Regicide

Designer: Paul Abrahams, Luke Badger and Andy Richdale

Artist: D.J. Phillips, Sketchgoblin

Publisher: TGG Games

Wait….is that Alphonse Elric standing at the back? (Photo credits: Andy Richdale@BGG)

Regicide popped up on my radar after listening to not one, but two podcasts which sang its praises. Not knowing too much about the game, I decided to do some research and found out that the game actually won a design contest. That’s always a good sign. It turns out that Regicide is a 2-4 player co-op game with solo mode tacked on after. The game is designed and played with just a standard deck of cards. All the cards including jokers are used in the game, so it’s a very efficient design. To be honest, if this were any other abstract or Euro card game, I would likely have given it a pass. I love them, but I also have a lot of them. What really caught my attention with Regicide, unexpectedly, was the rule set. I could not help but notice that the rules are simple, intuitive and more importantly, aligned with the theme. This is not a trick-taking game masquerading behind a sci-fi or fantasy theme. This is also not a clever card game with numbers ranging from 1-100 and where everyone is expected to play a card and draw a card. Instead, can a co-op with just a standard deck of 54 cards succeed in capturing the flavor of a good old fantasy trope?

Regicide, which I actually had to search the internet for a definition, really just means assassinating royalty. I think in this case, the title should be “Regicides” since you are killing not 1 but 12 kings/queens/jacks in all four suits. Essentially, all the face cards. Well, perhaps we should just call them the Evil Ones. The game is collectively won when the 12 Evil Ones are defeated. Like any other co-op, if the deck runs out or if any players are killed, then the game ends in defeat. Actually, each player doesn’t represent a hero, but rather a collection of heroes that are taking on the Evil Ones. Each number card except the ace, represents a hero of different stature and ability (hey man, why are short people automatically considered weaker?). In general, high cards in the game are good. So, the higher the card, the more powerful the hero. You will be using these heroes to attack and eliminate the Evil Ones, while also sacrificing the heroes during counterattacks.

Each player will start with a hand of cards depending on player count and there is a maximum hand size limit. Cards are discarded if the hand size limit is exceeded. Each turn, a player will play a card to attack the Evil Ones. You must face the Evil Ones one at a time, in a specific order starting with all the weaker Jacks, Queens and finally the powerful Kings. The more powerful the villains, the more health they have, but they will also have a more potent attack. So Jacks will attack with a 10 and have a 20 health; Queens a 15 attack and 30 health while Kings will have a 20 attack and 40 health. So, the battles will become progressively harder and more intense. That’s neat because the tension sort of builds up toward the end when you face the Kings and a final victory feels more satisfying.

For each hero card that you play, the health and possibly the attack values of the Evil One will be reduced based on the numerical value of the card played. After playing the hero card, depending on the suit of the hero, a specific power is activated. Each suit will have its own power, but all cards in the suit will be activated the same way with the strength of the activation depending on the face value of the cards. For example, playing Hearts will allow you to pick up the discards and replenish the main draw deck. So a 10 of Hearts will inflict 10 points of damage and also allow you pick up 10 cards from the discard pile and slide them under the draw deck. This is important because the draw deck is not replenished in other way and if depleted, the game is likely lost. Playing cards in the Diamond suit allows players to replenish their hand by drawing cards in turn order around the table. Playing a 10 of Diamonds will allow all players to draw a combined total of 10 cards in clockwise order. Playing Clubs will double the damage dealt to the Evil Ones. Hence, playing a 10 of Clubs means dealing 20 points of damage to the villain. Finally, Spades allow you to shield the entire party from an attack by reducing the attack strength of the Evil Ones. So, playing a 10 of Spades when attacking a King means that King can only deal 10 points of damage instead of 20. Critically, this protection is cumulative and lasts until the current Evil One is defeated. However, the Evil Ones are not defenseless as they will have immunity against the power should they share a same suit as the card played. So, a Jack of Clubs cannot be dealt double damage.

