The Summit of Kings: A Review

The Summit of Kings. What is it? How is it? Should you buy it? Well buckle up, because this is a review The Summit of Kings by Brandon Dixon!

Full Disclosure: I am acquainted with, via Twitter, the writer of this game and the creator of Swordsfall and Tikor, Brandon Dixon. Brandon provided me with a copy of the game to review, and an art package to make it pretty. While we share many opinions and stances, those are not influencing this review.

Foremost, for this to work, we need to establish what Summit of Kings is not. It is not a module for the upcoming Swordsfall RPG. It is not a playtest, nor is it a “rules lite” version of Swordsfall. It is a stand alone game that uses a selection of the rules from Swordsfall to achieve its goal. I can understand how this sounds strange, but it works within the context that it’s being used here. And it works because of the focus the game maintains.

Summit of Kings is unapologetically Black, with the players gathering for an afrofuturistic, afropunk styled annual rap battle. You’re a Jalen. What’s a Jalen? A keeper of oral history. An entertainer. A critic. A speaker of truths and exaggerator of attributes and events. A person whose bars carry mystic power. And every year, there’s an invitation only battle between the top Jalens of Tikor. Just being invited is an honour. Winning? Epic.

The rules draw on components of the larger Swordsfall RPG, keeping laser-like focus on the parts specifically needed for the Summit of Kings event and the Jalens participating in it. So in it’s own way, it teases the core mechanics of Swordsfall, but having the full set of rules is NOT required for this game. It focuses everything on weaving a lyrical battle, either in a one on one or team context. If you have a set of conventional tabletop RPG dice, you’re set for this game.

The mechanics themselves are fun, with a short learning curve and profound effects on the story and outcomes. It is by no means a “conventional” roll over or roll under system. It is made to build stories through actions. There’s no “throw away” rolls in this game, or by extension, the Swordsfall RPG that it draws from. This means that players get engaged and stay engaged as they build their moves.

Art and Layout
The Summit of Kings is well laid out and follows a logical sequence. First it sets the tone, genre, and setting, then lays out the rules and character creation, and finishes with an expansion on the setting. It’s bright, bold, easy to read, and at 27 pages, easy on the printer if you print it out from pdf format.

The art is excellent. There’s a four original artists featured in this, and it works together. The shifts between artists aren’t particularly jarring, and the shared colour palette and tight artistic direction kept it all together in a way that other games can learn from. The style is informed by the afrofuturism and afropunk roots of the game, and frankly, it’s glorious to see.

While described as a “one shot”, it’s a “one shot” in the sense that a tactical board game is a “one shot”. You will play it again. Why? Because there’s a lot of variety in it you can’t capture in a single game of it. Character creation is fast, so getting together, making new characters, and getting the game going is a less than onerous task. And you will want to play it again. Especially with how the mechanics of the game add to the storyline instead of acting as bumpers to keep the players and their characters on a specific course. No games will be the same as previous ones, and this is a tremendous strength of its design. Normally one-shot RPGs are over and done, this one? This one needs to be played multiple times.

Final Thoughts
This is an excellent game. It’s tightly designed, well focused, and stays within its arcs. The only times this game can run into trouble is when you leave those arcs and try to push it into being something that it’s not; which is anything that’s not The Summit of Kings event. Some may see this as a weakness, but remember, it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. A kick-ass rap battle between people whose bars can literally break their opponents’ spirit and ability to carry on set in an afrofuturistic festival.

The Summit of Kings is the science fantasy/science fiction afropunk game you didn’t know you needed, and well worth checking out. It is available directly from the Swordsfall website in pdf format, or on Amazon in kindle and soft back.