This review is based on a review copy, kindly offered by Victory Point Games.
The game: For the Crown (second edition) by Jeremy Lennert, published by Victory Point Games in 2012.
Elevator pitch: Chess meets Dominion: a game of Chess, where you start with just a king and build up your army using a simple deck-building mechanism.
What’s in the box? A slipcase box holds a jigsaw board, cards and nice laser-cut wooden counters. The counters are double-sided, with different player colours on different sides. The solution is elegant and looks quite ok.
What do you do in the game? It’s Chess, so your goal is to capture the enemy king. Or kings, as you can have several in this game. Each turn you get to either move a piece or deploy a new piece from your barracks. Then you play Dominion: play one action card, buy one new card. The most common action is training, where you remove a card from game to add a matching piece to your barracks.
More expensive cards get you better pieces. The more expensive cards tend to have good other actions as well (every card does two different things, usually a training action and something else), so it’s an interesting question: do I trash the card to train a unit, or should I keep the card to use the other action? A similar dilemma is in the order phase. You usually have just one order, so the question is: should I deploy a new unit, or advance my position on the board?
The game is over when one of the player loses all his Sovereign units. By that time, it’s quite possible most of the cards are already bought, which seems weird coming from Dominion, but since the training actions burn cards from the decks, they won’t get bloated.
Lucky or skillful? The cards bring in a luck element, but it’s fairly minor. The skill required is different from plain Chess, though, as the new pieces and the more dynamic board situation shake things up.
The game is more chaotic than regular Chess, so even if the luck element is not significant, the development of the game is harder to predict than in plain Chess. Some will find that annoying, for me it’s a huge bonus (I don’t really like Chess, because I don’t like predicting the game state).
Abstract or thematic? For the Crown has slightly thicker veneer of theme than Chess, but it’s still pretty abstract.
Solitaire or interactive? It’s a confrontational two-player game, so it’s just about all interaction and confrontation. However, it’s not particularly mean. There’s just one card in the whole set that does annoying things to your opponent.
Players: 2, though the All the King’s Men expansion includes a four-player team variant. I don’t know how that works.
Who can play? Publisher age recommendation is 13+, but that’s a bit high. 10+ might be better: I tried this with my 8-year-old son, and it was bit too difficult for him. The game play is fairly straightforward: anybody who can play Chess and Dominion will learn this in minutes. Playing well is a another thing.
Length: Box says 45–60 minutes, and based on my (limited) experience that’s correct. Experienced players can probably play a bit faster, and I can see someone spend closer to two hours with this – it’s chess, after all, and there’s plenty to think about.
What’s to like: Clever game that combines familiar ideas; more dynamic, chaotic and interesting than Chess; offers interesting decisions every turn.
What’s not to like: The game looks a bit bland and is more chaotic than Chess.
My verdict: I don’t like Chess, but I really like Dominion. I kept hearing about For the Crown and decided I need to check this one out: the concept sounds on the other hand so obvious and on the other hand quite weird. Turned out that’s what it is: familiar and thus very easy to teach to anybody who knows Chess and Dominion, yet enough unlike both of them to be interesting. If the concept intrigues you at all, For the Crown is very much worth checking out.
To me, the game has one problem: it’s a long-ish two-player game and too difficult for my son to play. That’s a type of game I rarely get to play, so For the Crown is going to be hard to get on the table. However, I find the game odd and intriguing enough that it’s a keeper – I want to explore this game further and will hang on to my copy. That’s pretty good for a game that on the basic idea level is so simple as For the Crown.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, For the Crown gets Suggest.