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I won't go into depth with the mechanics, since Dan's review covers those quite well, so I guess this will just be my impressions on how the game plays.
It's actually quite a lot like playing the first civilisation game. As in computer civ, the early stages of exploration and figuring out what's going on are a lot of fun. It has a real "civ-like" feel and atmosphere to it. I don't like the cardstock much, but it was free (or at least cheap), so no real complaints there.
I see three main problems with it, though. Firstly, with good play for both players (or all players, if there are more than two) the winner will basically be determined by luck. If you draw lots of combat cards, and your opponent doesn't draw the appropriate defensive cards... well, that's it for them. I don't mind games with a bit of luck in them, but this is a more serious problem when combined with the second issue, which is fiddliness. Managing your production at the beginning of each turn is quick and simple near the start of the game, but it starts to get very slow and time consuming in the later game, when you have six plots and two or three population units on each of them... keeping track of exactly how much of what you can produce or want to produce, and making sure you don't accidentally produce a little more or less than you're allowed to, becomes a major, game-slowing task. I don't mind a bit of fiddliness - many of the best strategic games have quite a bit of it - but this combined with the heavy presence of luck makes for a bad combination.
The third and most serious problem, though, is "monopoly syndrome" - when the game is effectively over, because you know who the winner is going to be, but actually playing through to the end is going to take as much time as it did to get to that point. It's possible for the loser(s) to just resign at that point, of course, but it's not really satisfactory, and some solution to this problem could have been built into the game.
For people thirsting for yet another angle on the "civ" concept, then, it's not a bad little diversion for a few games. But anyone hoping for the kind of depth and tightness of design of a San Juan or Lost Cities is likely to be disappointed.
"Where are you from?" "Long story. The Pacific Ocean, I guess."
I agree with you on all three points. I played Civilization with two other friends, and then those two + a non-strategy gamer, and all three enjoyed this a great deal more than some other famous games like Citadels.
I think another problem is the rulebook. The paragraphs are squished together, making discerning important rules difficult. Use of bold would have been nice to make up for the lack of space given the lines/paragraphs themselves. One really important rule I skipped over was that buildings return to your hand after being destroyed. This gives greater value to hoarding cards in your hand and not using many (thus keeping other players wondering what the heck you're up to until you unleash your hand on them later in the game when they're weaker).
Gameplay wise, it's relatively balanced, though one problem I see is the very limited no.s of wonders and buildings. There are only 5 wonders in the game, and as such it's relatively easy (esp. in a 3 player game) for one player to get 3 of those. You could argue good shuffling could make up for this, but in any case history had SEVEN wonders, so why not have the Mausoleum, Statue of Zeus and such? As for buildings, hoarding them for as long as possible so long as there are only 2-3 copies of a building. Hoarding libraries is especially devastating since technologies, unlike population, are PERMANENT victory points, and having a -4 or even more of a bonus towards tech research makes that aspect of the game a rather obvious winning strategy.
I think people research techs as quickly as possible to eliminate the Monopoly syndrome--you know who's going to win, you want to finish as quickly as possible. Even with this tech race ongoing and with a nice hoard of strategy gamers competing against each other, the last play of this game took over 2 hours.
Ultimately the gameplay is simple and absorbing enough to make for an engaging game.
The main problem is the length. For a *card* game, this is FAR TOO LONG. If it were about 30 minutes shorter, the rules clearer, some gameplay balance issues fixed up, and the card stock more stable, it'd be that much more valuable.
However, I can pleased to be able to say that people who don't know Civ at all can enjoy this game highly. It's not, as the other review states, likely to only be a big hit with Civ fans. Soren Johnson, kudos to you and your design team for this card game.