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Subject: A game designers view of Viceroy - it could have been great rss

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Mike L.
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My goal here is to give a game designers perspective of board games. Because something I love to do is to tear into all of the mechanics of a game and determine ways to improve gameplay. My expectations writing this are you understand the game and have read a review that goes over the basic rules. Note, you should only read this review if you are OK seeing the mechanics of a game picked apart and possibly if you want to hear some unfounded ideas on how to make it better.

With that, I have played Viceroy once as a 4 player game. It wasn't a great once and took forever, but I got to see a lot of the nuances of the game what worked and failed.

I will start off by saying that the game's premise is great, the whole idea of building a pyramid of cards, then scoring and gaining bonuses based on height, color combos, etc. is wonderful. As many have said, the theme is completely pasted on, so I will only say that the art is beautiful.

Now, on to the nitty-gritty and why this turned out to only be an OK game when it really could have been great.

The Setup

You start viceroy off with a few starting resources:
- 2 random character cards (draw 4, build 1 and keep 1 in hand) - Characters cost gems to build and get better (and more expensive) the higher they are built in your pyramid, so a free first level card doesn't really break the game. But, from the untrained eye, it does seem to be very beneficial for a player to start the game with an uncontested infinite resource (aka infinigems, essentially a free gem for putting out characters every turn for the entire game). Note, I assume that all cards are created equal as far as their total abilities per card, but some are more powerful at the bottom of a pyramid and some are better at the top. What could have been done: this is a pretty mild issue, but it would have helped if the game had a set of starting cards. The fix: Not super important, but you could force players to redraw if they draw a level 1 infiniGem card.

- 3 random laws in hand - Laws are free to play, go into your pyramid and go from almost useless to ridiculously powerful, which means players can randomly get a huge boost just due to luck at the beginning of the game. I'm looking at you referendum card, the card that allows a player to swap 2 tokens or double the bonus of a token, there are probably more but just the fact that they are there is enough for me to say for shame. What could have been done: Spent additional time testing and balancing these cards. The Fix: pull the broken cards from the law deck.

- 6 random gems (max of 2 of one color, there are 4 colors). The various colors don't seem to focus on any particular abilities, so its not that big of a deal if you randomly lose 2 gems of a color especially at the beginning of the game.

After getting your resources, you shuffle all of the unused character cards into a deck, then split it into a random 48 card bid deck and an extra character deck. All of the bid cards may be bid on during the game and the extra characters are only obtained by special draw effect cards. Now, this randomly splitting of a single deck into these two piles seems fairly innocuous. However, if you plan on building any sort of long term strategy this actually hurts a lot, because you never know which cards are actually going to be available for bid during the game. This forces players to always be tactical, instead of trying for strategic. I assume the game designer took the perspective of each card has so many abilities that its a wash, but I waited the entire game for the +4 points from red circles and never found it *rabble rabble rabble*. What could have been done: Have a standard group of characters (maybe 36) in the bid deck every game with a random group of additional characters that round it off and those could be the side deck. Another way, use a standard 36 character cards and don’t have a side deck. The bid deck could just be 60 cards and when players get to draw they can pick a card from either the law deck or the bid deck, this would allow players going with a huge pyramid to set the game’s pace. The Fix: Not sure if this balances, but make the bid deck out of cards 1-36 and randomly pull the remaining cards from cards 37+ to fill it out to the rest.

The Gameplay (*phew*)

The turn structure is bid on character cards, then build up to three characters/laws into your pyramid. This happens 12 times and then the game ends and you calculate your score 7 wonders style.

