There really aren’t enough games out there about blacksmithing. Oh sure, there are plenty of games out their that feature blacksmithing, usually as some sort of side venture. It takes a game like King’s Forge to really throw the noble craft into the limelight, and it does a pretty good job of doing it in a way that is enjoyable but not as hard as the real thing…thank God.
King’s Forge is a dice allocating, crafting game designed by Nick Sibicky and published by Starling Games. It was kickstarted back in 2014 and has gone on to receive a second edition, as well as a couple of interesting expansions. In King’s Forge you play as a blacksmith working for the king and must gain resources necessary to craft as many beautiful and mysterious items as you can to gain the favour of the king and be named a master craftsman.
As you can probably guess from the identifier ‘dice allocating game’, most of your time in the game is spent rolling, gaining and placing dice. You place 2 dice to complete tasks to gain more dice, then you use the dice to craft items, after which you get back most of the dice you used to use them all over again. And now the word dice has appeared so many times in this review that it’s starting to sound weird.
Gameplay in King’s Forge is split into 3 different phases: the gathering phase, the crafting phase and the clean-up phase. The gathering phase is used to gain more dice, which are your means of completing gathering tasks and crafting items. During the crafting phase, you spend the dice you’ve accrued to craft one of the three available items or to steal the items that your other players have tried to make. Finally, the clean-up phase is used to reset the board for the next round by picking up any unused dice and discarding any used up ones.
At the beginning of the gathering phase, the first player flips over the top 4 cards of the gather deck to show the available gathering locations, and then you start placing your dice. As well as gathering locations, there are also mines that are always on the board so that you always have access to the resources. There is a drawback to using the dock locations in comparison to the gather locations, however, mainly that you mostly get the dice used on gather spots back at the end of the turn, but all of the dock locations use up the dice placed on them.
When crafting you have a pool of three items to choose from at a time. Each item requires a certain combination of different dice colours, each representing a different crafting material. The different dice also have to be rolled to attain a high enough value to be eligible as crafting components. Once you’ve crafted as many items as you can, you pass the turn off to the next player and they get a chance to craft items as well. Your crafted items aren’t safe yet, however, as someone else can use dice of a higher value to steal the items you’ve crafted until the round ends.
King’s Forge has a decent split between luck and strategy, and this is done handily by having all of the strategy in the gather phase while all of the luck is found in the crafting phase. While claiming tasks in the gather phase, you have to take into consideration the items currently available for crafting and the dice types required to create them, and if you’re not the first player, you also have to consider what items might become available after the preceding players have finished their craft turns.
The luck comes into it with the crafting itself. At the start of your crafting turn, you roll all of your available dice to see what value each crafting material has. This means that to be sure you’ll be able to craft something, it is a good idea to have more of each dice type than you actually need. You can also mitigate the reliance on luck a little by accruing as many dice bonuses as possible during the the gather phase, which can be used to increase your numbers so the crafting is a little easier.
The rules and gameplay of the base King’s Forge game are pretty simple. It’s easy to learn and teach, and both set up and clear up is pretty quick, which makes the game perfect for an entry-level title or to even take to a game night where you’re hoping to play multiple titles. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some confusing elements to the rules. The smithy tile, a location where unusable dice are placed before the next turn, is poorly explained. At no point in the rulebook is it stated directly when the dice move from the smithy to your personal supply, so it can be assumed that it happens in between rounds, but it would have been nice to have it clarified.
The simplicity of King’s Forge could also potentially be seen as a downside as well. If you’re more used to more complicated games, then there’s probably not much to hold your attention here, but as long as you go in expecting some simple fun, then you will probably be fine. The rulebook seems to have suffered a little from sparsity as well. There isn’t too much detail in the rulebook, and the entire end section is filled with more detailed information on the cards in the game, which just feels like something done to make the rulebook feel more fleshed out.
Luckily, the King’s Forge Gold expansion adds some more complexity to the game for those bored of the base game. The expansion adds a new material, gold, to the game, as well as some new optional rules and scenarios. The new scenarios are things like special rules for crafting or stealing, as well as extra special dice used to give advantages to players who are doing poorly in the game. The only baffling part of this expansion is that some of the scenario cards called royal decrees actually feature new rules, but they’re the same as the scenarios, and the distinction does feel slightly arbitrary. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, but it is an important note.
The artwork in King’s Forge is sort of a mixed bag, although not in the way you might think. The art on the board and cards is well put together and pretty easy on the eyes but isn’t exactly anything to write home about. The box art, on the other hand, is another story. The scene depicts a blacksmith at his forge, hammering way at a piece of metal and surrounded by some of the objects he has already crafted. The composition of the box art is stunning. It’s dark and is under lit on the left by the orange glow of the forge and on the right by the pale blue glow of the moon. It is really a shame that the other art cannot live up to the front of the box; again, not that it’s bad, it’s just that the box art is so utterly amazing.
Overall, King’s Forge and the Gold expansion are a great combo. Within is contained the simplicity of the base game for newer or younger players, and the expansion gives veterans the option of increased complexity and longer play time. The box art is unforgettable, and honestly it’s just fun to play a game that has so many dice included. You’ll be addicted to that clickety-clackity rolling sound in no time.
Designer: Chris Schreiber, Nick Sibicky
Artist: Jacqui Davis, Jonathan Kirtz
Publisher: Starling Games