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Subject: First impressions of A Study in Emerald rss

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Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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My D&D session last night was cancelled when three players cancelled at short notice, leaving the four of us sitting around a table with my new copy of A Study in Emerald, an unholy mash-up of Martin Wallace's game design skills, Neil Gaiman's writing, Sherlock Holmes, and the Call of Cthulhu. They were slightly dubious going on.

They left raving.

No, no - in a good way!

All of us greatly enjoyed the game. Although I backed the kickstarter, I didn't actually do much research for the game apart from "Martin Wallace meets Neil Gaiman" and reading the short-story it was based on. I was somewhat surprised to discover it was a deck-building game, something that none of the other players had experience of. Looking down the long list of actions possible, I worried that the others would find it difficult to pick up, and it was a struggle in the opening moves, but after a few turns everyone understood what was going on and we could concentrate on making the world safe for humanity, against the scourge that was the Old Ones.

Well, at least *I* was making sure that the world was safe for humanity. Paul, it seems, "Agent Friday", was making sure that the world was held in the grip of the ancient scourge. He was the most obvious about it, which caused him a few problems as I tried to block his plans. And Martin pitched in on my side - ah, an ally!

Greg tried to keep up the mystery of which side he was on, but did so badly. I had him pegged as a tentacle-lover very early on, and his further actions just emphasized that. Especially when he started hunting down our agents! (No, no - I'm on your side, really!)

Moriarity entering play on his side just made it clear who he really worked for. Greg wasn't so worried about control of cities, instead developing a hand of free actions, something that Martin, in particular, envied. Martin did take the Necronomicon, and discovered that the 3 VPs came at a cost - having a dead card for most of the game.

Martin and I went for cities relatively early, and Paul came along with us, contesting several of our cities. The victory conditions, which eliminate the side that has the player on the lowest score, are inspired. They meant that you have to be very careful about who you target. Once I was sure who was on each side, I knew that making sure either Greg or Paul had the lowest score would be good, but also that I couldn't hurt Martin too much. There's still only one winner, so you have to look to your own score, but interfering in other people's scores can be fraught with danger.

Not to say we didn't interfere!

The revolution and war tracks - which give bonus points according to which faction you're on - were heading upwards towards the game's end. Although the revolution had started well, Paul was now driving up the War significantly, aided by a free action card. Zombies entered the game, played by Greg (of course), and Moriarity hunted down Martin's agents - thanks to a double-agent, Martin was now in danger of being eliminated.

Martin and I managed to get the revolution track to parity with the war track, and my agents gathered in St Petersburg to protect it from Paul's undermining efforts.

And then Great Cthulhu rose in St Petersburg, as Greg completed the ritual to summon him. All my agents were gone, and the game ended.

Final scoring had Martin first, me second, Paul third and Josh fourth. Paul and Josh, Loyalists both, were eliminated for Josh's poor score, which left only me and Martin in contention - and Martin won the game by a useful six points. (If only Paul had let me control more cities!)

We all felt that the game was excellent: a lot of interesting decisions, great thematic work, and would offer a lot of variability depending on how it was set-up. There is a lot to explore here, and we'll likely play quite a bit of it in the future. Our introductory game took us 2-1/2 hours, but would be significantly quicker once we got used to the game.

A Study in Emerald? It looks like a real winner!
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Randolph Bookman
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I've played this game more than any other game I own now. I'm really digging it. One of the best games I had was being in dead last and keeping both sides guessing as to if I was on their team. I spread just enough confusion to come back and win.
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Mike F
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I played it once and thoroughly enjoyed it. It appears to have much more for players to consider and do than, say, Eldritch Horror (although that's another game I've played only once, along with Arkham Horror).

I love the urgent feel of it. It's like being in a sumo ring, bashing and pushing each other around. And because other players' decisions often significantly change your plans, you have to keep re-thinking your intentions even while other players' turns are happening (so it seems like it has less downtime than a lot of Lovecraft-themed games).
 
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Paul S
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Really good review. Damn.

I've been keeping this off my wishlist, given the price, but the reviews seem to be really positive. Must. Keep. Wallet. Closed.
 
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Lauren Hopkins
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I've been seeing this game around and about since Oct last year and have been wondering if it's worth the hype. I think this review just sold it for me - we like interesting decsions!
 
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