Bidding
The bid system is a bit weird, it is kind of a bluffing game, but not. Each player secretly bids a gem color which corresponds to a character card or two in the 4 colored bid rows. If you are the only one who bids a color, then you pay the bidded gem to the bank and take one of the character cards associated with your bid color into hand. If more players bid on a color than there are cards, then all players lose their bidded gem and they do another round of bidding. If two people bid on two cards they can discuss who takes what or disagree and do an additional round of bidding, but lose their gems in either case. Players can spend up to 3 gems in this process to get a card they don't really want. What is weird about this is that character cards have so many abilities, circle connections and a player’s pyramid gets so convoluted by mid game, that it is hard if not impossible to guess what everyone else is going to bid on each round. This is made even worse by the fact that the types and number of gems a player has is hidden. So, you essentially have to bid on what you want and hope for the best. If someone else wants the same card, then you have to play chicken with the other player in hopes of getting your card. What could have been done/The Fix: Gems that would be lost due to two people wanting the same card are instead set aside in front of the player and can’t be used for further bidding that game round. If you win a card, you lose the bidded gem and any set aside gems of that color. Gems of the other colors are returned to the player. This way you aren't heavily penalized for getting your second choice card.

The build phase

Players play up to 3 character or law cards into their pyramid paying the corresponding price to get the corresponding bonus on cards. I have no issues with this, however it seems weird that the only incentive to build cards at the beginning of the game is to get gems for buying/building cards closer to the end of the game, to use your infinigems and so you can see how your cards freaking fit together. I found it really hard to figure out where best to stick my 5 cards in hand into my pyramid. I assume I just need practice.

End game
Other than the law cards that give ridiculous amounts of points, it seems like each path to victory should balance out. But, with only 1 game under my belt, I will need more plays would to verify.

Final Thoughts
The bidding system is weird, the game as is seems very chancy, but building your pyramid is pretty satisfying and you have a lot of hard decisions throughout. In my books the game gets a 6 out of 10, and I personally would only want to play it again with at least a few of the fixes mentioned.
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Steve Rowlands
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To come to such decisions after one play seems a little presumptuous. Surely your insight needs to be backed up with more plays and then if they still seem to hold you are in a much better position to be taken seriously - just using your own advice of expecting someone to be critical and helping you improve your reviews.
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Garth van Doorn
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Presumptuous is the word. I'm left wth no clear impression as to what actually stops this game being "great" in the OP's opinion, little confidence in the quality of the "fixes", and no confidence that he is sufficiently experienced with the game to present such a critique after only one play.

I would be interested to hear OP reflect on his opinion of drawbacks after further plays, and possibly practical experience implementing the fixes suggested. As pointed out in the critique, development time and playtesting matter.
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William Garner

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You can give your opinion after one 4 player game, but that is wrong. You need to play it with 2, 3 and 4 player counts multiple times. Giving your opinion before that makes you seem like a bad reviewer. Every review I have watched or read the reviewer has played a bunch of times to see the differences and learn the way the cards work better at different levels and situations. I am not trying to make you mad but please give it a bunch more plays before giving it a bad rating. Please try it more times and come back and let us know if you like it differently. Then I will respect your review.
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John Garrett
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I can't see why Mike's observations on the bidding mechanism in any way requires him to play even one game!
I am a KS backer and the bidding mechanic has always been a concern to me.
It is not an issue in two-player as effectively all parties are equally penalised but his bringing it up is valid and in describing the bidding to other gamers I play with has generally had a similar or stronger response.
Now if you like to have 'spoofing' or negotiation as part of a game then fine, but that is not to the taste of a lot of players and the potentially large penalty in this game may turn a lot of players away from it as a 3/4 player experience.

It is sad that all Mike got was criticism rather than an open discussion as to the points he raised.
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Mark Brown
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Interesting views Mike.

It seems that you prefer a game with very little randomness. The card fixes you propose would reduce randomness. I like the randomness. It provides a challenge to decide the best strategy based on the starting cards, and the cards that are revealed in the auctions. In my opinion the set up as designed helps the replay ability.


As far as the bidding system. I think it is genius. The games I have played (so far only 2), the bidding system led to negotiation and bluffing before the bid. It was an enjoyable part of the experience. I think if I played a game where people just secretly revealed a gem without any words being spoken, it would be ridiculously boring and frustrating. The negotiation makes it fun. Give it a try.

Both of my games were under an hour. Viceroy never over stayed its welcome at the table.
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Rick Teverbaugh
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I am glad to see the OP's desire to deflect criticism in his disclaimer failed. His experience, should you call it that is so far from mine as to make it.unworkable as even a discussion point.
 
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Matt Smith
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I'm always leery of single-play reviews. Unless a game is ridiculously simple and obvious, one play will rarely provide enough insight to determine if it's a good game design.

