- For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 14+)
- For 2 to 6 players
- Approximately 45 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Visuospatial Skills
- Bluffing and Misdirection
- Area Control
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Influencing the powers that be is a game of cat and mouse
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
Retired United States Army general, Stanley A. McChrystal, said, “Anyone in a position of power is either corrupt or assumed to be corrupt, and the assumption of corruption is as bad as the reality of it.” Power can be held by one individual but wielded by another through deceit. After all, the corrupt can be easy to persuade if given the right leverage. Welcome to court, a den of backstabbing vipers. You’ll fit right in.
Cursed Court, designed by Andrew Hanson and published by Atlas Games, is comprised of 24 Wagering Crowns (in 6 colors, 4 per color), 120 Influence coins (in 6 colors, 20 per color), 6 Score markers (in 6 colors, 1 per color), 36 Noble cards, 1 First Wager marker, and 1 game board. The game components are a mix of solid plastic and durable cardboard or cards. Artist Lee Moyer did a great job of capturing the different personalities of the nobles represented in the game. While personality traits have no bearing in the game, the differences in the character artwork make the game more visually engaging.
To set up the game, first place the game board in the middle of the playing area. Make certain there is enough room to one side of the game board to place Noble cards in a 3×3 grid (mimicking the same grid illustrated on the game board.
Second, let each player select a color of their choice and then take all the Wagering Crowns, Influence coins, and the single Score marker that match that color. Any Score markers, Wagering Crowns and Influence coins not selected stay in the game box.
Third, shuffle the Noble cards to create a single deck. Place the deck face-down to one side of the game board.
That’s it for game set up. Determine who will be the first player and give them the First Wager marker.
The Nature of Politics
Cursed Court is played in 12 rounds with every fourth round resulting in a scoring session (rounds 4, 8, and 12). Each round is referred to as a “season” (Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter) and all four seasons make up one “year”. A single season is summarized here.
Step One: Deal the Nobles
At the start of a new year (Spring), deal one face-down Noble card between each player if playing with four or more players, deal two Noble cards between each player if playing with three players, or deal two face-down Noble cards directly to each player if only playing with two players.
Now this is very important (unless you are playing a two-player game). Players “share” cards in Cursed Court. The Noble cards are dealt to the space between the players, meaning that a single player will have access to Noble cards to their immediate left and their immediate right. This means that cards are shared information, but not fully with the group. Individual players will have a subset of all the information. Players should look at those cards, taking turns, but should never discuss or show the cards they have access to. The only exception to this rule is when playing with two players. In a two player game, each player has their own Noble cards to look at and does not share any information.
Step Two: Pass the Wager
Unless this is the first season of the game, the First Wager marker is passed to the next player in turn order sequence. In a two-player game, this step is skipped in the first season of every year.
Step Three: Reveal One Noble
Another Noble card is now drawn from the deck and placed face-up next to the game board. This area is referred to as the “tableau” (a fancy French word for “picturesque description”, or in this case, something that represents something else). The revealed Noble card should be placed so its location mimics the image of the same card on the game board. For example, the “King” is pictured on the upper-right corner of the game board. As a result, a revealed “King” Noble card should be placed so it’s in the upper-right corner of the tableau. If a Noble card is drawn that matches a Noble card already in play, it’s placed on top of it.
Step Four: Place Your Bets
Starting with the player who currently has the First Wager marker and continuing in turn order sequence, each player now takes one of their Wagering Crowns (not currently placed on the game board) and places it in a region. The goal for each player is to place their Wagering Crowns on specific regions that represent Noble cards the player knows or hopes will be in play by the end of the year. Players should evaluate not only the cards currently visible, but also those cards that are face-down next to them.
There are two regions on the game board to select from.
A) Noble Region
B) Set Region
The Noble region is any space on the game board that has a picture of one of the nine nobles.
The Set regions are found between the Noble regions and on the outside of the 3×3 grid. Set regions represent certain sets comprised of three to four Noble cards. An image of the cards in the set are pictured and organized so a player can quickly determine what and where the Noble cards need to be in the tableau. Each Set region has a name, suggesting the activity in the court being conducted by the nobles.
