“Your Majesty! Come quick! The village is empty!”
“What are you talking about? Empty? Where did the villagers go?”
“They’re all kind of, standing in a line, but they’ll come over if you feed them these tiny white wooden people.”
“This is all very confusing.”
“It is, your Majesty, but it’s surprisingly fun too!”
Time: 20-40 mins
Designer: Marc André
Artist: Anne Heidsieck
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Some designers have a certain style of game they appear to feel most comfortable creating. Feld loves his thematically unimportant, luck mitigation euro games, Uwe is our gentleman farmer, Leacock is still the co-op guy. Marc André appears to be a man who loves borderline abstract euros with limited (that is, accessible) rule sets. Splendor is a classic example of elegance in design. His less well known Barony is similarly theme-light and only moderately heavier. But Majesty: For the Realm, is a game that is stunningly close in style to Splendor, both in game play terms and in components. I mean, just look at those chips…
They look awfully familiar… but now there’s more of them! Actually, I joke, but in some ways that is better. Having so many means you are fiddling with bigger piles while waiting for your turn, you have the satisfaction of regularly turning in big piles to get bigger denomination chips and in this game, unlike in Splendor, these chips are things you are aiming to collect, not merely a means to an end that you ultimately want to avoid. Your in game desire and those undeniable cravings to collect and play with those lovely chips align perfectly. And this is the least important point of comparison.
All the people
In Majesty you have a village. A lovely village in which all the cards combine their artwork into one, delightful panorama. It’s just so beautiful I could stare at it all game…
Snap out of it Matthew! OK. No more component chat! Gameplay. What on Earth is going on here? Well, as you would do if you had an empty village to hand, you are going to fill it with people. Hard working people that queued up in the central market waiting for you to employ them. And as they get homes beneath the matching village building they’ll earn you that cold hard cash that you crave. Yes, this is actually a game about immigration.
Especially as you start out with a collection of local meeples who are little more than a currency used to purchase the people cards from the market. This interpretation took a bit of a weirdly dark turn… Let’s focus on what I said at the start, Mark leans very much into the theme-light realm of game design. So don’t bother trying to figure out what the meeples represent, focus instead on what they do. You’ll use them to buy cards from the market. The first card is free, but later ones cost one meeple (why meeples!?) for each card you pass over, a mechanic you might recognise from last year’s Century Spice Road.
Majesty takes a great mechanic and makes it even better. For one thing, you are using this mechanic throughout the entire game. For another, the resource pool is distinct from how you get points, it’s not like the spice cubes of Century, and tightly limited so that you are constantly evaluating it. You can only gain replacements by taking a card with meeples covering it, or by activating the powers of specific buildings.
So many people
Now that you have a new person it’s time to bring them back to the village. They go straight to the building they belong in, whether it’s the Miller in the windmill or the Knight in the barracks, and they immediately activate the power of that building. Most of these powers earn you money based on the other people in your village, whether it is as simple as the millers earning 2 coins for every miller you have, or the guards earning 2 coins for every guard, knight or innkeeper in your village.
Here you get that Splendor like set collection. Because your first miller isn’t going to do that much for you, just a paltry two coins. But successive millers score for every miller you have: your third is going to net you a sweet… 6 coins! Wait, thats still not very much… But imagine what that does with nobles who might be worth a massive 5 coins each! And millers have other benefits, brewers buy their wheat off them, so millers can earn you points on other players turns, and witches are worth 2 coins for every miller, brewer or witch in your village! That can quickly turn into an impressive haul! This simple yet surprisingly puzzley set collection, combined with the elegant draft, keeps things crystal clear when it comes to what your opponents might want, offering you the chance to cut them out of it. Majesty is so much more interactive than Splendor.
This is especially apparent with the Knights, who like nothing more than roaming the countryside and injuring other player’s workers. Every time you get a Knight, you attack, injuring the leftmost worker in each opponent’s village and sending them to the infirmary where they no longer contribute to scoring. This is great. It’s the kind of take that I can get behind: it affects all your opponents equally, and you know it’s something that will happen so you can plan for it. Guards will defend your village against the same number of knights or fewer, while the witch will heal them back into your tableau, or you can just accept the hits and stack up big bonuses from the more valuable characters behind your villager meat shield!
This game excels at providing you options and teasing you with making the best possible choice. Everything is good for you. Even the hate drafted card will contribute towards the end game bonus for filling as many of your buildings as possible. But only those who make best use of the combos available, who best navigate the random market, will rise to the top. There are a ton of things you want to do giving every decision weight, but you need only chose between the 6 cards in the market on a given round, keeping the game moving incredibly quickly.
Majesty flies by in a mere 20 mins, which is crazy for a game this engaging. You will find yourself immediately playing again. Which won’t even get repetitive because each of the 8 buildings are double sided, offering alternative powers. Since all these powers interact with the other villager types to some degree or another, this creates a huge degree of replayability. Honestly, the basic game is interesting enough with the random villager deck. This extra level of variation is pure luxury!
I really can’t proclaim my love for Majesty any louder. It is an exceptional game. Deep yet accessible, cramming so much into its 20 minute play time. Meanwhile it overcomes so many of the criticisms commonly levelled at Splendor: its limited interaction, its luck of the draw, even its lack of theme to a degree. Yet Majesty clearly stands apart as its own game that need not replace your well loved copy of Splendor. It feels at once strikingly different and yet at the same time comfortably familiar. It is a phenomenal achievement and absolutely deserves your attention!