- Lutz PietschkerGermany
A word of caution to start with: This is somewhere between a review and a "first impressions" report, as my experience with the game is based on no more than about eight solitaire games and two 4-player games. And thanks to Ian and Stephan who uploaded the images I included in this article!
The assumption of DRCongo is that we are large-scale investors who are trying to develop the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), helping the nation along a path to stability and prosperity… while prospering ourselves as we go along. After a variable number of turns our merits will be judged by our contributions to the nationwide industrial development, infrastructure (transportation), city development and participation in key peacekeeping missions. We start out with some money but must earn a lot more during the game to pay for what we want to do.
All this is done in a spirit of unashamed opportunism, as we must actually pay the key ministries of the country to do their job the way we think it ought to be done. Interestingly, the game does not make the assumption that the only "hope" for the DRC is cloning our highly sophisticated western ideas of democracy and bribery (usually called lobbyism) but that a more down-to-earth, pragmatic "cooperation for mutual benefit" could also set the DRC on the path to a development that would eliminate some of the horrors of daily life that we see there today.
The game board shows 11 provinces; the only pre-game development is in Kinshasa, where the government owns a level 3-city (the capital), a railway line and a shipping line. This is also the only province that will never see insurgents; the other 10 provinces start with 1 minor insurgent each. Each province shows what kind of industry can be developed there and whether it is possible to establish railways and shipping lines across its borders. Some provinces provide export lines; there is one well-paying overseas line from Matadi and four eastbound/inland export lines with lower returns. Some provinces are marked as particularly valuable by diamond icons.
Also on the board is a table displaying possible and current commodity prices for the 4 types of industry in the game: Agricultural produce, hydro-electric power, minerals and oil; each box in this table shows 2 prices, the higher one for overseas exports from Matadi, the other for inland exports through the eastern provinces.
Finally, a numbered track runs round the board to note rounds played, the level of city development, and the medals (victory points) the players have already earned. Marching backwards from the end of this track is a "target marker" that limits playing time: When it meets the city development marker, the game ends.
A very important game element are the "insurgents", irregular military forces that appear randomly and can be suppressed or eliminated by the players' and government peacekeeping forces; they come in 2 kinds, major (grey, combat value 6) and minor (white, combat value 4), and only one insurgent figure can be in a province at a time. You can do almost nothing in provinces controlled only by an insurgent of any kind, and actions are restricted if an insurgent is there but "suppressed", i.e. opposed by at least 1 peacekeeper.
Combat is simple: Total the number of peacekeepers, add the city value of the province's city (if any), add the roll of a 6-sided die; if the result exceeds the combat value of the insurgent, he is removed, otherwise each participating force removes 1 peacekeeper. Combat is mandatory only where major insurgencies are running; winning against these also gives all participating players a medal each, and a diamond (tiny, but looking rather genuine) if this is a diamond province.
The rules are broken down into sub-sets to allow a less steep learning curve, introducing the game mechanics in 4 steps. I only played the full or "Ragnar" game because the solo rules are based on it, but I think that in any case the full game is what you should play because only here you have the full experience of interlocking sub-plays that make the game a unique and tense experience.
In the full game, each player has a random starting province and a random sum of money to start with (somewhere between $10.000 and $12.000), with a small bonus payment for players late in the turn order (that is random on turn 1). Before the game starts, each player will place 1 or 2 peacekeepers and develop 1 industry in their provinces.
Here is what happens in a round:
First, players bid to control, for one round, one of the 3 ministers making up the relevant part of the government: Defence (placing and moving government troops), Finance (manipulating commodity prices) and Interior (taking actions similar to those of the players on the government's behalf). You have exactly one bid; the starting player bids first, and the others may bid any amount of $ different from any previous bid. The interesting part: To over-bid, you have to double the current top bid. Some interesting psychological play is involved here.
Next, a die roll determines whether export market prices will rise by 1, 2 or 3 steps.
Finally an offer of 3 support cards is revealed. All these cards represent international assistance and offer some benefit like money, industry take-overs, double-turns etc., and each player may choose one of these cards per round for free; the offer is always 3 cards and is replaced completely at the end of each round.
Now a block of 4 action rounds begins, with 1 action per round being taken, in turn order, by each player. Each action round starts with turning an action card that determines
- 1 province in which a major insurgency starts (or a minor one turns into a major),
- 2 provinces in which minor insurgencies start (or major ones turns into a minor),
- how many government troops (1-3) the defence ministry may place/move or be forced to remove,
- how much money the minister of the interior will add to his working capital and
- for which 1 or 2 industry types the finance minister will adjust market prices.
Now the defence minister places or removes troops, and combat occurs automatically in provinces where major insurgents are opposed by player or government peacekeepers. Next, the finance minister changes market prices of 1 or 2 resource types. The scene is now set for the upcoming player actions.
