Review: Tumult Royale

Designer: Klaus Teuber, Benjamin Teuber
Publisher: KOSMOS
Category: Medieval, Real-Time
Players: 2-4
Price: $15.97 Amazon
Tumult Royale is designed by famed Catan designer, Klaus Teuber, and his son, Benjamin. Klaus has penned Catan and many of its spinoffs, including The Rivals for Catan and Starship Catan. Benjamin has designed a few other games, including the Catan Scenario: Frenemies, Mag-O-Mag, and Smugglers
Thames and Kosmos is a science kit and board games publisher, with KOSMOS being the branch specifically for board gaming. KOSMOS has long published many games, including Reiner Knizia’s Through the Desert, Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth, and the original printing of The Settlers of Catan.
More recently KOSMOS has published a number of children’s and puzzle games, including Harry Hopper, Kerala, UbongoDimension, and many more. In addition, KOSMOS publishes a number of hobby/strategy titles, including Imhotep, Legends of Andor, Tumult Royale, Kahuna, Lost Cities, and the upcoming A Column of Fire.

Content Guide

Tumult Royale puts players in the roles of royalty, full of narcissism. It’s completely tongue-in-cheek, though players are also robbing the people of the land, taking their goods and means for survival.

 
Review

Tumult Royale is a bizarre game where players take the roles of various nobility. These nobles are convinced the people of the land celebrate and love them, so they’ve taken it upon themselves to construct lifelike statues in plains, mountains, and towns, so the people may see their visage wherever they may go. By the end of the game, the board is littered with these poignant reminders of the ceaseless, yet subtle terror the nobles have erected all over the once beautiful countryside.

A player’s tableau, full of statues.

Learning Tumult Royale can be done by traditional means of reading through a tall and wide rulebook. You can opt out of reading, and instead download KOSMOS’ fantastic teaching app. This app features full screen animations, carefully detailing each part of game setup, then teaches players how to play the game, including a sample round, and frequent reminders of how and why the rules exist as they do. I should add the narrator is entertaining, has a lovely accent, and reads a funny and sarcastic script, reminding you how sad and deplorable the nobles are.
Players receive a wide castle tableau, detailing each phase of the round, tile placement costs, and slots for each statue, which also acts as a quick victory point marker. Turn order is decided by the rank of each player, which is determined by the amount of supporters you have.
Suddenly, the king will flick a spinner, which tells you how fed up the citizens have become. In the following phase, each player takes the taxes of three commodities from the commodities pool, which contains tools, marble, and food. These are the resources needed to create statues, though you’ve already taxed the people enough as it is. Little do they know you’re about to put them to work by taking even more of their resources to build your honorary marble face.

The precious resources, stolen by yours truly.

The meat of Tumult Royale follows. In a phase akin to the hectic spaceship constructing of Galaxy Trucker, players will grab and flip commodity tiles, deciding which resources they need in order to expand and build more statues of themselves. The player with the most statues will win the game, so players might become greedy and grab higher value tiles to take the lead. After the short timer runs out and players catch their breath, everyone flips each tile, and players compare the leftover resources to the tumult spinner. If the remaining commodities match or exceed what the people requested, all is well. If not, the greediest player (whoever took the most of that resource) will return all but his lowest value to the pile. It’s a horrible thing indeed, and is likely to hugely set you back.
From here, in turn order, players spend resources building statues, and any overspent resources return to the people, granting supporters. After players expand, a recount is declared, where players redistribute ranks according to supporter counts. The player with the most resources becomes king and must hand over five supporters to the supply pile (if you stay king from a previous round, you don’t pay anything).
Now, the king will get to place an additional statue into the annals of history—a long “hallway” at the top of the board, reminding the people of your subtle and dastardly ruling over the land. It pays to be king. In future rounds, players will reveal fogs of war by being king, get to place additional statues, and also determine the end of the game.

At the top of the map, you will find the long list of kings of yonder years.

Tumult Royale is interesting to me. The grab bag phase of quickly ascertaining an estimated value of a specific resource in the blind pile is such a rush. The phase ends in what feels like 20 seconds, so there’s hardly any time to waste. If you spend too long deciding on taking the 3-value marble tile, other players will have already taken the tools you needed, so now you can’t build anything at all. Of course, you might opt for fewer statues to place and instead overpay on a cheap field in order to gain more supporters. After all, being king gives you a guaranteed statue.
While some variance is added to the game from the random loss of three random tiles per player before drawing for resources, it doesn’t feel like enough. Furthermore, if a player can maintain kingship after a few rounds, it’s going to lead to larger disparity in points, forcing a snowballing victory. Grabbing three 3-value tiles and overpaying adds up, and it’s going to be hard to catch you when you have 5-10 more supporters than everyone else.

These are the people you choose to extort.

Board placement is also critical because in no time, the board is going to fill up. Eventually, you’ll want to be positioned near the fog walls because once flipped, brand new countryside can be explored. People vie for the villages and big cities, and those pay out big time. The player who has the fewest statues each round will receive the people’s mercy, however. This means that each commodity is minus one for them, so when determining who has the most of each resource for greed, that player subtracts one, throwing other players under the bus. This is an okay catch up mechanic, but it still doesn’t feel like enough.
What I’m getting at is Tumult Royale can be extremely punishing for players who get wrecked by the greed mechanism more than once or twice. Unless other players are taking hits each round, the balance won’t be there, and sometimes the luckiest players will dodge the angry crowds and pull out. Luckily, the game plays relatively quickly, and can be over in 30 minutes if  it’s being played fast enough. In a long haul, like Dominant Species, I would hate to get behind on points because the game still has another 1.5 hours left, but here it can be more palatable. I want to love Tumult, but this might as well be player elimination as far as I’m concerned.

Another finished game of Tumult. The rich get richer, or something.

Everything else is there for Tumult. The art is great, the theme is hilarious, and the game doesn’t take itself seriously. I think that’s a huge advantage. If the game were just a bit more serious instead of silly, I’d have many more problems with it. Game length overlooks runaway leader, but if players take too long on their statue placement, it can drag. I remind players to be quick with their turns and enjoy the silliness of the game. It’s meant to be light and swift.
In terms of re-playability, I think an expansion could resolve some of my issues. I would love for each round to offer a bonus to the king. This could be peeking at one of the fog of war tiles, or getting to look at one of the taxed piles of commodities. Nothing powerful enough to make being king more of a runaway issue, though. Of course, I would love for each of the nobles to boast a player power. Maybe the prince/princess could gain an additional supporter every round, or the duke/duchess could alternate between one fewer marble/food/tools each round. Even some end game goals, like “most statues on fields grants an extra statue,” or “no statues on forests grants an extra statue.” An expansion that adds different modules like this would help me to feel like the runaway leader issue isn’t as present. I think with some proper balancing, it could relieve the issue completely.
Overall, Tumult is a silly game that plays quickly, and for both of those reasons I think it’s worth trying. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s fun for what it is. It’s very affordable (just over $15) so if it seems at all interesting to you, it’s probably worth giving a go.

The Bottom Line

Tumult Royale is a fast, push-your-luck game with an awesome teaching app, and a humorous theme. Tumult isn’t for every group, and could benefit from an expansion to resolve the runaway leader issue.

 

6.9