Adventuring, beastie slaying, order carry-outing and that’s just the bus ride out to the Kingdom of Tessandor. I shall, once the festivities have subsided, embark on a solitary quest of micro-cosmic proportions. Find out how it all goes in January 2018
Press play for some inspirational ambience whilst you read on
There’s nowt so irritating as fake animal fur…and this bloody animal costume is nowt but irritating fur…but needs must if I am to fit into an anthropomorphic world of weird and wonderful animals, Koblins and heroic owl-bear looking chappies. Apparently evil is afoot and the kingdom…run by a Queen…a Queendom, is destined to be overrun by a host of cut looking, but no-doubt, sinister, Kunning Koblins, Vulpens and Lurklings. Right! On with my Swift Shoulderguards, a quick polish of my Glacial Epaulettes and loading of my clockwork Gunblde and I’m ready to do the Queens bidding.
So What’s All The Fuss About?
A new kid on the block at the end of last year (2017) having been successfully Kickstarted (and turned round remarkably quickly), By Order of the Queen has found its way to both sides of my table. Set for 2-4 players, me, myself and I played with 2 hero hands of cards …just to confuse matters.
To fill you in on what’s what I shall paraphrase a letter to the Guilds of Tessandor.
Kingdom strong with king in charge. King deaded in battle. Enemies knocking about all over the shop, and a kingdom about to fracture. Queen called upon loyalty of chaps and chapesses throughout the land to defend boarders, embark on quests and carry out Queens orders.
Got it so far? This is a cooperative questing, adventuring, monster whacking dice placement sort of affair. But there is an awful lot more to it than just that. There are event cards that throw a gigantic, wooden carved spanner into the works. There are locations to visit that create something akin to a choose-your own micro-adventure. There are quests to embark on, equipment to acquire, beasties of all shapes and colours to contend with and unappreciative locals that are so dismissive of our valiant efforts.
It sounds like there has been lots crammed into relatively small board game but does it stand up to a decent play?
Immersion or Subversion?
The game has been lavishly illustrated in what appear to be child-friendly creatures, beasties, oddly shaped personages and a glorious boar but, as you may know by now, I need a lot more than pretty pictures to feel at one with a game. I think I would have liked a small amount of additional backstory to prep me for this world of Tessandor but despite this, this wondrous land does come to life once the action begins. There can be found, in ample amounts, snippets of flavour text throughout the game, most of which is actually integral to the adventure. I imagine that played as a cooperative game discussions could be had between protagonists deciding on who will commit to battles, who will go a questing or who will put the kettle on for a brew. As it is for me, I have only my self to discuss strategy with…but at least I can guarantee a modicum of sensible conversation even if I don’t always agree with all of my decisions. Probably most thematic, for me, are the event cards and the location cards and to a lesser degree, the quest cards.
The event cards dictate changing states of the game, turn by turn. There are opportunities for reward but mostly it is doom and gloom with a constant increase to threat levels (which will be touched upon later).
The location cards are probably the strongest story telling element to the game. There is usually some form of task set to test us, the budding solo adventurer, to the max with some description of a scenario…then there is a test to fulfil…and then the ever feared consequences. Success leads us to the next part of the test and rewards can be gained a plenty but failure has its costs. There is a price to pay for failing the tasks but all is not lost for we are guided to a consolation task with its own boon. Taking part in these tasks is vital as it is the principal way we achieve success tokens…and these little treasures are what we need to fulfil each of the Queens orders (Three of these nigh on impossible to achieve orders require completion for us to do what toothless budgies do…succeed!). I will be honest that I am a little unsure of the actual theme or feel to the game…no, that is not phrased right. Some story text has a distinct steampunk-esque feel to it but merged with a high-end fantasy. It is an unusual blend of both and more, I dare say, which has, like an unusual foot fungus, actually grown on me. As a slightly closeted Steampunk fan, I have been used to a more in-your-face approach to that theme in the past. So this is interesting to be sure and does not resemble foot fungus in any shape or form.
The quests that direct us to a variety of locals throughout the kingdom…Queendom, have nice flavour text but more importantly, when completed, reward us with equipment, or the ability to reduce threat in the Queendom…all gripping stuff
There are quite a number of things going on here.
- Growing Enemy there is a track keeping tally of a growing enemy threat in the Queendom. The more tokens this has, the more enemies will show up each turn to confront us and consequently eat away at the number of villager tokens (if they all go the Queendome is lost)
- Confidence of the Region there is an additional track that monitors threat levels and as this track increases, so the confidence in the land decreases (if all the confidence tokens disappear, the Queendome is lost)
- Garden sanctuary yet another threat track that, as it increases, so our supply of volunteer heroes diminishes (there are a lot of these but I assume if they all banner off, the Queendom is once more lost
- Dice placement each hero card has a selection of skill icons for which it obviously has a specialism in. Each matching icon on a hero card to an icon on a task card adds an additional die to the pool of dice available. In most cases there is nothing complicated with dice use. Roll a 5 or 6 and success can be applied. So it isn’t exactly dice placement in the truest sense of the phrase, but as each matching icon applied to a situation equates to a die that can be called upon it amounts to the same thing. Similarly fighting baddies requires differing icons to draw upon potential dice pool. Combat is simple. Roll equal or above the die symbol on a card and bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt!
