Metropolys

Metropolys

Metropolys brings an old-school, semi-steampunk look to a tower placement game, which is like worker placement except with towers.

This is high-level analysis, folks. Feel the rush.

The city board is split up into several districts, each of which has a various number of smaller sections. Each player has a set of towers numbered one through fifteen. Players can hide the numbers of their remaining towers, but they’re in three sizes according to value (1-5, 6-10, 11-15), so opponents can always get at least a rough idea of what you have remaining. This is probably the most interesting aspect of the game, the way they’ve made what is effectively card-counting something you can use to get an edge but also a manageable task.

The first player chooses one of the small sections of the city and places a tower on it. From there, play continues with players either placing a higher number tower on an adjacent spot or passing, until all but one player has passed or no one else can make a legal play (this includes not having a space on which to play another tower because all adjacent ones have been taken). On all subsequent turns, the player who chooses the section is the one who won the previous auction.

Different tokens are placed on the city sections as bonuses or, in the case of one token type, penalties. Forcing players away from (or towards) these tokens is useful, although the secret objective each player gets may make them perfectly willing to absorb a small penalty in order to win a bigger bonus at the end of the game.

The main strategy of the game is figuring out which sections you want to target and how to ensure you get them. If you need to chain sections along a lake for your secret objective, there’s a section in the middle of the board where it might be worth dropping your biggest towers early because there are two lakes touching the same areas, so you’ll get double the bonuses. If you wait and try to finagle your way into them without committing as many resources, there’s an excellent chance you’ll lose them; should it work, however, you could end up with a major advantage. Likewise, cornering areas so you can take them with your smallest tower (by making sure there are no free adjacent areas) is a big part of winning.

As a game, it’s… fine. It’s adequate. You’ll probably play, finish, and say, “Yeah, that was alright.” It’s the type of game more likely to sway you after your first run based on how you finished, because it’s not so bad that you’ll feel like it was a waste of time even if you win, and it’s not so good that you’ll be dying to try again even if you get smashed.

Of course, it’s not my place to say how you’ll feel. That’s rude. I’m running on probabilities. This is an older game, so telling you to find a friend with it isn’t a suggestion to save your money; it may be the only way to see it. It used to be playable online, but that’s apparently no longer the case. It’s worth one playthrough, at the very least. You might adore the game. Just don’t set your expectations excessively high.

Score: The most mundane 7/10.

Chicago Express

Chicago Express

Chicago Express is kind of the anti-Ticket to Ride. There are no cards, no pre-determined track lines where your trains can go, and you don’t even have your own set of trains. Instead, you buy stock in train companies and receive dividends at various points so you can turn around and buy more stock, or just sit on your cash like Scrooge McDuck. And the train companies pay for everything!

The way it works is thus: Each player can do one of three actions per turn. You can start an auction for one stock certificate of your choice, build up to three trains along the line of a company in which you own stock, or build a house in an area to increase the value of any train lines running through there. Running lines and building houses comes out of the money put into a company via stock purchases, so at the start you can only auction stock. This gives ownership stakes to players so they can use the other actions, and money to the companies so they can afford the other actions. However, only so many of each action can be used per turn (different number per action type), and they don’t reset until two action types are maxed out.

Once those two action types are maxed, the round resets, and dividends are paid. Dividends are equal to the value of the company, and you receive a percentage of those dividends equal to the percentage of the purchased stock you have in that company. If you have the only stock that anyone’s bought, you get it all; if you have one and another person has one, you get half; if you have two and another person has one, you get two-thirds. Early stock ends up being the most valuable, since it’s purchased when players don’t have much money, but gauging what something’s going to be worth at that point is harder. In other words, you need to buy something early, but it’s hard to know what to buy.

Chicago is, for the most part, the most valuable city on the map. (A couple others can become worth slightly more, but they require either time or spending on upgrades; see below.) Not only does it add a ton more value to your company than any random town, mountain, or forest, but when a company gets there, its shareholders get an extra dividend paid to them right away. Every train company wants to reach Chicago, but the game doesn’t usually last long enough for that to happen. However, roaming a bit with your line to increase its value can be helpful, as long as you make it to Chicago eventually.

There are a few quirks thrown into the game. Detroit acts like a round counter; it slowly increases in value, and once it’s worth eight money, the game is in its final round. It can be a good boost to swing one of the northern lines to Detroit before taking it to Chicago. Reaching that final round is unusual, however, and you have to get to Chicago before the game ends.

Pittsburgh and Wheeling can be repeatedly increased through building houses, unlike other areas. Pittsburgh is sometimes worth it; there are usually better options than pumping Wheeling up one dollar at a time, which largely plays to how West Virginia is treated in the real world. And, once a company reaches Chicago, the Wabash company opens up. It only has two shares, but it starts in Fort Wayne and can reach Chicago pretty quickly.

The quirks don’t overtake the main concept, though: everything is balanced around how well you judge the value of a company’s stock, and how well you improve that value once you have a stake in it. Wabash is special because it comes into the game late and has a short path to Chicago, but that doesn’t make it more valuable than the other companies; bidding wars can easily happen because there are only two shares, and that’s often a mistake. Getting half of fourteen is not as good as getting one-quarter of thirty-six. (The answers are seven and nine.) It’s a nice change from the automatic, whatever opens up last is best idea that games tend to have. And it’s not really a secret from new players; the logic may not be immediately obvious, but if you’re cognizant of how value works and can see what’s possible or probable before the game ending conditions are met, you can take advantage.

I’m not a huge fan of this game because I’m bad at it. If it turns out you’re not bad at it, you’ll probably have a swell time.

Score: Six broken-down mining towns out of seven.

Stuffed Fables

Stuffed Fables

Stuffed Fables is called an ‘AdventureBook Game’. This is the first of its type from Plaid Hat Games. When you open the box and see a big spiral book full of stories taking up more space than anything else, it might immediately bring to mind Above & Below or Near & Far. The box cover alone, however, makes it clear we’re dealing with kid-style stories, and likewise the game follows a simpler (read: more linear) path than either of those two.

The directions are easy: Read the book. Passages in italics are story for the current bookkeeper to read to the group. Regular text involves gameplay. Don’t move forward from the section you’re on until something in the game tells you to do so. As long as you know a few core rules, that’s all you need to run the whole thing.

Let’s split this between the gameplay and the storytelling.

—Gameplay. Every character has its own set of abilities, although each starts with the same amount of stuffing (health) and hearts to power their abilities. Characters usually have at least one ability that nudge them towards using certain types of items, though they can use anything they want.

You start a turn by drawing five dice from a bag. White dice potentially give you extra stuffing. Black dice are threat dice, which can trigger enemy minion turns or other negative effects. Other dice can be used for actions specific to that die’s color, or for a few general abilities not connected to a color (mainly movement or storing dice for a later turn). Non-boss enemies have one hit point; beat their defense with a roll and you KO them, earning a button that can serve various purposes later. Bosses have hit points equal to the number of players in the game, but you hit them the same way, by rolling higher than their defense. Other icons on the board can give you other stuffed animals to talk to, merchants to deal with, or push the story forward.

The gameplay is about as good as it needs to be for a game like this. The best mechanic is the ability to choose how many dice you roll to attempt specific tasks. In most cases you’ll want to roll as many dice as you can, or (if for some reason you have a pile of dice you can use) at least enough to just about guarantee success, but having the option not to do that and instead take multiple shots at a task with worse odds is good and I’m glad they offered it. Needing specific colors of dice for certain tasks, but having to pull dice from a bag each turn, is a recipe for annoyance, but the ability to save dice for later, or give friends dice to use on their turn, does a fair bit to alleviate issues created by randomness. Skill tests and group tasks can be failed, but you should usually have a much better than 50/50 chance to succeed.

Perhaps the highest praise for the gameplay is that it’s good enough while also not overshadowing the story that is the selling point. Speaking of which…

—The story. When we opened the book, the first thing that came up was, do we actually have to read this kiddie garbage to each other? Once the gameplay aspects came in, though, we got over that, and everyone read without feeling weird about it by the end. It’s also a little darker than someone might expect—not original Grimm Brothers level, but not shiny happy Disney stuff either, no matter how the first page of the story book might read. The first story revolves around the animals retrieving the blanket of ‘their’ child from little spider monsters with doll heads. If you look at the little spider monsters with doll heads and don’t buy into the creepiness that exists here, you’re probably not going to buy into the whole theme. And those are the lowest-level threats.

More generally, if you can buy into stuffed animals coming to life and running around (which is a relatively common idea), you can perceive the threats to their well-being. Yet stuffed animals don’t die; they can give stuffing to each other, including if one of them hits zero. Having all the animals flatten out (literally) is a loss; we didn’t get anywhere near that point, but the idea of it feels pretty sad.

