Review – Khôra: Rise of an Empire

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Designer Head Quarter Simulation Club

Artist David Chapoulet, Jocelyn 'Joc' Millet

Publisher IELLO (Flat River Group)

Category Eurogame

Length 60-90 minutes

Release Date 2021

Player Count 2-4

In 2021, while we were still in the midst of the pandemic, board games were still releasing, but many went unnoticed. Despite a Kennerspiel des Jahres recommendation, Khôra: Rise of an Empire largely flew under the radar. But I’ve finally had a chance to play it, so let’s take a look! 

Khôra flipped my expectations in about every way. First, from pictures alone, this game looks blander than bland. Very little artwork and just discs on top of tan, beige, and brown. However, I found the game much prettier while playing. Yes, the main board is pretty plain, but the red/green/blue military tokens are colored nicely, and you actually spent much more time looking at your player board, the events, and the Politics cards. These all have nice artwork and clear print. I said “print” instead of “text,” because there are some missteps in wording. For example, the Military “action” tile says you gain Troops then take an “Explore” action, but there is no Explore action otherwise. The last Event lets you take a free “action,” and the assumption is that these are the actions on the tiles. Is Military an action, or is Explore? Or both? There are some other missteps that we felt confident about our interpretation of, but that was one of the bigger blunders.

Okay, so the wording issues aren’t too surprising given this is from a French publisher, and for the same reason I shouldn’t be surprised that the game is actually quite pretty. But it’s all about the gameplay, right? This is where I was also surprised, but in a bad way. I expected, well, more.

The good thing is that the game is quite smooth. You roll dice, and assign them to two of your seven action tiles. The dice don’t affect the strength of the action – that’s fixed – but you have to pay in “Citizens” if your die is not as high as the number on the action itself. Past that, this is standard fare: get troops, use them to explore, which actually means get a token off the board, no actual uncovering of anything or fighting anybody. Trade money for tokens, get victory points, play some cards that allow for some chain reactions. I was happy that the game had more card play than it might appear at first glance, since that’s kind of my bread-and-butter. And it all worked well, and it was easy to teach, in no small part because of the excellent Watch It Played video. But other than being smooth, it didn’t do anything for me. There was no excitement, or cleverness.

The main issue is the lack of interaction, which can’t really be overstated. There is a phase (Military) where turn order is hugely important, otherwise the game is mostly simultaneous. But the turn order is determined by who rolled lower, which players have no control over. Most Eurogames of this style have some kind of passive aggressive “whoever passes first goes first next round” kind of machine so that there’s some player control over grabbing the big stuff; here it’s literally the luck of the dice. And other than this, high rolls are always better, not so much that you’ll be completely screwed with low rolls, but enough that the dice are completely irrelevant. There is some surprise from the Events, but you have the whole round to plan around those. The politics cards are interesting, but have little to do with your neighbors. I don’t want to attack my neighbors directly, but I wouldn’t mind if there was some sort of back-and-forth beyond the initial draft before the game begins.

Many great games have taken other great concepts and set them with a new theme, streamlined the rules and not done much else. Lords of Waterdeep did this for the worker placement genre; Challengers! did this for basically every card battler. There are a lot better games that Khora could have stolen from while improving the system with its slick design. At the most basic level, this game could have stolen the action selection system from Puerto Rico / San Juan, or the simultaneous Race for the Galaxy version (although I think in this setup, the former would work better). Never in this game did I even worry about what phases my opponent would pick – because they don’t affect me at all! This was a real wasted opportunity for player interaction, which is how I felt about every phase of the game. What about the Trade / Market action? Could that have been an actual tableau to choose from, first come first serve? Could the goals (the other tiny bit of interaction) been a bit more interesting or competitive?

There are other “multiplayer solitaire” games that I enjoy fine, but usually those are either shorter, or so interesting that it’s hard to look at other player’s stuff anyway (Earth, for example). In those games – let’s take Earth – you get big dopamine hits from these combotastic turns and fortunately everyone else is also doing it instead of waiting for you. But while this game had some small combos, the dopamine hits were never there. This game has all the right notes in the wrong order, making a cacophony instead of a symphony. The shell of a great game is there, but sadly that’s all we were given. It’s not actively bad, but I don’t want to play it again.

The Bottom Line

A solid foundation without enough built on top.

 

6

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Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.