Review: Eternal Kings (Board Games)
During my time as a reporter for GBAtemp, I have made it a personal mission of mine to bring more than just video games to your attention, readers.
This arises from my belief that video game culture, one that we all share on GBAtemp, spans beyond more than just video games. As such newcomers and old timers among the video game community might not be exposed to the whole spectrum. To that end, I have done reviews of not only video games and consoles but also gaming headsets, gaming keyboards and even video game soundtracks! Continuing in that trend, I bring to your attention today another hardware format that is quite popular among gamers but one that has received little attention on GBAtemp: board games. Meet Eternal Kings a newcomer in the board game scene.
I would like to extend my thanks to the whole Eternal Kings team, in particular Rolando Issa, the game’s creator and Nicole, EK’s PR spokesperson, to have given me the opportunity to review this board game. It has been an endeavor of mine to review a board game for quite some time now and they were the first to provide me with the opportunity.
Now, enough of me rambling and let’s delve into what it is all about!
What is Eternal Kings?
Eternal Kings is a new 1v1 boardgame that is currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. It borrows some features of the age-old board game Chess and others from trading card games (TCG) to give an amalgam that is a totally new experience that nevertheless feels familiar. Think Yu-Gi-Oh! or Magic the Gathering with a Chess twist, or vice versa. This should be taken quite literally as in this game, you still have a checkerboard and beat the opponent's King in order to win but instead of pieces, you play with cards.
Now you do not have to have played any in order to play Eternal Kings but it definitely helps. Not that you have to be pros either but it makes the learning process smoother. Being a casual Chess and TCG player, I can personally testify to that statement.
So how is it played?
How the game actually looked like during one of my playthroughs
You start off by creating your own deck of cards from those made available in the box. Here's a handy infographic about what you'll see in cards and what the stuff on each means:
The game comes pre-loaded with four ready-made decks (one from each Realm: Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Wisdom) and I would recommend playing with those as they are basically your “starter decks” to get you comfortable with the game and only try building your own only after you have become more acquainted with the cards and the game.
Click on the images above to learn more about each faction in detail
Your cards are split between an army and an ability deck. Your army is what you will place on the board at the beginning and consists of 16 Creatures (8 Pawns, 2 Rooks, 2 Knights, 2 Bishops, 1 Queen and 1 King) which you will place in the same order as in traditional chess. Now here comes the interesting part as positioning your Creatures might prove to be crucial. Even if you have similar Creature types, not all of them are identical. For instance each deck can have a maximum of one of each Restricted card (marked with a red R next to the chess piece type) and its positioning might be strategic depending on your gameplay (due to its advantageous ability).
Each of the above are pawns but have different abilities and have the red 'R' denoting a Restricted card
As for your ability deck, it must have exactly 16 cards, and is the stack from which you will draw. However, unlike most TCG, you do not draw a card at every turn. Instead you have to work for it, based on your card’s abilities (written on the card). Like TCG though your turn is broken down into Phases: the Beginning, Movement and End Phases.
During the Beginning Phase all Creatures regain all their lost Discipline (points used to pay for the cost of Abilities) and anything that is triggered during ‘Upkeep’ happens now.
Next is the Movement Phase where you must move at least one Creature. It is also the turn where you declare attacks. To help spin the revered chess game on its head once again, Eternal Kings comes in with abilities like Flying and Shadow that allow Creatures to move in non-traditional ways and allowing them to move when normal movement is blocked.
The inclusion of Abilities is yet another instance where the TCG aspect kicks in to spice up the traditional board game. You see, in Eternal Kings you have two types of abilitites: Whitecast and Redcast ones. Whitecast Abilities can only be used when a Creature has been chosen to move, before or after its movement while Redcast Abilities can be used any time during the game and the Creature does not have to be chosen to move. Creatures can use abilities that are listed on their card or abilities from any card that you drew from your Ability Deck, so long that the casting Creature has enough Discipline points to use in order to pay for the ability cost. Now, when an Ability is used it is added to an imaginary Ability Chain so that more abilities can be cast, for example your opponent might cast an Ability of his own to counter yours. The Chain goes on until no player chooses to cast any more Ability. All Abilities will then resolve in a “last played first resolved” order. Also using some Abilities might cause the Creature to flip over, causing its Discipline points to go down to zero. Things get heated up with triggered abilities like from Ability trap cards that triggers when a Creature steps on the square the trap is on and the trap might be a dummy trap or a devastating Pyro Trap dealing 6 damage to the Creature (killing off the creature in most cases). As such, you will have to factor in a lot of conditions from strategy to unpredictability before making a move in this game.
