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Subject: A Study in Emergence rss

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Paul S
United Kingdom
Leeds
West Yorks
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DARK IN HERE, ISN'T IT?
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I wasn't sure whether to post a review; I think the reviews here spell out the pros and cons pretty well, and the "hodgepodge" review especially sums up many of my thoughts.

But having played tonight for the first time , I thought I might usefully post a session report with some ideas on teaching the game, and some impressions after just a couple of hours of delirium.

Rules

Not easy to learn. A lot of moving parts, exceptions and special cases. A pretty decent rulebook, and there are a couple of good video overviews here that help a lot. I spent a lot of time reading/viewing before I played - I think a failure to do so is likely to lead to a failed first bash.

Teaching

Given the above - not easy. I gave a reasonably full explanation up front, but decided that getting stuck in was key. So for the first few turns I played with my hand open - to show how I might look at e.g. blocks vs coins.

I decided to keep roles hidden. We've played a good few hidden role games - if you haven't, I'd suggest it might be easier to play with roles open for teaching purposes; it's unlikely, I suggest, to make a big difference to the outcome in game 1.

Early strategies

Grabbing cities was obvious - especially when the effect of specific cards wasn't clear to new players. 5 or 6 points in the bag for 2 or 3 influence was too good a grab to miss.

By the mid/late game it becomes apparent that winning cities isn't the key - keeping them is. In English football terms, taking a city back is a "12 pointer" - your opponent loses 6 whilst you gain it. And if you're over-extended in cities, then like any real general over-extension is going to be punishing.

Which makes e.g. assassination - where the points are permanent - much more attractive.

Playing with the cards

We agreed to a fairly loose approach in terms of trying cards out for effect. This was fun. Assassination showed up early on - just because it seemed like a good idea. And the card that enables you to take 2 influence off the board and into limbo - ouch! That really hurt. Turns out it probably cost the game, too; it was used to prevent the "12 point" turnaround mentioned above, but as a result my last place disqualified my team altogether for an auto-win for the restorationists.

A good idea, I'm sure, to encourage new players just to play their hand and see what happens.

Variety

Goodness, but this is a game with replayability stapled on its forehead.

With 3p, we immediately discarded half the deck so there's much we won't see till next time; but even without that, the number of cards in play at the outset, taken with the difference in their likely order of appearance, and the fact that some cards on the board still might not turn up at all - together these things are likely to make each game different, for many games to come.

And the choices available are extraordinary: do you move, or grab a card, or add influence, or get more blocks for future influence? Is it a city, an agent, a general card or a Permanent Effect you are after? Do you contest another player's goals, or pursue your own? Is it worth taking a one-time-only use card, or do you take another that will recycle usefully time and again?

We were in a spin - but our friendly/relaxed approach to playing in what felt like the most-fun way meant that we got along with it well. AP was at a minimum - but I can see it becoming an issue, over time. There are a lot of choices. One of the group suggested we introduce a chess clock...

Theme & bits

Great fun. We're all old CoC players. Throw in Sherlock and some Victoriana and really, what's not to like?

The cards and other components are lovely. The cards will need sleeving - but that's true of any deckbuilder I think. I don't like the constant shuffling (I'm looking at you, Thunderstone) but this game doesn't seem to suffer too much from it.

Other thoughts on teaching

I think a loose first play is best. Let people do-over. Allow a rethink or two, especially if an obvious point is missed (our e.g. I could've taken the same card for free, why did I contest it? - we let him take it for free). It is too complex, especially on a first (2nd/3rd...etc) play to insist on a formal approach. We were all learning. Go with the flow. And have:

Fun

This was great fun. Only a few references back to the rules were necessary - as has been said in the video reviews, the core mechanic is not rocket-science, once you start to play.

I am reminded, a little, of Wallace's Ankh-Morpork game. It is "take that" with razor edges. We like it because, however hard you are battered on turn 1, you are likely to get the chance to dish it back out on turn 2; or 3 anyway. ASiE has a similar vibe. You can't always do all you want to do, and sometimes you'll get serious pain; but it'll be your turn before long, and there'll be a chance for revenge.

Turns rotate with remarkable fluidity. Your basic 10-card deck soon hits a dozen, or 15 cards. The options available expand at a good rate.

It's fun to lose.

Time

We played for about 2 hours and didn't quite finish. We had a good idea of who would've ended up where (me = last; typical!) The early part of the game was slow as the ideas were taken up; AP will slow the later game. But I reckon a couple of hours for a 3p game will be sensible - and some games might take a fraction of that.

Value

Not cheap. I resisted it for a while on that basis. Finally got a new ebay copy with shipping included that made it more attractive. But after one game, I think I'd've paid the asking price, if I had to.

Summary

Excellent first game. Tricky to teach, but fun, great variety, many interesting decisions, thematic, challenging, semi-co-op, cut-throat, complex, mix-it-up blast to play. Recommended.



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Ben Schomp
United States
Waxhaw
North Carolina
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You hit on a lot of topics/fears I've been tossing around when considering this game.

Thanks for the report!
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spags
United States
Ill Mil
Wisconsin
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Nice review. A game that really needs about 3 plays with experienced players to really grasp the nuances.

Then, the real games begin.
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John R.
Canada
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I also played it for the first time last night. We played 4-player with 3 Loyalists and one Restorationist, all new to the game. It was fairly obvious 3-4 turns in what side each person represented, and once the Restorationist was on the ropes the knives came out among the Loyalists. The vampire player snagged a couple of cities from the other Loyalists in the last two turns and won the game.

It seems like a game with a potentially high frustration factor, in that it's fairly easy for others to sabotage you (and vice versa, of course). Two other games that fall into this category for me are Francis Drake and Vanuatu, where you can be screwed by the cut-throat bidding mechanic, though in ASiE it's the ease with which things can change that does it - that said, this same feature allows you some flexibility to pick up points in other ways or to recover lost cities fairly quickly if you want to invest the actions to do so.

It's hard to tell with one play, but it looks like one of those games where you take a while jockeying for position, then in one or two turns grab a bunch of stuff to trigger the endgame and jump into the winning spot. These sorts of games tend to make me feel as if the leadup to those last couple of turns is irrelevant, or if the ending is somehow more 'random' because of it. I definitely enjoyed it (what's not to like about the Cthulhu mythos, even if the idea of Old Ones as European royalty borders on the ridiculous?) but I'll have to give it another few plays to see if it becomes one that I truly enjoy or if I'll end up dismissing it as too irritating to bother with.
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Chester
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Temple
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If players are not carefully guarding their secret role, and perhaps doing things to intentionally sow confusion regarding it, I think its suboptimal play. In my experience novice players tend to get too caught up in helping their "team" improve its position, but that really has very little to do with playing the game to win. And very few games survive players who are not playing to win.
 
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Maxfield Stewart
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West Hills
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I got a play in last night and it didn't go over well with the table. But the table was full of people who prefer clear cut rules and direct point acquisition mechanics. While they don't mind games with high interactivity they don't like games that have unclear ways in which they can get blocked.

So there was a lot of grumbles about the Double Agent mechanic for example. One player built an assasination focused deck and got upset about madness/royalty and felt that made his deck worthless. Funnily enough that was the winning player. No one besides me liked the hidden roles. There was much argument that the roles should be obvious at the start otherwise it's not clear what you should be doing as a player. Basically, they didn't "get it".

Meanwhile I was thoroughly enjoying it. I took an early lead with city points, then was trying to build a spike the restoration track deck, which revealed my role somewhat early. Which I felt was fine as I had multiple agents on the board. As the restorationist team became obvious and the loyalists were crushed by indecision, it became cut-throat and I was crushed by city swapping, which almost pushed me to last place and costs the restorationists the win entirely.

With the group I had, I'm thankful we didn't get any zombie or vampires into play, as the additional rules would've frustrated them further. Ultimately the play was ruined by those who weren't having that much fun, but I'm looking forward to playing again with people who don't mind games with a bit more chaos and theme.

My one complaint would be the board design. It's very busy, making it really hard to read what's going on. If the background had been in black and white/greyscale or muted colors so the spaces on the board that had mechanical value were more obvious, it would've been nicer.

My advice to others is, don't play this game with people that don't like chaotic/experience based games or whom need clear, obvious choices upfront to feel comfortable playing well.
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