Before I stepped foot into the gaming hall at BGGcon in November 2017, I’d not heard a single thing about Majesty: For the Realm. It just came out of nowhere for me, and was a delightful surprise. Grabbing a spot at the hot games table in that hall, I tried it and played it 3 times in a row, I was having so much fun with it. After we’d played, I looked up the game to find out more, and there was a reason that designer Marc André’s name had rung a bell – he was the person behind smash hit gateway game Splendor! I immediately recognized why Majesty had felt so fun and quick with a dash of strategy, considering who’d make it. Majesty’s got a nice fresh feel, and a little more to it than Splendor overall – but still quick and accessible and fun as heck.
Players are building up their realm – a small card tableau in front of them – by taking from a common supply of character cards that come out each turn. As soon as you select a character, place them in their appropriate tableau location and activate them for points or an action (often other players can take points from your activation, too). Play continues like this until everyone has 12 characters in their realm, and end game scoring occurs. I’ve boiled it down quite a bit here, but the gameplay is truly this simple. The actions you take and choices you make will be where the brain kicks into gear, thinking about how you can crank up that points machine and make the most of 12 rounds to get yourself in a good position.
Setup for the game is variable, by amending the amount of cards available in the deck for the game. Basically, you’ll end up with a chunk more of the tier 1 cards the more players there are, and always the same amount of tier 2 cards; the rules don’t actually define what the difference is between the two, and even suggests as a variant at the end of the rules you can keep everything in and shuffle for a bit more spice. If you use the instructions in the rulebook to “set aside” a number of cards for your game though, just be aware those are the ones that you will be using! The rules are poorly worded, so make sure you’re not shorting yourself on characters. Overall there’s a fairly decent spread – maybe a few extra of the lower end point generating characters, but nothing too hard to get out of the common pool.
I mentioned above the building of one’s tableau with characters available – taking cards as simple as grabbing the first available at no cost, or taking a card further up the line by paying a meeple per card before that. If it comes to your turn, and there’s meeples on the card you’d like to take, that’s a tasty little bonus! You’ll take them into your play area, and anything above the 5 you can have just gets converted into points. Those meeples have, uh, gone to the farm. Moving right along – there are 7 types of characters to take. The “common” characters like, say, the miller and brewer won’t offer big points necessarily but can be used nicely to build up points generation. Building up of your tableau is quite satisfying, and has a lot of light engine building/combination effects – playing a witch will score not only for every witch, but also your brewers and millers. Guards score out for themselves as well as innkeepers and millers. Having a nice spread of cards in your realm can work nicely, and will benefit you at game end, too – more on that shortly.
Some of these point combinations will trigger for other players too, so there’s a need to pay attention to what folks are getting up to in their realms. Playing and activating a brewer means that every player with miller will get a nice bonus in points for “supplying grain” and every innkeeper played will provide points to every player with brewers for their wonderful ales – this thematic interaction is fairly light on its touch, but I enjoy it nonetheless. While this is fairly basic player interaction, there are some more cards you need to keep an eye on opponents gaining – knights and guards. Guards will not just gain points, as above, but provide you with defence as other players station knights in their tableau – if you have equal to or more guards than the attacking player has knights, you’re safe. Any players that don’t have this defence have to put their left-most card in the infirmary, meaning negative points at game end unless you recruit a witch for revival!
After the jaunt through the realm for points, at 12 characters your journey comes to an end. Game end scoring will gain you points for a majority of a type of character, as well as points for having characters situated in a variety of locations. As well as the fun engine building through the game, this little balancing act for points to win is a really fun aspect of this game for me. If someone’s managed to beef up their realm with a lot of knights, it can have helped scale back their opponents’ ability to score points during the game, potentially scaling back their variety of character types – not to mention really helping toward their own majority of that character type.
From those first few games, I realized you can try something a little different each time – attacking, focusing on symbiotic locations triggering for lots of points, etc. You’re a little bit at the whim of the luck of the deck, but you can approach the game tactically enough that it’s not overwhelming – this is especially true when you find opponents bulking up with knights and you need to get guards or witches in your realm! Not to mention that all of the location cards have a side A and a side B, so you can mix things up to have some different activation rewards – different sorts of bonuses with a little more risk but big payoffs. If you know the game you could mix both sides – but all players must have the same combination to play.
Rather than the drab tones of a lot of these period themed/fantasy setting games, Majesty has a nice amount of colour to it. Each card’s got a specific palette to it (as well as unique art and symbols, making this a colour blind friendly play), and there’s bold colours used which is so refreshing! I love the portraits of each character and the little differences in each of them from card to card to make sure it doesn’t get too stale. (I think my favourite is the brewer, who wears a nice variety of hats and looks eerily like Jake Gyllenhaal.) And while I’m personally annoyed that the scoring chips don’t have a 5 denomination, I’m still pleased with the chunky feel and their distinct colours, too. It’s a good looking game that doesn’t feel cheap to play.
Overall, Majesty has a great feel to me – it’s quick, it’s enjoyable at all player counts, and it will keep fresh thanks to little changes in variability. For a game that plays this quickly and would likely see the table often, it doesn’t feel like it’ll get boring for me. I’ll be really interested to see how those who love Splendor feel about this “successor” that’s got a little more going on for it. Don’t let this one pass you by like it almost did me, folks!
Majesty: For the Realm is a game for 2 – 4 players, and plays in approximately 30 minutes. Designed by Marc André with art by Anne Heidsieck, it’s published in North America by Z-Man Games. Thanks to the team at Asmodee North America for getting us a review copy to see just how majestic our realms could be.