It can feel odd to be an adult, reading these stories to other adults, but they’ve written and paced it all in a way that lets you get into it. It helps that the art and miniatures are really nice, so you know exactly what characters are running around the maps.

—The overall. Pretty good gameplay, solid story. Sounds like winner!

Eh….

Playing through a story is enjoyable. You go through the process, have a good time, and think, man, this is fun, I’d like to do this more. Then you get to the end and… nothing. There are different endings available depending on how the story plays out, one better than the other, but once you hit the ending, that’s it. There are eight stories available; like a legacy game, there’s not much point to playing them multiple times unless you’re trying to introduce someone new to it, but there’s no legacy aspect. Nothing moves from game to game. I mean, you could house rule it so your characters keep their items, but they’d become incredibly broken.

It feels a little odd to criticize the game for only having eight stories to play when Time Stories starts out with only the one, and that’s quite popular. The difference I would draw between them is that Time Stories is a mystery to be solved, so once that happens you naturally wouldn’t have a reason to play it again. Stuffed Fables is a game that makes you want to keep seeing new stories, just like you would want more work from an author you like, with sufficient gameplay but not enough to make you want to re-run anything. Some people may get through all eight and decide they got their money’s worth; others will think there should have been more. I have no good advice for how to decide which side of that line you’ll fall on. It helps if you enjoy crisp art and excellent miniatures. That’s all I’ve got.

Score: Six crawly doll heads out of eight.

Honshu

Honshu

How much nonsense we could do away with if it was possible to just lay better nonsense over the top of it…

Honshu is an trick-taking card game about building… let’s call it a community. There are buildings you want to put together to form a city, but you also need to pay attention to how much forest you have popping up, the size of your lakes, and how well your factory capacity matches the resources you gather during the game. Everything counts for points at the end except the deserts, because deserts are literal wastes. They’re a tiebreaker because the more desert you manage to deal with in your community, the better you’ve apparently done.

Everyone starts with one map card. Each starting card has a different layout and is double-sided to increase the number of starting possibilities (starting map cards always have a resource space). Players are then dealt six regular map cards; these are numbered one through sixty. Players then put down a map card and may also place a resource on the card to increase its value by sixty, guaranteeing that anyone who uses a resource will wind up ahead of someone who doesn’t. After that, a new player order is determined by the bids, and in that order players choose map cards from the ones offered for that turn. Having the first choice as often as possible is best, but as with any trick-taking game, knowing when to dump your garbage cards can be just as important.

Placing map cards must be done by connecting them to at least one of the cards already in front of you. This means placing it on top of current cards so that one or more of their spaces are covered, or sliding it beneath current cards so that one or more of the new card’s spaces are covered. Players run their hands down to zero cards, then are dealt six more, with the process repeating so that the game ends after twelve rounds. (In a five player game, this means all cards will be used, and tracking what’s left becomes a valuable skill.) At the end, points are added for contiguous city spaces, contiguous lake spaces, number of forests, and number of factories which you can supply with the appropriate resource. A substantial balance point in the game is deciding when resources are more valuable as a method to jump ahead in turn order and when you need to save them for the end of the game.

Once you see the mechanics in action, Honshu is a very easy game to learn, and very replayable as long as the basic gameplay appeals to you. Every community gets built differently, and every game requires learning how what you have available can offer advantages in whatever situation you find yourself facing. It’s a clever little game about which I have very little clever to say—it’s short, coherent, and simply good.

Score: Seven. Play it and decide what the seven is out of.

Downforce

Downforce

Some games are good. Some games are good, but hard to like because they don’t suit us. Some games are bad, but we like them because in some way they’re just what we need.

Some games are just trash.

In the interests of fairness, this is currently rated 7.5 at BGG, which is pretty good. I acknowledge, therefore, that most people feel better about this game than I do. That’s fine. I respect their right to be wrong.

Downforce is a racing game that isn’t just about pushing your car to the finish line. Players bid points (money) before the game to own cars, and earn points at the end of the game if their car(s) finish anywhere except last place. Each car has a randomly drawn power associated with it; if you buy multiple cars, you only keep one of the powers, but it’s applied to all your cars.

Just as important is the mechanic of betting on which car will win. There are three betting checkpoints; after any turn where someone passes a checkpoint, everyone bets on a car. If it finishes in the top three, you win points, and the earlier the checkpoint, the more points that bet earns you. If you pick the winner all three times, that’s 18 points, which is a big chunk of a winning score.

You start with a hand of cards, the size of which is determined by the player count (all 42 cards are dealt, so that divided by number of players). Each card has anywhere from one to seven colors on it: one for each color of car, plus white for wild. These cards are used for bidding—show a card with a given color and you bid that number of points for that color car, white is zero—and during the game, where you move each car on the card the printed number of spaces, in order from highest to lowest.

You keep the cards you bid with, which means you’ll usually buy cars for which you have at least one good card; in theory this could be a downside because your opponents see your cards, but everything jumbles into each other so much that remembering enough cards to gain a strategic advantage is unlikely. When you take a car, you also get an 8 card, good for one eight-space move. (This is both a good way to incentivize car purchases and the mechanic that winds up mucking the game. More on that to come.)

From there, the game simply proceeds in turn order. The first player is the one who buys the car in pole position, with play proceeding to the left from there. Your goal is twofold: use your cards and powers to push your own car(s) out in front while creating a cluster behind you that gets jammed into chokepoints and loses movement (e.g. if a green six is played and green can only move one before running into other cars, green effectively loses five potential movement).

And this is where the game starts to fall apart. The only strategy, really, is to decide when to prioritize pushing your cars forward and when to throttle your opponents. If you can create a serious enough roadblock, opponents may be forced to move you ahead more than themselves. In doing so, however, they’ll often make it easier for other people to pass them, but if nobody moves you, you’re still in the lead when it gets back to your turn, and unless all your cards are garbage, you can fly ahead of everyone else from there.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right? It sounds strategic. And it is strategic. However, the implementation leaves a fair bit to be desired. First, movement per car is relatively limited. There’s enough in the deck to get everyone around the track, but it doesn’t take much wasted movement before a car literally cannot make it to the finish line anymore. While this is functionally not awful—whether you’re last to cross or the only one not to cross, you’re still last—it’s an unfulfilling way to end the game. “I lost” is not as bad as “I didn’t even finish”, unless the reason for not finishing makes for an incredible story. But it’s too common in Downforce.

Secondly, while forcing people into difficult choices often makes for a healthy strategic game, in this case those choices are frequently no-win situations. Playing a game where, if you don’t get into the lead, you’re spending the game making least-bad choices rather than good ones that can improve your position is a disheartening experience. It feels fine when you’re winning and bleh when you’re in the pack, watching someone race out into the lead.

Thirdly, once somebody starts holding a lead (which isn’t that hard), the betting process is too often cut and dried. You know who’s going to win barring a serious strategic misplay, so everyone knows who to bet on. The real problem here is that the winner can bet on themselves; while there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to, if you get winner prize money and also bet on yourself at all three betting points, you’ve maxed your score and can’t lose. Unless someone else does well enough with multiple cars that is, which leads to…

The fourth point. A six player game is ok, since everyone owns one car. Two or three players is theoretically good; the cars don’t need to be evenly split, but can be. In a four or five player game, though, some player or players will have more than one while the rest have just one, and that ends up being a serious drawback without a gin hand that has huge numbers for all of your cars. The special 8-card, for example, is supposed to be the thing that jumps you ahead at the right time; if you have multiple cars, though, playing one eight means you leave your other car(s) in the dust along with everyone else. It’s harder for any of your multiple cars to succeed as well as a single one unless you hard focus on one of them, and if you do that it’s likely your other cars will finish far enough back that they won’t make up the points you spent on acquiring them unless you grabbed them super-cheap. So the potential balance of multiple cars doing well and competing with a one-car winner doesn’t really pan out.

And, finally, the sign that the designers definitely did not put enough time into solving this game’s issues: Track #2. The board can be flipped to play one of two tracks, which is great. However, on Track #2, the first single-space checkpoint can be reached on a move of eight. Therefore, the race basically revolves around who wins the pole position car. Is it red, and you only have a 2 as your highest point total for red? GG. Unless the pole winner doesn’t realize the situation, all they need to do is play their eight for that card, get into the gap, and let everyone else crowd in behind them. They’re off to the races, playing every big card they can for that color immediately if they’re smart, and unless their hand is total garbage apart from the eight and whatever card they used to win the car, no one’s going to catch them. It’s a dumpster fire of a race, and the fact nobody on the design team realized that is gaming malpractice.

