I’m once again doing something a bit different for Day 10 of my 12 Days of Holiday Gaming Suggestions and discussing a game that won’t be released until Tuesday, December 19th. Look a few days into the future with Cursed Court!
Disclosure time: John Nephew (the head of the game’s publisher, Atlas Games) is friends with Lory Aitken (my boss at Pegasus Games). John was in Madison for Thanksgiving weekend and brought a copy of Cursed Court to the store to run a few demos. Neither of them had any idea that I’d be writing this.
Cursed Court is a deduction game for two to six players, who take on the roles of minor nobles in a fantasy setting. The game’s board shows nine major nobles in a three-by-three grid. There is also a deck of 36 cards; four copies of each of the major nobles. The players will be trying to use public and semi-private information to deduce which cards will be appearing, and in what combination.
The game is played over the course of three cycles (or years), each with four phases (or seasons). At the beginning of each year, every player gets four wagering crown tokens and 20 influence coins. The deck of major nobles is shuffled, and one card is dealt in between each of the players. That card is shared information for the two players it is between. At the beginning of each season, a single card from the major noble deck is publicly revealed and placed next to the board. (Meaning for cards will be made public by the end of each year.)
After a noble card is relieved the betting begins, and this is where Cursed Court shines. Each season, players can place one of their wagering crowns on the board; either on a single noble, or a combination of nobles who they think will appear the most that year. (For example: a player could bet on the Queen, or bet on “The Wedding” which assumes a combination of the Queen, Duke, and Priestess.) At the end of each year, all of the cards that were dealt between the players are added to the revealed cards, and successful wagers are scored. Bets on a single noble score based on how many copies of that noble’s card are showing. Bets on a combination score if at least one copy of each of the required cards is showing at least a single copy. (“The Wedding” will only be worth three points, even if two copies of every card is present.)
While that may seem straightforward, there is a major limiting factor in Cursed Court: each space can only have a single wagering crown on it. When a player places their crown on an unclaimed space they can add any number of their 20 influence coins to that space as well. If a player wants to take a claimed space they must be able to play twice as many influence coins as the controlling player has already played. (This means spaces with 11 coins on them are completely secure.) Players must time their influence use wisely because they cannot get coins back until they lose a space, or at the end of the year.
Cursed Court is another game where the mechanics and the components compliment each other perfectly. The fact that only one player can control a possible wager, plus the limited number of influence, plus shared “hidden” information, plus the slow reveal of public information leads to a lot of bluffing, second-guessing, and ruthless undercutting. It feels like cutthroat political intrigue. This is magnified by fantastic artwork and well-designed tokens. Everything blends together very well.
When I first did this list in 2015 my game of the year was Revolution!, and I said it was an underrated game that deserved much more love than it gets. It made me happy to see so many people agree with me in the comments. To those people in particular, I say keep your eyes open for Cursed Court. Beyond that little niche, I think this game is going to be a hit with anyone who likes deduction, bluffing, and playing the odds in a highly combative way. If this sounds like a game for you, get ready for its release in a few days!
About the Author
James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.
James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.