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[Review] Sucession: Intrigue in the Royal Court

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Hooray for new American board game companies! When I first heard of Your Move Games, and saw the pictures of their first two games: Space Station Assault and Succession: Intrigue in the Royal Court (Your Move Games, 2004 - Chad Ellis and Robert Dougherty), I was very excited. The year 2004 had been the best year (in my opinion) for board games yet, and another new game company making quality games was my hope. After my initial reading of the rules for Succession, I was more excited thanks to good old Avalon Hill.

I’ve never been a fan of war games with miniscule counters and thousands of hexes, but some Avalon Hill games have still become favorites of mine; and Kremlin is my favorite. I love the sneakiness, the theme, and the negotiations the game involves. It’s fairly complicated, but some of my most fun gaming moments have come from this game. Succession can easily be summed up as a “Lite-Kremlin” with elements of Citadels - an excellent combo, one that I enjoy greatly. It has quality components and a humorous theme, as well as sound mechanics.

Succession is about an ancient king who is close to kicking the bucket; therefore, he needs to pick a successor. Players are trying to be the right hand man of the candidate (out of five) that the king picks. A candidate board is laid in the middle of the table with five tracks on it for each of the five candidates, numbered one to ten. A token is placed on a starting position for each candidate (“7” for Archie, the King’s son, “3” for Galahad, the noble knight; “2” for Archie, the bishop; “2” for Venetia, the merchant; and “1” for Arianna, the King’s daughter.) Each player chooses a character, one of five: squire, taxman, royalist, wizard, or ambassador and receives the player card for that character. The player card has five tracks on it, one for each candidate, numbered one through five. The player places a token on their starting influence with each candidate and notes the special ability of their character. A pile of gold is placed near the board, with a starting amount given to each player. Depending on how much influence a player has with each candidate is the amount of patronage (gold) that candidate gives the player. Some candidates give more money than others and in varying amounts depending on what space the markers reside on the influence tracks. A deck of cards is shuffled, and four are dealt to each player, with the remainder forming a draw pile. The player who chose last when picking the characters goes first, with play proceeding clockwise.

On a player’s turn they first draw a card, or have the option of discarding all cards, drawing four new cards and ending their turn. They then, as long as they only drew one card, collect patronage once again from the candidates. After that, the player may play as many event cards as they want, and one (only!) intrigue card. Event cards can do all sorts of things, such as cause all players to lose half their money, or steal one card from another player. Players can make any kind of deal when playing an event card; they can bribe the person playing the card, threaten them, make future deals, etc. - anything goes, and nothing is binding.

Intrigue cards are more crucial. They either increase and/or decrease one or more candidate’s standing with the King. The candidate(s) who are affected have markers placed on them to show what the intended outcome of the intrigue card is, and then players vote whether or not to pass the intrigue. Each player secretly writes down “pass” or “fail” as well as a certain amount of influence (0+) they are casting. Players have three ways to “pay” their influence. They can do so with Influence cards, which are cards that are numbered “4” to “9”; Intrigue cards, which can be utilized as an Influence card at a lower value (“2” or “3”); and gold, which is one influence per gold. Players don’t get any “change” back from cards expended for their votes. The total votes are tallied; and if the intrigue passes, the candidates standing markers are moved accordingly. If the intrigue fails, nothing happens; but either way, all votes expended are discarded. The player who cast the most votes - regardless of whether they voted “pass” or “fail” - controls the “spin” of the intrigue. The candidates who were affected are likely to be pleased or greatly irritated with someone, and this player controls their joy/anger. The controlling player decides who gets the credit (they increase their standing with that candidate by one point) for candidates who gain favor with the king, and who gets the blame (they decrease their standing with that candidate by one point) for candidates who lose favor with the king. Credit and blame is assigned regardless of how the vote went.

Some intrigues ban the use of gold, while others double its effects. Players can make deals during intrigues, etc.; they can also play certain events. Deals can include giving gold, cards, etc.; whatever they want, as long as protocol is followed with timing (explained more in the rules.) The game ends in one of two ways: when a candidate’s standing with the king reaches “10”, or when the deck of cards runs out. In either case, the candidate with the highest standing with the king becomes the new king, and the player who has the highest standing with that candidate is the winner! Ties for candidate are broken by one last vote, and ties for influence with the winning candidate are broken by totaling all remaining influence of the players involved (money and cards in hand).

