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Brutal Kingdom

Bite, claw, and intrigue your way through a literal animal kingdom with the help of kings, saints, and executioners.

Thames & Kosmos’s Brutal Kingdom is a strategic card game in which players compete for influence. But be careful — the more influence you take, the less it’s worth at the end of the game.

Gameplay

The game is played over four rounds. At the start of each round, all the cards with light colored backs are shuffled together and all the cards with dark colored backs are shuffled together. There are twenty cards in total (though you only play with sixteen of them in a three player game) and each one is numbered. Next, you deal two light colored cards to each player. Each player looks at them, keeps one, and passes the other to the player on their left. The same is done with the dark colored cards, only you pass to the player on your right. There are always two cards of each color that are leftover and set aside, face-down, each round.

Starting with the player who has the start player card, everyone then plays one card in front of themselves. After everyone has played a card, you check whose card has the highest number and the person who played that card takes the start player card and will be the first to play the next card, placing it directly on top of his previous one. Once everyone has played their second card, you will again check whose card that is currently on top of their stack has the highest number, and they take the start card. This continues until everyone has played all four of their cards.

Many cards have a special ability that either must or may take effect when you play it. Abilities include swapping cards with other players or those cards that weren’t dealt out, eliminating specific card types, etc. Typically, to be eliminated, a specific card must be on top of a player’s stack when the card that eliminates it is first played. When a card is eliminated, the person who played it must flip face-down all the cards currently in their stack. The player who did the eliminating then takes an elimination token.

Once everyone has played all their cards, the round ends. There are three different colors of influence tokens. For each card still face-up in your stack, you check for influence symbols, and take that number of tokens in the colors indicated by the cards, from the supply. There is one card whose ability enables its player to take one of the three types of influence tokens and place it on the chapel card that is in the center of the table.

At the end of the fourth round, players count up their points. You earn one point for each elimination token you have, and each one of your influence tokens is worth points equal to the number of that color of token still in the supply and on the chapel card.

Brutal Kingdom Components

Review

Brutal Kingdom is an intriguing card game, with tense player interaction and great back-and-forth action. The game reminded us of Love Letter, with trying to guess what other players are holding and when is the right time to bring out certain cards. Players have a little more information going into each round, though, as you have passed cards around the table, and some abilities also allow you to gather even more.

The order in which you play your cards is important, particularly if you want to avoid having your more influence-heavy cards to be eliminated. Start player is also incredibly important, so each time you play a card you’re not just considering its ability or how much influence it is worth, but its number can also be vital as well.

Brutal Kingdom’s scoring system is also clever. Each influence token you take is inherently making that token type less valuable. So that’s a trade off you need to consider, which can also change which character you are willing to sacrifice in an attempt to lure out an eliminator. It also gives you a way to try and directly impact your opponent’s final score. Do they have a lot of green tokens? You can try to drain some yourself or even avoid eliminating characters who will claim them.

Figuring out the flow of the game can take several plays, particularly given the wide range card abilities, though there are some useful player aid cards provided.

Aesthetically, the artwork, which features anthropomorphized animals, is beautiful and detailed, and the cards are nice and solid and a little larger than average. The box, however, could be about half of its current size to make it more portable.

Brutal Kingdom blends its elements together in an easy to learn, difficult to master card game that plays fast. It’s engaging, a treat for the eyes, and nicely strategic without being too heavy.

Pros: Scoring system, attractive artwork, great player interactions

Cons: Takes a little while to get the hang of it, box could be a more portable size

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.