- Travelling to locations these have already been touched upon but simply put, they are a short story telling narrative with tasks built-in for heroes to match their symbols and roll successes (5/6). Success or failure will determine which of the following story elements a hero moves on to. Within each step rewards and sanctions are cunningly sewn
- Questing an opportunity to gain great rewards. They indicate which location cards a hero must gurney to. Successfully visit X number of locations and a quest delivers glories untold
- Event timer the event cards, in conjunction with the moon track, act as a game timer and influence the threat tracks mentioned above…these are nasty customers and never…or rarely bode well for the lonely adventurer
So all in all plenty of symbol matching, dice chucking and adventuring. There is a feel of resource management as you are directing heroes equipped with appropriate symbols to tasks or tests that require matching symbols to permit dice to be rolled n an attempt to overcome said test. Simple but quite elegantly packaged together offering a particularly difficult challenge.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
The quality and standard of production is superb. The board, tokens and various markers are all well printed on sturdy board (I’d have said cardboard but I’m sure the US say chipboard…its thick and strong what ever) and the quality of illustration is equally superb.
The box and rule book have equally good treatment and, without a doubt, when holding the game one’s grubby little hands, it is obvious this is a well crafted game. The rules are no problem to digest, with plenty of helpful game situation illustrations, but there are a few ambiguities here and there (none of which are real game-changers so do not panic). There are a gazillion cards too… most of which are large 64*88mm ish cards but there are still a shed-load of the smaller euro size equipment and beastie cards.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: David Gerrard
- Artist: Justin Hilgrove, Zachary Vail
- Design & Layout: Travis Torgerson
- Game Publisher: Junk Spirit Games
- Playtime : 90-120 mins
- Gangs of one: 1-4
- Age of Consent: 10+
- DOB: 2017
The budding soloist out there would expect a cooperative title to be accessible to a player count of one…but that doesn’t mean it always scales well or is easily managed by one. There can be too many plates to spin at once. I played with 2 hands of cards and not a plate in sight… (as 2 players is the recommended low count) and had no issues managing the cards. There is a lot going on, on the board but it is all laid out well and there is little to overload a single player. As such, I have to admit to this being a very successful solo game. Arguments and decisions were no less having just me at both sides of my table rather than 2 or 3 live players and the game does not discriminate. 1, 2 or 4, it is a malevolent beastie wrapped up in fluffy costume. Beware but enjoy.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: As a solo game we are required to operate all protagonists and as such it is up to us to carry out all the Queen’s orders on our lonesome. This is a very tricky game to win. Not through complexity but partially through the luck of the dice and partially through so many plates we have to keep spinning. It is not a giant of a slope to climb to reach that honoured position on the winner’s podium, but it will undoubtedly take a goodly number of plays to get there. That said, it is an entertaining journey and one defeat shouldn’t deter a hardened adventurer…also, do not worry if you fall out of favour with the villagers…I have on many occasion but they are forgiving and are most amicable ach time I return.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The nineteen page rule book is comprehensive, doing what I feel is a great job explaining the rules and we find that it is smattered from start to finish with illustrations and clear examples of play. There are quite a few elements to remember and f we forget, it takes a moment or two to find where the rules are (some books have reference numbers to aid players navigate from point to point…this doesn’t poses such a system, but as there are only ten pages of actual rules, this shouldn’t become an issue)
- Lucky Buggers: Yes, the cunning dice are ever-present and luck really features heavily in the completion of Quests, Event cards and in Combat. However, a thoughtful player can mitigate some of this random luck by careful selection of heroes to attempt certain tasks. Tasks are usually requiring a success roll of 5 or 6 so using skills and bonuses to increase the dice pool will significantly increase the ance of success. But at the end of the day we still have to roll dice. It is not all doom and gloom as there are often options open to us. Even failing a part of a quest (after dealing us a nasty consequence) still allows us to attempt further parts of it. Ultimately the throwing of dice adds to the tension and fun of the game. It does not take itself too seriously and neither should players.
- Highs and Lows: From its theme, illustrations, protagonists to its mechanics , this game is a light -hearted ‘gateway feel’ adventure. It touches on the darker side of high fantasy but in such a manner that allows very young players to access it. As we work our way through the deck of heroes, we do not build any affinity to them but we do towards the game its self…to the Queendom…to the villagers that we are trying to save. The foes also present themselves in an unassuming manner, saving younger players from any graphic representation of violence. Win or lose, players should walk away from this game felling that they have accomplished a special journey, exploring a wonderful world and encountered some most unusual foes.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: As can be seen from my photographs, the board and the player’s hand (laid out for solo play) fit very comfortably within a 1m x 1m area…very much in the coffee table small kitchen table ball park.
Me, Myself and I:
I was a little nervous about the theme at first but after seeing how well made and designed it is, I very quickly found myself sucked into this rather quirky, odd world, and found the game was a bloody difficult beast to better. Don’t be fooled by the lovely illustrations. This is not some facile, whimsical children’s game… the cute Koblin baddies, the tranquillity of the surrounding countryside…no…this game is cunning and will chew you up and spit you out without breaking a sweat! I am not dismissing whimsy at all. The game has loads but this is a game that does make you think, despite its simplicity. I am sure it is very accessible to younger gamers but the look of the game is very deceptive. It will test any aged gamer,
Yay or Nay?
It comes down to personal taste. If the slightly cute looking exterior puts you off or you dislike dice placement it may not be fully suited to you but don’t dismiss it too quickly. This really is a good title when played solo to push your grey matter and as such it sneaks up in a cute, fluffy facade and snaps and snarls its way into an adventurous BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (7). A thoroughly enjoyable light-hearted solo adventure with glorious dice made from purest amber…well, a synthetic material that has a look of amber, at any rate!
…well that’s that then. I’ve got my secret orders, a shiny Prestigious Breastplate and am heading off to the Obsidian Wastes to carry out a spot of investigating…I have to get to the ‘root of the Matter. By that I suspect there are a couple of holes the size of houses occupying the space we would have expected to see trees. As if trees just get old, get up and leave (ha…get up and leaf)…I suspect when I get to looking in the holes, there will be a decidedly unpleasant explanation awaiting me.
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