Each candidate has a special ability. Galahad always has a “pass” 5 vote added to intrigues that would increase his favor, and a “fail” 5 vote added to intrigues that would decrease his favor. Whenever Ulysses loses favor, the number is increased by one, and he can never gain more than one favor. Arianna is the opposite, always increasing the number of gained standing by one, and she can never lose more than one favor. Archie can never lose favor from intrigues but can from events, and thus never assigns blame. Venetia pays a three gold bonus to any player that receives the credit for her standing increasing.

Characters also have special abilities. The squire always has two votes added to their total for free, while the taxman gets three extra gold each turn. The royalist may pay three gold to gain one more standing when receiving credit with a candidate. The wizard can buy an extra card each turn for three gold, and the Ambassador never loses standing when receiving blame.

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: For a new company, I am extremely impressed with how nice the game looks. All six of the boards are thick, quality cardboard, laminated with beautiful artwork and colorful graphics. The tokens are nice and thick, easy to handle, with the coins coming in “1” and “5” denominations. I would have liked the tokens to be double sided, as they would have been easier to sort; but it’s no big deal. The cards are thick and laminated, with each type (Intrigue, Event, and Influence) having a different colored border, making them easy to distinguish. The numbers on the cards are huge, easy to distinguish, and there is a lot of flavor text, with a lot of humor involved. Everything fits in a nice plastic insert in a very sturdy box, colored in purple with more of the cartooned graphics. This is a very solid offering, component-wise, for a new game company.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is really big, colorful, bright, and almost doesn’t look like a rulebook. In fact, one of my young daughters thought it was a kid’s book - one of hers. I’m certainly not mocking this format to the rules; they are very detailed, filled with snippets of humor - but easy to read. The formatting of the rules is incredibly nice with massive pictures, and large fonts. I liked how there was a story involved throughout the rules; it really helped with the theme. The game was easy to teach to others, but seemed to run better with ages 12+, if only for the negotiation parts.

3.) Negotiation: I love negotiation games, and this one is a doozy. The rules allowing any sort of deal to be made makes for some crazy times if - and only if - the players are the type who like to negotiate. If you play with a stubborn fool, or someone who just doesn’t like negotiation games; the game can drag a bit. I also think that this disqualifies the two-player aspect, even though the game states that it handles two to five players. Frankly, I would prefer to play always with a full compliment of five players, even though four does not make for a bad game. Since, negotiation is the heart of the game, many loud players are recommended for optimal performance.

4.) Kremlin: I stated that the game reminds me of Kremlin-lite; but in reality, it’s not even close to the complexity of the venerable game. Still, trying to garner influence with the winning candidates is a similar theme, and players who enjoy Kremlin will probably also like this one. Some of the main differences are the fact that player’s influence with the candidates is open, and there are more chaotic elements to the game through cards and special abilities. Still, it makes for an intrigue filled game, one filled with theme. I actually think that this game would have a much wider appeal than Kremlin, because of the easy-to-read graphics, the much easier game play, and the lighter, less outdated theme.

5.) Citadels: The game also reminds me of Citadels - er, a little. The special abilities of the characters are different and powerful. I found that everybody who played thought that everybody else’s character’s special powers were game-breaking and too powerful, but that their own was well-balanced. After a few plays, however, I believe that the powers are fair and balanced; but that if players utilize them correctly, they can become extremely powerful. Players must be careful not to underestimate these powers, as they can be very useful. As I said earlier, however, the powers aren’t what decide the winner of the game; it’s the negotiations.

6.) Cards: The cards throw an element of chaos into the game; I will admit. But the simple act of negotiations can turn what might seem like a random element into skillful strategy. The event cards are powerful, but the intrigue cards much more so. And since they have to be voted on, a player cannot just whip one out and win the game with it. It’s entirely feasible for a player to quickly win a game, but only if the other players permit.

7.) King making and Fun Factor: The only problem I can see with the game is that often players may be placed in king making positions, deciding who will win or lose. But this is one case where I think that king making might be justified. Players are making and/or breaking deals throughout the game, and their actions could very well possibly affect how they are treated near the end. It’s a very fine wire to walk - trying to win, yet trying to look the entire game like you are not. It’s because of this and a heavy dependence on negotiation skills, that I really enjoy the game.

The theme, while not as humorously sardonic as Kremlin's, is enjoyable, made much more so by the flavor text on the cards and interesting rulebook. This, along with fun game mechanics, would cause me to want to play the game often. But throw in some wild negotiations with the right people, and I’ll gladly play this game anytime. It might not work well in some crowds, especially with those who can’t take a good-natured backstab. But with the Diplomacy-lite crowd, those who like negotiations but don’t want to get TOO serious about it, this is the perfect game. With tremendous quality components and simple yet fun game play, this is the perfect game for those who like to wheel and deal.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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