Of course, in case of the ministers, the players who won the bid on them will make the decisions, but each unbribed ministry has a default mode that works to the disadvantage of the players.
In his turn, a player may first deploy his peacekeepers (to a maximum of 2 per province per player) to keep insurgents in check, at a cost of $1000 per figure; if he wishes, he may also initiate combat with any of his peacekeepers. Then he has exactly 1 action, to be chosen from
Building industry: Place 1 industry in any province not totally in the hand of insurgents, at a cost of $1000 (agriculture) to $4000 (oil).
Place transport: Establish a railway or water link on certain borders ($2000), or a truck service on any ($1000) if neither of the adjacent provinces is controlled by insurgents. Transport is needed to get the resource cubes to the export provinces.
Develop a city: Build or develop a city; this is done in 3 steps (level 1, 2 and 3, costing $2000, $4000 and $6000), one level per action. Only 1 city can be in any province, and to develop it to a certain level you need as many industries (of different types) in that province or adjacent to it. This spends the industries (generally any industry token can only do one thing per round, either produce or contribute to city development). Each city development step gives you 1 medal immediately, and it advances the city development marker by 1 step; if this marker meets the target marker now, the game will end after this round.
Note that the government, represented by the interior minister, has a place in the turn order just like any player, and he can perform the same actions as the players. It is important to know that when he takes either of the previous actions, the controlling player can withdraw money from the government account (50% of what the minister's action was worth) into his own purse (in the spirit of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours", I guess), and medals for government-built cities are awarded to the currently controlling player.
Production: All your industries produce goods (cubes placed on top of the industry tokens) if you wish. Some industries produce 2 cubes if no insurgents are present, all others 1 cube.
Sell Resources: You can sell resources at this time, usually because you need some money urgently, or to profit from currently advantageous market prices. Other ways to get cash in the game is to move your medal marker backwards ($1000 per space) or cashing in diamonds ($500 each).
This repeats until all players have had 4 actions (passing is an option in desperate cases).
Normally resources are sold in the next phase of the round, after all players have had their actions. The way this works that one player (in turn order) sells all cubes of one resource type. When he has a route to an export province not held by insurgents, he can sell the resources for the price given in the commodity table, with the price dropping for every 3 cubes delivered. Then the next player repeats the process, and so on. Resources that can not be delivered for export (for example, because the route is blocked by insurgents or does not have the capacity needed) must be sold at a much lower price on the local market. Hydro power is slightly different in that it is not exported but sold to nearby cities; large cities pay better than small ones.
When a player has nothing more to sell when his turn comes around, he drops out; the order of dropping out determines the turn order for the next round: First to drop out, last to play- diversity of resources produced is rewarded with good places in the turn order.
Ah, I forgot to say: Transport is built & owned individually, but can be used free of cost by anyone! Before buying, consider whether the route created might benefit your opponents more than yourself (I speak from experience).
The resource sale pretty much concludes the round, the last ("reset") phase is mainly housekeeping: Moving the target marker towards the city development marker by 2 or 3 spaces, adjusting the resource table to a new base price one box below the last sales price, dealing new action and support cards and moving the turn marker. If city development marker and target marker have not met by now, a new round follows, otherwise it is scoring time.
For the final scoring, assets are converted into "medals" like this: Each transport owned and each industry count as 1 medal, each city twice its level (but industries/cities in the hand of unsuppressed insurgents are worthless). Up to 3 diamonds convert to one medal each. Finally, amounts of money larger than $3000 give medals, too (up to 5 if you have $25.000 or more). This adds up to a final score, with the turn order as tiebreaker.
The playing time with 4 players is given as 3 hours which is correct if all players know the game; a solo game does not take longer than 1.5 hours, set-up is quite fast in any case.
In the solo game you play against the time (max. 6 rounds) to gain 50 medals (my own top score is 47), but to achieve a "nationwide" victory you have to do better than that by developing cities at a very fast rate, making the city and target marker meet in addition before the game ends. Solo play has only minimal changes to the rules, but you miss the conflict against your opponents– you just play against time, the insurgents and the offices of the government you did not bribe this round. Given the extreme interactivity of the multi-player game it is still a surprisingly interesting and worthwhile mode to play, but you just do not have quite the pressure you feel when other players are around, and you will probably be active only on a small part of the board because you cannot hold much of it against the insurgents.
