Unicornus Knights is co-operative game for 2-6 players. Players take the role of advisors to the princess who is trying to take back her kingdom. She wants to march (naively) straight back to her kingdom, but that’s suicide! So, as her trusted advisors, you try to recruit, move, or (if you have to) kill other characters on the way there.
It’s a really neat, original concept that attracted me. The game has an Anime feel, but it’s not based on any known intellectual property. The Anime theme may make it “look” like a kid’s game, but it’s not. It’s a deeply strategic cooperative game that’s fun. In spite of the Anime theme (because Anime does nothing for me), I like this game. If you like Anime, I suspect you will like it more.
My impression in 4 words: good game, bad rulebook.
I have the AEG version (as of October 2017) of the game right now—it’s basically their first version of the game. My understanding (from some BoardGameGeek threads) is that some things were lost in translation for the rulebook.
The rulebook looks like it would be good: lots of colors, very readable text, page numbers, and references throughout.
But the rulebook has problems.
As of right now, a second edition of the rulebook is apparently being produced (see BoardGameGeek link here.) This is because there are a lot of things left unclear.
- Units. Are Military Tokens on the board considered “fighting things”? Or do you only fight Empire Characters? (Short Answer: the Military Tokens move and fight as well as the Empire characters)
- Combat. The main mechanic of the game is fighting, and it is very poorly described. Please please please read the rewrite before attempting this. There are about 7 things that need to be clarified! The rules describe one scenario in depth (number 1), but what about the other scenarios?
- Kingdom Character attacks Empire Character
- Kingdom Character attacks plain Military Unit
- Kingdom Character attacks Empire Character WITH Military Units
- Military Units attack Kingdom Character
- Military Units attack Princess
- Empire Character attacks Kingdom Character
- Flavor Text. I love flavor text as much as the next guy, but 4 pages of flavor text when the combat needs SO MUCH MORE EXPLANATION is frustrating!
- Wasted Space. Considering how big this rulebook is, there seems to be a lot of wasted space: the back of the rulebook, the last page holds no extra information except for credits. I wouldn’t care so much IF COMBAT WEREN’T SO POORLY EXPLAINED.
If I wasn’t so interested in this game, I would have given up on it. I ended up going to BoardGameGeek looking for FAQs (there isn’t one) and clarifications (I found a bunch in the forums). I tried watching a few videos on YouTube but they didn’t help.
At the end of the day, (I will say link this for the third time), it was only after I found the rewrite here that I finally felt I had a handle on how combat really worked.
There are production problems. The rules state the the Kingdom Characters (the good guys) have a white circle border and the Empire Characters (the bad guys) have a black circle. Can you see the difference? No, you can’t because they both have a white circle!
On BoardGameGeek, there is an article here that shows the original edition, but the theory is that when they made the next printing, they messed up.
In order for me to figure out which characters were Kingdom and which were Empire, I literally had to put out all the Character cards and the Tiles (all of them!) and match the tile to the picture. I wasted at least 5 minutes of downtime sorting the tiles into Kingdom Characters and Empire Characters. And that wasn’t fun.
Where Are the Player Aids?
The only summary of the game is found on a two-page spread in the rulebook:
The game really needs a player aid to describe the turns. Honestly, they SHOULD have used the last page of the rulebook, but it turns out they just made it black.
It seems a wasted opportunity. As I was learning/playing the game, I had the two-page spread open, and honestly it took up a LOT of space and got in the way. It would have helped a lot to either have it (a) on the back of the book or (b) on some player summary cards.
No Solo Player Rules!
Okay, how many times do I have to say this? Saunders’ Law: All Cooperative Games Should Have a Solo Mode! The game officially only supports 2-6 players. My first blush was to play “as-if” you play in 2 player mode, but that means managing four different characters! So, I played “as-if” I were in a 3 player game, and it worked just fine. It was a little much working 3 characters at once, especially for the first time playing through.
So, I would have preferred some solo mode with fewer characters (because working more than 2 characters really makes it harder to learn), but the one player working 3 characters seems the “natural” solo mode for this game. Why couldn’t the rulebook had just one sentence?
To play Unicornus Knights in solo mode, the solo player works three Kingdom characters and the game plays as if it were a 3-player game.
The game works well as a solo game.
Now that I’ve gotten that frustration out, let’s get into the game. The tutorial (included in the game) is a good simplified scenario for learning the game. This is something the rulebook does right. You play with a much smaller map and just go through the game in a few rounds to get the hang of it.
The tutorial set-up worked very well. It introduced just enough of the concepts that I felt comfortable enough to try the main game.
The Main Game
The main game is a LOT bigger and intimidating, but it is really fun! There’s a lot to keep track of, and a lot of effects to keep track of—notice the display of Empire Characters to the left. As you play, you have to consult the Character cards of the Empire cards a LOT, so keep them handy.
The game takes up a lot of board space. Between player cards, Player character boards, the tiles, the Support and Fate and Event cards, the Empire character cards, the tokens, the dice and the Princess, the board fills up quickly!
The Fate cards are a very interesting concept!
When two characters (one Empire, one Kingdom) get close enough as they are moving around the board, something happens! They may fall in love, they may hate each other, they may become allies, they may immediately attack! It’s interesting! It throws a wrench in the works, because you never know what will happen when one of your (Kingdom) characters gets close to one of the other (Empire) characters. Not every Empire character will end up being evil! Some will help, some won’t. But it’s an interesting (and mostly well-executed idea).
There are a couple of problems with the Fate cards:
- The rulebook describes how the Fate cards work, BUT IN A SIDEBAR. If you aren’t looking for it, you will completely miss this mechanic. And it’s so interesting!
You might miss this rule if you are concentrating on the main rules.
- The Fate cards are described as a pairwise relationship, but it’s very difficult to notate that. The rules tell you to “place the Empire Character next to your Fate card and character card”, but this becomes so unwieldy so fast. As noted earlier, the game already takes up a lot of board space, and moving the Empire character cards around is NOT practical. What the games needs are a set of small tokens with the pictures of characters on it: you can then place the picture tokens on the Fate cards and take up no more space on the board. Or something like that.
- Some Fate cards don’t make sense. The Fate card below says “This character gets …”. Since Fate cards are played on TWO CHARACTERS, which is “This character”? The one who played it? Both? Fate binds two characters together.
I almost stopped learning the game because I was so frustrated with the rules. Without BoardGameGeek and its forums, I may have given up. And that’s a shame! Because this is a neat game! It’s deep, it’s strategic, it’s fun, it has enough randomness to keep things interesting, but enough strategy for a good game.
There are a lot of problems. It almost feels like this was a Kickstarter game: there were enough rules problems, production problems, inconsistencies and poorly-thought out mechanics (Fate cards are cool, but poorly poorly notated).
If you don’t mind slogging through all the problems, there is a good, nay great game here! But, if a second printing comes out, just mayyyyyyvbe you should wait until they fix all the problems.
As of right now, I like this as a solo game (in spite of the rule problems). I suspect it will work well as a multiplayer game, but I need to get it to the table with some friends before we can decide that …