However, one play can be enough to decide if a game suits one's play style preferences. I think that is what's going on with this "review". The OP went in expecting a game with long-term strategy options, and came away feeling let down (it is a very tactical game). He also didn't like (or didn't experience) the meta-game of the bidding/bluffing auction phase. This is one aspect of the game that I agree will not be for some players.

One area I strongly disagree with is the perceived unbalanced benefit of getting an infinite gem as the starting card. I've played three games so far, and my highest score was when I had the least number of infinite gems. I propose it may be better to start with a card that provides 3-4 gems of your choice, so you can have more flexibility in the next couple of Auction and Development phases, and can deplete some of the gem supply right away.

That's the risk with writing a "review" of a game after a single play. It's okay to say what you didn't like about that one play experience, probably in a session report or general post, but it's premature to say this game is a good or bad design based on a single play.
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simon thornton
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Quote:
One area I strongly disagree with is the perceived unbalanced benefit of getting an infinite gem as the starting card. I've played three games so far, and my highest score was when I had the least number of infinite gems


Who do we believe then , you who have played it 3 times or the reviewer who has played it once ?
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Ian Noble
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nitro9090 wrote:
With that, I have played Viceroy once as a 4 player game. It wasn't a great once and took forever, but I got to see a lot of the nuances of the game what worked and failed.


Aaaaand....I'm out.
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Ah, a negative review. Time to pick one of the usual defensive comments from the ol' BGG Geek Rage List

1) You didn't play the game enough
2) You don't understand the game
3) You got a rule wrong
4) You didn't play with the right amount of people

I'll go with (1) on this one. You have to play the game at least 14.2 times. There is no way a human being could play a board game and actually understand it after a play! That's impossible! Board games are more complicated than neurosurgery!
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Matt Smith
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bluekingzog wrote:
Quote:
One area I strongly disagree with is the perceived unbalanced benefit of getting an infinite gem as the starting card. I've played three games so far, and my highest score was when I had the least number of infinite gems


Who do we believe then , you who have played it 3 times or the reviewer who has played it once ?

I was just trying to provide evidence that proposing something is broken after one play is dangerous. Based on the beginner suggestions in the rulebook, I too thought getting infinite gems early was going to be a big advantage, so I did so in my first two games. Both games I scored in the 60's. In my third game I went for magic and direct VP tokens when possible, and only got one infinite gem mid-game. My score was 82, and would have been in the 90's if I hadn't forgotten to get one shield to complete a set. I didn't even follow my own suggestion of getting free gems with my first card, as it was a solo game. I went with a magic scroll as my first card (a move that some would likely say is foolish, as it doesn't improve your economy). But based on my other starting card, and in a solo game, I knew I could get a jump start on scoring magic, and could get more gems with future card purchases. That initial scroll ended up being worth 9 points, due to having three 3VP scroll bonus tokens.

After my first two games, I could have concluded that the best thing to do on the final turn is to get a card that provides gems, so you can paint the rest of your circles and score a lot of points from them. But in my third game, I grabbed a card on my last turn that, when combined with a card in my hand, allow me to create a green circle and get an 8 VP token for a total of 10 VP from playing that one card. That's more points than I could have scored by painting my remaining circles, so it was the better play.

This game is very tactical and situational. So concluding one starting play (infinite gem) is clearly better than another after one play is not seeing the forest for the trees. Even only two more plays than the OP had has shown me some of my initials thoughts on strategy to be wrong.
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Ian Noble
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I don't see much rage. But when you claim "My goal here is to give a game designers perspective of board games. Because something I love to do is to tear into all of the mechanics of a game and determine ways to improve gameplay.", I think there is a reasonable expectation that you've played the game in question at least .1% of the times the actual designer has play-tested said game.
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Aren't some of your concerns fixed by other of your concerns? Perhaps the reason that there is such a harsh penalty for bidding on the same card is because some of the cards are inherently more powerful than others.

That is part of the design --early in the game, there may be a card with strong low-tier powers that is the "obvious choice" instead of a lame game where everyone grabs the obvious choice, you must stop to consider that yeah, that infinite gem is more powerful...and my opponent will probably go for it as well....hmmm do I just bid, or bluff, or negotiate, or play it safe and choose something else? This is also very thematic. Imagine that you are building your government by recruiting these individuals. When multiple Kingdoms are vying for the same individual, they have more options, which leads to both a delay and a higher price. (again, this is the part of balancing their perceived higher value).

Now look what is happening with a common element of a game --cost of a commodity, It could be set (easy and static) or an auction (perceived value determined by players) or they could create a hybrid of set cost and perceived value, which they have done. They have worked a metagame into the cost structure of a commodity that allows for player interaction and a market set by perceived value instead of set value. This is pretty interesting if you think about it from a design perspective. If this were changed, the player interaction in this game would be negligible.

To complain about the mechanic and then a separate mechanic that balances out the first one is short sighted. These are not isolated elements, they are interconnected and have more nuanced, complex relationships than I think you realize. You have played a game, and then proposed numerous fixes? Not saying that you have to love the game or are not allowed to critique it, but as others have stated, you won't be taken seriously with this approach. You come off as impetuous which isn't a common trait for one who professes to dabble in, or even appreciate game design. I think the game you propose via your changes would remove the tension, re-playability, and any excitement.
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simon thornton
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Sorry Matt I was being sarcastic . I agree with you it seems premature to jump to the conclusion getting a certain card breaks the game at the start. This reviewer may even be right but it seems pretty premature and the evidence for the assertion is pretty thin after one game.


Quote:
Ah, a negative review. Time to pick one of the usual defensive comments from the ol' BGG Geek Rage List



There arent enough negative reviews on BGG because people are less inclined to play multiple times games they dont like. This will also make them feel ill placed to judge a game after a only a few plays.

Of course with games we like the reverse is true , we like talking about it and have played it a lot and so can appreciate its subleties.


This would have been a more valid review it is was called first impressions or initial impressions. Then we could have approached the review with a pinch of salt.


I think the reviewer is overreaching himself wanting to to 'fix' another designers game after 1 play. Even if the reviewer is right !
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Instead of a review; it should be a session report. The OP doesn't like games that can be swingy, this one can be, cool.
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Eric Matthews
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broken clock wrote:
Ah, a negative review. Time to pick one of the usual defensive comments from the ol' BGG Geek Rage List

1) You didn't play the game enough
2) You don't understand the game
3) You got a rule wrong
4) You didn't play with the right amount of people

I'll go with (1) on this one. You have to play the game at least 14.2 times. There is no way a human being could play a board game and actually understand it after a play! That's impossible! Board games are more complicated than neurosurgery!


There's a difference between understanding how a game plays and understanding the nuance in game play elements such as the valuation of each element (i.e. This card is OP).

While many can absolutely judge whether they like a game or if it's generally a decent game from one play or even less, it's totally legitimate to question a reviewer's grasp of the nuance of game elements when they've only played the game once but are suggesting specific ways to rebalance the game.

Maybe this reviewer is a super genius and is so well versed in gameplay and game design as to be able to truly judge the values and balance at a mere glance. Maybe he is even right. But I will ALWAYS be skeptical of any review based on a single gameplay.

I ask the OP, as a designer, would you trust any single playtester's every suggestion after they played through your prototype one time?
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Anders Pedersen
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bluekingzog wrote:
There arent enough negative reviews on BGG because people are less inclined to play multiple times games they dont like. This will also make them feel ill placed to judge a game after a only a few plays.

And if they actually play "enough" games, people will be saying "but it must have been worth something, since you have played it that much!"
It is a lose/lose situation
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Kevin Garnica
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nitro9090 wrote:
My goal here is to give a game designers perspective of board games. Because something I love to do is to tear into all of the mechanics of a game and determine ways to improve gameplay. My expectations writing this are you understand the game and have read a review that goes over the basic rules. Note, you should only read this review if you are OK seeing the mechanics of a game picked apart and possibly if you want to hear some unfounded ideas on how to make it better.

With that, I have played Viceroy once as a 4 player game. It wasn't a great once and took forever, but I got to see a lot of the nuances of the game what worked and failed.

