The Old King's Crown will channel the rich worlds, emergent storytelling and asymmetric strategy of Oath and Root in a stunning board game of political scheming and literal king-making. It looks absolutely gorgeous and sounds fascinating, and Dicebreaker can reveal it’s headed to Kickstarter next month.
The Old King’s Crown thrusts up to four players into a kingdom without a king, as their would-be heirs jostle to take the newly-vacated throne. To do so, they’ll have to build up their influence across the ruined fantasy land, using the supporters and strategies contained in their unique deck of cards to take control of locations and maintain power.
Like the unique woodland rivals in Root, each player controls a semi-asymmetric faction, each with a distinct gameplay focus and associated place in the world’s lore. The Nobility favour defence and control over regions of the map using their wealth, while The Clans excel in direct combat and gaining resources. The Uprising instead specialise in sowing manipulation by recruiting spies and executing plots, whereas The Gathering are a slower-burn faction that gradually ebbs away rivals’ followers and influence by performing mysterious rituals.
The Old King’s Crown’s rounds each represent the course of a year in its fantasy world. Rounds are divided into four seasonal phases, during which players draw cards and place their pieces on the central map board, before playing cards both visible and hidden as they set up their plans. In the autumn, conflicts are resolved and the winners rewarded before the year comes to an end and repeats in the next round. An entire playthrough is expected to last around an hour to 90 minutes in real time.
Players vie for control of locations by assigning their heralds (depicted by very Oath-like wooden pieces) to spots on the central map. Claiming a location earns influence - you’ll need either 20 or 15 to win, depending on the number of players - and the chance to steal from your rivals in the same region when clashes are resolved later in the year.
Player must assign cards from their hand to regions across the world to prepare for upcoming clashes, hoping to sway them to their favour and gain associated rewards, from using the Castle to held wrest control of the land’s Court - earning them ongoing influence for as long as they can maintain control - to questing through the Wilderness in search of powerful myth cards that open up additional abilities. Heralds can be joined by players’ companies - also represented by pieces - that add strength during clashes.
Clashes are resolved without any element of luck by totalling the strength of companies, faction cards and other cards in contested regions, with players revealing any cards they placed there earlier in the round - adding an element of bluffing to the strategy. The winner of a clash claims a location’s rewards, gaining an extra influence and stealing influence from any rival players if their herald is present.
Away from the contested locations of the main board’s separated highlands, plateau and lowlands areas is the Great Road, to which players can assign cards in order to determine the order in which they claim beneficial faction-neutral kingdom cards at the end of the round to gain various bonus abilities, resources and effects. Players can also choose to steal kingdom cards already owned by their rival players.
There are elements of deckbuilding in The Old King’s Crown’s card-driven gameplay as players acquire new cards during each round and have the option to remove unwanted cards from their deck at the end of a round, albeit with no frequent shuffling and a lower element of luck than typical deckbuilding games like Dominion. Managing your deck is a key part of the game, as running out of cards represents attribution and results in a reduced hand size and more limited options.
The Old King’s Crown is the debut release of Scottish independent publisher Eerie Idol Games, made up of designer-illustrator Pablo Clark and developer-graphic designer Andrew McKelvey.
Creator Clark started work on The Old King’s Crown more than five years ago, drawing inspiration from the fantasy fiction of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (specifically “the parts where they’re just hanging out, eating and walking around”) in addition to folk tales such as the Green Knight and Beowulf, the early work of Studio Ghibli visionary Hayao Miyazaki, and board games including Oath: Chronicles of Empire & Exile, Pax Pamir 2E and Cosmic Encounter.
The emergent world-building seen in Root and Oath comes through in the game’s cards, which depict evocative locations such as airship ports, ruined citadels and mysterious relics with names such as The Sword That Slept, all brought to life by Clark’s lavishly-illustrated style. Other cards conjure up images of secret societies, black powder plots, mysterious moon vaults and wandering strangers, adding to its richly-drawn world.
The connection to Root and Oath is more than pure inspiration, too. The games’ designer Cole Wehrle, along with Nick Brachmann and Patrick Leder of publisher Leder Games, contributed to the development of The Old King’s Crown, playing a vital role - according to Clark - in expanding the gameplay design and getting it into its current shape. On top of that, Richard ‘Rickey Royal’ Wilkins - who created single-player variants for Wehrle’s historical games Pax Pamir and John Company - designed a solo mode for The Old King’s Crown.
The Old King’s Crown will launch a Kickstarter campaign on October 24th, following the approximately £50 base game with four factions and its solo mode in a box said to be slightly bigger than Root. The crowdfunding campaign will also offer a bundle with the game’s Wild Kingdom expansion, which adds new cards and ways to modify the standard game with randomised maps, gameplay modules and deluxe components, for around £80. An all-in tier will add a collection of art prints for £100.
The Old King’s Crown is expected to arrive with backers within the next 10 months, putting its likely release sometime by the end of 2024.