An interesting majorities in regions game from Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissbloom. The setting is Rome, and players are attempting to have the most building floors in nine different regions. The regions are divided into three colors, and to build in a color, you need the appropriately colored "Permit" card in your hand. There are also "Floor" cards and "Roof" cards. Players build their buildings off board, using floor cards to add floors, and roof cards to add either curved or angled roofs to the buildings. The trick comes in that you have a limited number of roofs, and within each region, all the buildings must have the same type of roof. The cards also are used in an end of round auction to buy fountains and other special markers, which increase the value of the regions. Largely a game of chicken, pretty dry, but still a very worthy effort.
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It's all negotiation, all the time. Players wheel and deal to complete businesses in six city blocks in New York City. Every turn players receive cards numbered to match squares on the board. The plots are marked by tokens. Players then draw tiles representing businesses of various types, each marked with number from three to six. This number represents the number of tiles of this type of business which is required for the business to be "completed", thus scoring bigger bonuses. Wheeling and dealing then occurs. Players then can play their tiles onto any plots they own, and the board is then scored. After six turns, the player with the most money is the winner. Starts out slow then gathers a lot of steam. The last round can get a bit dry, as everyone can determine exactly what everything is worth, but there are variants out there to deal with this. A great game, one of the best negotiation games out there.
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An interesting, if somewhat cynical, game of business production and the hazards of same. Players are factory owners, attempting to fill the most orders, and make the most money. Problem is, each order you fill creates hazardous waste. Players take turn choosing piles of three cards which contain a mix of Orders, Goods, Waste Reduction, Lawyers, Bribes, Innovations, Better Mechanization, and Higher Company Value. there is also a card to dump your waste on others, and an accident card. If the accident occurs while your factory is full of waste, you pay a hefty fine, and your company value decreases. I've only played once, and thought it was OK. Has quite a bit of the multi-player solitaire feel to it.
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Ever had a game that you've heard good to great things about, and so you start to take an interest in what's being said, and you try and try to actually play the game, but it just never seems to happen? And months go by, and you are still totally jonesing to play it, but no one has it, or the people who do have it have moved on to the latest "new game"? Liberté was that game for me. Finally after much begging and pleading, I got a chance to play. Seems like one is always disappointed when that happens. However, my disappointment came more from the fact that at least one of the players was playing ONLY because of my begging and pleading, and was playing pretty randomly. Liberté is a game about the French revolution, and fits firmly in the "majorities in regions" camp. However, it is unlike any of the others of that nature I've played. The map depicts France, broken into six regions, each broken into six provinces. There are three different factions fighting over the land, the Moderates, the Royalists, and the Radicals. The trick to the majorities is that any player can play any and all factions, but can only have one faction per province, and there can only be three blocks per stack in a province, and there can only be three stacks in each province. The blocks get placed based on cards, which can be taken into the hand in a manner reminiscent of Union Pacific, (take a face up card or a face down card from the deck). After one faction's block are depleted from the supply, the turn ends after the last player gets a turn, and an election is held. For every province whichever player has the tallest stack retains one of the blocks. When all of the provinces have been counted, the faction that won the most provinces becomes the government, and victory points are awarded based on which player had the most retained blocks of that faction. When there is a tie in a province, players can advance cards from cards they played during the round and placed in their "personal display", (a maximum of four or five cards). When ties occur, all of the blocks placed in the province are returned to the supply after the election, clearing that part of the board.
In addition, in later turns there are battles to be won, special provinces worth bonus victory points, and two special victory conditions, which result in the victory points garnered to that point becoming irrelevant, and victory being decided by the number of blocks on the board and in players hands in either the Royalist or Radical factions. As you can see there is a lot going on in this game, and in my one playing, I was a bit overwhelmed. Added to this is the fact that when the Radicals are the current government, there are some special cards that can dramatically alter the board and players displays, (the Terror cards specifically). In this game, two or three came out in the last turn, leading to a Royalist Counter-Revolution special victory condition, (which saw me finish in 2nd place). The player who caused this had been shooting for the Radical victory condition, but when he couldn't get that, just sort of blew the game apart with his Terror card. It seemed a rather random ending to what had been a pretty good game. In spite of this, if you are looking for a deep, different and challenging game, I give Liberté very high marks. It is, in spite of my bad feeling about my one play, one of the best games to come out in 2001.
