone interested in chess or complex card games and likes the concept of combining the two should consider looking into Eternal Kings; it really is a lot of fun!

**** 4/5

A copy of Eternal Kings was provided by Rolando Issa, and the game is available to preorder on Kickstarter via this link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/366186251/eternal-kings

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