I will start off by saying that the game's premise is great, the whole idea of building a pyramid of cards, then scoring and gaining bonuses based on height, color combos, etc. is wonderful. As many have said, the theme is completely pasted on, so I will only say that the art is beautiful.

Now, on to the nitty-gritty and why this turned out to only be an OK game when it really could have been great.

The Setup

You start viceroy off with a few starting resources:
- 2 random character cards (draw 4, build 1 and keep 1 in hand) - Characters cost gems to build and get better (and more expensive) the higher they are built in your pyramid, so a free first level card doesn't really break the game. But, from the untrained eye, it does seem to be very beneficial for a player to start the game with an uncontested infinite resource (aka infinigems, essentially a free gem for putting out characters every turn for the entire game). Note, I assume that all cards are created equal as far as their total abilities per card, but some are more powerful at the bottom of a pyramid and some are better at the top. What could have been done: this is a pretty mild issue, but it would have helped if the game had a set of starting cards. The fix: Not super important, but you could force players to redraw if they draw a level 1 infiniGem card.

- 3 random laws in hand - Laws are free to play, go into your pyramid and go from almost useless to ridiculously powerful, which means players can randomly get a huge boost just due to luck at the beginning of the game. I'm looking at you referendum card, the card that allows a player to swap 2 tokens or double the bonus of a token, there are probably more but just the fact that they are there is enough for me to say for shame. What could have been done: Spent additional time testing and balancing these cards. The Fix: pull the broken cards from the law deck.

- 6 random gems (max of 2 of one color, there are 4 colors). The various colors don't seem to focus on any particular abilities, so its not that big of a deal if you randomly lose 2 gems of a color especially at the beginning of the game.

After getting your resources, you shuffle all of the unused character cards into a deck, then split it into a random 48 card bid deck and an extra character deck. All of the bid cards may be bid on during the game and the extra characters are only obtained by special draw effect cards. Now, this randomly splitting of a single deck into these two piles seems fairly innocuous. However, if you plan on building any sort of long term strategy this actually hurts a lot, because you never know which cards are actually going to be available for bid during the game. This forces players to always be tactical, instead of trying for strategic. I assume the game designer took the perspective of each card has so many abilities that its a wash, but I waited the entire game for the +4 points from red circles and never found it *rabble rabble rabble*. What could have been done: Have a standard group of characters (maybe 36) in the bid deck every game with a random group of additional characters that round it off and those could be the side deck. Another way, use a standard 36 character cards and don’t have a side deck. The bid deck could just be 60 cards and when players get to draw they can pick a card from either the law deck or the bid deck, this would allow players going with a huge pyramid to set the game’s pace. The Fix: Not sure if this balances, but make the bid deck out of cards 1-36 and randomly pull the remaining cards from cards 37+ to fill it out to the rest.

The Gameplay (*phew*)

The turn structure is bid on character cards, then build up to three characters/laws into your pyramid. This happens 12 times and then the game ends and you calculate your score 7 wonders style.

Bidding
The bid system is a bit weird, it is kind of a bluffing game, but not. Each player secretly bids a gem color which corresponds to a character card or two in the 4 colored bid rows. If you are the only one who bids a color, then you pay the bidded gem to the bank and take one of the character cards associated with your bid color into hand. If more players bid on a color than there are cards, then all players lose their bidded gem and they do another round of bidding. If two people bid on two cards they can discuss who takes what or disagree and do an additional round of bidding, but lose their gems in either case. Players can spend up to 3 gems in this process to get a card they don't really want. What is weird about this is that character cards have so many abilities, circle connections and a player’s pyramid gets so convoluted by mid game, that it is hard if not impossible to guess what everyone else is going to bid on each round. This is made even worse by the fact that the types and number of gems a player has is hidden. So, you essentially have to bid on what you want and hope for the best. If someone else wants the same card, then you have to play chicken with the other player in hopes of getting your card. What could have been done/The Fix: Gems that would be lost due to two people wanting the same card are instead set aside in front of the player and can’t be used for further bidding that game round. If you win a card, you lose the bidded gem and any set aside gems of that color. Gems of the other colors are returned to the player. This way you aren't heavily penalized for getting your second choice card.

