Game Review - Monarch

Hey there folks. Looks like it's time for another game review! This week, I want to talk about a game called Monarch by Mary Flanagan. I picked this game up at Gen Con a couple months ago and it's gotten a lot of use. I'm a little ashamed to admit that the real reason I stopped at their booth is because I overheard someone mention that the game is going to be featured on the upcoming season of Tabletop. That said, I'm so glad I stopped in for a demo (and grabbing a couple Gen Con promo cards while I was there).

 

The Story
In Monarch, you and your friends play as sister princesses in a small European style fantasy kingdom. Your mother, the queen, has just passed away and now you and your sisters must compete to become the next ruler of the land. 

Of course, because you are all family and care deeply for your kingdom, you can't simply declare war on each other. Instead, you must gain influence in the court. Whoever collects enough influence the fastest is crowned Queen.

If you take one look at this game, you can probably figure out what sold me on the game. The artwork is gorgeous and completely unique, at least as far as I've seen. Kate Adams did an amazing job with the scratchboard artwork.  She managed to illustrate a world with just enough magic in it to feel engaging, but not so much that it feels overpowering. There is definitely a feel of magic to some of the gowns and creatures you'll be recruiting into your court. At the same time, the relatively subdued colors and unique style make it feel different, almost in a believable or historic way. This would be a great game to play with friends who might be a little put off by too much fantasy influence. That said, the artwork alone is worth the cost of admission. 

So what do you do? well, throughout the game, you will be recruiting people, animals, and items to your court and gaining influence. In order to recruit people into your court, you need money. In order to get money, you must tax the villagers. In order to tax, you must feed them. This translates very simply into mechanics. On your turn, you can either harvest food from farms on the board (a board which everyone shares), or everyone can tax the villages (also shared) by feeding them some of the food you've collected. Each turn has you doing one of these things, taxing or harvesting. Then, if you have some money, you can spend it to recruit to your court. 

Pretty simple. A game only takes maybe 30 minutes, since the game ends once someone has 7 cards in their court. 

Most of the strategy here comes from how you want to spend your money. Different court cards interact with each other in different ways, and they all fall in to one of 4 categories: Might, Culture, Bounty, or Wisdom. Generally, you will be trying to collect cards of your chosen category while trying to keep other players from building up anything. Unfortunately, you don't have many ways to do that. There a a couple cards worth negative points that you can force upon your rivals, however these don't seem to do much in the grand scheme of the game. And other than that and the shared board (which affects very little as far as score), there isn't much to do to interfere with opponents, or stop someone from gaining a lot of momentum. You essentially all have access to the same set of resources and you will just buy cards that come up that match your specialization. 
Also, because the game ends when one player gets 7 cards, that player almost always wins just because they had more things scoring them points.

Despite these complaints, I don't think these problems are going to be obvious to someone who doesn't play a lot of games. Ultimately, your choices feel fun and the artwork really keeps you engaged.

The Good

  • The artwork is amazing! If you didn't click the link earlier, please please go check out their preview gallery.
  • The shared resources is an interesting mechanic. Each player can spend money or food to build up the board, but doing so gives their opponents and advantage.
  • The game is simple, yet satisfying. Monarch is extremely approachable and plays pretty quickly. It's a great game to play just to relax with some friends. And it should appeal to just about everyone.

The Bad

  • There is very little player interaction. Other than the shared resource mechanic, you can't do much about what your rivals are doing. This can be frustrated when you combine it with the fact that it's pretty easy for one player to take an early lead. And since everyone essentially has the same resources, there is really no good way to come back.

 

As I said earlier, the art alone is worth the price of admission. If that's not enough for you, I would suggest it for anyone with a group looking for something simple and agreeable.

Hope this was helpful for you

- Billy