If an Evil One is defeated by reducing its hit points to exactly zero, the defeated face card is flipped face down on added to the top of the draw deck. The card will now become your ally and part of your draw deck. So, it pays to inflict the exact amount of damage to take out the Evil One.

After a player plays a hero card and deals damage and activates the power, should the Evil One remains standing, it will attack the player. The player must then be able to absorb the damage, minus any spades previously played to reduce the damage. If the player does not have the cards to absorb the attack, the game is lost. So, you must sacrifice a number of heroes to take the hits. If the player survives, the turn is then passed to the next player and round and round the game goes until you win or lose.

There are a handful of special cards: Playing a joker or jester allows the player to cancel the immunity from the Evil Ones and also skip their turn and assign any other players in the group to continue the battle. This is a lifeline for the game as you can discuss which player should be the next person to go. It also ensures that you get out of a tight situation. The other type of special cards are the aces. Aces are known as animal companions and if played alone or with another hero card, their suit powers can be combined. So, they are also quite valuable in a jam.

That’s all the rules! I have played this game mainly solo and with 2 players and overall, I had a good experience. I definitely enjoyed the tension of card allocation: which cards to use for an attack, but also which to sacrifice to absorb the hits. The Jacks are easy to defeat early on, but the Kings are incredibly tough. There is no table talk allowed and so one must try and make educated guesses about which cards to play to sustain the fight. While the majority of my plays have been in solo mode, the game is still incredibly challenging even with perfect information. I would characterize the game as part puzzle and part push your luck similar to bunch of solitaire card games.

Speaking of push your luck, at the end of the day, Regicide is still played with a deck of cards and you cannot ignore the impact of luck. In my plays, the biggest frustration has to be hand size management. Not having enough cards at hand for a battle is a death knell and you can never have enough. There is a hand size limit, of course. The only way to gain more cards is by playing cards in the Diamond suit and the timing for that is crucial…… perhaps a little too crucial.

Since there is no other way to get cards besides the Diamond suit, the game will stall and go into a death spiral whenever your hand is depleted of Diamond cards. Sometimes, as you play the game and the Evil Ones come out in a specific order, you can almost predict if you win or lose a game based on the suit of your next opponent. If that card is a Diamond suit, then you cannot draw any new cards for that battle and that usually means a slow but inevitable death. I have lost many of my games in this manner. Also, in solo mode, if your starting hand has no Diamond cards, you need to use a jester to reset your hand which precludes you from achieving the highest form of victory. While this doesn’t invalidate the game, it does reveal the extent of luck in the card draw and how it may dictate outcomes of certain games that is outside of your control. To be fair, the game was never intended for a solo mode and I think some of these issues may be alleviated somewhat in multiplayer mode where more cards will be around the table. It certainly makes me eager to play more multiplayer sessions. Either way, to appreciate Regicide is to accept that luck of the draw is inherent in the game and like all other card games, you don’t always get to control your fate.

I am impressed by the effort and can see why Regicide won a design contest. I feel the game is close to being a complete package and can’t help but wonder if a few more tweaks is all that is required to push the game toward greatness. Now that the game has won the design contest, it is no longer bound by the 54 card restriction and maybe allow the designers to flex their creative muscles to tweak the game. More is not always good but a little more could really go a long way in this case.

As a final note, Regicide was produced via Kickstarter and the deck of cards are beautifully illustrated. If you like the game, then it is definitely worth supporting the designers by purchasing the deck. This game is totally set up for commercial success in the sense that it can be recreated as thematic decks with an endless supply of good vs. evil tropes out there to mine.

PowerPuff Girls vs Mojo Jojo, anyone?

Additional note: It’s too bad the title is called Regicide because honestly, the theme is more about saving rather than killing royalty. By reducing the Evil Ones to exactly zero points, they actually become an ally. Think Theoden and Grima Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings.

Initial impression: Good

What’s with the height discrimination here? Short people can be powerful too!

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