Designed By: David Gerrard
Player Count: 2 – 4
Play Time: 90 – 120 Minutes
I’ve said this before in my game reviews, but it bares repeating: I am a sucker for great art. I truly believe that great artwork can make a so-so game rise above its ranks, while bad art can make a great game seem less appealing. By Order of the Queen is a game whose art is so good that I actually bought the game knowing nothing about it other than the fact that it would look good on my table. But now that we’ve had the chance to play it, I’m ready to hand down a verdict. Does By Order of the Queen reign supreme as a Kingdom worth saving? Or should the Queen and her subjects be left on the shelf to deal with their own problems? Let’s take a look and find out.
How Does it Play?
By Order of the Queen is the story of different guilds coming together in order to protect the land from monsters who would do it harm. In order to do this, you will take your guild of adventurers out on quests, hunting monsters, fighting a nemesis, or even completing the Queen’s orders. Your hand, which is made up of seven heroes, will be your lifeblood when it comes to all of these things as you try to match symbols on hero cards up with quests and orders in order to have the best odds of rolling at least one success, a 5-6 on the die. BOotQ is a co-op game, so everyone will be doing all of this in hopes of not raising threat or losing resources in three key areas: villagers, fortresses and heroes. Lose any one of these entirely and the game is over. The Guilds lose. Complete three Queen’s Orders fully before losing one of the three major resources, and you all win. Sounds simple, right?
The trouble is that everything you do has more chances of hurting you than helping you. Take questing for example. In order to Quest, you’ll select a Quest from the Quest deck which will then send you to one of the four land types. You’ll piece together a band of four heroes in hopes of being able to match up symbols to the quest itself, and then draw a card from the land deck you are visiting. The card will then give you the first part of the quest at the top. You’ll roll die in accordance with how many of the symbol in the background you have in your pool of up to four heroes going on said adventure. Get a success and you move on to the second block down. Get another success and get a reward! Fail the first and you’ll move to the bottom of the card, where you’ll have one more chance to gain something good, though not as good as if you had succeeded both pieces of the quest. The trouble is that EVERY piece of a quest has a far greater chance of failure and failure comes with consequences. Threat can rise. villagers, heroes and fortresses can be lost. In the effort to help your odds, you will undoubtedly make them worse at the same time.
So it only makes sense for you to try to complete the Queen’s Quests as fast as possible. Oh but wait! This undertaking can only be done once per round (4 player turns) and just like Questing, failure can be a huge set back and often is. Even fighting monsters can lead to losing heroes to the retired pool if you can’t defeat all the monsters at once. Every aspect has rewards and consequences and the odds seem very stacked against you. This is by no means a complaint though. Sure, for players who hate the randomness of dice rolling, this game can seem cruel at times. But then you’ll have a round where you succeed every roll and it truly feels like a triumph. You’ll clap loudly and exclaim ‘YES!’ and that great feeling is worth the pain of several failures that lead up to it.
As you near the end of your second Queen’s Order, things are sure to get frantic as you try to balance all the things you’re losing from the Kingdom, making sacrifices and big decisions in order to narrowly avoid defeat. And win or lose, you’ll always feel as though you had a chance at winning, even when certain turns go horribly wrong. Even when we knew we were going to lose in the final turn of the game, we still searched frantically for hope on the board and that’s a good thing in a co-operative game. Nothing is worse than a defeat that you see coming a mile away.
After four player turns you’ll go through an event phase which will see new event cards come out, nemesis monsters spawn and generally bad things happen to the Kingdom. This phase also acts as a clean up phase to get you all set up for the next round and thanks to a handy guide on the back of the rulebook, you’ll be breezing through this section very quickly and will be back into the action before you can realize your kingdom is getting utterly decimated by monsters.
What Makes By Order of the Queen so Great?
There are some cool mechanics at play here, but by far the best thing about By Order of the Queen is the artwork. That is not to discount the rest of the game, but to say that the artwork is SO good that it actually is a selling point. Set in a world that will have you thinking of Adventure Time, BOotQ is absolutely stunning. Every hero and monster card is bursting with adorable life. Each one feels lovingly crafted. The board is beautiful and brimming with color. The graveyard card and tokens are just as cute. Everything here looks so good that you’ll often smile simply staring at your cards. Drawing a hero badger or a ninja kiwi just feels so right.
The rulebook is also filled with great artwork, lots of context for the world and the box even comes with a coloring book! A COLORING BOOK PEOPLE!!! This game is adorable and it knows it. Speaking of rulebooks, I tend to be pretty hard on them in my reviews so let me take a moment here to mention that this rulebook is superb. It has tons of example photos and is very clear and succinct in what it is trying to say. We were up and running in no time.
By Order of the Queen is actually quite easy to learn and play. That’s great because while it looks big and complicated, it can be a great game for families as well as newbies to the genre and when a game looks this good, it’s great to know that its rules are just as inviting as its components. As a co-op game, BOotQ feels like a very hefty challenge but it never feels totally unforgiving. You are going to get bad rolls. That’s just the nature of dice. But you are also going to have awesome turns where everything goes right, and you’ll quickly learn how to mitigate your results for the best odds. It’s a fun game in that success feels so very good, because failure is so very common.
What Could Make By Order of the Queen Even Better?
By Order of the Queen is by no means perfect. I think our biggest complaint comes from the fact that while this is a co-op game, it doesn’t feel very cooperative. Sure, we are all at the table working towards a common goal, but it would have been nice to see more player interaction. Actually, it would have been nice to see ANY player interaction. The only time you’ll even really have to look at your teammates is when you pass each other a single card at the end of the event phase. You can’t help each other on quests or to complete Queen’s Orders. Thematically, we’re all part of different guilds. I understand that, but if we really aren’t going to work together, this could have easily been a competitive game. It’s a big shame because when a game is so good for families and is co-op, my hope is that it would actually get the family working together. In this case, you could just as easily take a phone call while your teammate takes a turn. Why not, they won’t need you for their turn, and you won’t need them for yours. You could always discuss what each person should do based on their hand, but once they start their action, they’re on their own.
My one other quip about the game is the length. Make no mistake, this is a LONG game. I like the mechanics and the systems at play here, but after two hours of barely any interaction with teammates and doing the same four things over and over again, the game begins to overstay its welcome. The quests provide a fun variety as they have plenty of flavor and story on them, but even that isn’t enough to make this not feel super repetitive by the end. Considering games like Spirit Island or Pandemic which feel fast and furious as their worlds quickly overtake you, By Order of the Queen feels like a slow burn and by the end of the game, it’s a little too slow. When I think about great co-op games I think about that feeling after you lose where the only thing you want to do is set it all up again and try just one more time. And then one more time after that. But BOotQ is so long that win or lose, you’ll be ready to box it up and play something else by the end.
By Order of the Queen is an absolutely stunning work of art. Every component, card and token feels lovingly crafted. In fact, the art is SO good, that it actually paints over many of the game’s issues. Even when I realized I couldn’t help my teammates out. Even when I realized the game had gone on for two hours and we were just now getting close to the end. Even through all of that I still wanted to play the game because I loved the art so much. Every hero drawn into your hand of seven cards is a joy to look at. Every monster feels too cute to kill. By Order of the Queen is not ever going to be the first co-op game I pull out to the table when I want to band together with my friends to overcome an impossible challenge. But for those looking for something adorable to eat up the night with friends or family, this game will fit the bill perfectly. I would warn those adverse to lots of dice rolling to stay away from this one, but if you want a game with lots of cards, dice and chance as you go on an epic adventure, look no further than By Order of the Queen.