David McMillan
United States
Madison
Tennessee
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
When I first stumbled upon Dreaming Spires on Kickstarter I thought to myself, "How interesting can a game about building a school really be?" and my initial reaction was to move on without really giving it much of a chance. Fortunately, Dreaming Spires is breathtakingly beautiful and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So, I went back and began a dialogue with the game’s designer, Jeremy Hogan, and the more I talked, the more I found myself longing to play it. Then one fine day, I received an email from Jeremy telling me that they had released a print and play version of the game. Shortly thereafter, I found myself at my local print shop watching gleefully as sheet after wonderful sheet poured out of the printer and into my hands. Several grueling hours of snipping away with scissors later, Dreaming Spires had made it to the American shores. I was ready to play.

Dreaming Spires is a game about a journey through the rich and exciting history of Oxford University (and Oxford in general). You begin as a player in the Middle Ages where you begin construction on your project. As you build buildings, you begin to acquire status and this status in turn attracts scholars through your doors. Their influence will leave an indelible mark upon your hallowed halls that will last throughout the ages.

The game is played in a series of rounds that begin in the Middle Ages and move through the ages all the way into the modern age. As each era is revealed, new scholars will appear and your school will grow ever larger. When the final era is over, the person with the most prestigious university wins the game.

Here’s how it works:

SETUP

For starters, the game is comprised of several components. There are Event cards for each era. There are scholars cards that are revealed during their respective eras, small wooden cubes used for scoring, a Chancellor token, a beautifully detailed score board, some money chits, and a whole bunch of building tiles. Setup is rather easy. The score board is laid in the middle of the table. Two Event cards are randomly chosen from the first era and placed face down above the scoreboard. To the left of the scoreboard are placed the scholar cards for the present era. These are also placed face down. Then, five of them are flipped over and placed face up next to the deck that they came from. The gardens and quads are removed from the building tiles and placed face up in their respective piles beneath the scoreboard. Then the remaining building tiles are placed face down to the left of the scoreboard and ten of them are flipped face up and laid side by side.

Once your game board has been set up, each player draws 4 random money from the money bag and this money is kept hidden (players will receive 4 additional money at the beginning of each of the next three eras as well). The print and play version of this game that I have been playing does not include a money bag or any method for hiding your money, so my wife crafted a drawstring money bag out of some cloth, a needle, and some thread. We photocopied the Oxford skyline from the Print and Play title page, cut out the skyline, and then used those as money screens. After all of the money has been drawn, a Chancellor is chosen. Being the Chancellor gives you the ultimate say so in tiebreakers and it also allows you to go first. During the auction phase, being the Chancellor can give you a special advantage. I’ll cover that when we get there.

TURN SEQUENCE

After the Chancellor has been chosen, you are ready to begin playing. The Chancellor reveals the first Event card and reads the text for all to hear. These Event cards are actual recollections of events that have actually taken place during Oxford’s illustrious history. Some of them are humorous. Some of them are tragic, but they are all 100% factual. On each Event card is some kind of benefit (for instance, an Event card might read +1 Students at the top of it). These Event cards are auctioned off at the end of each era and the winners of those auctions will gain these benefits that are listed on the cards.

The Chancellor takes their turn first followed by each other player in a clockwise direction. During a player’s turn, they can perform 4 actions and they can perform any of the possible activities multiple times if they so choose. Here are the activities that they can choose from:

- Build a building
- Take a scholar
- Use a scholar for either their action OR their ability
- Draw a money from the money bag (this one is obvious and does not need to be covered in any extra detail)

BULDINGS

The very first building that any player can build in a game MUST be a garden or a quad. After that, they can build whatever buildings they want assuming they have the required resources to do so. In later turns, they are not required to build gardens or quads if they do not want to. A building, by the way, is defined as ‘any tile that can be added to your college’ so quads and gardens also count as buildings.

Every building has characteristics in common: they each have a name, they each have a color or colors associated with them, and they each have a benefit icon or portions of a benefit icon on them. I will attempt to explain these ideas with words, but I highly recommend downloading and perusing the rule book from the Kickstarter website to get a better idea of what I am about to talk about. The building names are not important, so I will begin with colors.