So what do I think of the game? That it is a fascinating experience and a very, very good game. Money is tight, you must decide for what you want to use your industries (produce resources or build cities), there is just the thematically correct amount of randomness, and you constantly need to adjust your plans to take advantage of local opportunities. It is a complex and intense battle all the time, with short periods of relief when some random elements go your way (probably creating trouble for the others at the same time) balanced by periods of desperation when your well-laid plans come to little, or you see that one of your actions has built a golden bridge for someone else (I am good at that). It is possible to effectively drop out of the game early if you make some really bad decisions, but with players of similar experience and competence the final result can be very tight (we had one 4-player game with 3 players finishing at 26, 26 and 27 medals, with the fourth 12 medals or so behind). Is it prone to AP problems? Yes, definitely, in particular if someone tries to keep a running tally of scores (which is not worthwile, because money is secret information, and the last placement of insurgents can tip the scales to some degree). For me, this game ranks very high in the category of economical-development-plus-area-control games.
Oh… I forgot: There is paper money in the game. The good news: It is not of the flimsy type, but printed on thin cardboard and quite easy to handle. Hope you this is not a no-go for you, as you would miss an excellent game. Or just invest into some poker chips.
- [+] Dice rolls
- Will MinerUnited States
- I have played three player only and you are right about close games all were tight,Good review of a kool game.
- [+] Dice rolls
- UA DarthUnited States
- Can you speak more about the random parts and your thoughts on what they add or subtract from the gaming experience?
- [+] Dice rolls
- Lutz PietschkerGermany
shadow9d9 wrote:…the random parts…Good question, and I would have dealt with that had not the review been already much longer than I hoped it would be. These things are random:
- Starting province: Where players start, and with how many $
- Turn order on turn 1: Compensated by variable start capital
These things are random, but affecting all players likewise:
- The Resource Die Roll at the start of the round: determines whether resource prices go up 1, 2 or 3 rows.
- Support cards: Which cards come into play
- Action cards: Which 8 of the 10 cards will be drawn, and in what order
- Combat: Depends on a die roll, but also on the forces you assemble (city value & # of peacekeepers)
- Solo game: Price of the ministers; re-rolled each turn, price is $100 * (die roll + round #)
Thematically, all these random factors fit excellently.
Concerning game play, for me these are things that keep you on your toes and prevent the game going repetitive or too "calculated" (completely different game, but Mage Knights is an example of a game where I feel theme is sacrificed to mathematics). What I try to say: They add to the experience. As a side note, they also make the solo game a really interesting experience, probably make it work at all.
In more detail:
The starting province will heavily influence what you can/should go for (which industries to develop, e.g. whether concentrating on industries & goods export or developing cities & selling hydro-electric power, to name two of the obvious possible "cycles"). Starting turn order is less important as initially there is room enough on the board.
Resource Die Roll: Accelerates or slows the game. It is less important than manipulating the industries you are specifically interested in (through that hard lady the finance minister, or the occasional Support card). But an abundance of money certainly supports some strategies better than others.
Support cards: There is always a supply of 3 cards, and each player may use 1 card for free per round. Most offers are useful, turn order (i.e. having first dibs on the cards) can be more important than which specific cards ore on offer. An interesting by-play here: Do I take a card that is useful for me? Or one I do not want my opponent to get? And if I take a card early, would it not have been more useful later in the round, or will the replacement card not be still better? A game of chicken, in a way.
Action cards: These are the biggest randomizers. There is a set of 10 cards, 4 of which come out per round, and they are reshuffled every other round (i.e. only 8 of the 10 come out before re-shuffling). Each card adds a major insurgency to one province, and combat against major insurgencies is mandatory after the defence minister acts, but before players have the chance to bolster their defences! This can make control of the defence minister quite valuable (though the churl sometimes decides to remove troops only). Here is the one part of the game where a successful gamble on the upcoming situation can pay off or may bring desaster. See also "combat", below. BUT: Remember that beating a major insurgent adds a medal to the chest of every participating player, plus a diamond in certain provinces! With a good military presence where it counts you can even profit from those insurgents.
The tricky part is that you bid for the minsters before the Action cards are revealed, so you do not know whether the defence minister may decide to actually withdraw troops, or how much money the ministry of the interior has available, or on which industries finance currently turns its eyes. Lots of "ohhhs" and "ahhhs" when the cards are revealed. As these things tend to balance over the game turns, it would take an incredible amount of luck to get away with simply betting, though. Usually it is wise not to put all your eggs into one basket.
All in all, my gut feeling about the action cards is that the effect of randomness is not so much a feeling that I depend on chance; rather, it is something that leads to extremely tricky and devious player interaction to use the situation to one's own advantage. In the few games I have played there was seldom a situation that was all bad, usually something good can be drawn from it in spite of everything.
Tying a knot into my ear: Remember to prepare a cheat sheet to remember which action cards are in the set and which have been played already. Upload when done.
Combat: Once you develop cities, it is not too difficult to make your provinces pretty safe (a city-2 and 2 peacekeepers mean automatic victory against minor insurgents), but funny things happen in the "developing" areas of the board. Lost combat takes away 1 peacekeeper per participating player, so be sure to establish double patrols in areas your strategy depends on. Just a hint.
- [+] Dice rolls