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Mexica is the third "action-point-game-in-a-big-box-with-a-face-on-the-cover" game from Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, (the other two being Tikal and Java). This time the setting is Aztecs creating the city of Tenochtitlán. It is a majorities in regions game, with the twist being that when the game starts, the regions don't exist. The city of Tenochtitlán was founded on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco, and this island is shown on the board. Regions are "created" by laying down canal tiles, (which are either one or two tiles in size). When an area is surrounded by canals or the lake itself, it can then be "founded". The trick is that in each "Round" of the game, there are a limited number of districts which can be founded, and the districts that are founded have to be of certain sizes. The allowable sizes are determined by drawing either eight or seven, (depending on the round), "Capulli" tiles, which show a number from 3 to 13 on them. Each Capulli tile can be used to found a district, after which they are placed on the board on a square within a district, and determine the number of victory points that district will award at the end of the round. When a district is founded, the founder gains victory points based on the size of the district.
In addition to founding districts, players may build pyramid shaped buildings of from one to four levels. At the end of a round, (after one player has used all of their buildings the current turn is played out and then the round ends), the player with the most building levels within a district scores victory points for it, and the second place player scores a lesser amount. Players can also place bridges across the canals, enabling movement of the player's "Mexica", (which bears a strong resemblance to a knight from Torres). Movement can be across land spaces, at a cost of one action point per square, or from any bridge to any other bridge which can be reached by navigating canals and/or the lake. The latter is so much more efficient, you will rarely see overland movement. Players can also "teleport" their Mexica, but at a cost of five action points, (players get six action points per turn). A player can only build buildings in the same district as their Mexica is in, so movement is very important.Finally, one neat thing about Mexica is that you can "save" action points from turn to turn, by taking chits for each action point you forego during a turn, which allows you much greater flexibility on later turns.
Now first off, I am a big fan of Tikal and Torres, (I've not played Java), so it's no surprise that I liked my only play of Mexica. I'm also fond of Manhattan, which has a somewhat similar feel. One thing that can be said about Mexica is that I think that the analysis paralysis complaint often leveled at Tikal and Torres, (and even moreso at Java), is much less pronounced in Mexica. Primarily because you have only one Mexica, and therefore far fewer choices to consider. I think Mexica is quite a bit lighter than the others as well, more suitable for family fare than exclusively for "gamers". One criticism that is becoming increasingly common is that the player that is going first in a round is screwed, and the player going last has a huge advantage. In my only three player playing, I did win, and I was going last, but I felt that was certainly more due to my great play than my turn order! Hard to really tell after just one play. I think it's especially hard to tell anything, as I was the player who "saved" action points the most often, which I do think is a huge benefit. I think repeated playings will help determine whether or not the "last player always wins" is valid. Several of the reports mention that "only the last player will generally be able to get back to the starting space, gaining the bonus points". In our game, no one was even close to it, and it wouldn't have made a difference one way or another. Certainly the player going last can get one last play to take over districts, and can have a better chance of getting their Mexica back to the starting spaces, but that may be offset by the fact that the biggest districts, (with the most founding points), will certainly be founded by the first players, leaving the last player will paltry districts to found. All in all however, I enjoyed the game, and will probably end up buying it.
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Princes of Florence was the big "gamer's game" of 2000, and drew rave reviews from gamers. In PoF, players are, strangely enough, Princes of Florence trying to attract the best professionals to their palaces, and by doing so, help these folks create great "works". Works translate to victory points. A Prince attracts these professionals by having a combination of the landscapes they like, (parks, lakes and forests), the proper buildings they need to accomplish their works, and the proper freedoms, (travel, speech, religion). Bonus points are added to the value of the created works if the proper "accessories" are found within the player's palace. The game consists of seven turns or two rounds each. In the first round, various items are auctioned off, (only one of each type per turn), and in the second round each player can take two actions, such as buying a freedom, building a building, drawing a new professional, or putting on a work. As the turns progress, it becomes more and more difficult to put out works, as there is a minimum work value which is required, and this increases throughout the game.