If you are going to build a building, then at least one edge of that building must touch another building tile that shares the same color. For instance, if you have a bulding that is half yellow and half blue, you may attach it to a yellow building tile so long as yellow touches yellow. This means that you can touch the new yellow tile to the old yellow tile so long as at least a portion of the yellow is touching yellow. Gardens and quads are special cases. A garden and a quad can be built next to anything and anything can be built next to a garden or a quad. When you are playing the game the first time, the building rules can be a bit confusing, but, fortunately, the rule book includes a very detailed illustration that really helps to explain the way the building rules work.

In addition to the colors, buildings will also include a benefit icon or a portion of a benefit icon. There are four different types of benefits and these benefits are required to purchase scholars, so it is essential to carefully choose which buildings you add to your school in order to have the required benefits to purchase the scholars that most interest you. The four different types of benefits are: beauty - represented by a green circle, academics - represented by two crossed scrolls, status - represented by a fanciful orange shape, and social - represented by a red square. Some buildings may feature an entire shape and these buildings typically have a monetary cost associated with them. In order to purchase these you must pay the amount shown. Some buildings may have half of an icon printed down one side. These halves can be situated to touch the sides of other tiles that have matching halves or they may be situated so that they touch a half that has been created by attaching two tiles that have portions of icons in the corners. Once again, I implore you to consult the rule book to better understand how the buildings work.

SCHOLARS

Each scholar has a cost that is represented by an icon at the top of the Scholar card. If, for instance, the Scholar card has a picture of a status and a social icon, then you must have at least one status and one social icon represented in your building structure. Some Scholar cards have an odd looking coat of arms on them. This signifies that ANY icon can be used to purchase them. So, if a Scholar has two coats of arms and one beauty icon, then you must be able to represent one beauty PLUS two of anything else in your building structure.

Once you have purchased a scholar, then you are able to use them to add influence to your school. This can be done in one of two ways (and you can only use each scholar one time per turn for one of these two only): use them to gain influence in their subject OR use them to perform their action. These actions vary. Some will allow you to draw money. Some will allow you to build free buildings. There are many others, but I am not going to list them all here. (You’ll just have to play to discover them all for yourselves!)

Since we are discussing subjects, now is an excellent time to tackle...

REPUTATIONS

The score board is divided into three distinct sections: the college reputations, the academic reputations, and the scoring boxes. The college reputations are subdivided into three sections: fellows, students, and tradition. The academic reputations are subdivided into seven areas: politics, theology, philosophy, science, humanities, arts, and sports. Reputations, as I mentioned earlier, are gained by using your scholars’ abilities. Some reputations can also be gained by winning Event cards during the auction phase. Not all of these reputations are immediately available. As the game moves on and the world around your school changes, new reputations will become available to you.

AUCTIONS

After each player has completed a turn and the turn sequence has made its way back around to the Chancellor, then the Chancellor will conduct an auction. There are several different types of auctions and the type of auction that should be conducted is listed at the top of the currently revealed Event card. Here are the different types of auctions along with a brief explanation of how they work:

- Silent auction. Each player decides how much they are willing to pay to win the auction and they conceal their bid in a closed fist. When all players have placed their bids, they reveal the money in their hands. Whoever pays the most wins the benefit. There are detailed rules in place for determining the victors if there is a tie, but the last determining factor in that list is Chancellor’s choice. In this way, it pays to be the Chancellor.

- Contribution auction. This is conducted in exactly the same fashion as a silent auction with one caveat. Regardless of who wins, everyone must pay whatever it is that they bid.

- Dutch auction. The Chancellor begins with the number 12 and counts backwards to 0 with a pause between each number. If someone wishes to bid whatever number was just announced, then they must say so and they must pay that amount. If two people speak up at the same time, then the Chancellor determines the tie. If the Chancellor wishes to pay an amount, they can just stop at the amount that they want to pay (assuming nobody else has already bid before that) and take the prize.

- Regular auction. The Chancellor announces what they are willing to pay and then each player, in turn, has the chance to raise the stakes. This goes on until everyone but the highest bidder have passed. Then the highest bidder wins, pays the money to the money bag, and collects their reward.

Whoever wins the auction becomes the new Chancellor.

