The gods of ancient Greece are tired of its mortal rulers, and you could be next in line for the job. Welcome to Kronia, where you’ll need faith, devotion and one hell of a poker face.
Designers: Sérgio Halaban, André Zatz, Míchael Ua Séaghdha
Ages: 14+ (we played with 8+)
Players: 2 – 5 (best with 3 – 5)
Things seem to have taken a spiritual turn here at Cardboard HQ. It feels like barely five minutes since we packed away the dice-chucking, deity-impressing Dice Forge. Now another game of capricious gods has materialised on our reasonably priced IKEA altar.
Kronia transports players to ancient Greece, where Poseidon, Zeus and the rest of their Olympian pals are looking to appoint a new ruler. Rather than allowing a public vote in the spirit of Athenian democracy, they’re giving the job to whoever can make the most extravagant offerings at their temples.
Does it make for a decent game? I donned my ceremonial robes to find out.
At heart, Kronia is a simple game of bidding and bluffing.
You’ll start the game with a hand of numbered cards representing various goodies to offer the gods – things like gold, wine and sacrificial animals. You’ll choose a single card to play on each round, placing it face-down next to one of a cluster of cardboard temples in the middle of the table.
Each of these shrines bears a token representing the blessings of a different deity. Once everybody’s played their cards, you’ll reveal them all and the player with the highest value at each temple will receive its token – along with the game-winning points that come with it.
Stripped down to its core, it sounds pretty uninspiring. But Kronia soon reveals some hidden depth.
Before everyone reveals their offerings, you’ll have a chance to change your plans. If you want to, you’ll be able to move your card to a different temple, or replace it with another one from your hand.
It turns the game into something like a poker match, especially when players come into conflict by making offerings at the same shrine. Should you swap the card you’ve played for one with a higher value, boosting your chances of winning the clash? Should you leave things as they are, saving your best offerings for later rounds? Or should you shift your efforts to an unoccupied temple where you won’t face any competition?
You won’t have much information to base your decision on, and it leads to players staring stone-facedly at one another like card-shark cowboys in an Old West saloon, each looking for the slightest twitch or tremor that could hint at the strength of their opponent’s position. It also opens up some delicious possibilities for bluffing. You can place one of your weakest cards on the table with just enough of an air of confidence to ensure that your rivals don’t want to tangle with you, leaving you to pick up a blessing token completely uncontested.
When this kind of subterfuge pays off, it’s exhilarating. But it also ties in nicely with the game’s scoring system, which rewards you with bonus points for winning tokens using the weakest cards in your hand. It provides an incentive to take risks, playing easily beatable offerings where you think you can get away with it, and it turns contests over shrines into miniature battles of wits and tiny tests of nerve.
You’ll also earn points for collecting sets of particular gods’ tokens. So while individual blessings grant anywhere from five points for the mighty Zeus to one for the weedy Apollo, even the least valuable chips can become worth their weight in gold if you’re able to amass enough of them.
It all comes together to brilliant effect. Turns rattle along at a fast pace, but each one feels charged with the potential for personal triumphs and stinging setbacks.
And there’s plenty more to like about Kronia. There’s the way it uses its shifting player order to hand slight advantages to different people at different points in proceedings. Or its subtle balancing mechanism that gives losing players on each round a smidgen of extra control over the cards in their hand, putting them in a better position on later turns.
Where it starts to fall down, though, is in some of the added extras that come crammed into its box. These expansions and variant setups tweak aspects of the game, but they also add needless complications to a design whose biggest strength is its simplicity. Like stuffed crust on a perfectly good pizza, they negate much of what makes Kronia so compelling. They feel like an attempt to shoehorn some variety into the game to justify its price tag.
And that’s something else we should discuss.
As a £15 small-box game, this would be an automatic purchase. At £20, there’s enough here to make it appealing to most players. But its £25 asking price seems excessive, especially when you’ll probably ignore the add-ons in favour of the core game’s undiluted elegance.
A game for the gods
If you don’t mind paying over the odds, though, there’s a lot to recommend Kronia.
Its focus on making the best use of a steadily dwindling hand of cards reminds me of BraveRats, a light and fluffy two-player game by Love Letter creator Seiji Kanai. But the highest praise I can offer is that for me it pretty much replaces Skull, a glorious game of bluffing and pure chutzpah which for years was my first choice for tense and silly fun.
Kronia has a similar appeal, but it comes with just a little more depth. It’s one of a select handful of games that my group has tried once, then immediately demanded to play again. After it’s over you’ll find yourself analysing the bits that went well, the plays that turned sour and the things you could have done differently.
It’s an impressive achievement, and I only wish that its designers had had the confidence to let it stand on its merits as a brilliantly crafted mini-game that’s perfect for families or casual players. If you can look past its inflated cost and disappointing bolt-on extras, there’s a game in here that’s worthy of a place on Olympus.
- Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Kronia from its distributor.
Have you played Kronia? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.