Xavier Georges


No. of Players:
2 - 4



A playing mechanism which has seen a quite regular use in previous years is the interaction between roles chosen by the players (on a turn by turn base) and the exertion of associated powers. A game which has presented this mechanism in a quite straightforward but nonetheless rather attractive way was Puerto Rico by ALEA, but also newer titles like Uwe Rosenberg's Agricola or Die Säulen der Erde by Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler use clones of this mechanism by allowing the players to place tokens to chose their actions for the upcoming round. A new title using yet another variation of the mechanism is Palais Royal by Xavier Georges, and this time the players are taken into a competition to gain influence on different Nobles in France during the age of Renaissance.

The playing area spread out before the players is divided into two parts, with one half of the table occupied by the Palais Royal and the other by the adjacent gardens. In the garden a total of 36 Nobles is randomly placed, whereas the Palais Royal actually is no fixed gameboard but instead a 3 times 3 playing area of a total of nine different palace locations. The players are present within the Palais Royal through servants of their colours, and at the beginning of the game each player will place 10 of his 18 available servants into palace locations of his choice (there exists an introductory variant in which a few servants are distributed following a fixed setup).

Each of the palace locations allows a player to perform certain actions, and the number of available actions in each location is determined by the number of the player's servants which are present at that location. Also, in most locations a player will get a certain bonus if he should have more servants present at that location than any of his competitors.

A player's turn always will start at the Cour d'Honneur (Monumental Forecourt), and this location is a key for getting new servants into the Palais Royal. So, a player may place as many servants from his stockpile onto the Castle Gates (another location) as he has servants present at the Cour d'Honneur, with the special bonus that a player who has the majority of servants present at the Cour may place an additional servant at the Gates.

Next comes the movement phase in which the active player may move servants horizontally or vertically from one palace location to another, with the number of available steps being determined by the number of servants present at the Staircase location. Once again there is a bonus for a player with most servants present, and here the leading player will receive one additional move for one of his servants.

After the active player has finished movement for all of his servants, the other palace locations will be dealt with in an order of the player's choice. So, servants at the coinage will provide income (one bonus coin for the player with most servants here), whereas servants visiting the King or Madame Pompadour will receive Royal Seals which are needed for influencing Nobles (The bonus for a player with most servants at either location is that he may place an additional servant from his stockpile at that location). However, of crucial important is the interaction between the Royal Office location and the Nobles, since each servant placed there allows the players to interact with one of the Nobles in the Gardens.

Each of the Nobles features costs and benefits, and whereas the costs refer to Gold and Royal Seals which are needed to influence (take) the Noble, the benefits either will be victory points and/or special powers which can be applied for the rest of the game. Thus, to take a Noble a player is required to take a servant from the Royal Office back to his stockpile, and he has to pay the required price in Gold. In addition, the required Royal Seals are not available as tokens, but instead the player has to have the required number of servants in presence of the King or Madame Pompadour, and like the servant from the Royal Office these servants need to be taken back to the player's stockpile if he decides to take a specific Noble. The positioning of a Noble in the gardens also is of importance, since empty neighbouring spaces of already taken Nobles each reduce a Noble's price by one Gold, and the taking of a Noble from the outer border of the gardens will require the player to leave one of his servants there for the final evaluation.

The final palace locations are the Cardinal's Office and the Back Entrance. If a player faces a draw at any location by having the same amount of servants than a competitor, it will pay off to have more servants present at the Cardinal's Office than that competitor, since the player now is granted a tie-breaking advantage by the Cardinal so that he actually will win the majority in the other castle locations. The Back Entrance on the other hand allows the player to draw as many Privilege-cards as he has servants at the Back Entrance. For any Privilege-card the player wants to keep he has to remove one servant from the Back Entrance and return him to the stockpile.

Privilege-cards and Noble's benefits are distinguished by the fact that the benefits are permanent whereas most of the Privileges only can be used once. Thus, examples of Nobles' benefits are a small income in Gold, additional servants on the Gates each turn, additional movements or even some additional servants from the remaining stack of unused figures. The gains granted by the use of Privilege-cards are similar in kind, but they are stronger than the benefits due to their one-off usability. So, a player using such a card may receive a higher number of additional moves, some additional money, more servants onto the Gates etc. However, both kinds of advantages have some impact on a player's strategy, since they players will try to maximise their efforts to gain Nobles with a focus on a good use of their advantageous skills.

In the end the players add up their scores of victory points from Nobles, Privilege-cards with victory points and unplayed Privilege-cards which are still worth one victory point each. However, additional points now may be won by players who have servants present at the outer border of the gardens, since now the players with most servants on the four outer sides of the gardens will gain some additional victory points. In the end the winner will be the most influential personality at the Royal Court.

As indicated, the rules of Palais Royal take up the generally well accepted playing mechanism of chosing roles and acting according to their powers, but the new factor to be experienced here is the additional level of strategy which is added by the fact that the roles/powers cannot be chosen freely but instead are depending on the positioning of servants within the palace locations. The specific challenge of Palais Royal lies in the relationship between the moving of the servants and the exercise of powers of the related locations, since players need to develop an awareness for possibilities arising by the movements of the other players' servants. These options need to be cross-referenced with the available Nobles, and through the use of benefits and Privileges the players will develop valuable windfall gains which are important for a winning strategy.

It is especially the need for a solid strategy within the castle locations which will cause the players to go for a fixed setup for first few games in order to gain a grip of the different possibilities and options, but the game will come to full flavour once the basic mechanism is mastered. After the first few games the variable setup of the Palais Royal proves itself to be invaluable for enduring playing fun and an ever-lasting challenge, since a palace-movement-strategy which has been used quite successful with one setup may be rather unsuccessful in a different setting. There is always a new angle which requires players to fine-tune their way through Palais Royal, and this makes the game especially attractive for serious hobbyists.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany