Review – Tellstones: King’s Gambit

Tellstones: King’s Gambit is the second tabletop offering from Riot Games (and the first under the Riot Tabletop branding). Riot’s first tabletop offering was the highly-regarded Mechs vs. Minions, a wacky campaign game that crammed an unbelievable number of miniatures into a massive box. Riot’s second try, Tellstones, is on the opposite end of the size scale – a small metal box less than five inches square. The components are premium stuff, but they are scaled down – seven heavy discs, a couple of tokens, and a felt cloth.

The rules for Tellstones are similarly stripped-down. Each of the seven discs has a different symbol engraved on one side. At the start of the game, these discs are all face up. Players then take turns moving the discs onto ‘the line,’ flipping them face-down, or swapping the position of discs already on the line (yes, you technically tell your opponent to do manipulate the discs; this ensures that there are no shenanigans). After a few turns of this, all seven discs will be face-down on the line. The line will then continue to be swapped around until one of the players thinks that their opponent has lost track of at least one of the discs. A player can ‘challenge’ an opponent to name the icon one of the face-down discs. If the opponent can, the opponent gets a point. If the opponent can’t, the challenger gets a point. Or a player can ‘boast’ – claiming that they can successfully name all of the face-down discs. This is as much of a challenge as the ‘challenge’ action, because the opponent can also respond by saying that they don’t care because they can name them all too. If the opponent can name all of them, they win. If the opponent lets the boaster try to name all seven, and they can, then the boaster wins. Alternatively, the opponent can simply accept the boast and allow the boaster one point.

I was pretty excited to see what Riot’s follow-up to Mechs v. Minions would be. Unfortunately, Tellstones is not much of a successor. Tellstones is, ultimately, a game of memory, the ability to assess your opponent’s memory, and patience. If you remember which discs are where and remain patient, you can’t lose. Winning requires either (1) accurately assessing that your opponent doesn’t remember something; or (2) your opponent running out of patience and challenging or boasting, allowing you to score/win. There isn’t really anything else to it. Maybe in a trailer you can pitch the notion that the game involves a high-stakes battle of bluffing, but what’s going on is, at best, distraction – can you maybe distract your opponent so that they forget what a disc is? In practice, this ended up mostly being annoying (or, at least, my opponents certainly thought so when I tried to get into the ‘spirit’ of the game). It also takes a long time, if the players’ memory skills are honed – you’re not going to distract someone enough in the minute after they last saw a disc. When we played Tellstones, this resulted everything dragging. There isn’t much to the actual gameplay – just swapping around discs isn’t exciting – and yet you’re forced to sit through it until someone gets tired of it and boasts even though they know that the opponent will probably just win. I mean, theoretically you could just sit through it until someone actually forgets, but one of the players always got tired of the game and boasted before it got to that point. But good memory or bad memory, it’s memory that’s the ultimate skill here. I’m looking forward to seeing what Riot Tabletop does next, but we just didn’t have fun playing this one.

Tellstones: King’s Gambit is presented as the Damacian version of a game played across Runeterra. So maybe it has a place in the collection of a hardcore League of Legends enthusiast (you can pick up Tellstones in the League of Legends merch shop). Personally, I would rather splash out for a K/DA BLADES Light Stick and play some more Mechs v. Minions.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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