Designer Marc André had a huge hit with his 2014 game Splendor, which was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres and won a slew of awards for its simple, elegant rules and high replay value, which was enhanced by last year’s release of the four-in-one Cities of Splendor expansion box. André’s follow-up, Majesty: For the Realm, isn’t quite up to the standard he set for himself with Splendor, but it does share many of that game’s best qualities, including quick game times, a short rule set, and high-quality components.
In Majesty, players will each take 12 turns selecting character cards from the center of the table to fill out their play areas and try to balance their scoring across three different scales. Each player’s tableau starts with eight header cards, seven of which show the game’s character types, with one more, the Infirmary, used after battles. Each character type gives you an immediate reward when you place one in your area of a coin bonus that increases if you have more characters of that type already. Taking a Miller, the lowest-value character, earns you two coins per Miller in your area, including the one you just placed; the Queen, the highest-value character, gets you five coins plus one meeple per Queen in your area. Some characters give you a bonus based on multiple cards already in your area; the Guard, who also serves as your defense when attacked, gets you two coins per Guard, Knight, and innkeeper in your area.
Majesty features a rolling market of cards (seen in Morels, Century: Spice Road, Concordia, and dozens of other games) where the first card is “free” and you pay one meeple per space to take cards further into the queue. Each player starts the game with five meeples, all of which are white and come from a common supply; if you want to take, say, the third card in the market, you would place one meeple on the first card, one on the second, and then take the third. If you take a card with meeples on it, you can keep those, but you can’t have more than five at the end of any turn, returning extras for one coin apiece instead. Having too few meeples can limit your options; if you have none at the start of a turn, you must take the first card in the market.
When a player takes a Knight, it triggers an attack on all other players simultaneously. The attacking player’s strength is simply his number of Knight cards (including the one just played). Each other player then compares his/her number of Guards to that total; if the player has at least as many Guards as the attacker has Knights, the attack fails. If not, the attack succeeds, and the losing player must then move his/her leftmost (least valuable) character card to the Infirmary. You can only restore a character from the Infirmary by taking a Witch card from the center.
Players will rack up points for each card they take, with the game ending once each player has 12 cards, at which point the deck will be exhausted with just a few cards left in the center. Players then deduct one point for each card in their Infirmaries. The final scoring works two ways, rewarding diversity and depth. Players count the number of distinct characters in their kingdoms, which will run from one to seven, and then take coin values equal to the square of that number; this will typically be 36 or 49 points for each player, or occasionally 25 if someone had a rough game. (This is where losing a character to the Infirmary hurts.) Then bonuses are awarded for the seven character types to the player(s) with the most: ten points to the player with the most Millers, eleven for the most Brewers, twelve for the most Witches, and so on, up to 16 for the player with the most Queens. If two players tie for the lead, each gets the full bonus.
Games take about 20 minutes and turns tend to be very quick—a double-edged sword, because you’ll probably use as much time counting up coins and exchanging them as you do on the moves themselves. The game comes with high-quality coins in six denominations, with a lot of 2s because so many cards give bonuses of 2 per character, but the result is that you’ll wonder if you’re at First CityWide Change Bank by the time the game is half done. It also increases the chances of someone miscounting their points, especially younger players who might do it too fast.
The character cards for each player’s tableau are double-sided; the B sides allow for variants to the base rules, with some more complicated rewards for taking certain cards, like one that gives you coins based on the character type of which you have the most. This can increase the complexity a little, but Majesty needs those options to give it some replay value.
The mechanics are simple enough for players as young as eight, and the random draw of cards balances out some of the skill gaps between players. After more than ten plays with the A sides of the cards, however, I’m still not sure how much strategy there really is in Majesty; simply taking the highest-value card each time while ensuring you get at least six of the seven types seems to be the optimal path. So while Splendor has been a staple game in our house for three solid years, Majesty is more of a light diversion—similar in feel, quicker to play, but offering a bit less depth and complexity.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.