I've been playing board and card games with my daughter far more regularly these days. She's 9 now, and so she's crossed over into an area where lots of games are suddenly entirely playable, and to a high level of ability. In fact, I'll be honest, she's more often than not hammering me at games. The most recent game she completely dismantled me over is a new favourite of ours. It's a game about creating and selling beautiful jewels, and it's called Queen's Necklace.
This is a great game by two of the greatest game designers of all time, Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala. It's an oldie, too. But there's a new printing of the game by Cool Mini Or Not (and it has no minis in it at all) and it's that one we play and love. Let me tell you how this game works.
There's a central board which tracks your score, displays cards that can be purchased each turn, and keeps tabs on how fashionable and how rare certain gems are. See, the point of the game is to buy and collect gems, then arrange them into sets whenever a sale happens – there are three of these sales over the course of the game. The whole game really does boil down to these sales, but there is so much going on in between each sale.
In a turn, players can first play an Influence card from their hand if they wish. These Influence cards are character cards that have special powers. We'll get to these in a second. The next thing you can do in your turn is spend 10 pounds buying cards from the board. There will be five cards laid out, and these cards will display gems, accessories and characters. They all have prices too. Whenever the cards first appear on the board, they are on sale at their highest value. But as cards pass from turn to turn, without being bought, they reduce in price. So any cards you don't buy in your turn will be cheaper for your opponent, and might be cheaper yet if they make their way back to you.
You're buying cards to prepare for the jewel sales. When a sale happens, you stack gems of the same type together to craft a jewel. You can also attach accessories to them (such as ring cards or earring cards) and you can stack them with characters that will affect the sale. Again, we'll talk about these characters in a second. All the players reveal their crafted jewels, and the sale takes place.
Here's the cool bit. No, actually, the cool bit is still to come. The characters are probably the cool bit, and we'll get to those in a second. But this is also cool. The sale is hugely dependent on the kind of jewels on the table. The most fashionable jewels (randomly assigned at the start of the game) get more points. But the most rare jewels get more points too. And rarity is decided by totalling how many gems are on the table, played by all the players. So you might create a big six-diamond ring, but if your opponent creates a big five-diamond jewel, the sheer number of jewels hitting the market is going to lower your score for that sale. It's SO CLEVER.
And you only get to make the sale if you have the most gems in your jewel, too. So if you have a six-diamond ring, yours will sell and your opponent's five-diamond jewel won't. So you're asking yourself whether you should lay out lots of gems to secure the sale, while worrying that the number of gems you pump into the market that way might reduce rarity. It's SO CLEVER.
The little accessories you play with the jewels are important too. Rings let you sell the jewel twice, doubling your points. Earrings let you sell three times. You can also play multiples of these, for many points. It's SO CLEVER.
So that's the game. Buy cards, prepare sets, when a sale happens decide which jewels to build. But then there are all those characters.
And the characters kick this game right into my favourite games of all time list.
Let me just fling some at you. There's the Thief, who can steal a card from your opponent's hand at random. And then there's the Musketeer, who can protect you from the Thief. He can protect you from the Assassin too, who can kill other named characters. Oh, and then there's the Lady-In-Waiting. She's cool. When a card on the board is not bought, and its value plummets right down to zero, the Lady-In-Waiting claims that card for free. There's the Favorite, a crucial card, a lady who can adjust how fashionable the gems are. My daughter loves this character. “Diamonds are in fashion again, daddy.” There's the Banker, who can be played with a created jewel during a sale to increase your sale price. And there's the King – an absolute bastard – who can be played with any jewel to render all gems of that type worthless. (He can be countered by the Queen's Necklace card, which cancels his power and punishes his player by stealing points.)
That's not even all the characters. A particular favourite of mine is the Alchemist, who can be used during a sale to transform one gem into another. So if you've played out more diamonds in a jewel than you need, and are one ruby short of making your ruby jewel sell, you can adjust that situation right there and then. It's a belter of a card.
My daughter's favourite is probably the Magpie. If you have the Magpie, you can vanish a card from the board to make sure your opponent can't buy it. It's cute, and deliciously annoying if it targets you. Just like a real magpie.
I really love this game. It plays 2-4, lasts about an hour, looks beautiful and it's smart. There are elements of randomness, sure, with the card draws and such, but the vast majority of the play is under your control. Which means I have no excuses for being soundly beaten at this game every time I play. And yet I want to play again and again.
Grab this one. It's a diamond.