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The foreign King


Javier Garcia


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Apart from some specialized card game series, e.g. by ADLUNG, small games and especially small game boxes are a little bit out of fashion. In our days, even a lot of simple card games come with a huge gimmick that justifies an elaborate packaging, and so it's the goal to make a game visible in this crowd. But how - if everyone does the same? The foreign King by GIOCHIX.IT is the proof that even strategy board games can be packed in a small package, and so this may be also a sign that the game stands out in the crowd. For me, with far over 300 games in my house, this is certainly a good argument. I do not need another oversized game box - what counts for me is what I find inside. So let us see what the game is like:

The foreign King plays in Belgium in the early 19th century. Inspired by the French revolution, a new liberal monarchy was established at that time. It was their aim to become independent from the Netherlands. But the new and foreign king first had to convince his own people and so he had to overcome resistance by the Congress, the problems of the beginning industrialization and the influences of different religious groups. With this background the players take the role of different members of the New Economy who begin to build metallurgical and textile factories all over the country. All this come together under the fragile reign of the new king and in economic competition with the other players. But what does this mean in terms of gameplay?


Let us first have a closer look at the different game components. The small board (15x30 cm) has room enough for a strategy map, divided in the 9 provinces of Belgium, an action table, and a small area for the National Congress and a scoring track. Although the different areas are comparatively small, the board can be played on surprisingly well and solidly. At the beginning each player is equipped with 16 individual citizen discs that will be sent to the provinces during the game, a player pawn for the action area, and some money in the form of small cardboard gold and silver coins. Finally a king pawn is placed next to the board who will also enter the provinces later in the game.

During his turn a player may choose one of the vacant actions from the action board. Depending on the number of players there are 6-8 different actions in a game. As a player can't choose the previous action again in his next turn, there are always only 4 actions he can choose from (6-8 minus the number of players). This still may sound like a lot of choice, but to be successful, you must always plan ahead. Otherwise it can happen that you cannot choose the action you want, because one of your opponents already occupies the required space on the action table. So, a lot depends on guessing what your opponents might do in the following turn, and in reality your choice of action is often limited to only one or two useful ones. But all the more you must plan ahead...

So let us see which actions you can take: First of all you simply can place citizen tokens to one of the provinces. One token is for free, each additional costs you 1 Franc. The same applies for the move action. One step is for free, more steps cost money. Then we have a building factory action. At the price of 3 Francs a player can take one of the two different kinds of factory tokens (metallurgical or textile) from the supply and place it in a province, no matter who currently occupies this region. As a reward the player gets a royal medal that can be loaned during the game. But the true reason for placing factories is the score action. With this action the current player can move the king from one province to an adjacent one (again one step is for free, further steps costs 1 Franc each). The province in which the king ends his turn is scored. Now the majority of citizens is determined and - depending on the kind and number of active factories - the leading player in this province scores more or less victory points. After the scoring the factories become inactive (they are placed on their side).


As you can see, planning ahead is everything in the game. Because you always only have one action in a turn, you cannot increase your influence in a province and send the King to this province in the same turn. But if you increase your influence and another player chooses the King action, you also won't be able to choose the King action in the next turn. So you have to choose something else and somebody else can choose the place or move a citizen action to increase his influence in the province you wanted to score again. This may sound like a standoff, but if two players really engage in such a destructive duel they quickly will fall behind...

What further influences the outcome of a scoring is the congress. With another action you can send a citizen as congressman (only one in a turn) to the congress. When it comes to a scoring, the leading player in the congress can choose if he wants to send all of his congressmen to the province that is just being scored. Of course this can influence the majority of the scored province enormously. Only if the leading player waives, the player with the second highest number of citizens in the congress may send his men.

Since it is needed to boost the effect of some actions, money is quite important, too, and so there is also an action to receive new coins. Three Francs are guaranteed, but for every textile factory in a province a player controls he gets another Franc. In a 3 to 4 player game there is still another action to change the turn order, but only in the 4 player game there is an action, called the Queen action, that enables a player to choose an action that already was chosen by another player. Of course the player is still obliged not to take his last action again and the queen action itself is limited for one player, too.

Next to the victory points the players collect during the game, there is also a final scoring at the end of the game for a lot of majority issues. The game length depends on the progress of the players on the scoring track and the number of moves the King takes before scoring (the King approaches the players on the scoring track from the end). So the end is not precisely predictable from the start and can be influenced by the actions of the players.

Although The foreign King is a small game in a small package, it feels to be a big game. It plays quite fluently, because although you have to plan ahead, the different actions are quickly carried out. Much depends on the actions your opponents will take, but you still have a lot of influence on your next moves. For the two-player game, The foreign King introduces a virtual player who sends citizens of his own and takes part in the scoring, too. It is only possible to win the game if you do not entirely concentrate on your human opponent. I made the experience that it works well with all possible numbers of players, but I think it is best with 3 players.

The foreign King convinces by its elegant simplicity. The mechanics are well known from other conquering games, but still they bring forth a unique game feeling. One factor here certainly is the fact that the game seems to be so tiny (although it is not tiny) compared to other comparable games. For me it is an ideal travelling companion when you do not have much space for taking games with you. Normally you only get card games in this size, but The foreign King is a fully adequate board game. Last but not least a comparison with the likewise tiny strategy board game Eight-Minute Empire by Ryan Laukat might be allowed: Although the approach is very similar, the two games differ in a lot of details. The main difference is that in The foreign King you play in a more densely populated zone that makes it more difficult to keep out of the way of your opponents. In addition, you already score during the game, and this makes it more important to permanently interact with your fellow players. On the other hand Ryan Laukat's game has more options, so there are also more strategies to win the game, and - of course - the latter one also stands out due to Ryan's great artwork. I like playing both games a lot, and so I leave it to you to decide which of both tiny conquering games sounds more interesting to you!

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Copyright © 2016 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany