The Dark Ages were certainly not the easiest time to be alive with famine, plagues, violence, and inadequate health care. It is the theme for many board games. “The King’s Abbey,” set at the end of the Dark Ages, tells the story of King Sivolc and his wish to build a great Abbey to lead his kingdom out of this dark time. Players must make the best use of the monks (dice) to recruit and baptize peasants in the faith, complete crusades, and gather resources to build and defend the Abbey. Whoever can build the best Abbey and gain the most prestige points is the winner.
Components / Set-Up
Be ready, there are many pieces and parts to The King’s Abbey, and it takes a bit to set up to play. Start by placing the four types of resource tokens (wood, grain, stone, and sand) into their respective area of the game board. Do the same with the coin tokens and take the Darkness token and place it on the Darkness track. The square initiative tokens should be shuffled and placed on the correct spot of the board to make the initiative draw pile.
Each player should get a player board, six tower cards (they will be in the player color), six coins, fifteen wooden peasant cubes, a defense tracker, and their altar token. Players also start with 1 grain and one stone resource token. They should then place one peasant on the left most back pew. They should then place their purple clergy training marker to the right of the first box on the postulate level. Set the defense tracker at level 1. Players should also take their nine monk dice in their color (leaving one in the general supply). Take the six starting building cards and give one to each player, put the others back in the box. Players should then put the card on one of their seven building slots with a wooden peasant cube covering up the black meeple picture. Players should also receive five sticks in their color to represent walls they can build, two trade tokens, one wagon and one tool bag token. Shuffle the Crusade Cards and 1 to each player; then put the remaining cards into a draw pile next to the board.
To create the event deck separate the Viking!, Disaster, and Year of Plenty cards. Shuffle each stack separately and deal two Year of Plenty, two Disaster, and two Vikings! cards to form the event deck. You can adjust this to make the game easier or harder. Place the black Viking dice close to the attack cards for players can reach them when needed.
The Tool bag may be flipped once a round to add one pip to a die. Wagons may only be used once and allow players to gain one extra resource token. Players can use their two trade tokens each round to trade one kind of resource for one other kind of resource. For example, you may trade two wood for one stone, or one sand for two wheat.
Fill the Building Market by shuffling the buildings and separating it into two equal piles. Place three buildings face up in the open spaces and the deck on the space marked “draw pile.” Turn over the top card on the draw deck so that four buildings are visible in each column.
The game plays over seven rounds, and each round has 12 phases.
Phase One: Roll Dice
Player’s dice represent monks that do the work of the abbey: training, recruiting, gathering resources, and defending the abbey. During phase one, players simply roll their dice.
Phase Two: Draw Event Card
The start player should draw the event card and read the text. If the card is a “Year of Plenty” card, players will gain the benefit of the card. For instance, players may gain one extra clergy training level and be allowed to move their clergy training marker one space. “Disaster cards” are similar but do something negative such as “Abbey Fire” that causes each player to lose one building or tower. “Viking!” cards are a bit different. When revealing a Viking card, roll Viking dice equal to the number of players. Place these in value order on the Viking card. Players must now take one of their dice that matches the 1st black die on the top of the column or lose a peasant. When you place a die, you receive one prestige point. The current player can continue to place dice as long as they have dice that match. If a player cannot place a die, they lose one prestige point. Next, the players see if they have defeated the Vikings. To beat the Vikings, players must have more player dice than peasants. On a win, the player with the most dice on the card receives and extra three prestige points, no extra reward for ties. On a loss, all players lose one built building and all peasants on the buildings.
Phase Three: Abbey & Crusade Dice Placement
Players decide how many dice to use to recruit peasants, train clergy, or send to fight on a Crusade.
Recruit Peasants: Up to three dice with values 1, 2, or 3 may be used to recruit peasants. Place these dice next to the pews and place the same number of peasants as the dice on the left most pews, filling from top to bottom, left to right.
Training Clergy: Up to three dice with values 4, 5, 6 may be used to train clergy. There are five levels of training that when completed give bonuses to the players. For example the “Priest” level lets the player gain two resources of their choice, once. They also would gain one defense if they have the “Chapel” built. Players will move their purple clergy marker a number of spaces on the clergy training chart equal to the number of dice they use. The first time they train they must place the clergy marker on the board. Move the maker up one square for each die used, and once it reaches the top of a column, players gain that reward. The clergy maker will then move to the bottom of the next column.
Players may also use their dice during this phase to gain temporary defense. They can place any dice they want to the right of their Defense tracker token to increase their defense by one. Return the dice to the player’s supply during the Reset phase.
Players can also choose to send their monk dice on a Crusade. The gray squares represent the number of same numbered dice that must be placed to complete the quest. The number in the upper right-hand corner is the number of prestige points gained for completing a Crusade, and the reward is listed at the bottom. If the card has purple crosses on the bottom, this means the player will move their priest marker that number of spaces. To begin a Crusade, the player places one peasant marker from their pews or baptistery and place it one of the two black meeple icons. Dice may be placed over multiple rounds. Players may help each other complete a Crusade. Only one additional player may help complete the Crusade, and they must also place one of their peasants on the card and then any number of dice, of the same value as those already on the card. Players must negotiate the rewards if they help complete a Crusade.
When a Crusade is completed they receive the rewards during phase 11.
Phase Four: Purchase Building Cards
Starting with the first player, players can choose to buy cards from the building market. Buy cards for one, two, three or four coins according to their position in the market. Players may buy one building or pass and once they pass they may not choose to buy. After the first rounds, players complete another round of buying. Buildings purchased by the player are put into their supply so they can build them later. Players may only build seven total buildings unless they have purchased the “remodel card,” which allows them to build two more buildings. Any building not built by the end of the game will become negative prestige points.
Phase Five: Resource and Initiative Selection
Players now take turns placing dice on the initative and resource spots, one at a time. Each resource has a distinct value. Wood is worth two, wheat three, stone four, and sand five. Players place one die of any value at a time on the resource spot of their choice. They may put two dice if there is an open bonus spot. Only one bonus space is available in a two or three player game. Once they place dice at a resource location, they may not play another die at that spot. Players continue placing dice until all dice have been placed or all players have passed.
Players then receive resources according to the pips on their dice. Divide the total number of pips on the dice by the number next to the resource and collect that amount of resources. If a players dice pips equal 7 and they are collecting wheat, they would receive two wheat chips; no change is collected.
If a player put a die on the initiative spot, they turn over the top token form the pile and collect that reward. It may be a wood, wheat, stone or sand resource or even a tool bag or wagon. They also take the start player meeple.
Phase Six: Move Peasants
Now players move peasants in their abbey and onto buildings. They may choose to move only one peasant or multiple peasants. Players can move three spaces at the start of the game, which means they may move one peasant three spaces or split the move between two or three peasants. Players will gain extra moves after finishing the postulate level and Bishop level of priest training. Peasants are trying to move from the back pews to the front to be baptized. Only baptized peasants can be moved to activate buildings. Moving peasant from the baptistry to a building is a free move. A building is not active unless it has a peasant. Players may move peasants to towers as a conductor.
Phase Seven: Build
During phase seven, players may simultaneously build either the buildings, towers, or walls of their abbey. They may also train archers. Players pay the needed resources listed on the building to construct it. Players may use their trade tokens to get needed resources. Players can build up to two of the same building, except for the sheep or dairy farms. Players gain the prestige listed on the building once it is constructed and may move a peasant to activate it if they have one in their baptistry. If you complete two buildings of the same kind, place them on top of each other with the upper part of the bottom card showing. During this phase, players may also build the altar in the abbey by paying two wood and four coins, or a wall by paying one stone. Five wall sections make a completed wall and will give the player eight prestige and one defense.
Phase Eight: Gardening/ Farming/ Feeding
Gardens are buildings that will let a player collect one grain for every three grain they have, as long as it has a working peasant. If a player builds a dairy or sheep farm, they take a barn card and place it as well, you must have space for both. With a working peasant, players will collect one cow or one sheep. Barns can hold up to three cows or five sheep. Players do not receive a cow the first time the cattle farm is activated. You may not have both a cattle and sheep farm.
Feeding: To feed the peasants, the player places one-grain resource back on the field for each level of peasant population in their abbey. For 1-4 peasants, they pay one grain, for 5-8 they pay two grain, and three for 9 or more peasants. Players that have a dairy farm or sheep farm may feed four peasants with one cow or sheep. Do not discard cows, but discard sheep. If players cannot feed their peasants, they place one peasant back into the game box and lose two prestige points for each level that they cannot pay.
Phase Nine: Combat Darkness/ Move Darkness
Combating darkness represents facing depression, famine, raiders, and other Dark Age troubles. To fight the darkness players must match or exceed the darkness level with their current defense level. If they cannot, they lose one peasant and two prestige points for each level they don’t match. After confronting the darkness, move it up one level.
Phase Ten: Collect Income
Players collect one coin for each peasant in the pews, baptistery, buildings, or towers. They do not collect income for peasants on Vikings! cards.
