Friday, May 12, 2017

My slow crawl with King of Siam

The King of Siam has interested me ever since it first came out. A brain burning game of area control that only has eight actions? That appeals to me on so many levels.

But, one way or another, I never did get a hold of a copy. To be honest, I'm not sure it was available for that long in the US. But when I had a chance to play it on Yucatá, I jumped at the chance.

Here's the elevator pitch: In 1847, three different factions tried to take control of Siam with the danger Britain taking over the whole country if things got too chaotic. The board shows the eight provinces of Siam. At the start of the game, you randomly add followers (in the form of cubes) to the provinces, as well as determine what order the provinces will be determined. Each one will go to the faction who has the most cubes in it but fall to Britain if there's a tie.

Each player has eight cards that allow them to do some kind of action, like add cubes, rearrange cubes or change the province card order. After you take the action, you get to grab one cube from the board. So, yes that means that you are weakening the faction you are backing. You can also pass. If everyone passes in a row, the next province in a row gets determined.

The game ends when either every province is determined or Britain takes over four of them. In the former case, whoever holds the most cubes of the faction that has the most provinces wins. If Britain has taken over, whoever has the most sets of all three colors wins.

That might sound pretty simple but the game is shockingly complex in practice. There's a lot going on and you are basically fighting on eight different fronts at once. And if you neglect the provinces that later in the row, it will come back and bite you. Even passing at the right time can be a powerful action.

I particularly like how no faction belongs to anyone. Everyone is using them to try and support their own play. Some situations that you set up may help someone else more.

I first tried to play it in Yucatá back in 2012. And I did not understand the game at all. Oh, I knew what each action did but how to put it all together so that I can actually play or compete, no idea.

Now and then over the next few years, I would dabble with the King of Siam but I never put enough at one time to really get it. I do suspect that I would've had lot less of a learning curve if I had been playing it face-to-face.

But this year, I decided to make the King of Siam one of the games that I would try and get at least ten plays in. And now, at long last, things are starting to click. I'm not saying that I know how to win yet but I do finally see the big picture.

And wow. I sort of knew all along that the game was brilliant but now I know it's brilliant. I am going to keep on striving with it and it is totally worth that effort.

I also just learned that the King is Dead is actually a retheme of the King of Siam and it is cheaper than the King of Siam ever was. The new theme doesn't interest me nearly as much but it seriously tempts me to break my pledge of not being games this year.

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