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[Review] King of the Beasts: Mythological Edition

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Joined: 03/23/2011

One of the best games ever designed (especially for three is Colossal Arena (also known as Titan: the Arena), a game in which players bet on one of several monsters, hoping to put their bids behind one of the monsters that wins the free-for-all. Players can help adjust the outcome, which turns out to be a brilliant mechanic. The moment I played King of the Beasts: Mythological Edition (Playroom Entertainment, 2005 - Reiner Knizia), I was immediately reminded of Titan: the Arena. The themes are similar, as in this game, the mythological animals are fighting to see who will be the King of the Beasts.

The game is a very simple, fairly lucky one, in which players are attempting to put influence behind one of six different animals. I enjoy the game for what it is - a fifteen minute filler. There's a bit of guesswork in which animal you'll throw your support behind, but luck plays a high role - probably more than many people will want. The high point of the game is how quickly it plays, and regardless of luck, it leaves the winner with a satisfied feeling - they know they've backed the right animal.

There are six animals pictured on a long thin Voting board, showing their priority from top to bottom (dragon, kraken, manticore, griffon, unicorn, and salamander). A pile of cards, showing the pictures of each animal (10-12 of each), is shuffled with five dealt to each player. The remainder are placed in a deck with five turned face up in a pool. The youngest player goes first, with play proceeding clockwise around the table.

On a player's turn, they take one animal type from the face up pool, which could possibly be more than one card. A player then has the option of playing a "meld". To do this, they must play two to six cards of the same animal type onto the table. One of these cards (and three maximum) must be placed next to the picture on the voting board, and the remainder (again three maximum) in front of themselves in a face down stack. The pool is then refreshed, and the next player goes.

Play continues until one animal has six cards next to their picture on the scoring board, denoting that animal's newfound regality. Second and third place animals are also determined - with ties being broken by whichever animal is higher on the board. Players look at the cards they have for the winning three animals, scoring one point for each card they have that matches second or third place, and two points for cards matching the king animal. The player with the most points is the winner.

Some comments on the gameā€¦

1.) Components: King of the Beasts has one of the largest "air to box" ratios of any game I own. The small folding board and cards could have easily fit inside a box the third of the size. Still, the box matches the other Knizia titles from Playroom Entertainment, making it easier to stack. The graphic design of the animals themselves is very well done, done in a cartoonish manner, but with some seriousness. Each animal has a different background color, making them easy to distinguish from each other. The square cards themselves show a picture of the animal, along with a small icon of it in each corner. They're easy to work with - a little thinner than I would have liked. Overall, the game is very colorful and pleasant to look upon, but the amount of components for the price isn't too terrific.

2.) Rules: The rules of the game are only two pages - and that's two full color pages with illustrations and examples. The game is really that simple, and I don't even use the word "meld" when introducing the game to new folks. I simply tell them that they have to put at least one card in front of themselves, and one in front of the animals. People pick up on that thing rather quickly. This is a game that kids will have no problem with.

3.) Animals: There are a few differences between the animals, as there are only ten dragons in the deck and twelve fire salamanders. This actually makes a big difference - as while the dragons win all ties, I don't often see them become the king of the beasts. People are usually too greedy and place too many cards in front of themselves for their preferred favorite to win.

4.) Placing: The concept of the game is very simple - which animals will you attempt to put your influence on, and how much? One can easily throw three cards in front of themselves each turn, hoping to have a LOT of influence with that animal; but the likelihood of that animal becoming King is pretty low. Consider the dragon, for example. If I place three cards in front of me, and one next to the dragon, and then Bob does the same thing, we have just guaranteed that the dragon cannot become the king; as there are only two cards left in the deck, and an animal needs six cards next to the board to become king. This sort of decision is very simple and quick, yet makes the game rather fun.

5.) Scoring: Scores in the game tend to be easy to compute and are often low - mostly because the winning animal has six cards next to them - meaning that the number of cards that players have in front of them can't be all that high. I've played games before in which I backed the three animals that didn't win - which was funny (to everyone else), and it's very rare that scores are close - usually someone does tremendously well - they happened to pick the top three animals.

6.) Colossal Arena: I compared this game to Colossal Arena at the beginning of my review, and I still feel that it is a valid comparison. Arena is not so easy for beginners (it's hard to know who to put your secret bid on) and offers more debt. However, it also takes longer to play - during one game of Arena several games of King of the Beasts could be played. I'd rather play Arena any day, but King of the Beasts makes a minor substitution, especially when played with younger children, or when time is tight.

7.) Fun Factor: For me, that's one of the joys of King of the Beast - the fact that we can play several games in a row, and it happens so quickly, yet feels rather satisfying. I've played it enough to know that guesswork and luck play a rather large role; but if you go into the game with those thoughts in mind, it can be a fun little experience.

Who should buy this game? I would recommend it to those with children who want a light, fast game - and one that can teach the kids not to be too selfish (or your animal won't win), and a springboard for more complicated games of influence. Even adults who like light games might be pleased with this one, especially because it is so quick. Just don't expect anything more out of it, and you'll have a good time.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

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