When placing the Wagering Crowns, players can also place one or more Influence coins under it. Influence coins do not increase the possible score a player could earn when they are used. Rather, they are meant to help strengthen the player’s position in that region, making it difficult to be “bumped” by an opponent.
Any player can “bump” an opponent’s Wagering Crown with their own by placing their Wagering Crown with a number of Influence Coins equal to double or greater than the number already in play in that region. For example, an opponent with a Wagering Crown that has five Influence coins can be “bumped” by a player who places their Wagering Crown with ten or more Influence coins. It only takes one Influence coin when “bumping” an opponent’s Wagering Crown that does not have any Influence coins under it.
If a player is “bumped”, they remove their Wagering Crown and any Influence coins attached to it. They then place that Wagering Crown again when it’s their turning during this step.
This step ends when all players have placed their Wagering Crown without being or causing a “bump”. Each player should have one Wagering Crown in play for the season in the year currently in play (one for Sprint, two for Summer, three for Autumn, and four for Winter).
This completes the season. A new season now begins starting with step one noted above.
Ending the Year
At the end of every fourth season, the year comes to an end and players determine their score.
All Noble cards that were face-down are now turned face-up and placed to the tableau. There are several ways to score the game, but I suggest the following method as it keeps everyone organized and is fairly quick.
- Starting with the player who has the First Wager marker, score each Wagering Crown they have on the game board by matching the region their Wagering Crown is on with what is visible in the tableau. After scoring that region, mark it using the Score markers by moving them on the scoring track found on the game board. Remove the Wagering Crown and any Influence coins it may have, returning them to the player.
- If the Wagering Crown is on a Noble region on the game board that does not have at least one matching Noble in the tableau, the player scores zero points.
- If the Wagering Crown is on a Noble region on the game board that does have at least one matching Noble in the tableau, the player scores a number of points determined by the number of Noble cards of that same type that are currently revealed. This could be one point if there is only one Noble to a max of eight if all four copies of the same Noble are in the tableau.
- If the Wagering Crown is on a Set region on the game board that does not have the matching Noble cards in play, the player scores zero points.
- If the Wagering Crown is on a Set region on the game board that does have the matching Noble cards in play (meaning that all the Noble cards necessary to complete the set are in the tableau), the player scores three points for a set of three or four points for a set of four. More than one copy of the needed Nobles for the set does not change the score.
- Repeat the above steps in turn order sequence for each player until all Wagering Crowns have been removed from the game board.
Starting a New Year or Ending the Game
After scoring a year, the game board is cleared and all the Noble cards are collected, shuffled, and dealt out again. A new year now begins and is completed when all the seasons have been played. At the end of the third year and after scoring has been completed, the player with the most points wins the game. Ties should be broken by playing an extra year, but all the players get to participate. This means players who did not win the game at the end of the third year could win the game by the time the fourth year is ended.
There are a number of game variants available that alter the game, making it more challenging or reducing its complexity. Each are summarized here.
The Court Remembers
This game variant challenges the players to remember which Noble cards were played during a single year. At the end of the year, all the cards in the tableau are set aside and not shuffled back into the deck. Instead, they remain out of the game for the year. This means the cards revealed in the previous year, will not be seen in the next year. At the end of the year, any cards set aside from the previous year are brought back in play while the cards just used for the year that ended are set aside.
The Coinless Court
This game variant removes the Influence coins and the ability to “bump” an opponent. Players only use the Wagering Crowns and can bet on the same regions as their opponents. The order in which the bets are placed, however, matters. The first player to bet on a scoring region receives the maximum number of points possible per the scoring rules of that region. Every player who also has a Wagering Crown in that same region will score fewer points base on when they placed their Wagering Crown. For example, the second player to place their Wagering Crown in the scored region would receive one less point and the third player to place their Wagering Crown would receive two fewer points. As such, it’s possible to score zero points.
