05 September 2018
Join this Macedonian dice-placement race for a place on the Stone Council
Enough is enough. I have had it with optimistic play times on boxes. Scythe claims a bizarrely specific 115 minutes but kept us at the table ‘til after midnight, and Rise to Nobility suggests "25 minutes per player". This is a game with ten rounds, and in each round the player has four or five turns, placing a die and doing a bunch of resulting actions – apparently in under 30 seconds. I play Snap slower.
Apart from that, what is there to say? Blah blah Kickstarter blah blah dice placement blah blah sequel to 2016’s Cavern Tavern. Stop me if all this sounds a bit familiar. Two things lift Rise to Nobility above the usual: firstly, it crowdfunded a healthy £272,000, which means its box is stuffed with lid-distending stretch goals, and, secondly, it’s Macedonian.
There aren’t many games from Macedonia – apart from Cavern Tavern, which was a crowd-pleasing game of working in a fantasy pub, serving drinks and badmouthing fellow employees. Rise to Nobility is also dice-placement and set in the same world, but with more strategy and depth than its sibling, and this time you’re working to become the clerk of the Stone Council that governs the Five Realms. To do this you need to build a village.
The game has a three-act structure, like a good screenplay only without much emergent story. In the early game you’re recruiting and housing refugees. In the mid-game you’ll put them to work as apprentices at the six guilds, earning goods, enlarging the guilds and building your wealth and prestige. In the final act you’re using that to petition the council to– well, to give you victory points. Along the way you’ll gain and lose reputation, and rise in nobility.
It’s a dice-placement game at heart, so player interaction is mostly about blocking the others by being first to locations and resources, and therefore there’s more of that as the player count increases. But the game has different setups and amounts of available resources depending on the number of players, which is nice and balances things well.
There are elegant and clever mechanics here. There are also a lot of fiddly mechanics, easy to forget or overlook. The whole thing ought to pull together into a story of a nation’s economic and political growth, but that never comes off.
Where Rise to Nobility works, it works brilliantly. A couple of the mechanical flourishes (the way reputation affects the dice, the dice-placement rules, the trading ships) are really lovely. But it can drag towards the end, and any game that has a page labelled ‘easily overlooked rules’ needed another round of development and refinement.
The designers have promised updates and additional modes on their website. If you don’t mind waiting, and don’t mind spending many of your allegedly 30-second turns having other players remind you of a rule you’d forgotten, then the Five Realms is an intriguing place to spend an evening.
It’s a satisfying worker-placement game, although it’s far from streamlined and never becomes more than the sum of its parts. But the parts are great.
Designer: Ivana Krstevska, Vojkan Krstevska, Toni Toshevski, Maja Matovska
Artist: Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Time: 25 minutes (per person)
This review originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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