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The King`s Dilemma


Lorenzo Silva, Hjalmar Hach

Horrible Guild / Heidelbär Games

No. of Players:

G@mebox Star



G@mebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Would you abandon democracy and establish a totalitarian dictatorship? You probably wouldn't. But if you knew that dictatorship would be the only chance to raise food production, and half of your folk would depend on it. What would you do then? Or would you murder two men to save 15 others from certain death? Would you allow slavery if you had the power to do so? Would you come into war even if you knew that this would mean endless harm to thousands of your people without even the chance of a victory, only to support a small and unreliable ally? What would be your choice?

Most of us aren't in a position to make such far reaching decisions (although we all know the one or other difficult decision in microcosm). But The King's Dilemma let's us participate in the decisions of the powerful. In 15 sequenced scenarios in a fictional medieval world we - as heads of influential houses - must counsel the king in his decisions. Every player takes over one of the houses with individual aims. And while the story unfolds, the country as well as the houses develop, and aims and attributes change.


Click on image to enlarge!

At the beginning of the game each player chooses a house. It is the idea that you keep this house for the whole campaign. Every scenario stands for a new generation, with a new head of the family and his or her individual likes and dislikes. But the basic family attributes remain the same and the families stats and achievements are not lost between the scenarios. All of this as well as the history of the family is given on the house-screens. And these house-screens have to be written on, this immediately begins with the name of the family to the choice of the player. Achievements and attributes must be marked with a cross whenever a player is asked to do so.

Of course, it is not easy to play 15 scenarios with the same group. And there is also no need to do so. There are enough screens in the gamebox that stand-by players can get in at a later scenario. And it is also not necessary to play all scenarios with the same number of players. But players who suspend a game, miss part of the story. And this is definitely a pity, because The King's Dilemma comes with an extraordinary story, depending on your decisions. I made it a habit to make a summary of the last decades at the beginning of each new scenario. And that worked pretty well, so that all players understood why we were confronting slaveholders or why we had soldiers in the northern countries for example.

Let's see what we have next to the house-screens: first of all the main board represents the realm. All current stats of the realm are registered here. Mainly, these are the five essential resources (influence, wealth, morale, welfare, knowledge) as well as a stability marker that is moved up or down whenever one of the five other resources is moved (in the same direction and the same number of spaces as the resource marker is moved). The resources and the stability marker play a major role in the game. On the one hand they end the current scenario in the moment when the stability marker reaches one of the two ends (positive and negative direction). Then the current king is forced to resign due to the instability of the realm. On the other hand they are important for reaching the objectives of the current family heads (each player draws an objective card for the actual scenario that determines where the resources have to be at the end of the scenario for reaching special goals (e.g. all resources in the upper third)).


Click on image to enlarge!

Finally, the board has room for chronicles that are stuck on the board from time to time, giving a family a bonus or a malus at the start of a new scenario. Next to the board there is room for the current story cards (a story can end, then it is discarded, but most stories remain active over several scenarios). On the other side of the board discarded dilemma cards form the time track. That's the other way to end a scenario: reaching the end of the time track. In that case the current king dies. Anyway, a new scenario always begins with a new king.

Now, let's see how decisions are made and how the story unfolds. For this purpose, The King's Dilemma has 75 closed envelopes, all of them with new cards to tell another chapter of the story. Most cards are dilemma-cards that demand the players to make a decision for a new problem. All cards in one envelope belong to the same part of the story. That for example could be a journey into the southern regions of the realm or a food crisis in the realm. New cards are mixed in the dilemma pile, and each round a new dilemma card is drawn, a new part of the story is read out, and the council (all players) has to decide how to react. Event and story cards can also be found in an envelope. Those cards are much rarer, and often change part of the game rules temporarily.


Click on image to enlarge!

The decision making is the main part of the game. After a new dilemma card has been drawn and the story read out loud, the consequences of the two choices (simple y/n questions) are explained to all players. Well, not exactly explained, you just get a rough idea of what will happen in the one or other occasion, so to say a hint (for example that a specific resource will increase or decrease, but you won`t know the exact amount). After a short discussion, all players must decide what's good for the country and what's good for their own reputation. Bribes are allowed (and must be fulfilled once appointed). Then, beginning with the current leader every player must say yes, no or pass by placing one or more power tokens to their choice. It is allowed to raise, but in the end one side will win the vote, and the exact consequences are carried out. Next to the changes of the resource (and stability) track, new envelopes may be opened and special effects may be triggered. In any case, the dilemma card is moved to the time line, and by this the end of the scenario gets a little bit closer again.

Opening closed envelops, sticking and writing on game material...Yes! The King's Dilemma is a legacy game. Once you have played all 15 scenarios, the game will be (more or less) destroyed. And you won't even have seen all of the envelops. It all depends on the decisions of the players.

I must confess that I am normally no fan of legacy games. But The King's Dilemma is definitely something very special. The story is very strong, and I really wanted to play on and on. Unfortunately, the corona virus stops my further expeditions right now. But time will come again! Although it is recommended to play the whole game with the same group of people, I - up to now- had no problem to substitute the one or other player. Regular readers will know that I don't use superlatives very much, but I personally would like to call The King's Dilemma a real masterpiece. Hats off, Lorenzo Silva and Hjalmar Hach, once again a G@mebox Star from me!

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Copyright © 2020 Ralf Togler & Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany