Some days ago, user JGGarrido, posted some of his personal feedback in a spanish boardgame forums after playing the game. During the last days, some of his opponents have chimed in with their own thoughts.
Since JGGarrido is affiliated with the Spanish publisher for the second edition of A Study in Emerald, he built a print and play version of the game using files sent to the publisher for translation purposes, and tested the game with his own gaming group.
He included several pictures to illustrate the thread and I will try to post them here but please, remember this is a print and play edition using what seems to be release-ready graphic assets. That means we can't judge component quality issues such as cardboard thickness or card/board size, but I doubt the art direction would change significantly at this stage of publication. None of these components are final, however. The rules used are those being translated for the spanish localization of the game. Nevertheless, remember some late tweaks could be introduced at a latter date.
Again, please note the following are first impressions after playing the game, not a propper, well structured review. It's the best thing we have at this time, however, since these comments come from people who have actually played the game in a 'very close to release' state. It will probably undergo little changes, since I guess printing should start pretty soon, as the spanish version of the game is scheduled to be arriving to stores in october.
The following is a translation of JJGarrido and friends' posts
One of the other players jumps into the discussion:
This weekend I got some spare time and crafted a quick Print&Play of this second edition of A Study in Emerald. (I had to write some things with a pen, because they were left blank)
Here I think it will be worth it to analize two games we had this very evening. I have to admit the game has greatly surprised me. I was very doubtful before reading the rules, and I had some doubts left after reading them, but now I must say I found the end result to be really good.
The first thing I will say, as I always do when I do these things, is to warn you: I'm showing you a P&P, played with the current version of the rules I have access to (I'd say they are 95% finished) and my opinion is absolutely sincere (and I understand there will be people who don't believe me, but it's the truth)
We were 4 players. One of them had never played the first edition. The other three had, no less than 5 games each.
Explaining the rules took me about 25 minutes, since I also explained the differences among both editions so we could get into the context and be able to reach more solid conclussions. The explanation could easily be reduced to 15-20 minutes without missing any details, which is almost half of what would take you to propperly explain the first edition of the game.
The setup: As you can see, the Old One in Berlin appeared first, when revealing the first card of its deck, so it was a valid assasination objective from the get go.
Everything quiet after two rounds. Each one going at his leisure trying to find valuable cards for their decks. Red and green start blocking each other to get the Berlin city card (5 points)
As the game goes on, more Old Ones appear and tensions rise when trying to get certain cards. By now there are not many clues about each other's loyalty (Loyalist or Restorationist). I must say here that having Old Ones appearing from decks and not being present in the board since setup really encourages agent mobility and usage, since as the Old One is not guaranteed to be there for a long time (as someone could try kill or hide it before you can) it's standard to see constant movement from one city to the next trying to block other players.
The sides start to take shape, and the Loyalist starts advancing his score track. Now, Loyalist/Restorationist trackers are much more important, as score is calculated according to the difference between both trackers. Allowing the enemy to move his marker along his track without moving yours does not seem an option, since there are so many points at stake.
Fights continue, being more agressive each time, and so does marker movement. A pair of Old Ones have already dead and you can really feel the scarcity of influence cubes. Agents are, again, key to break or keep majorities. Two of them have been killed along the way.
The endgame draws near and tracks and score start rising rapidly every round. Old Ones and cities still are appearing in the decks at a steady pace.
There are fewer and fewer agents on the board and I (Red) get a hand of cards that allows me to end the game. I had counted my points wrong, thinking Green would have a lower score, but I forgot I had loyalist victory points that would not add anything to my score. As I finished the game pushing the restorationist track forward, we counted score and I lost. Yellow was the only Loyalist. He scored very few points and had 5 points substracted from him because he was the last one in his side, so he had a very low endgame score. The Green restorationist won the game.
My impressions after two games. (I will follow up as we play more games)
It's a very good game. Its agile, fast, tense and very very streamlined game. It's only flaw is having arrived after his big brother. I'm sure it will be liked by both people who have never played the first edition and people who have. It's true that the tactical component drops in favour of a faster game. Majorities are much more important and cards are much more balanced. You will almost always have a plan B to block another player, get majority in one city, use the turn to get back lots of cubes or get many cards at the same time (that's a change I love) Assasinations now can be done in several areas with one single action, too. A festival of death.
Changing the sanity tokens for the die was a great decission. It's now faster. Variety in cards is huge, since there is only one repeated card in the deck: Hired assassin (2 copies). Having Old Ones and cities come from decks increasesinteraction and, from one turn to the next, you can find your quiet city has turned into a rave party. Deckbuilding is also emphasized, although the starting deck is good, it's not enough for most interesting actions (assassinations, special actions, free actions, massive agent movement...)
It fulfills what it promises: 60 minutes per game.
Among the four people who played, I would give the game a high rating. The one player who didn't play the previous edition agrees on this second edition being a great game, which makes you desire to play again right after finishing a game. The other two people, who had played the previous edition, agree on this game being much easier to get to the table, in spite of the changes when compared to the previous edition.
Both miss the coins and other details, but they agree agent movement changes and getting rid of blocking disks was a great decision.
As in every issue, if you have the first edition and manage to get it to the table often, and you prefer a longer game with all it's bells and whistles, I don't think it makes too much sense to but a copy of this second edition. I sold my first edition and I'm sure between paying more than 60€ for the first edition (supposing you can find it for that price) or 40€ for the second one, given the ammount of spare time I have, I would pick the second edition without a doubt.
Maybe after some more games, my opinion will fluctuate, but in any case I will be back here when I can.
Another player chimes in:
I am the player who hadn't played the first edition of the game, so I won't be able to compare to it's predecessor. I have to admit watching the images of the first game has already made me eager to play again, and that's exactly what happened after finishing it. We were getting ready the game to play again without notice.
The explanation was fast, with no boredom nor doubt during the game. Everything is pretty intuitive, including card iconography. (I don't know if the previous edition used the same iconography)
Regarding the first game, it was rare to find yourself without something to do with your turn because you always felt like you had a great plan, something that doesn't happen in most games, where the first game is pretty disorienting. Blocking that damned Loyalist or Restorationist (guessing his loyalty) either with agents or influencing cities. Or gathering influence for future plans anticipating yourself to the rest. Or getting a certain character (Sherlock, is it you?) to work for you and your interests. 9 cities seem enough, but there will be fighting in more than one area.
Maybe I was the one with more analisis paralisys during the first two rounds. Maybe I took a few seconds too many, which is something that did not happen on the second game but for certain key moments. Turns felt fast, and we finished in 45 minutes.
Something JGGarrido did not comment on are the 3 ways the game can end:
-Restorationist or Loyalist trackers reach 10.
-A player gets 22 points.
-Someone belonging to the restorationists lose 3 sanity points (explained in the loyalty card)
In the first two games, we had the first two conditions. ¿Why is that important? It means in addition to keeping the other players in check, any of these three conditions can happen. Yes, most games have different end conditions... but most games end in the same way (in Battlestar Galactica, how many times have cylons won because a Centurion reaches the ending of the track? How many times have they won because the ship had 5 damaged parts? not many) That is, for me, a great point about this game.
I therefore think this is a great game, and it's already in my wishlist because of how it flows, how tense it feels, and because I love to watch the other players on their turn to guess their loyalties and plans: Are they going to get that card? Are they planning to kill or hide an Old One? ¿Are they trying to kill one of my agents?!
In addition, card variability is really interesting (in a single game you won't see all of them) There are no "filler" cards and you will be able to take advantage of all of them without exception, since actions are fairly well distributed among them. In one hour, with people who know how to play, you can get the game to the table, set it up, play, and put the game back on its shelf. The set up is fast and easy.
I like the art of the game, but that is a matter of taste. The atmosphere is good, and if you have a bit of imagination, you can weave great stories during the game. Beware, a vampire could be waiting for you in a dark alley...
JGGarrido explains the second playthrough with this group:
I'm the Green player, who won on that game.
I'll start with those things I didn't like. The new art is good (for those who like it) but I find it infinitely worse. Both the board and the cards. I'm sorry but I find them ugly. On the other hand, the print & play we played was good because it used small cards and I feel it would be great to use small cards instead of the final cards, which will be bigger. I find the first edition used too much table space, and I would have liked the second edition to be less demanding size-wise, as it is supposed to be the more streamlined edition. Anyway, I think most people will disagree with me and will love big cards.
Now, let's go with things I liked. Having JGGarrido join those selling his first edition hurt a lot, since I couldn't afford it. When I heard about a second edition I loved the news, but when I learned about it being streamlined and changed I was completely against it, as I was sure they were going to change the rules to increase sales among casual players and turn this into an introductory game.
Finally, the game we played yesterday was a revelation. It was a surprise to find playability improved in this new edition. I loved the lack of blocking disks the most. While explaining the game I disliked having cities inside the decks (the Old Ones being hidden seemed thematic for me, having read the short story) Again, it was humbling to find out it works great, although it makes no sense thematically.
The deckbuilding mechanic gains more weight. there are some more combos and the majoriy mechanic makes confrontation much more direct. There are no cubes you can buy during the game, in this edition the influence is all yours from the very beginning, divided between your reserve and limbo.
In short, It's a much more playable edition, faster, funier, more interactive, and uglier.
It took us about 5 minutes to set everything up to the initial position in order to play again. We started playing inmediately, and now by round 3 we were pretty distributed on the map. As in the previous game, there was a lot of fighting, but we kept waiting some turns before we started fighting for the spaces. Green (hechigenio) showed his intentions pretty fast as he jumped straight to get te vampire card
I spent my turns going around the map looking for city cards and I exposed myself too much. Yellow started hiring lots of agents and killing mine. I'm not sure if he already knew I was a Restorationist (and being a Loyalist, killing my agents will give him points at the endgame), or he just was mad at me, but by round 5, he had already killed two of my agents. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/110425056/study.JPG
When a player kills a rival agent now, what you do is to remove from the game the card that triggered the assasination (usually an agent card marked with an A, as a reminder of that card being suitable to be played to start an assassination) and you put the assasinated agent and put it on the card you used to kill it. At the end of the game, if the agent belonged to a Restorationist player and you were Loyalist, you score as many points as shown in the cards. (Usually 3 points, but there are cards that give you 4 or 5 points if you burn them for an assasination, but they have lots of different symbols)
The fact is, as you can see in the picture, I knew the Loyalist would win (Yellow and Green were Loyalists) because I was a Restorationist and when the loss of those 2 agents he already scored 9 points. So I focused on getting the "change of heart" card to change my loyalty and make sure Yellow would not get any point for assasinating my agents. (A Loyalist killing Loyalist agents doesn't score any points at the end)
But as score is virtual until the end of the game, Yellow pushed his track forward and activated endgame at 22 victory points. Game ended and the lone restorationist (Blue) won. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/110425056/IMG_20150602_1...
That pic was taken before taking into account 9 more points for Blue because of having killed 2 Old Ones. He clearly won.
In this second game, the Loyalist-Restorationist tracks did not move. We took about 45 minutes because analysis paralysis went down considerably and turns were fast. I think we played about 12-15 rounds in each game, so it felt tense and quick. The game can end without warning, so you have to play knowing the next turn could be the last. You must take advantage of your actions.
I had my doubts about the new rules when claiming cards and assassinations. Now, to claim a card it's not enough to do an action, but you need to have a certain symbol on a card to do so. Now, however, you can claim many cards at the same time with that single action if you have the most influence there (and at least one influence cube). Losing agents in this game hurts more than before. Now they are much more important since influence cubes are rare and losing turns in retrieving them or placing them can be expensive.
I hope I can get more and better pictures (in these I was more keen on learning the way the game works and remembering my feelings about the previous edition) I might even get a recorder and record a video of a game, since I feel it will allow those who know te game to completely understand the second edition.