END PHASE

When two turns have passed in a single era, then all of the scholars and Event cards from that era are collected and removed. Then the next era is set up following the set up rules listed above. Then scoring begins.

Scoring in this game is complicated and easy at the same time. It is here that I feel that it is important to mention that this entire review is based upon a Print and Play version of this game that was obtained from the Kickstarter during the course of the Kickstarter campaign. Things might change and, if they do, then I will come back here and update as needed.

First comes the easy part. Look at a scoring box. That scoring box is at the intersection of an academic subjects column and a college reputation row. Add up all of the cubes in those columns and rows for each player. Whoever has the most wins that scoring box and they place one of their colored cubes into that square. This step is performed for each column/row intersection until all of the scoring boxes for that era have been filled.

Now comes the more difficult part. Whoever has the fewest cubes is removed from the scoring boxes. Then, each empty scoring box is reassessed and awarded to the person who has the most reputation in that subject/college reputation combo. Then the cubes are counted up again and whoever has the fewest is removed and those boxes are reassessed and awarded to the next person in line, so on and so forth, until only one person remains. They win for that era and get to draw a coin from the bag. Whoever wins at the end of the fourth era has the most prestigious Oxford college and wins the game.

THOUGHTS

Dreaming Spires is, at its heart, a love letter and, as far as love letters go, you won’t find one more elegant or eloquent. This game is a wonder to behold and a joy to play. I’ve never been to Oxford and highly doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity, but this game has left me with a longing to do so and, much more importantly, a longing to play yet again.
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Charles A. Smith
United States
Olathe
Kansas
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Excellent review based on careful thought and effort.

I am concerned about how replay-able the game is. The event cards seem limited to me. To some extent same for the scholar cards. First few plays might be great, but then become stale with further plays. Historical accuracy is critical for this game but holding to that requirement might be limiting.

What do you think?
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeremy Hogan
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
mbmbmbmbmb
Hey Charles, thanks for checking out Dreaming Spires! I'm the designer so obviously a little biased but I think replayability is actually one of the game's strong points, it was certainly a design goal of mine - let me explain:

1. To win the final scoring round and therefore the game, you must do two things:

A. Survive a number of rounds of scoring by not winning the least number of scoring boxes in any of them

B. Beat the last remaining opponent in a head-to-head comparison of reputation across all the scoring boxes

What makes this inherently replayable is that succeeding at A. requires specializing so that you win enough scoring boxes when up against all the other players in the first round of the scoring. But succeeding at B. requires you to have higher reputation than your single remaining opponent in over half of the boxes so you want to spread your reputation out rather than specialize.

To win, you must tread a line between being a specialist and a generalist, which means the strategic decisions never become obvious and no single strategy can be applied to succeed.

2. There are 6 event cards per era (24 total plus extras for stretch goals) but you often only use 2 in a single era. I wanted to provide lots of extras so that you continue to experience new content into your 3rd/4th/5th play and by the time you are seeing events twice, you may not remember them too well so hopefully it never becomes stale.

Hope that makes sense, let me know if you have other questions, you can download our rulebook and print and play version of the game from our campaign page if you'd like to learn more: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/949153718/dreaming-spire...

P.S. i'm very grateful to David for an excellent review - so well written, I'm honored that you took the time, thank you!
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Brad McKenzie
Thailand
Bangkok
Bangkok
flag msg tools
Avatar
mb
Thank you for the review. I have a question regarding the scoring.

In the Medieval Era, there are 7 scoring boxes.

Let's say, for example, that after the scoring Player A held 3 boxes, B held 2, and C also held 2.

Player C loses out in the tiebreak with B, and C's tokens are removed from the scoreboard.

C's empty spaces are now awarded to player B, who now has 4 spaces to player A's 3 spaces.

Player B wins the round and the money draw?


This is an interesting game. Thank you in advance for the print'n'play copy so that I can try it out...
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeremy Hogan
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
mbmbmbmbmb
Hi Brad - thanks for checking out Dreaming Spires!

In your example, players A and B compete for the scoring boxes that player C vacated. If B did win them both, ending up with 4 total, vs A's 3, then yes, they would win the round and get the money draw.