The build phase

Players play up to 3 character or law cards into their pyramid paying the corresponding price to get the corresponding bonus on cards. I have no issues with this, however it seems weird that the only incentive to build cards at the beginning of the game is to get gems for buying/building cards closer to the end of the game, to use your infinigems and so you can see how your cards freaking fit together. I found it really hard to figure out where best to stick my 5 cards in hand into my pyramid. I assume I just need practice.

End game
Other than the law cards that give ridiculous amounts of points, it seems like each path to victory should balance out. But, with only 1 game under my belt, I will need more plays would to verify.

Final Thoughts
The bidding system is weird, the game as is seems very chancy, but building your pyramid is pretty satisfying and you have a lot of hard decisions throughout. In my books the game gets a 6 out of 10, and I personally would only want to play it again with at least a few of the fixes mentioned.


If you want a Porsche, go to a Porsche dealer. Don't test drive a Camery and complain it doesn't handle corners very well.
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Jeffrey Speer
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Come on guys, he IS right about the Referendum card though. It's 15-20 points for just playing it. There's no negative. It is random who starts with it.
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Rick Teverbaugh
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I can shoot 500 times at something and hit it once but that doesn't make me a marksman.
 
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Andrew Preston
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I'm going to have to agree on the broken law card point though. The way the game is structured it is always to your benefit to go for one main way to score points or another. On my first play I had roughly over 120 points all added together with a major emphasis on scrolls. That token swapping rule played on the last turn had someone steal my Scroll+5 replacing it with a static 12 points and instantly remove over 20+ points from my score(read, I would have had 30+ with that token added). I went from easily 1st to 2nd by only 5 points. And the guy who swapped tokens was 3rd

It would be just as bad if I'd had something that could have doubled a point bonus. I would have gotten an insane amount of points. Way too influential if you get lucky and land one of those. I think the swords and auctioning is enough interaction for me.

PS edit - Despite that horrible ending, I enjoyed the game and would probably just pull those cards from my copy if I end up getting it.
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John Hansel
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Kaworu17 wrote:
Come on guys, he IS right about the Referendum card though. It's 15-20 points for just playing it. There's no negative. It is random who starts with it.


I had a hard time removing this card (referendum) from the game until I learned that it is an add-on (stretch goal) from the kickstarter and not part of the original design.

We don't even know if the designer had a role in including this card in the game or if it was the publisher that created the card. It is okay to leave it out and not feel bad.
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Tyrone ..................
United States
Salt Lake City
Utah
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nitro9090 wrote:

Bidding
The bid system is a bit weird, it is kind of a bluffing game, but not. Each player secretly bids a gem color which corresponds to a character card or two in the 4 colored bid rows. If you are the only one who bids a color, then you pay the bidded gem to the bank and take one of the character cards associated with your bid color into hand. If more players bid on a color than there are cards, then all players lose their bidded gem and they do another round of bidding. If two people bid on two cards they can discuss who takes what or disagree and do an additional round of bidding, but lose their gems in either case. Players can spend up to 3 gems in this process to get a card they don't really want. What is weird about this is that character cards have so many abilities, circle connections and a player’s pyramid gets so convoluted by mid game, that it is hard if not impossible to guess what everyone else is going to bid on each round. This is made even worse by the fact that the types and number of gems a player has is hidden. So, you essentially have to bid on what you want and hope for the best. If someone else wants the same card, then you have to play chicken with the other player in hopes of getting your card. What could have been done/The Fix: Gems that would be lost due to two people wanting the same card are instead set aside in front of the player and can’t be used for further bidding that game round. If you win a card, you lose the bidded gem and any set aside gems of that color. Gems of the other colors are returned to the player. This way you aren't heavily penalized for getting your second choice card.


How about a bid mechanic where if 2 people are fighting for the same gem location they can negotiate for one to get the card and the other gets both the bidded gems?
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Jesse Whitehead
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Chattanooga
Tennessee
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I for one am really impressed by this review from a "game designer" that owns a whole 29 games and has played this game ONCE. I feel like the mods should reject any review if the reviewer mentions that they've only played it once lol
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