It’s not like the single-space chokepoints are great in general; it’s a take-that mechanic writ large. The game would have made substantially more sense if it was designed like Formula D, where there are always multiple avenues of movement and blocking only happens if multiple people happen to line up side by side. Getting blocked in Formula D is an aggravation, but a rare one, enough so that it can be called ‘part of the game’ and not take away from the enjoyment. It could easily be argued that Downforce needs that extra movement room even more, since the relatively low values on the cards (as compared to Formula D’s dice rolls) make it easier for cars to pack together. Granted, the Downforce track offers a very F1 feel—if you’ve ever watched an F1 road race, you’ve undoubtedly seen the tight corners where passing is impossible—but the designers needed to take the time and realize mimicking that aesthetic so closely was a terrible decision for their game.

The art’s really good, and the overall look of the game components is solid. It feels like a game that should be good, and it plays like a game that should be good. Having only played larger games, I’ll even allow for the possibility that it is good at small player counts. But at four and five, it’s a rolling dumpster fire. Avoid it as you would any dumpster fire.

If you like dumpster fires, well… here you go.

Council of 4

Council of 4

Council of Four, much like owning a multinational corporation, is a game about being a merchant, using people in government for personal gain, and replacing them if they don’t suit your interests anymore. The board consists of fifteen cities split into five different regions. One of your goals is to put a merchant in every city in a region before your opponents do to gain a bonus; alternately, you can put a merchant in every city with the same color, which spread across regions and are usually not connected, to earn different bonuses. The more efficient you can be with your merchant placement, the better, as you’ll be able to earn more bonuses. Getting to them quickly matters too, though: Queen’s Rewards go to the players who earn bonuses the fastest, and they drop precipitously in value as the game goes on.

You get merchants into cities by influencing the noble councilors of the three regions, or the councilors of the queen herself. There are four councilors assigned to each region and the queen, determined randomly. As an action, you can push a new, unused councilor into one of those groups, pushing the one in the end out of favor and changing the set. Often this is done to earn money (you gain four gold for doing this with your main action). Sometimes it’s mainly done to adjust the council so it fits your cards. Rarely, since it’s usually hard to tell what another player needs, you’ll change a council to try and mess up someone’s plans. However, usually you can only tell what a player needs when they assign someone to a council. Because a newly-placed councilor has to cycle through all four council spots before getting booted, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to kick that person off before the player doesn’t need them anymore.

To influence councilors, you need to collect cards matching the set currently on the council. The cards relate to the six colors of councilors (related to how they dress, it’s not a racist thing… I think). You start with four cards and draw one per turn. This makes set-gathering slow; however, if you don’t have a full set, you can pay to make up the difference (you need at least one card of the set). Early on you’ll usually be able to get a merchant placed for free or cheap. Overall, however, part of your task is to minimize how much you spend per city on average while getting your merchants into as many cities as possible.

If you build a set for a regional council, you take one of the two available business tiles for that region. Business tiles have bonuses that are immediately earned. They also have a letter or letters on them; these refer to cities that start with the same letter. If you take an action to buy a business tile, you can take another action (usually on a different turn) to place a merchant in one of the cities on the tile. Should other merchants already be there, you have to spend one servant per merchant in the city to place yours.

Servants, by the way, serve numerous purposes, most of them revolving around taking a secondary quick action after your main action. Think of them like Five Tribes’… fakirs.

Alternately, you can collect a set aimed at the Queen’s Council. By spending the cards and then two gold per city the queen must travel through to reach the one you’re interested in, you can bribe her into letting you place a merchant there (servant costs still apply). You don’t get a tile, which means no tile bonus and one less tile to potentially boost your endgame scoring a little bit. However, bribing the Queen means you only need one turn instead of two, you need a different set of colors (so you can work around the hand you have more easily), and you can place your merchant in a city even if there’s no tile for it immediately available.

When you place a merchant, you earn a small bonus connected with that city (except the capital, where the Queen starts). As the game progresses and you place more merchants, you get bonuses from merchants in cities connected to new placements. It’s not just adjacent ones, either; for every adjacent city, you also earn bonuses for each city another remove away. So, if you spread around the board and then drop one of your last merchants in a central area, you can earn a boatload of bonuses.

Bonuses come in a few varieties. First are the aforementioned city bonuses. In addition, if you’re first to hit every city in a region, you earn the region’s five-point bonus. There are also four colors of cities: blue, orange, purple, and yellow, with two, three, four, and five cities of these colors, respectively. Blue’s fastest and worth five points; yellow is hardest, but it’s worth twenty. Orange and purple are eight and twelve. Nobility bonuses exist if your nobility increases far enough, but that’s something of a side bonus—you can read about it if you play.

