Designer: Dan Hundycz
Artists: Fabio Redivo, Maura Elko, Alex Richmond
Publisher: DPH Games
Year Published: Kickstart campaign launching 16 June 2021, expected to deliver this year
The King may be in trouble. The court that surrounds him contains subjects who seek power. Each player represents a family that will vie for control over subjects. Featuring seven victory conditions the path to victory may shift as you gain more information about each subject’s motives and those of the other families. Your allegiances will twist and change based on your interests. The subjects are but pawns.
My Lord! Yes he is and the opportunity to Usurp the King was an every kid fantasy to dawn my shiny armor forged in the finest metal with my family crest showcased crossed my chest…that of a duck. Yep A DUCK! <insert wa wa wa sfx now> What isn’t a let down is Dan Hundycz and DPH Game’s latest creation Usurp the King – The game of intrigue, secret plans, and shifting loyalties. They have created the now famous Red Wedding scene in Game of Thrones into a 20 minute back and forth card manipulation exchange that delivers on the cut throat without the bloody mess.
The set up of the game is very easy as the stage is set with a round table or royal banquet theme with all cards and tokens displayed in a predetermined circular layout resembling my Motley Crew of a family around the Thanksgiving table. Yes I am the Jester not the King at the table and Yes there is one in this game as well. You, however, play one of FIVE Families.
Though you may pick the family by the pretty picture on the card, there is a set hierarchy you may find important to review on your card before picking the dragon… come on, everything is better with a dragon on it! All families start with the same 10 card types, each providing the play, counter, counter-counter action depending on the sequence it is placed down and the influence of the family on each court member. Members are common to the notes of history from King down to the story telling, fortune telling Oracle ranked by a number in the lower third left on the card.
Play is broken down into two phases (Intrigue and Rebellion) and each is only played once in the game. Upon completion of the phases, the winning conditions are reviewed in a specific order listed on the back of each of the family (Players) reference card. These conditions are universal for all players. The play testing of this game was definitely pushed to the limit as the designer has the number of court members matching the specific number of players. The more the players the more the potential variations in outcome with the introduction of additional members of the royal court. Think Night at Werewolf for those who have also pulled an all
nighter playing with 20 strangers at a gaming convention. There are up to SEVEN different winning conditions (yep – seven) based on the outcome of card and token play within the completion of the phases.
There are two unique features that stand out within the well balanced game. The first is the loyalty & betrayal tokens. At first attempt, adding this mechanic to the game gave it a complexity that might be a bit much for the beginner player but like all games that give you enough enjoyment first time out of the box, this feature blended into the overall strategy and design very nicely. Again, you can tell it was played through and the card manipulation combo gave it a truly “Usurpious” feel that rounds out play every time. The loyalty or the betrayal of the individual court member is determined by the bribery and conspiracy cards laid upon them.
The second feature takes place upon the rare occurrence of a “kings maker” scenario at the end of a game. The winner is chosen based on the last loosing player’s family card with a specific order of FAVOR with each family name in the game. Every card is different which will lead to different winners upon this situation occurring. (If that is confusing, you should see their family trees. It would be illegal in 49 states. You can probably guess the missing state!)
As always, a factor in any game that appeals to the visual lover of table presence is the artwork and quality of the production. Given that this play through was with a prototype, one cannot and should not comment on the production. With todays wonderful industry supporting manufacturers out there that help deliver quality cards, tokens, and more for indy gamers and one-offs, I am sure DPH Games will come through upon completion. The artwork is laid out with basic images and drawings that reflects the item description. There could be a later focus on a more “wow factor” to the card layouts and look that would enhance game play as the table fills up with the courts’ members in play. I think after this game develops and next editions come to fruition with funding, an advanced look will rise up like the rule of law within any kingdom.
Given that it is a 30-45 minute game when you have the system down, experienced gamers can’t help but to identify this game as Love Letter by Z-man Games on steroids. If you enjoy the quick pace and fast play of love letter, this should be added to your gaming library. The competitive play of this game is just enough where you don’t develop the need to draw and quarter you opponents, just offer a little friendly public humiliation at your gaming table upon victory. Upon reading this review, I knight you now Sir Gamer of Usurp the King. Now go forth and defend your family’s honor.