Of course, there are much more depth to that mechanic when put into action than what I am just writing, so rather than having me write down lines and lines about how a game plays out, here’s a video that shows just that with Eternal Kings creator Rolando Issa and Cj Caldwell, one of the game’s developers:
Sure, you won’t play the game perfectly at your first try. It has a learning curve and it seems quite daunting at first but the whole process is actually fun! The first time I played the game with my friend, we tried to play safe: I drew only two cards and my opponent drew none and we ended up playing the game like regular chess. Our second round was more experimental and as we got accustomed to the game’s rules and mechanics, we were able to truly enjoy Eternal Kings for what it is: a successful contemporary take on a traditional game. “Neo-Chess” as we like to call it.
So, is it worth it?
At the time of writing, Eternal Kings is still running its Kickstarter campaign and you can fetch an advance copy if you back it. At $44 you will get the Eternal Kings Alpha Box that comes with the game’s mat, four ready-made decks of 32 cards, a Game Manual and all applicable Stretch Goals:
Click on the image above to have a look at the Stretch Goals
Speaking of the contents, I would have to mention that while the included game mat is nice and of good quality, it is quite large and barely fits the box it comes in. Moreover, it is made of a similar material as those thick mouse pads and feels quite prone to damage from liquids.
Additionally, while the Game Manual is quite concise and helps you get the gist of the game, it lacks an index of the terminology used, which is quite apparent while starting playing the game as beginners will tend to be lost with the new words being introduced and have to flip back pages to recall what word means what.
I've sleeved my precious...
Another complain that I have is the lack of depth in the game's background story. All that is available at the time of writing about the game's universe is limited to some lines in the first page of the Game Manual and the promotional video I shared at the beginning of this review. Of course this is not a story-driven game but developing more on it would greatly help players get a gist of the Eternal Kings' lore and allow them to relate somehow while playing. Magic the Gathering has whole books written to flesh out its universe and Yu-Gi-Oh! has mangas and animes for that purpose. Hopefully the game developers have more planned to get adopters of the game acquainted to its obscure universe.
Now this might sound nitpicky but I would also deplore the lack of card sleeves. I do not want to have the pretty cards eventually damaged by wear and tear, so I slid them through sleeves that I had lying around. And pretty they are! The art in the cards are all gorgeous and unique. But of course, barely any card game, if any at all, comes pre-packed with sleeves, so it is a required additional investment should you want to protect your cards.
The cards' art are quite a sight to behold, very much akin to the established TCGs
As I played through, I realized how well the game’s mechanics have been thought through. Indeed, Eternal Kings has been years in the making, starting out as Rolando’s idea that underwent countless playtests in order to develop new mechanics and what was initially a broken game slowly materialized into what it is today. The influences from Magic the Gathering (Rolando is a longtime competitive MtG player) and chess are undeniable but it still feels refreshing and I quote my very skeptical friend as finding Eternal Kings “weirdly fun” to play because ultimately, you have to experience the game by yourself to know how much fun it will prove to be for you personally.
Eternal Kings has the potential to establish itself alongside the competitive TCGs if it kicks off. Tournaments already planned and should more cards/booster packs become available, then players can come up with more strategies and unique playstyles. However, only time will tell what the game has in reserve for the future and also the appeal it will have is going to be a determining factor in the game’s lifeline.
Nevertheless, at $44, it will prove to be entertaining for early adopters thanks to its high replayability and the possibility to get funky by mixing and matching cards from different factions to your liking. I’ve had fun during my time testing the game out and I am sure to recommend it to others to try out in the future. But be sure to have some time to allocate to the game as a round can last to up to 1.5 hours, particularly at the beginning. Oh, and don’t forget, you need an opponent to play against!
+ Affordable new board game
+ Fun experience
+ High replay value
+ Great art
- Lack of an index of terminology used in the rule book
- Mat that barely fits the box
- Lack of depth in background story
- No included card sleeves
out of 10
Eternal Kings is a card game for chess fans and it is chess for card game fans. By combining aspects from two classic games, Eternal Kings proves to be quite a refreshing and entertaining novelty in the board game scene.