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Review | Majesty: For the Realm

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Majesty: For the Realm is the brand new card-drafting, worker-placement and trick-taking card game from Marc Andre, creator of the incredibly popular Splendor. Like Splendor, Majesty is a bright, colorful and straightforward game that results in massive scores, but it also features a surprisingly harsh combat mechanic which can peg back opponents in a big way.

Two to four players take part in Majesty, each taking a deck of eight building cards, which are laid side by side to present a beautiful, rich, panoramic village. Players also take a separate population card and place five wooden meeples on it. One player prepares a deck of villager cards (which varies in size based on how many players there are) and places it in the centre of the play area, then draws six cards and places them face up in a line.

In Majesty, the objective of the game is to amass gold in order to make your village the wealthiest in the realm. Gameplay is incredibly simple to learn, mainly because scoring information is almost completely transparent. Every village location shows a number of consistent symbols, along with their gold value. At the most basic level, Majesty is a game of drawing villagers from the face-up pool of six and placing them on the relevant village location, but — as you can probably imagine — there is much more to it than that.

Firstly, every villager scores a different value when placed, with some scoring more as the result of prior placements. For example, guards don’t score well in isolation, but their gold value increases when you have soldiers and innkeepers on the board. Another example is the brewer, who scores points (and attracts meeples) based on how many brewers you have, but also provides a bonus for all players who have at least one miller.

What do the meeples do? Well, when players draw villagers from the shared pool, only the one furthest from the draw deck is free. Should a player wish to draw a card closer to the deck, then he or she must first place a meeple on each card prior to it. Wherever cards are drawn from, all cards move down and another one is drawn from the top to replace it at the end of each turn. When every player has twelve villagers in their village, the game ends and final scoring occurs.

There are two steps to final scoring which include checking how many village spaces are occupied by at least one villager and multiplying that number by itself. A player who occupies seven locations will score forty-nine points, for example, whilst a player occupying only six spaces will score just thirty-six. Next, players check for majorities. Each village card has a gold value in the bottom right — whoever has the most villagers in each location scores that many points. Ties are friendly, so usually, two or more players score in several locations.

Finally, any villagers located in the infirmary reduce the final score by one, which brings me to the attack mechanic I mentioned earlier: Whenever a player places a knight card, the attack mechanic activates. When this happens, all players with fewer guards than the attacking player’s knights must take their leftmost villager and place it as a casualty in the infirmary. Placing a witch on a later turn can return that villager to their space (without scoring again) but in the meantime, the injured villager won’t count toward any scoring, including final occupation or majority counts.

This attack mechanic is perhaps the most interesting and contentious inclusion in Majesty and I certainly found that it caused frustration for some players, especially in head-to-head games. Considering the game ends when each player has twelve villagers, you mostly want to keep them all in play for those critical final scores, yet to bring them back you’ll need to draft a witch, which may not be the optimal way to score that turn. This, in itself, can result in yet more attacks should further knights be available to the other player, so losing an attack early can feel like a beating you’ll never recover from.

Because every card drawn is random, there’s no real consistency to this and often games go without a successful attack (thanks to good placement of guards, who generally score better than knights in isolation). Even so, it’s tough for some players to accept that their best-laid plans can be completely put to the sword in some games. Personally, I don’t have any major issue with the attack mechanic, because given that games only last around fifteen minutes, losing a single round never leaves a bad taste for too long and like as not, the boot will be on the other foot in the next game.

As scoring happens, a huge stack of custom poker chips is distributed among the players and it isn’t uncommon for players to score ten points or more with each card placed. Final scoring often results in over a hundred additional points with two players and just a bit less with three or four, so there’s a real sense of achievement as huge piles of plastic chips begin to stack up in front of you. Once players are more experienced at playing Majesty, it also features a more complex “B side” variant on the back of the village panorama, which can result in even bigger scoring opportunities — albeit at the cost of tackling a greater mathematical challenge (and hence more complex decision making).

As a lightweight game contained in a small box (which could be even smaller) Majesty is very impressive. Like Splendor, it has the kind of gameplay that more or less anyone can pick up in about five minutes, making it perfect for holidays and long weekends. If you used a pen and paper to keep score (which would detract from the excitement of having chips flowing everywhere) then you could condense the game down into a bag or small tin. On a related note, chips come in several denominations, but the absence of a chip worth five points felt strange to me and results in almost continuous “banking” of chips worth two or one as they are they are constantly transformed into golden tens.

With two modes of play, fantastic visual appeal and a very high standard of component (including the manual, cards, meeples and chips), Majesty is a very attractive game for three or four players and still a great time sink or warm-up game for two. The only negative is the combat mechanic which clearly won’t be for everyone, but it’s also the only true strategic element outside the core drafting. Without it I think the game would lose one of its most interesting features. Just remember to play your games as best out of three or five to ensure everyone has ample opportunity to settle the score!

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