The Great Exchange
This game variant removes the Influence coins and replaces them with Poker chips. Each player is given 100 Poker chips at the start of the game. Players do not “bump’ opponents, meaning that any player who places a Wagering Crown with chips leaves it there. A player must place more chips than the highest current bid in that region however. When scoring the regions, the player with the most chips collects their chips and any opponents’ chips in that same region. If the region does not score any points, all players leave their chips in that region. The player who collected the most chips at the end of the year gets any remaining chips on the game board that are left. The Score markers are not used in this game variant. The game ends when only one player has chips remaining. If the players like, they can “buy” more chips at the end of every year, allowing everyone to play until the game is ended.
The Royal Masquerade
This game variant requires the owner of the game to mark one of the four Wagering Crowns with some noticeable, but also hidden, indicator. For example, a small dot at the base of one of the Wagering Crowns. Whatever the mark, only the player who owns those Wagering Crowns should be able to see it. The marked Wagering Crown is referred to as the “feint” and it’s used to bluff opponents. Wagering Crowns that are feints can never be scored, but they can force opponents to think you know something they don’t, influencing their actions during the game. This game variant can be used with the base game or any of the other noted game variants.
To learn more about Cursed Court, visit the game’s web page.
The Child Geeks had fun with the game, but seemed to really enjoy it when we used the Coinless Court game variant. According to one Child Geek, “Using the coins is fun, but I don’t like it when you cannot place your bet just because the other player has more coins than you.” Another Child Geek said, “The game is all about paying attention and making really good guesses.” Very true. With hidden information being used in the game to help the players make choices, one can only observe what their opponents are doing and make some assumptions regarding what cards they hold based on their opponent’s actions. This makes for some interesting bluffing and a lot of scrambling during the last season to get as many points as possible. Regardless of how many points were scored, Cursed Court scored big with the Child Geeks.
The Parent Geeks found the game to be casual and engaging. According to one Parent Geek, “I like games like this a lot. I don’t get into games with a lot of story. Never felt like it was that important. This game is all about being subtle and sneaky. That’s all I need to have fun.” The thematic elements are more or less just window dressing. Since all Nobles are generic, one could play Cursed Court with little more than just a deck of standard playing cards. But not all the Parent Geeks felt the same. One Parent Geek reported, “I like the game’s theme a lot. It was fun to play a game where you were pretending to bribe nobles, knowing full well that your opponents were attempting to do the same thing.” The Parent Geeks enjoyed the based game, but enjoyed it even more with the Great Exchange.
The Gamer Geeks found the base game to be OK, but preferred it with the Royal Masquerade and the Court Remembers game variants. According to one Gamer Geek, “The game as it is right out of the box is OK. When you add in the memory element and the ability to bluff, the game play is really interesting.” The Gamer Geeks, being competitive by nature and always looking to outsmart their opponents, found Cursed Court to be the perfect medium to one-up their fellow players. It was while playing Cursed Court with the Gamer Geeks that it also became apparent why the game was titled as such. Much swearing and many lewd jesters were used when the years were scored. Luckily, no friendships were harmed. The Gamer Geeks all agreed to approve Cursed Court for general play and for anytime a quick game of bluffing and deduction was desired at their elitist table.
Cursed Court is a very simple game. So simple, in fact, that the rule book is, in my opinion, way too wordy. You could summarize the game in a paragraph and demonstrate game play in less than a minute. Gone are the complex rules of engagement and nothing is artificially added to increase the difficultly of making choices. There are no special actions to resolve and no rule changers. The game wants players to get involved, focus on what they know (or think they know), and get on with it. This is a game about pushing limits and taking chances with absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. That frees up a player to take risks and enjoy the experience.
While the base game is great right out of the box, it’s the game variants that I think make the game. Each subtly changes the rules of play and how the players go about making choices. My favorite is adding in the faint and my least favorite is replacing the Influence coins with Poker chips. And yet, when I played Cursed Court with individuals who were not gamers, the use of Poker chips made the game more accessible. Which is not necessarily odd, but it was surprising. I also like removing the cards temporarily, as described in the Court Remembers variant. This makes the game much more interesting and the level of thought required to win more intense.
Cursed Court is a casual game, but you certainly don’t have to play it as such. There is plenty of time to visit, to scam, and to taunt your opponents. The game provides the battlefield, but it’s the players who decide how intense the actual battle is. Each of our groups played and enjoyed the game. Do give Cursed Court a try when you get a chance.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.