The Midnight Queen is dead. Players will have to use strength, cunning, and diplomacy in order to make sure that their princess is the one to take the throne.
Queen by Midnight is a deck building game with a heavy emphasis on asymmetric characters and combat. There are two resources in the game: health and clout. If you run out of health, you are eliminated, while clout is spent to purchase and play cards. When the clock strikes midnight, if more than one princess remains, then the one with the most combined health and clout is declared the winner.
Getting eliminated doesn’t necessarily knock you out of the game. Half way through, each princess will secretly pledge allegiance to another princess. Should they be reduced to zero health, they reveal their pledge and become that player’s advisor. If that princess wins, they get to share the victory. However, each player may only have one advisor. This plays a lot into the diplomatic strategy of the game.
Theme and Art
Queen by Midnight takes place in the kingdom of Twelvefold. The rules include the background history and current state of the society. Each of the characters have their own unique biography as well.
The art is gorgeous, particularly the full-bleed player boards and cards. Most of the cards also use thematic borders and backgrounds to indicate its type. The ultimate cards display a full image with the gameplay description on a separate, larger card.
The centerpiece of the game is the rotating 3-D clocktower. It acts as a highly thematic round tracker, a dice tower, and the public card market. It is well constructed, functional, and looks great. The ability to rotate to face the current player allows everyone to easily see purchasable cards during their turn. The cards are of excellent quality and are easy to shuffle. All of the player boards and tokens are thick and sturdy as well.
However, not everything is perfect. The health and clout tracking leaves a lot to be desired, as the tracker tokens are tall and the board slots they go in are a little big. This caused them to often be knocked over, forcing us to remember where they were. The board uses an interesting staggered cut-out for tracking these values, but only every other number is labeled. You can either use your intuition or look to the other tracker to figure out the odd values. I personally didn’t have much issue with this, but almost everyone I played with wanted every value to be listed.
The storage tray is good, but has a few shortcomings. There is a space for the clock tower to fit perfectly, but the card slot is slightly too small for all of the cards to fit, forcing you to place some of them elsewhere. If you sleeve your cards, the insert won’t hold them at all.
Queen by Midnight has a lot of twists on the standard deck building formula. 8 of the 10 starting cards simply gain you clout. One card helps you to remove cards from your deck and one is a defense card. This means that at the beginning of the game your strategy is wide open.
The public market evolves through three stages over the course of the game. The first stage has a lot of income and cards that allow for some negotiation and treaties with other players, while the last stage brings some of the bigger attacks and game changing abilities.
In addition to the market, each princess has their own personal vault of cards they can buy from. This is where the character asymmetry shows up. In addition, towards the end of the game, each player’s personal warchest becomes available, giving access to the most powerful cards in the game, including the ultimate abilities.
Most cards having a clout cost to play in addition to purchase adds an additional twist to the game. You can’t only worry about what you purchase now, but what you can afford to play later. Do you save clout from round to round? You might need it to play cards next turn or to purchase more powerful cards, but you might paint a target on yourself or allow others to steal from you. You must always remember that clout is victory points at the end of the game, assuming you make it that far.
There are a lot of ways to keep your deck lean and powerful. You start with a card that lets you trash cards, and many of the starter cards pay you clout when you do so. You can purchase more cards with trashing abilities as well. In addition to cards that allow you to gain clout or attack other players, there are boons and reactions. Both of these stay in play inside your armory. This allows you to buy them without worrying about clogging your deck.
Purchasing too many cards can have an unexpected downside later in the game. Many of your princess’s cards synergize together, but if you don’t draw them at the same time, then you lose out on this synergy. Warchest cards become available to purchase on turn 8 and the game ends after turn 11, so if your deck is too thick, there is a good chance that you will never see them. Ultimate abilities are very strong, and buying it only to never draw it is very disappointing.
The allegiance mechanic adds an interesting twist to the battle royale gameplay. Once you are eliminated, you no longer take normal turns using your cards. But you do still get powerful abilities to use once a turn to help the princess you are advising. Strategically, you probably don’t want to attack the person you have pledged to. Should you be eliminated, you want to make sure that they are still strong so that you can win together. Of course, if neither of you gets knocked out, only one of you will be able to take the crown. This does cause weird situations where your only hope of winning is to be knocked out and become an advisor.
Some aspects of the game don’t flow perfectly. There are multiple rounds that include one time gains of cards or clout that happen at the beginning of your turn. The trigger for this is the beginning of the round, but you aren’t supposed to take them until the start of your turn. I found it difficult to remember to do so. We usually just all took the gain at the same time so that nobody forgot.
Queen by Midnight has a very different feel based on the number of players.
With three players, you have to be very careful who you try to eliminate. If you eliminate a princess that has pledged her allegiance to the other player, you may find yourself in a 2v1 situation that you cannot win. This mode needs to be played with a different mindset and can be unsatisfying at times.
Four players is an excellent balance. Deals can be made and broken. If a queen gains an advisor, the other players can work to take them out of the game completely.
At five and six players, the game begins to become a little underwhelming. You have fewer rounds in the game the more players there are. At higher player counts there is very little setup time. You only have one or two rounds with access to phase one of the public market. You either need to go right on the offensive or expect most players to survive until the end. While it is fun having six princess battling it out, I really missed the early game when playing with this many players.
Less than a month after release there is already errata. This includes the removal of the guardian mechanic and card rewrites for balancing. Having these sorts of changes immediately after the launch of a game makes it feel like there wasn’t enough playtesting before the printing began. On the other hand, it is great when a company supports their game after release.
Queen by Midnight
Queen by Midnight is an excellent evolution of the deck building genre. The asymmetric characters each have a unique feel and strategic impact. The components are gorgeous and certain to attract the attention of those passing by. Despite some issues, I highly recommend this game to anyone that enjoys a deep deck building experience.