Phase Eleven: Collect Crusade Rewards/ Purchase New Crusades
Players now collect rewards from their Crusade cards. Prestige points for Crusades completed by only one player are not tracked until the end of the game, simply turn the card over and collect these points at the end. Players they completed Crusades together collect the agreed number of prestige points. These cards are left face up on the table. Players may now pay one coin to purchase a new Crusade card if they do they place the card face up in front of them. Players may only have two Crusade cards at a time.
Phase Twelve: Reset
The player who placed a die on the initiative spot would collect the first player marker if no one did some the first player keeps the markers. Players then collect their dice from the board, their player board, and Vikings! cards. Place peasant cubes on the Vikings! back in the box. Then refill the building market by taking off the bottom building card from each market and move down all the buildings. Draw and place the number of cards needed to refill the market. If players have more than three resources of one type, they must discard down to three resources.
End of Game Scoring
After the seventh round, the final scoring begins. Players receive points from completed quests, three prestige for each cow, and points if they have Tithe Barn or two Money Changers. Players then subtract any points for any buildings they didn’t build or crusades not finished.
The player with the most prestige points wins, if there is a tie the player with the highest value of resources in their supply.
“The King’s Abbey” takes elements of many of my favorite games, uses many of my favorite mechanisms, and has a theme that I love. I have always enjoyed games that give you the feeling of having built something, and you get that feeling from building up your Abbey. All this should build up to a game that I love, but yet I don’t. This in no way means that I disliked the game, it was enjoyable and a fun puzzle to decipher. It just doesn’t go above and beyond the games it borrows mechanisms from; it doesn’t stand out from the crowd. This means I wouldn’t choose to play it over other games in my collection.
The components in King’s Abbey are adequate unless you have the Kickstarter version. Speaking of the Kickstarter version, unless you have it a few of the icons on the cards are going to be confusing. For instance, on some Crusade cards, there is a purple cross symbol that is only mentioned once in the rule book. When playing the game, I completely forgot about this and had no idea what it meant when we turned over a crusade card. The symbol comes from the Kickstarter priest training marker. Without seeing pictures of this, I would have been utterly confused by the symbol. On the building cards, you place your peasant cubes on the black meeple symbol. This was also a bit confusing until you realize the Kickstarter version comes with meeples, not cubes, for peasants. I’m not sure why Kickstarter exclusive symbols were used on retail version and would prefer a different symbol or at least a better explanation in the rule book. Even adding the cross symbol next to the Priest training chart would have cleared up the puzzlement.
All the cardboard tokens come pre-punched, which is nice but I wish the extra money was spent on better quality components. The game board isn’t poor quality; I just feel boards that aren’t cut and rather taped together are dated. The graphic design of the board is clear and it is easy to see where everything goes. The wooden cubes, prestige tokens, and wall sections are adequate and functional, just nothing special. The orange is more of a peach. The resource tokens are okay, but a bit thin, and I worry how they would hold up over extended play. You get a lot of dice with 10 for each player, plus the Viking dice. They are nice quality but 12mm rather than the standard 16 mm dice. I didn’t mind the size when playing the game but would be tempted to use my own larger dice for future plays. The box insert is well done and there is a space for everything.
The Crusade, Event, and remodel cards are thin, but good quality and a standard size. The building cards are smaller than what is commonly referred to as “hobbit sized” cards. These things are tiny, and they feel quite thin. I realize they are sized this way so they could easily fit on the players’ boards. It would add to the cost, but slightly larger player boards and building cards would have a few benefits. First, it would add to the readability of the cards, the text is tiny with white lettering on a dark background, making them hard to read even with my 20/20 vision. When you are trying to decide what to build or remember the special ability of a building, it slows the game down. There is a great cheat sheet that has all the buildings, and they are explained in the rule book. These are very useful, but not ideal to pass around as you are playing the game.
The artwork is a bit confusing to me, like the game it has these moments of beauty but then it leaves you wondering. It isn’t entirely cohesive. Let me explain my biggest complaint, the abbey picture itself. The perspective makes it seems like a giant’s Abbey compared to the houses around it. I just don’t like the look of the Abbey, and it is featured so prominently throughout the game. The houses and people on the board game seemed pasted, rather than part of the scenery. I like most of the other artwork. The player boards are rich and colorful, the Crusader cards have nice backgrounds, and I like the crusader picture. The Viking cards and the token artwork colorful and clear. I think the sand tokens look like little Doritos chips though! The building cards are nice as well, even if they are teensy. I don’t like the barns because of the patchy black and green grass background. The game comes with an expansion of seven Patron Saint Cards and the artwork for these are beautiful.