While I enjoy Princes of Florence, I find that I really only enjoy it when playing with five players. other than the auction phase, PoF is very much an exercise in "multi-player solitaire". The auctions are great, as you rarely have enough cash, and you always want to try to get others to pay a lot for things, but getting stuck with something you were bidding up is a major bummer. My primary complaint with PoF is that while it appears that there are a variety of strategic options to pursue, a couple of them, (especially the "builder strategy"), just seem to be dead ends. You MUST put out lots of works, or you will get left in the dust. If you are looking for an exacting, deep game, you could do far worse than Princes of Florence. If you are looking for a similar game with a lot more player interaction, see Puerto Rico
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Puerto Rico was one of the most eagerly awaited releases of 2002, and having played a few games of it, I can certainly see why. It combines the development of your own area aspect of Princes of Florence, with an ingenious turn order/character selection mechanism, which is similar to that found in Citadels/Ohne Furcht und Adel or Verrater/Meuterer. Players are attempting to gain Victory Points by developing the "best" estate on the island of Puerto Rico. Points are gained for buildings that are built, and for goods that are produced and shipped. Every turn there are seven different "roles" that can be taken. When a player chooses a role, all of the players will get to take the action that the role allows, but the chooser will get to take a bonus action or other benefit, (depending on the role). In addition, if no one chooses a role on a turn, a gold doubloon is placed on the role, making it more likely that a player will take it on a subsequent turn. Money tends to be very tight in this game, so this system works very well.
What makes Puerto Rico so intriguing, is that although it has the multi-player solitaire look of Princes of Florence, (each player is developing their own player mat), the level of player interaction is incredibly high. While everyone is allowed to perform the action when a role is chosen, this doesn't always mean that they will get to, as there are lots of limiting factors which may prevent a player from being able to carry it out. For example, when the Captain is chosen, players get to ship goods to the Old World. However there are only three boats to ship goods on, and these have a capacity limit. And only one type of goods can go on a ship. And there are five types of goods. So if I choose the Captain, and there is only one empty ship, I can put a good onto it that no one else has. If none of the other players has any goods that could be shipped onto the partially full boats, I've gotten to take the action, and the other players haven't been able to get any benefit from it. Or if I'm the only player with any finished goods, and I Captain before someone else chooses the Craftsman role, (which allows players to produce goods), then again, I'm the only one to benefit. There are numerous cases of these types of interactions in the game, and it is fascinating. It adds a great deal of "hosage" factor to Puerto Rico, which is absent in Princes of Florence. In addition, (keeping in mind my limited number of plays), there appear to be at least two viable strategies, (the Builder and the Shipper), and I also think there may be a middle ground strategy that might work as well, (my one attempt at using it failed, primarily because I completely forgot that I had purchased a Factory, so I had much less cash than I should have had).
All in all, Puerto Rico is a great game. I expect it will win some awards, and for a deep "gamer's game", I don't think you can go wrong picking this one up. It's also pretty cheap for such a great game.
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Yet another "majorities in regions" game, from the team of Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum. Venice is the setting, as players attempt to have the most "aristocrats" in a region when the Doge shows up. What separates San Marco from many of the other games of this type, is the card distribution system. Cards are dealt out, and one player divides them into three stacks. These stacks contain good cards and bad cards. After dividing the cards, another player gets first choice of which stack to play. This player takes their turn, and then the next player chooses which of the remaining two stacks to use. Finally, the player who divided the stacks gets what is left. From what I have heard this game works really well with three, but kind of sucks with four, so keep that in mind, (I have only played with three). I will admit to being a bit underwhelmed by San Marco, but some of this could have been due to the fact that the second game I played turned out very strange, with lots of "Banishment" cards appearing, (which remove aristocrats from the board), and very few Doge cards, (which cause one of the regions to score). I'm willing to play again to give it another shot, but it's not a game I'm dying to play again.
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Showmanager is a game that has gone through several iterations, and most recently a re-theming, (Atlantic Star). Gameplay has remained the same however, with only one minor change. I have only played Showmanager, so that's the version I'll discuss. In Showmanager, the players are producers of musicals, trying to produce 5 shows. Each of the shows requires a certain number of actors to fill the roles, ranging from 3 to 6. A large deck of actors is shuffled, and then four are laid out onto a mat. The actors cards indicate which roles in which shows each actor is best suited for. Each actor has a total of nine points split between one to three different roles. One of these actors is available for free, one costs 1,000, one costs 2,000 and one costs 3,000 to hire. On your turn, you can either take one of the actors available, or put on a show. If you don't like any of the available actors, you can spend 2,000 to "clear the board", discarding all of the actors showing, and dealing out four new actors. What makes this necessary is the constraint that you can only hold one or two actors in your hand AFTER you put on a show, so eventually, you end up with eight cards in your hand and then you must put on the biggest show, (the ballet).
When you put on a show, you go through the roles in the show, and add up the values that each actor adds to the production. If you don't have anyone "miscast", (filling a role that they are not suited for), you also get bonus points equal to the number of actors in the production. There are also character actors who provide only one point of value, but which are never miscast. After totalling up the value of the show, this is marked onto a chit which must then be placed onto one of the five cities in which the shows are put on. One odd thematic bit is that once a show has been put on somewhere, all of the other shows of the same production have to be put on in that city as well. New York will provide the most victory points at the end of the game for the best show, but also provides the least victory points for the worst show. The other cities have less drastic differences between first and worst. Players can also borrow against a show they have already put on, lowering the value of the show, and taking the cash. When all players have put on all of their musicals, the victory points are added up based on the ranking of the shows within each city.
All in all, Showmanager is a very fun game, with some interesting decisions, and lots of "arrrrgh" factor, when the actor you have been waiting for suddenly gets wiped from the board. Atlantic Star has re-themed the game to cruise lines instead of musicals, and allows a player to have two cards in their hand after the final cruise, (in Showmanager you can only have one after the final production). A very good game that scales well with differing numbers of players. Premiere was the first release of this game, and there were no changes between it and Showmanager, (except for better component quality in Showmanager).
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Urland continues the evolution theme of Ursuppe, but with few fewer genes, and very different mechanics. I really like Evolution as a theme, but neither Urland nor Evo have filled the bill for me. In Urland, players are attempting to have the majority of "Ichtos" in regions one a group of scattered islands. Players start off with a bunch of "Ichtos" in every sea region, and then have two actions per turn to get them onto land, breed more Ichtos in an ocean region, etc. What's most novel about Urland is that on any given turn, two players, (in a four person game), will be doing almost nothing! Player one is the "Environment Player", and looks at three region discs, choosing one. The region indicated by this disc is the region where scoring will occur. The two remaining chits are passed to player two, who is the "Dummy". The Dummy player does nothing this turn, except for looking at the discs. Players three and four then each get to take their actions. The scoring region is then revealed, and the player order shifts one to the left. This is a pretty cool mechanic, as as the game progresses, you have some knowledge of where the action is going to be, but you may have a few turns to wait before you can do anything about it.
Where Urland falls down a bit is in the board play. When you do get to play, you have only two actions to perform, which tends to be too few. Each player does have two "extra action" tokens, but even so, the play on the board tends to be very retrained. At three points during the game, there are auctions for gene cards. There is a wide variance between some of these, with some being very strong, and others being nearly useless. Auctions are paid for by removing Ichtos from the board, which helps to balance the game a bit. You might have won that auction, but you've damaged your board position to do so.
I have only played Urland once, and I thought it was OK. What I disliked most, (other than the restrained feeling I mentioned above), was that of the endgame. I was the Environment player, and looking at the board, I basically was given the role of Kingmaker. I could choose who I wanted to win, (and it wasn't me!). I think this sucks. I would gladly play again, but others have mentioned that this Kingmaker scenario has come up in many of their games.
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Vinci is another game from Philippe Keyaerts, designer of Evo, and shares with Evo a somewhat dry feel. Perhaps even more so than in Evo, as there is no luck in Vinci. Players represent civilizations expanding across Europe. What separates Vinci from other "civ building" games, is that in Vinci, your civilization not only expands, but inevitably dies out and is replaced by other civilizations. It works like this. Before the game starts, there are six groups of two "Civilization Tiles" placed onto the board. Each player will choose a set of these tiles, which impart special characteristics to their civilization. In addition, numbers on the tiles determine how many units each player's civ will get to use. Much as in Showmanager, the cost of taking a set of tiles is on a sliding scale, with the left-most being free, and each set to the right costing two victory points more than the one to the left. If a set is skipped over, a token is placed on the set, granting the eventual chooser of that set an extra victory point. So really bad combinations will eventually get enough tokens to make them worthwhile.
After each player has selected a set of civ tiles, the game begins. Based on the number of players, each new civ gets a certain base number of tokens, plus the number shown on their civ tiles. With one exception, that is all of the tokens that civ will ever have. A player then enters the board from the edges, placing tokens into a region. The number of tokens that must be played to expand into a region is two, plus some modifiers if the region is mountainous or forested, plus one token for every token that is already there. Any tokens already in the region are removed. After a player has used up all of their tokens, they can then reorganize them as they see fit. One victory point is scored for each region, (except mountains), that they have a token in. Many of the civ tiles also give bonus victory points for regions of a certain type. Play then passes to the next player.
However, as your supply of tokens is limited, eventually you will reach a point where you do not have enough tokens to expand, (as you must have at least one token in a region to score a point for it), or your civ will be wiped out by another civ, etc. So before you take your turn, you may declare your civilization to be "in decline". When you do this, you choose a new set of civ tiles, and place "declining" markers in all of the provinces in which you currently have tokens. You also remove all but one token from these regions. On your next turn, you then re-enter the board with your new civilization, although you are then constrained by the fact that your new civ cannot touch your old civ, (or the old civ's token is removed). Civs in decline continue to score points for you, and some of the special victory point conditions on their civ tiles can also score. You can only have one civ in decline at a time, which can lead to interesting decisions. If you have a civ in decline which is scoring 10 VPs per turn, and your current civ is out of gas, do you really want to put it in decline and lose the big points you are getting from your first declining civ? The game is played until one player reaches a certain number of victory points, (which changes based on the number of players), at which point each player after the player that reached the VP total gets to take their turn. At the end of this round, the player with the most VPs wins.
I have only played Vinci once in a face-to-face situation, and thought it was OK. I have been playing a lot of Vinci lately at an online site whose address can be found in the Vinci entry on www.boardgamegeek.com. With repeated playing I'm liking it more and more. The key to Vinci is timing. Knowing when to go into decline is crucial, especially as players near the end of the game. Vinci can suffer from analysis paralysis, as you can completely work out what you will be able to score, which is one reason the online site is so great, as it is more like Play by Email than it is real time. Even with the potential for analysis paralysis, if you want a civ building game that takes less time than Civilization or History of the World, I highly recommend Vinci.
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Lots of people seem to really like Web of Power. And why not? It plays quickly, presents interesting decisions, and has unusual scoring mechanisms. I am not one of these people.
In Web of Power, players are trying to gain points by having majorities in regions. the game is played in two rounds, a round consisting of playing through a card deck. The cards show one or two countries on them. On your turn you can play down cards, and place pieces based on the cards. Pieces played can either represent cloisters or advisors. Cloisters are played onto marked spots on the board. Advisors are placed onto a circular seal next to the country's name. When the first round ends, the player with the most cloisters in a country gets point equal to ALL of the cloisters that have been played in that country by all of the players. Whoever has the second most cloisters scores a number of points equal to the number of cloisters the majority player has in the country and so on down the line. When the second rounds ends, this same cloister scoring happens, but in addition, there are two other types that take place. If a player has placed cloisters on the board in such a way as to create a "chain" of cloisters, (connected on the board via roads), of at least four or more, they get that number of points. The advisors score based on fifteen combinations of countries. If a player has the most advisors in both countries in a given combination, they score a number of points equal to their total advisors in those two countries.
So what's not to like? I've left out a whole bunch of rules in the description above, and they are what's not to like. First off, when you play cards, you can only play markers into one country per turn. That's not so bad. However, if you are the first player to play a cloister into a country, then you can only play one cloister on that turn. Ding! I HATE this rule. In a four or five player game, if you play first into a country, there's a pretty good chance that by the time your turn gets back to you, ALL of the cloister spots in that country may be filled up. That sucks. What can suck even more is that if this happens, there may not be any open countries on the board, forcing you to open another country, which you then get shut out of, etc. This forces you to "play backwards", that is to say, if you are going first, or there are no open countries, you must look at your three cards, see if one doesn't match up with the others, and play there, hoping that others will fill it in AND maybe someone will open the country you want to really play in. Ugh. Did I mention that I hate this rule?
Finally there are the advisors. And you always have to keep in mind that the number of total advisors in a country must be less than or equal to the number of cloisters that holds the majority in the country. Ummm, OK...
So for these fiddly rules, I dislike Web of Power, in spite of the quick play time, interesting decisions, etc., etc. However, the designer recently released Kardinal & Koenig das Kartenspiel, (that's Cardinal & King the card game), and being the swell guy that he is, he put up all of the cards on his website for anyone to download and print up. I hae done so, and find I enjoy this game a lot more than Web of Power. It has a couple of restrictive rules, but it doesn't have the "first one in only gets one" rule.
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