Biggest of all, however, are the Queen’s Rewards. These are so big (at first) as to seem out of line with the game’s general balance. The first person to finish any regional or color bonus gets the first reward, which is an extra twenty-five points. The second to do so earns eighteen. The rest are, I think, twelve, eight, and three. This puts a major impetus on playing for the first Queen’s bonus, which gives a major advantage to people who have played before over those who haven’t. Even if you explain its importance, a newbie may not realize what they have to look for to try and get that bonus. (It’s pretty much always going to be whoever finishes the two blue cities first, barring a nutty tile draw.)

However, if you go for that bonus and miss, then you’re behind in going for #2 if anyone else decided chasing that one made more sense. If you don’t get either of those two, you almost don’t have a choice but to go for yellow, but if someone’s already got a head start on that… you have time, but you’re still working from behind.

******

That explanation of the game took longer than usual. Let’s discuss what makes the game good or bad.

First off, the balance between the actions and how they effect your play is very polished. It’s easy to throw down your cards and spend your money to gain a few quick cities, and if they’re the right cities/business tiles, that may be able to propel you forward. But there’s no combination that leads to an outright snowball unless your opponents are paying no attention and let you take all the best stuff. There’s an optimal way to proceed, turn by turn, but with enough randomness between what tiles are available, what the councils look like, and what your opponents do that you can’t autopilot anything.

Finding the right city bonuses to connect to each other is somewhat dependent on how the game goes, but making a nice chain and then maximizing the resources you get out of it is a good feeling. It’s hindered slightly by the difficulty you sometimes run into when making those chains, but in some ways that makes it all the sweeter when you do connect several merchants.

The scoring mechanisms, though…

Let’s go back to the Queen’s Rewards. If you’re careful/lucky, you can snag the first two blue cities by turn three, maybe four. In doing this, you earn a five point bonus for the blue, and twenty-five for the first Queen’s Reward. It feels insane to watch that many points go out that fast. In pure balance terms, it’s not as bad as it looks; if the eighteen goes with the three city bonus, that’s twenty-six, and if you can get all the yellows, that’s twenty plus whichever Queen’s Reward you can manage, if any.

However, winning that blue bonus early still gives you the single biggest bonus in the game, and getting those blue cities is effectively a question of luck. They’re spread apart, so you either need business tiles for both or one tile and then use the queen for the one near the capital. The first strategy takes longer, but is a little more reliable. The second is faster, but only if you get a perfect set of cards. The skill is more in recognizing whether or not you’ll actually be the one to complete that pair first. That’s a legitimate skill, but because it happens so early, there really isn’t anything about winning that bonus that takes what we might think of as a ‘gamer skill’—planning ahead, setting up your moves ahead of time, etc. Plus, watching those bonuses go away so fast lends a sense of inevitability to the outcome, even though it’s not inevitable at all.

Furthermore, the larger the group of cities you need, the harder it is to collect them. You can only rely on the queen so often; you’ll need business tiles for most of all of the ones you want. They’re not always available, so you have to be ready to grab them when they are. In addition, the yellow group is worth a pretty good number of points, but the regional bonuses are only five. This is supposed to be offset by the fact you’re getting many more gameplay bonuses from connecting your merchants. However, they toe this weird line of not being worth the effort, yet being tantalizing because we all like bonus points. There is real value in getting bonuses from connected cities, but it’s almost like they added regional bonuses because having four colors and three or four Queen’s Rewards didn’t seem like enough.

******

In the end, calling Council of Four ‘good’ seems correct, but too safe. The gameplay is very good, and as mentioned, the balance between actions is spot on. The variety of cities and bonus types mean that, while everyone’s going for the same basic goals, the way you set up your actions to get there needs to be flexible. In that vein, it’s almost comparable to classics like Terra Mystica (though not quite there).

The scoring, though, makes everything feel out of whack. This is a game best played with four people, but there are only three truly major bonuses available. VPs can be earned as the game progresses, and by the game’s end, before bonuses are added, scores can vary quite a bit. However, the bonuses are most of the overall scoring, and the impetus on taking them takes away from the options a player can pursue without borking their chances at victory. It’s not a fun experience to watch all of them get snatched up and feel like you’re dead in the water. And there’s no obvious fix; changing the values would merely change the importance placed on them. When you house rule stuff like that, then whether the changes are good usually depends on the whims of the players unless you hit just the right note.

I’m sure the designers think they hit that note here. I think they’re wrong. But play it, because it’s fun enough to check out once and see which side of this you fall on.

Score: Three angry, yet dapper, councilors out of four.

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