The rule book is well done even if there are a lot of rules to remember. It starts with a full-color component list and a nice explanation of set-up, with pictures to explain. There are visual break downs of the building cards, player board, and crusade cards. There are plenty of written and visual examples of anything that might be confusing. The rule book also includes variants, building card explanations, and rules for the two expansions included in the game.
The back of the rule book lacks a rules review (which I prefer in my games), but it gets a pass because of the player aids. There are small player aids that have the phases and end of game scoring on one side and bonuses for having a second building of the same kind on the back. This is helpful to have the bonuses quickly explained. We were consistently using the player aid to remember the order of the phases. I think it would be quite a few games before I would completely memorize the phase order. These cards will see a lot of use.
There are also quick play rules to use for the first game or when they want to play a shorter game. This card is the only place I found where it explained how to buy and play a remodel card, so be sure to read it. It also has rules for solo play. There is also a player aid for the buildings. All of these are very helpful, but I am not sure why the bonuses and remodel were not explained in the rule book. Another clarification I felt was needed, but others may not, is something that explained that you do not lose points for not building your towers as they are towers, not buildings. I was so worried about losing points for them that I completely ignored buying any buildings. It was annoying to learn later that I was wrong and could have purchased a building that may have been more useful or easier to construct.
“The King’s Abbey” was enjoyable to play, offered many paths to victory, and gave you meaningful choices. There is a lot more planning for the future than you might expect. A decision you make in the first phase may come back to bite you in later rounds so plan your moves carefully.
The twelve phases may be daunting at first, so keep that player aid close. Even by the end of the game, I was still looking at it each new phase. The number of phases adds a bit to the complexity and could be a drawback for causal players. In truth the phases are smooth, and some are short. A lot is going on, and it requires planning to build a smoothly working abbey. It won’t be too complicated for a seasoned gamer, just what is expected for a medium weight Euro. Heavier games are a bit of a departure for Breaking Games, as they mostly carry family style games.
I have always enjoyed dice worker placement games like “Kingsburg” and “Stone Age,” and I was excited to see it in another game. Dice mechanisms in Euro games can be controversial so be assured that your dice rolling is deterministic rather than reactive. You decide what to do with the dice after you roll them. A few of the buildings let you manipulate your dice mitigating some of the luck. Any number on the dice can be useful because even a one could be used to recruit peasants, add to the defense of the abbey, or even used to take the initiative. Even with all of this, a bad roll can hurt you, and it can be easy to get behind because of your dice. I did enjoy the tension of trying to decide exactly where to put your dice, plus remembering that you need to save dice to gather resources in phase five. Don’t use them all in the Abbey and on Crusades. This may cause some moments of analysis paralysis as you decide what is the best option. These two separate dice placements are one unique mechanism of “The King’s Abbey.”
I’m not big on negotiation, but some people will enjoy the bargaining for finishing Crusades and defeating the Vikings. We also found the Crusade cards add to the luck of the game. You only get one card and need to finish it or lose points. I think I would rather draw two and choose one so you can determine your fate. You may choose one that is harder to complete but offers some great rewards like a relic, or a shorter one that is easier but will give you resources and prestige points. The relics are pretty cool and are very useful. For example, the Holy Grail can be discarded to reach the top of the next clergy level, the Torah that gives you two wagon tokens, and the Gold Jar of Manna that gives you three grain. I understand having some hidden scoring in a game, but I’m not sure about not scoring your Crusade cards right away. The points are visible as the player completes the card, so you know how many points they get. I guess the hope is you will forget how much its worth, and while I probably would, most people won’t. It isn’t quite hidden scoring.
There is a lot of planning and resource management is critical in “The King’s Abbey.” You have to prepare for the darkness, neglecting to plan for it can be very punishing. The game wasn’t always intuitive, and sometimes I had trouble figuring out the moving parts. It became easier as you play the game and remember to plan for darkness, be ready to lose a die to the Vikings, and remember to maximize your trade tokens. I think it is wise to start with the shorter game for your first few games and then move to the full version once you understand all the moving parts. The mechanisms are familiar, just put together differently, and it will get more intuitive as you play.
“The King’s Abbey” takes a lot of familiar mechanisms and puts them together to create an interesting game. It was fun and enjoyable, but it didn’t stand out from the others. What it borrows it doesn’t do better, and the quality of the components and artwork detracted from my enjoyment.
There is a lot of love for this game, and it deserves it. The rule book is organized and easy to read and the player aids are handy. Many people are going to enjoy the puzzle of building and defending your Abbey to figure out the best path to victory. I would suggest you try, before you buy.
Designer: Randy Rathert
Artist: Anna Talanova
Publishers: Breaking Games, Brown Eyed Games
Game Length: minutes
Ages: 8 and up
I received a review copy of this game