Sequels always make me nervous. On the one hand, there is the excitement of having more of a thing that you love. On the other, there is the very real possibility that the sequel won’t capture what was great about the original. There are examples of sequels gone wrong throughout most other media. Bad follow-up movies or books or video games that just felt like a shadow of the original. But board game sequels are a much more rare animal. There are new editions with fancy new art and components, sure. But this mostly amounts to different models of a car. The engine under the hood is often the same. Sequels have a much greater potential to go… wrong.
This is why I approach the announcement of Winter Kingdom with some trepidation. It is a follow up to one of my favorite games: Kingdom Builder. It promises to be bigger, better, with greater depth. But in every sequel there is a worry that the creators don’t understand what made the original so great. Here, at least, the original creator is at the helm. I do trust Donald X Vaccarino to know what he’s doing. After all, in theory given that it’s been 8 years since the original game came out there’s a lot more play-testing data to know what could create an even better experience. And it does look pretty great…
But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. First let’s briefly discuss what’s old and what’s new. The key thing is still in place, draw a card and place three houses in the corresponding area. This simple mechanism is what gets Kingdom Builder the most flack for being a thoughtless exercise with no control. But it is actually one of the best parts of the original. The decision is not in selection, but how you use the luck of the card that you are assigned. The different scoring methods also appear to be in place, which was another key part of the original to keep things fresh and different every game. These are two great bedrocks to build off of.
However, there are a lot of differences, and even if it’s only slightly different it may have huge ripple effects for how the game feels. First there are power cards vs location based powers on the board. Instead of rushing to place your houses next to the best powers, it is instead a process of paying for the powers you have in hand. In another twist these powers can then be upgraded. But paying for these powers alone implies a small economy to the game that was never present in the original. These are powered by an economy card that changes from game to game which determines how you earn money for that game. In other words, gaining key abilities that give flexibility to that extremely simple card draw mechanism is now a two step process. Additionally, these powers are asymmetrical. Players start with 5 possible abilities which they can pay for but each player will have a different set of 5. In the original Kingdom Builder, with the exception of luck, all players could make a rush on the board for whatever ability they thought would be most useful. That’s not to say this is worse but I am curious how it will play out.
There are also smaller changes that may have large effects. All players have access to a tunnel ability that lets them move pieces about the board more easily vs the rather restrictive nature of the original. The boards in Winter Kingdom are hexagonal and double-sided. A definite improvement here as the single-sided board of the original never made a ton of sense outside of having to play test two them further. There are now forts which are larger buildings that count as two houses for all purposes but can’t be moved. Finally there are a set of twist cards that add some additional rules to each game. As if the variability in set-up wasn’t enough already, this certainly takes it through the roof.
All of this could be awesome. The game could ultimately become a replacement for Kingdom Builder if everything comes together as awesome as it did in the original. But with so many changes, if even one of them falls flat it could end up being a disappointment. And I must admit, the game is up against my nostalgia and love for Kingdom Builder which is almost not fair. Spin offs and sequels do not have a great track record in the industry. King of New York for example took the hit King of Tokyo and added additional rules and complexity that was supposed to make the game deeper for folks that wanted more out of the classic dice game. But instead most folks went back to the original. I am hoping that Winter Kingdom feels like an evolution, and I am excited for more details. In the meantime, the kickstarter seems to be doing great, and hopefully by this October we are all able to play it in person. In the meantime I feel a bit cabin feverish, even though it is Spring!