(2017 – Passport Game Studios)
In Lovecraftian mythos, Kingsport is a seaport, shipping town (based on actual Marblehead, Massachusetts) used often in some of H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories. In one of these short stories, entitled “The Festival”, the main character becomes unexpectedly involved in a summoning ritual while visiting some distant relatives. These events are reimagined in Kingsport Festival, which was originally released in 2014 as a re-theming to Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco’s highly rated worker placement game, Kingsburg. This year, designer Gianluca Santopietro (who co-designed Kingsport Festival with Andrea Chiarvesio) has taken to creating a card game based around this Lovecraftian, deranged festival.
In Kingsport Festival: the Card Game, players will take the role as cultists attempting to awaken the Elder Gods, while keeping their sanity and fending off local investigators. That’s right, players are the bad guys. An investigator is randomly chosen each game (amongst 14 possible choices), and contains an ongoing ability that will make summoning these ancient ones a bit more difficult than normal. The investigator will also make a raid on the cultist during 3 of the game’s 9 rounds, and only Elder Gods that the player has summoned can help to protect him from these raids. On their turn, players will use the results rolled on the Domain dice in order to summon Elder Gods (cards into their hand). These cards contain abilities and ways to gain additional icons to be used along with the Domain dice to purchase even more powerful cards on future turns. Each card also contains a certain amount of “cult points” which are essentially the number of victory points awarded to players at the end of the game. If a player hasn’t lost all of his sanity after 9 rounds, and has acquired more cult points than any other player, he wins.
– Elder Gods cards (level 1 through 6)
– Investigator cards
– Domain dice
– Time & Sanity counters
The center of the play area consist of the various Elder Gods. Each Elder God is grouped into a specific level (1-6), with Nephren-Ka as the lone level 1 god, and Azathoth as the lone level 6 god. Elder Gods are separated into rows that correspond to each level, beginning with Nephren-Ka at the bottom (level 1) and increasing upwards in level. A number of cards for each Elder God are placed on the table depending on the number of players in the game.
There are 14 Investigators in the game. However, only 1 will be used each game. Each Investigator card references ongoing abilities that will work against the players, as well as the Rounds he’ll attempt to raid in and the strength he’ll carry during that raid. At the beginning of the game, 1 Investigator card is randomly drawn. This is the Investigator that will be used during the game. For instance, William Channing Webb is the local Professor of Anthropology. When players activate a level 5 Elder God, any required cost in sanity is reduced by 2 (I’ll explain sanity in a bit). However, at the end of the game, level 5 Elder Gods are worth 2 less Cult points than they would normally be worth. William Channing Webb will conduct a raid in the 2nd Round with a strength of 1, another raid in the 6th Round with a strength of 3, and a final raid in Round 7 with a strength of 4.
Each player receives a Sanity counter (12-sided die) and sets it to the value of 10. One of the players will also receive the Time counter as the start player. Finally, the Domain dice are placed nearby.
If a player ever runs out of sanity during the game, they’ll remove the Sanity counter from their play area. When losing sanity while at “0”, they’ll instead need to discard Elder God cards back to the play area to make up for this spent Sanity in the victory points on the cards. The player will only gain the Sanity counter back once his sanity has returned to 1.
A game of Kingsport Festival: the Card Game consist of 9 Rounds, unless a player is able to invoke the final Elder God, Azathoth. In which case the end-game will trigger sooner. During a Round, each player will take a full turn, resolving 4 possible steps before the Round continues with the next player’s turn, moving clockwise. At the end of the game, the player that’s collected the most Cult points contained on his accumulated Elder God cards is the winner. Before a Round begins, the player with the Time counter passes it to the player to his left, then immediately gains 1 Sanity back himself (increases his Sanity counter by 1). Let’s take a look at each step of a turn:
I. Expansion – During the 1st step of a player’s turn, he’ll attempt gather together his summoning powers. These consist of the 3 icons on the Domain dice (evil, death, and destruction), as well as the special powers listed on the various Elder God cards. Each turn, the player will roll 1 of the Domain dice, then can play any number of Elder God cards from his hand (as long as he can pay its power’s cost). A Domain die contains 3 Evil facings, 2 Death facings, and only 1 Destruction facing.
For instance, the player has rolled the Domain die, resulting in the “Evil” icon. Next he’ll play the Shoggoth card from his hand, which will gain him another Domain die with the “Evil” icon.
Next, he’ll play Flying Polyps from his hand, which grants him a 3rd Domain die with the “Destruction icon”. In order to play Flying Polyps, he would need to spend 1 Sanity by decreasing his Sanity counter by 1 point.
Finally, he’ll play the Nephren-Ka card. When playing this card, he’ll gain 1 Sanity. Therefore in this case, he’d gain the sanity he just lost from Flying Polyps. If he had chosen to discard Nephren-Ka back to the center play area as opposed to just playing it in front of himself, he’d have gained 3 Sanity.
II. Invocation – After a player has rolled the Domain die and played any number of Elder Gods from his hand, he’ll be able to summon one Elder God (purchase one Elder God card from the center of the table). Note however that a player can never have two copies of the same Elder God in his hand at the same time. Each Elder God has a domain cost at the top of its card, which represent one of the three Domain die facings, or a generic Domain icon (which is considered a wild). If two of the generic Domain icons overlap, these icons must be the same. If the generic Domain icons are separated on the card, those icons must be different.
