It’s always a pleasant surprise when designers manage to keep tried and tested game mechanics feeling fresh and exciting. The worker placement genre has been around for nearly two decades, with early examples such as Caylus and Agricola still drawing newcomers into the world of tabletop gaming.
But thanks to the seemingly endless creativity within this current golden age of gaming, this simple mechanic of placing a meeple on a map to take/block an action continues to demonstrate innovation. Today we take a look at Rise to Nobility, a game which demonstrates innovation whilst retaining a classic and familiar feel.
So, What’s it About?
Rise to Nobility marks Final Frontier Games’ second trip into their colourful world of the Five Realms, following on from 2016’s Cavern Tavern. Set five years after its predecessor, Rise to Nobility sees players take step into a world of dwarves, humans, elves, high-elves, trobits, and halflings. Following a peace treaty between the races, Queen Tabita has created the new capital of Caveborn, a white-walled city promising peace and unity.
The Queen is looking for a new leader to help the city prosper and has called upon local landowners to rise to the rank of lords and compete to become the new head of the Stone Council.
The game will see one to six landowners attracting settlers heading down from the nearby Cavern Tavern to their newly built properties. Once settled, these new inhabitants can become apprentices in the local businesses, or perhaps even guild masters! After 10 rounds, whoever has accrued the most victory points through housing settlers, constructing buildings, satisfying the needs of the Stone Council, and gaining nobility, will win the game!
I Thought Nobility Was a Birthright?
Well, apparently not! In fact, to quote Robin Hood, ‘nobility is defined by one’s actions’. This is certainly the case here as players take actions through the use of dice, gaining resources, influence, and eventually nobility along the way.
Rise to Nobility uses a dice placement mechanic, a six-sided spin on the popular worker placement mechanic. Each round, players will roll all of their five dice before taking turns to assign a single dice to one of several spaces on the board. To take the action associated with that space, the die value must also match the values printed there. Once all dice have been placed, an upkeep phase begins before moving on to the next round.
The twist in Rise to Nobility is that the total value of dice pips you can spend during a round are directly linked to your character’s reputation. All players start with nine reputation, with opportunities to increase this throughout the game. Possessing only nine reputation therefore means that a player may only make use of combined dice values up to nine. This could result in you placing all of your dice in a turn if you rolled four ones and a five for example, but you could potentially roll all sixes, leaving yourself with just one usable die.
This system works well, and in my opinion, is an excellent example of mechanics displaying theme. It’s understandable to think that a landowner of questionable reputation would face difficulties in carrying out their plans.
So, How Do I Become a Lord?
Assuming you’ve rolled your dice well, now is your chance to demonstrate your hospitality! Most of the spaces on the board consist of various guilds, each offering different goods. By collecting these resources you will entice faraway settlers to make your land their home.
Six settler cards are always present at the top of the board, with each card detailing the minimum and maximum amounts of preferred goods that race requires to take up accommodation. Presuming you have a house available (a separate action costing five gold), the settlers will move in, granting you one victory point per resource spent, and a number of workers. Some wealthier travellers will also grant bonuses to your nobility track too.
I’m a big fan of this variable method of scoring points. Not only is it reasonably thematic, but the flexibility in being able to choose how many goods you wish to trade for points is interesting and notably different for this type of game. Many strategic worker placement style games stubbornly insist on precision, occasionally making the gathering of resources a stressful experience. Rise to Nobility on the other hand takes a more relaxed stance, giving players a bit more control over how and where they score points.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the game lacks opportunities for important decisions. Players still face the dilemma of which valued dice to choose, as well as strategising over whether to invest in guild workshops or community buildings. Will you opt for a couple of high value rolls, or several lower ones? Do you want to employ settlers at your workshops for extra goods, or have them bolster your community for money and reputation bonuses? The agonising decisions are still there, but are more elegantly designed to cater to how you want to play, rather than strictly defining how to score points.
How Do I Win?
Whilst fulfilling settler cards is the dominant way of scoring points, it’s not the only way. Throughout the game you will need to construct various buildings in order to maintain a good flow of resources. These come in the form of tiles, with six of them forming a market at the bottom of the board.
Using specific values of dice rolls and gold, players can take building tiles, placing them either on the main board or their own. Green tiles go on the mainboard and consist of the various workshops available for each guild. Placing the tile will net the player an amount of victory and nobility points as well as adding new actions to that guild. Yellow tiles are placed on the player boards, again granting victory points but also generating bonuses to that player each round.
Fulfilling goods and money requirements on the various Stone Council tiles is also a means of getting points but has a negative impact on your reputation. These are best sought after towards the end of the game, letting you shift the last of your goods for a tidy payoff. Furthermore, gaining enough nobility can result in a hefty end game scoring boost of up to 15 points.
As you can see, there are many routes to victory, but your success will depend on your ability to balance your options. Popping down a new workshop will get you those much needed points but you need a worker to run it! Moving a worker from the apprentice slot outside the guild to the workshop within it must be done at the right time, as apprentices are the only way of securing a regular gold income each round. You may have got the points but you’ve also left a space open for another player’s apprentice to earn more gold, potentially setting them up to purchase several building tiles! It’s tough stuff but thoroughly engaging.
What About Player Interaction?
As is usual for these types of games, player interaction increases with more players. The game works very well with two though, and makes for a swifter experience. At the higher player counts you will receive bonuses for players using your workshops more often, but the two-player game balances this by doubling any bonus you would normally receive.
If player interaction is less of an issue for you then the game also offers a solo mode. It may not be a Scythe level Automa solution, but it does remarkably well at simulating a two-player game, whilst adding a number of unique solo objective goals. It also manages to be clever and challenging enough without requiring tons of components or set-up changes. All that’s needed is a die of each colour and a single objective card. This mode can be good if you fancy a relatively quick challenge, and is also a great way of learning the game before introducing it to new players.
Final Thoughts for Rise to Nobility
I’ve had a lot of fun with this game. From its ability to convey theme through mechanics, to its innovative dice placement restrictions, Rise to Nobility is a welcome addition to the worker placement genre.
It may have a lot of components but gameplay is surprisingly simple and runs at a good pace. Gamers looking for a step up from Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep should be able to handle the transition to this mid-weight Euro fairly painlessly, and have a great time doing so. If you are looking for a classic feeling worker placement game but with just enough design ingenuity to keep it feeling fresh, then a foray into the Five Realms should tick the box.
Many Euro-gamers will be drawn attracted to Rise to Nobility thanks to The Mico’s colourful and accessible art which oozes fantastic folkloric theme. Some may be put off by what seems like a generic fantasy theme, but Rise to Nobility wears its influences proudly whilst injecting some fun into a genre which has become increasingly grim in recent times.
Despite its familiar high-fantasy stylings, this a world I truly want to invest my time in. Final Frontier Games are understandably proud of the game world they have created. In fact I hear they have even created a series of books further exploring the worlds of Cavern Tavern and Rise to Nobility, and bridging the gap between them!
It is fantastic to see Final Frontier Games expanding their stories through terrific games and other media, and in the same way I sometimes yearn to revisit the bucolic charm of Agricola, I can see myself returning to the Five Realms of Rise to Nobility for many years to come.