Cast Iron Game Review -Kingsport Festival the Card Game

Flickering torchlight reveals the rotting beams, musky earth and dank walls that surround you. Your vision blurs as the squealing wind of the storm outside fades to a soft static. You prepare your mind for the torturous rites you are about to invoke. There is ancient energy here, emanating from the decay of the earth beneath you, the destructive forces above, and the evil that lies beyond the veil. The cavern of Erebus is the perfect place.

You know the incantations, but you remember to be fluid, to be open to altering your plans depending on which type of energy you are able to tap into. You know how to alter that energy into other forms, to bend it to your needs. Your goal is set, the forces that you need are clear in your mind. Fetid energy rises from the decaying life in the earth below, but it isn’t enough, you need more. You focus, pulling from the Nightgaunt and more death flows in. You turn your focus upward to the raging storm outside… this would be agony, but you must succeed. You call on the Flying Polyps and destructive energy flows in, mingling with the darkness inside. A scream built on anguish and rage erupts as your mind begins to buckle. You can’t take much more, but you are almost there, more destruction fulfill the needs of the elder gods. You calm your mind and reach into the chaos. You call on the ancient Mi-Go and feel the mixture of ancient energies swirling around you. You feel evil intermixing with the death and destruction you have already gathered. The God won’t answer an evil summons, it must be pure destruction and death! Your mind can’t take much more, but you have to finish. You invoke Rhan-Tegoth. Your screams rend the air as the cracks in your mind expand to the edge of shatter, but the evil energy inside you merges and becomes one with the destructive energy already there. You recite the final incantation and pour the energy from your soul. You collapse into the foul earth. Shadowy tentacles rise in front of you and pure evil fills the air… you have summoned Cthulhu.

box-cover

In Kingsport Festival the Card Game three to five players are cultists vying for control of the Elder Gods from the world of H.P. Lovecraft. Gods are presented in the form of cards which the players collect by producing the domain resources of evil, death and destruction. Over the course of nine rounds players roll dice, play god cards from their hands, use the energy gained to collect more gods, carefully balance the use of power and the valuable resource that is the player’s sanity, and fight off the investigator. At the end of the ninth round, or when a player summons the chaotic Azathoth the game will end. Whomever has collected the most elder signs (victory points) will be the winner.

The Game

gods_1The game is set up with all of the god cards laid out based on power in six rows. The number of copies  of each god is dependent on the number of players. Each player receives a D12 which represents their sanity, and sets to the starting value of 10. A start player is determined and receives the round tracking die, a D10, set to the clock face. An investigator is chosen at random and placed near the rows of god cards.

Each god has a cost listed at the top of the card in the form of symbols that represent the various energies in the game; death, evil and destruction. A couple of gods use a generic symbol for which any of the three energies may be used. If more than one of these symbols is on the card then the same type of energy must be used for each gods_2symbol if they are overlapped, and different energies may be used if they are separated. Symbols on the bottom of the card also represent the god’s value in elder signs, the victory points of the game, and weapons. The weapon symbol represents that god’s strength which is used to fight off investigators. In addition to the symbols on the card, each god also has some text which provides an effect ranging from gaining one precious sanity to spending three sanity to obtain two dice with the evil symbol.

The investigator card also has text which describes some effect on the game. This could be an effect that takes place at a certain time during the turn, or effects an aspect of the game play. In addition the investigator has a row at the bottom of the card indicating in which round a raid phase will happen, and how much  strength (weapon symbols) are required to defeat the investigator in that phase.

To begin, the start player passes the round indicator die clockwise and gains one sanity point. The die is set to the “1” face and the player who now holds that die takes their turn. The player rolls one domain die, and is then free to play any number of cards from their hand. In the first round, no player will have any cards in hand. Once all desired cards have been played and their effects implemented, typically in the form of gaining additional domain dice or changing the symbol on a previously rolled die to something else, the player may spend the resources gained through the dice to purchase one and only one god from the available cards. No player may have more than one copy of a god. Once complete, if the round indicator matches one of the rounds shown on the investigator then the player must enter a raid phase. None of the investigators provided in the game will invoke a raid phase in the first round. At this time the next player in order will take their turn.

Once all players have taken their turn, the round indicator die is passed to the next player, and the player who just passed it gains one sanity. The game continues until the end of the ninth round, or until someone buys the Azathoth card.

All god cards that a player has obtained throughout the game are counted and whomever has the most elder signs is the winner.

When playing god cards during the game, the majority of them will require some amount of sanity be spent. When this happens the player spins down their sanity die by that amount. If a player spends their last sanity point (indicated by the eye symbol on the die) then their die is set aside. Since they have no more sanity to spend, if they are required to spend sanity for any reason, then they must discard (out of the game) at least one god card with enough victory points on it to cover the deficiency. If the discarded card has more elder signs than the required sanity, then the extra are simply lost.