For instance, using the example from before, the player has 2 Death and 1 Destruction to use to summon an Elder God. He chooses to summon Rhan-Tegoth, which cost 1 Destruction and 2 wild domains of the same type. He’ll then remove the Rhan-Tegoth card from the center of the table and place it in his hand. When played during the player’s Expansion step, Rhan-Tegoth costs 1 Sanity and allows the player to change an Evil die result into a Death or Destruction result. The Elder God is also worth 3 Cult points at the end of the game, though he does not assist whatsoever in protecting the player from Investigator raids.
Alternatively, as seen on the right, Nvarlathotep is one of the level 5 Elder Gods, and requires the player to spend 3 of one type of domain icon, and 2 of another. If you’ll remember, the player is limited to 5 Domain dice on a turn. Therefore he’d have to invoke all 5 of the Domain dice to even have a chance at summoning Nvarlathotep. If he was able to however, this Elder God has the power to gain the player 2 Domain dice with the Death icon (though he’ll need to spend 3 Sanity to do so). He’s also worth 4 Cult points for end-game scoring, and assist with providing 1 Strength to the player during an Investigator raid.
III. Raid (conditional) – If the current Round number matches the number listed on the Time counter, a raid will occur for each player during their turn of that Round. Otherwise this step of a turn is skipped. During a raid, players will reference the bottom of the Investigators card to see the overall strength of the raid. For instance, as seen below, William Channing Webb’s overall strength during his 1st raid in the 2nd Round is only 1. But increases to a strength of 3 during the 6th Round, and a strength of 4 during the 7th Round.
Players can only use the strength of Elder Gods in their hand to counteract the Investigators strength during a raid. Therefore, any Elder God cards he played during his Expansion step can not be used. This is why it’s helpful to know which Rounds the Investigator will be resolving his raids in ahead of time, as players can try to keep enough cards in their hand during that Round to defend it. Resolving a raid is quite simple. The player will total up the overall number of strength points (blue “Gun” icons in the bottom right corner of an Elder God card) on the Elder God cards in his hand, and compare this to the Investigators strength total for that particular raid. If the player’s strength is higher, the player gains back a number of Sanity equal to the difference. If the Investigator’s strength is higher, the player loses a number of Sanity equal to the difference. If both sides are equal, nothing happens.
VI. End of Turn/Round – Once the player has completed the Invocation step of his turn (or resolved the Raid, if applicable), his turn ends. He’ll then collect the Elder God cards he played back into his hand, then the player to his left will resolve his turn. Once all players have resolved their turn in a Round, the current Start player will pass the Time counter to the player to his left, increasing it by 1 (and immediately gaining 1 Sanity in the process), and a new Round begins.
The game will either end once 9 Rounds have been completed, or if a player was able to summon Azathoth (the sole level 6 Elder God) on his turn. Players will then total up the number of Cult points listed on all of their Elder God cards, and the player with the most wins. If there is a tie, the player with the most remaining Sanity amongst the tied players wins. If there is still a tie (come on people!), then the tied players will compare the levels of their summoned Elder Gods from highest to lowest. The player with the most higher level cards wins.
As I’ve yet to play the original Kingsport Festival itself, I can’t provide thoughts on how well the card game compares to its board game counterpart. However, coming in from a fresh perspective, Kingsport Festival: the Card Game feels like it would have more in common with the gameplay found in Splendor than any other game. The core concept is gathering cards in your hand that provide the resources and special abilities needed to acquire more powerful cards as the game moves along. Most cards provide a certain amount of victory points (cult points), and you’ll account for the total amount of these in your collected deck at the end of the game to determine the winner. While this seems basic, I actually enjoy it quite a bit as an alternative to Splendor, if anything for the more realized theme and special powers on each card.
I’m not necessarily big on the Cthulhu genre of games, but I found that Kingsport Festival: the Card Game worked well within the horror theme. The idea of players taking the role of the villainous cultists, working against the game-controlled Investigators was a unique twist. I also found it cleverly handled that there are multiple lesser leveled Gods, while only two copies of the level 5 Gods (including Cthulhu) and one copy of Azathoth, the sole level 6 God. This helps to create a race of sorts to the top of the chain. The faster you’re able to work up the ranks of summoning the higher end Gods, the more likely you’ll be able to obtain the God card of your choice, rather than having some of them run out before you get a chance.
I also enjoy the raid mechanic in which players will need to prepare their hand of cards for specific rounds when the investigator intervenes. The inclusion of 14 different investigators also leads to a good amount of replayability, since only one is used each game. There’s a nice equilibrium found in players needing to play cards from their hand in order to accumulate enough icons to purchase higher ranked cards, while simultaneously building up enough strength to keep cards in their hand during raids so that they won’t lose all of their sanity. The gameplay itself is a tight, dice-driven, hand management game, that is light and simple enough to teach, but also contains a good amount of strategy. If you enjoy the resource/hand management found in Splendor, but are looking for a bit more theme (and enjoy the horror, Lovecraft mythos), Kingsport Festival: the Card Game is a solid entry.
If you’re near the Wilmington, NC area, feel free to check this game out and more at our community’s FLGS, Cape Fear Games.