Shelf of Shame Review: Monarch (Resonym)

from my Shelf of Shame, a beautiful game

I think every gamer has a collection of games they know they will love, but they haven’t had a chance to play yet. In this series of reviews, I’ll take a game from my own Shelf of Shame, play it, and share my first-play impressions. If it’s not already clear, the “shame” is on me for not playing these sooner— not a reflection on the quality of the games, or how I enjoyed them. In this case, especially so!

For a chance to win one of the games still on the maligned shelf itself, visit The Fourth Place: Shelf of Shame Giveaway!

Monarch by Resonym

The first review in this series is of a gift for our collection from a local game company that I am coming to really love— Monarch by Resonym. In short, it’s a set collecting game, with beautiful artwork, where players take the roles of sisters competing to build the most splendid court, to determine which of them will take the throne.

Two of us played one game, on a recent cold, snowy weekend, and we both loved it and look forward to playing again!

Monarch Game Contents, Photo © Resonym

First Impressions

Even before opening the box, I had a good feeling about this one. It’s an elegant package, with understated design, and great material quality (a solid, linen-textured box, and rich printing) that puts the emphasis on the beautiful artwork by Kate Adams. All of that is confirmed as the box opens.

The instructions are easy to read, just six and a half pages, with large print, clear diagrams, and good clarifying examples. We were ready to play after one quick read-through, with no surprises. The design puts the emphasis on clarity of information, with ample use of the beautiful artwork, and just enough in-world references to start to bring you into a fairytale world of princesses and political intrigue. Right away, you’ll notice that tokes come in a simple draw-string canvas bag, emblazoned with a crown.

Even the box insert is printed with textures from the gorgeous artwork, evocative of etchings or lithographs. The core of the game is a set of standard sized cards, with a design that shows a rare combination of clarity of design and ease of understanding with beautiful, atmospheric artwork. The board is made up of solid, textured cardboard tiles, of just two types, which randomizes the balance between two simple resources. Everyone gets a clear turn summary card with end of game scoring on the back.

Before we started playing, I got a clear sense of a slightly dark, storybook atmosphere, balancing a sense of whimsy both opulent and pastoral, with the machinations of political intrigue.

In other words, it’s a beautiful game.

Gameplay overview

Gameplay is simple and fast-moving, with each turn consisting of gathering one type of resource, and buying cards.

The resources that drive the game are food (apples) and gold (coins). Each turn you can gather food from the farm tiles on the board, or gather gold from the village tiles, which itself requires you to spend food. How much you can gather is randomized by the tile draw, and improved by cards explained below.

Those resources fund the core and most common mechanic of the game, which has players buying cards from a 5-card market row, for gold and/or food. There’s no limit on what you can purchase, aside from food and gold to pay the price of each card. When a card is purchased, it is immediately replaced, and players can also pay to sweep the market for a whole new set.

Most plays focus on court cards, most of which are tied to a particular leadership pathBounty, Culture, Might, Wisdom, or Balance— which are the core of set scoring, and some are tied to an emblem— types like garments and beasts. Each player is working to build a court of seven such cards, scoring the highest total crown value at the end of the game. Players can also buy unwanted guest cards to set back an opponent’s court by subtracting crown points and causing other problems. Moons are special events, good or bad, that impact all players and take effect as soon as they are drawn from the deck and put into the market row. Village upgrade cards will increase the resources provided by a single tile of the board, as well as impacting victory conditions.

Conclusions - 4/5 (Fond favorite)

You can probably tell that I was a fan as soon as I saw the artwork, design, and packaging, but to be clear, gameplay not only lives up to that standard, it complements it perfectly.

Despite being relatively simple to learn, and not terribly long, Monarch offers strategic challenges and a chance to grow with the skill of your group. We found it a lot of fun, and very satisfying, to play with just two players, which is rare. This is a worthy addition to any collection, especially if you are looking for less heavy or long games to enjoy with a smaller group.

Setting up our game, Photo © The Fourth Place

Monarch is a simply beautiful game— Easy and elegant to play, with very high quality package and components, and gorgeous artwork combine for a fairytale atmosphere. It will be joining my collection as a favorite standby, and I’m now considering adding it to our (Game Night Ready)™ line.

game Details:

Title: Monarch
Publisher: Resonym (USA)
Designers: Mary Flanagan, Max Seidman, Zara Downs
Artist: Kate Adams
Release Date: Nov. 2015

Players: 2 to 4 players
Play Time: 45 minutes
Ages: 12+
MSRP: $45.00

play Advice:

Each turn is fast, so don’t sweat it. You’ll either need gold, or food so you can get the gold.

Then you will buy cards to suit your strategy— Will you try to corner cards of one path type, focus on a narrower emblem type, or some pair of one or both?

Games of Monarch are quick, so don’t be afraid to use the first one to learn the mechanics, and worry about strategy later.

OUR Take:

A simply beautiful game— Easy and elegant play, high quality package and components, and gorgeous artwork combine for a dark fairytale atmosphere. (4/5, Fond Favorite)

— Ian Struckhoff, The Fourth Place

Gameplay: Set Collecting
Atmosphere: Storybook Kingdom
Play Time: 45 min. (accurate to high)
Two Players: Great for pairs!
Complexity: 2/5 - Basic
Rating: 4/5 - Fond Favorite