When the player must complete the raid phase, they must play cards from their hand with the weapon symbol (cards played during the previous phase are not able to be used for the raid phase) equal to or greater than the amount required by the investigator for that phase. If the player has more weapons than required, they gain the difference in sanity. If they have less, then they lose the difference.

Discussion

Kingsport Festival the Card Game is one of the latest releases from Passport Game Studios and was designed by Gianluca Santopietro. It revisits the world of Passport’s 2014 release, Kingsport Festival, also by Gianluca Santopietro. The game is for 3-5 players and plays in about 30 minutes.

Inevitable Comparison

Seeing as how this game shares the name of Kingsport Festival, it is inevitable that the two games are compared. In all honesty, the only real connection I see between the two games is the theme. In the original board game the players are using dice to activate the gods and gain the resources needed to collect spells and locations, thus gaining victory points. In the Card Game the player uses the dice to gather the resources necessary to gain the god cards directly, and are thus able to reuse any collected god each turn. While both games have the same theme and are both from the point of view of the cultist summoning the gods, they really share very little else with each other.

The Good

First of all, the components of this game are amazing. The domain dice are custom D6’s with multiple colors and symbols. The sanity and round indicator dice also have one custom face each. The tarot-sized cards are beautifully illustrated by Maichol Quinto and Demis Savini. The card size also creates a play area much larger than is indicated by the size of the box.

While I was intrigued by the thought of a Kingsport Festival card game, I was very happy to find out that it still had dice, not just for tracking sanity and the current round, but also as a primary mechanic of the game.

Gameplay is intuitive and can be quick, and provides suspense in the form of balancing the need to gain resources quickly and the need to conserve your sanity. Each turn is a question mark of whether you will roll the needed resource, and if you don’t do you use a god and spend your precious sanity in order to get the needed resource. Will you have enough sanity to survive the later turns? Will you collect enough weapons to defeat the investigators? And can you clamor to the top echelon of gods before the other players, snagging the great Cthulhu before someone else does? Or can you end the game early by summoning Azathoth? The theme is amazingly implemented between the suspense of the gameplay and the art direction on the cards and other components.

The Bad

The game itself is quite good, but I have four items that, in my opinion could have been handled better.

First, the god cards use text to describe the effect of the card. I can see where adding even more symbology to a game could be a bad thing, but in this case I feel that most of the text used on the cards could have been handled with symbols. This should be a pretty fast-paced game, but the players have to stop and read the twenty god cards on the table to know what their options are and what they should focus on in the early game. In addition to making them easier to understand, the card-size could have been made smaller, thus shrinking the play area and having it be more visible to all of the players.

Second, I felt that the rule book and the rules could have been written a bit better. For example, the description of the Invocation Phase states that you spend domain resources to “invoke” a god, but doesn’t define “invoke”. In the example just prior to this it equates the invocation phase to “obtaining” a god card. Only when you get to the FAQ does it specify invoke as adding the god card to your hand. The mere fact that a frequently asked question section is included indicates that the rules could have been better written. On a lesser level, the font used for the example text is horribly hard to read. I understand that it is indicative of the theme, but it is quite frustrating to read.

Third, I have found that there is potential for the game to be played “on rails” so to speak. If you don’t roll the dice you need when you need them, then you can get stuck in a “well, I have these resources, what is the best thing I can buy?” moment, as opposed to a “I want to buy this, how do I get the resources I need?” moment. This may be by design, as dealing with the chaotic domain energies can be unpredictable, but if you happen to miss more than one or two of the rolls you need, then it can be difficult to recover and have a meaningful chance at winning the game.

Finally, and this is only a minor quibble, is the name. As this game has almost nothing mechanically similar to Kingsport Festival, I don’t feel like it was necessary to utilize the name and tack on “the Card Game”. On the back of the box the cavern of Erebus is mentioned. That setting is awesome, and maybe it could have been utilized? Perhaps Kingsport Festival: The Cavern of Erebus?

Conclusion

Kingsport Festival the Card Game is a tight game with some decent decision-making throughout. The mechanics support the theme by creating tension, as does the detailed artwork and high component quality.

In my opinion the rules could have been implemented better, and the game could potentially stand a little tweaking to mitigate the potential for feeling like you are forced into decisions based solely on the roll of the die.

Regardless, I feel like the game lives up to its predecessor as a new entry into the genre. If you need a taste of the world of H.P. Lovecraft, but you don’t have time for one of the longer board game implementations, then Kingsport Festival the Card Game is worth having in your collection.

cthulhu

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