Creating Kingless

Late one evening at the back end of August 2018, two friends of mine, Alex and Seb, got in touch with me (very excitedly I might add) about a new concept they had been brainstorming. This concept was a dwarf themed card game, based around a central adventure deck. Initially, I was very interested about the idea, with thoughts of possible rules and directions bouncing around in my head.

I went away and started to plan. Initially, I worked with the idea of having each player take control of a separate clan of dwarves, and then try to overpower each other by recruiting more dwarves and taking control of buildings to increase their overall strength. The winning clan would be the one with the highest strength value at the end of the game.

I wrote down several points on this note page (with a few typos here and there), and had what I thought was an effective idea in my head for how the game would work, which I could then pitch to Alex and Seb the next day. As you can see below, the time had gotten away from me that night with planning.

After having another meeting with Alex and Seb, we started work on Kingless in earnest. A large amount of effort in the early days went into naming our dwarfs and developing a personality for all of them, also creating our buildings and spells (soon to become items and events).

We always knew that we wanted Kingless to be a game that is well suited to being picked up by a group of friends, quick to play and easy to learn for new players but it still had to have enough depth to the mechanics to allow for good strategic play. This mantra of an easy-to-learn and fast-paced game led us to changing our theme towards a goofy community of dwarfs that are based around the Hammer and Crown tavern. This motley group would have a King governing them, and since we know the burden of being King is weighty, it is not unusual for the King to disappear to the lakes to go fishing to help unwind and as such the community must meet again to appoint a new King. Therefore the player with the highest influence (formally strength) would become the new King.

In tune with this notion, we cut from the game the bluffing mechanic around a central powerful card. We felt it was too clunky with the rest of the game and didn’t quite fit in. However, I love bluffing mechanics in games and will be excited to work with the concept in the future.

Through developing the game, we used strict version control. Versions 1 through to 6 we kept between Alex, Seb and myself. The changes to Kingless in these versions were happening at a rapid rate, and it was an involved process moulding Kingless towards the game we were envisioning.

One of the parts of Kingless that I really enjoy is the way the game plays due to the mechanics behind the player with the most influence becoming the King and the player with the least influence becoming the Fool. Such players are faced with challenging decisions; do they try and take down the King by targeting the player with the most influence, or do they secure their place in the middle of the pack by targeting a player with less influence to ensure that it is not themselves that become the Fool?

The goal of Kingless, if not to become King, is to ensure that you do not become the Fool. This keeps the game competitive and engaging for all players throughout its entirety; there are huge momentum swings in Kingless and every player has a plan and plot — so it is never over until the last card is played.

Version 7 was where we knew we were getting close to our goal, so we hosted an event with our friends to show them all what we had been working on. We got some great feedback and it was well received, which was a huge relief for myself. It’s always nerve-wracking when people look at your projects that you’ve worked hard on.

After our Version 7 playtest we knew how close we were, so we made one more major change, being the implementation of our claim mechanic. This is something that I’m super excited about, due to myself never playing a game with a mechanic quite like this before. Claim works to take a dwarf or item off another player and into your control, so not only does it affect cards played on the table but it affects everyone’s hand of cards also. This means there is always a risk of a card you need being claimed away and thus ruining your well-laid plans.

After that we made more refined changes to the point where we hit Version 10 for our one-year birthday of Kingless, leading to us hosting another event and having the most amazing thing happen. We made no rule changes for the first time ever. We finally knew we had a game that all of us at Two19 are proud to say is ours.

In my past, I have played many board and card games and I found it an absolute joy in having a chance to have my say in designing a game. It felt so rewarding to start at a concept and watch the project grow and develop into a game that strikes the balance between being easy to learn and also having enough mechanics and intricacies for many different styles of strategy — all of which are viable ways to avoid being named the fool, and who knows, maybe even good enough to become the King!