I just posted an updated rulebook clarifying this and other points here actually: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/949153718/dreaming-spire...

Let me know if you have more questions!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ben Green
United States
San Francisco
California
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Do you know what MSRP is going to be?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeremy Hogan
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
mbmbmbmbmb
CunningAllusionment wrote:
Do you know what MSRP is going to be?
Hi Ben, thanks for your interest in Dreaming Spires, MSRP is $60 (or £40). We're offering an $11 discount and free shipping to our Kickstarter backers (as long as they are in UK/USA - otherwise we make an equal contribution to shipping) as a thank you for supporting the game from the very beginning!

Let me know if you have other questions, thanks, Jeremy
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Paulo Renato
Portugal
Vila Nova Gaia
Porto
flag msg tools
I run through Rahdo's Runthroughs and make right what once went wrong (via annotations)
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Good Review...

I was interested in the game, but I can't understand the shipping costs to Europe when the UK gets it for free...

I could understand that you would have to charge a shipping fee to the rest of Europe but not $35.06, it makes no sense...

I get things shipped all the time from the UK to Portugal and never seen those kind of shipping fees, I don't know from where you are shipping it for the rest of Europe, but I guess you're getting them to the UK and then shipping from there... $35.06? Really??

I'm sorry to say but for me it's a pass due to the shipping cost, it's a shame.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeremy Hogan
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
mbmbmbmbmb
Hi Paulo,

Thanks very much for your interest in Dreaming Spires - I am the designer - sorry that you were upset by the shipping, it's a real pain. I wish we could avoid these problems but it's so expensive shipping big boxes internationally! We subsidize shipping to the EU by $10 so you only pay $25 extra ($75 total) but I understand if you feel this is too much. I have a few other ideas for you below but let me explain how we calculate the numbers...

First off, we would never take any money from the shipping. If we can get the game to backers cheaper than advertised, Game Salute, my partners in this, will pass the saving on to backers rather than keep it for themselves, which is something they have done before on a number of their campaigns. We have to list the worst case scenario for now. The UK gets such good value shipping because the sheer volume of orders drives down the handling cost a lot.

I have double-checked the numbers with Game Salute - that was why I didn't get back to you right away. As of now, the best option is still to ship direct to Portugal from the US. I know it may seem crazy, when we are fulfilling UK orders out of their UK warehouse but the UK has less generous import tax laws and more expensive shipping: it's £20 ($32) to ship a box of our size/weight/value from UK to Portugal with tracking information and it would slow down the process and increase the likelihood of problems occurring. Also Game Salute buy a LOT of shipping in the US and as such can get the best prices from quality couriers like FedEx. So considering cost, speed and reliability, we think this is the best option, however you can try a few other things if you like:

Group Buys: if you can find other Portuguese backers, buy together, which reduces the cost per game.

Essen Pickup: if you are going to Essen 2014, you can pick your copy up for free from there.

Freight Forwarding: companies like Mailboxes in the UK can forward stuff for you.

The game's SRP is $60 and it really warrants that price with top quality components and lots of them in there! So even if an EU stockist can get it to you after it's released, it may cost more than $75 with shipping. I hope that at least explains the situation for you - sorry again, we'd love to fix this as much as you! Truth is, I think there is more money in shipping than board games!

Have a good weekend,

Jeremy
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Paulo Renato
Portugal
Vila Nova Gaia
Porto
flag msg tools
I run through Rahdo's Runthroughs and make right what once went wrong (via annotations)
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Many thanks for your explanation Jeremy, it's great to have the people involved explain the hurdles of the process.

Still for me it's a bit too much and none of the options you referred is a possibility...

So I wish you all the luck with the game, hope it's a big success and that goes into mass production and maybe then I'll be able to get it at a better price.

All the best
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeremy Hogan
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
mbmbmbmbmb
Thanks Paulo, I hope so and if I hear of anything that might help you and other Portuguese gamers, I'll let you know.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeremy Hogan
United Kingdom
London
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
mbmbmbmbmb
Hi guys - just to let you know, we're into our final 24 hours on the Dreaming Spires Kickstarter and have unlocked almost all of our stretch goals!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/949153718/dreaming-spire...

Thanks for checking out the game and this excellent review - do spread the word
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls