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Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Detailed Review of TvE rss

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Gene Chiu
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Introduction

Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents is a game set in the late 19th century around the time where cities are beginning to be lit with electricity. It centres around the time when there was a public relations battle regarding whether AC current or DC current was the better technology to use. Each player takes the role of an investor who is backing and has controlling interest in the company of one of 5 inventors. The company recruites additional luminaries to assist in the company. As the game progresses, you will be claiming projects to light cities, research and improve your company's technology, engage in propaganda to improve your company's fame and public opinion on AC vs. DC, and play the stock market. The winner is the player with the best stock portfolio at the end of the game.

This is one of the more complex games I have played. There are many game mechanics used in this game. There is also what I consider to be a bit of a curve ball in that the game winning condition in that your stock portfolio and not how well your company does that determines the winner.

Game Play

The game is played over 3 phase of 2 turns each. There is an auction at the beginning of each phase where players recruite additional luminaries to work for their company. Different luminaries have different attributes. Also, at the beginning of phases 2 and 3, the luminary you recuite will also come with one stock in a company (either yours or your opponent's). Different luminaries give different bonuses or satisfy different prerequisites when used to take actions.

There is network building when players claim projects to light cities. Claiming a project after the first one costs more the farther it is from an existing city you have already lit. Different cities require a different technology level, so you have to research technology to claim projects in cities with higher technology requirements. If you don't have the prerequisites, you may have to claim projects in cities farther away. Claiming a project will cause your company's stock value to increase. The increase varies depending on the size of the city and public opinion on the AC/DC current technology that you use to claim the project.

The technology mechanic is very interesting and fits into the "war of currents" theme of this game. There are three technology tracks: light bulb, AC and DC. In order to claim a project for a city, you need to have at least the technology level required for the city in bulb technology plus one of the AC or DC. Technology level requirements are from 1 to 5. Both buld and AC technology can be researched to level 5. DC technology, however, maxes out at level 4. You will likely only be researching either AC or DC and not both. This means that if you decide to commit your actions to research DC, you will not be able to claim projects for cities that require level 5 technology. From a physics stand point, this makes sense as AC can transmit power for greater distances than DC. The cities that require level 5 are supposedly in more remote places.

Another interesting aspect of the technology track is that you can choose to patent the technology at the level you just researched. You will need a luminary or inventor with the finance attribute to meet the prerequisite to patent the technology. The patent gives two benefits. If another player uses that technology at the level you patented, the other player must pay you a patent fee when claiming a project with that technology. Also, patenting technology will increase the value of your company's stock. Having the highest level patent in AC or DC will also increase your company's stock that turn if public opinion for that current technology is higher.

There is a fame track for both companies and current technology. The fame track for companies determine play order. The most famous company goes first. Also, at the end of each turn, the most famous company's stock increases.

The fame track for current technology also affects how much your stock rises if you claim a project. If the fame track indicates that AC is more popular, claiming a project using AC technology will increase your company's stock more than if you claim a project using DC.

You can manipulate public opinion by using the propaganda action. You can change the public opinion of either a company or the AC/DC technology. Changing the fame of a company will change the turn order. Making your company the most famous will also increase your stock value each turn. Changing the public opinion of AC vs. DC will affect everyone when they claim projects. You generally want to sway public opinion in favour of the technology you are using or researching.

Finally, players may use an action to visit the stock market. With this action you can buy and sell stocks. The goal is to have the highest stock portfolio when the game ends (after 6 turns). This actions is use both to buy more stock and also to manipulate the stock values of companies. If you buy a stock, the value of that stock will increase. If you sell a stock, the value of that stock will decrease.

The winner is the player with the best stock portfolio. This is something that first time players may overlook. You can claim a lot of projects, research and patent the best technology, use the propaganda to make your company and technology the best. However, if you neglect to buy enough stock, you will lose. You will need to grasp this aspect of the game in order to be successful.

Rulebook

This is a rather complex game. All of the different actions players can take affect each other, but are mechanically different. On top of that, there is the auction at the beginning of each phase and book keeping step at the end of each turn. All of these things work differently and I found it hard to learn the details of the different actions and steps.

I found it difficult to grasp all of the rules when reading through the manual the first time. The manual consists of the main rules section. It also has a summary of the rules in the margins. Finally, there is a player aid on the back cover. When I first played this game, I played many things wrong. It wasn't until I reread the rules including the summary in the margins and the player aid before I had a better grasp of the rules. Still, I had to resort to the BGG boards to confirm and clarify a number of rules. I feel that the rulebook could certainly use some work. There were certainly a number of things that I found to be unclear or ambiguous when reading the rulebook even after a few rereads. For a game as complex as this, the rulebook really needs to be better.

I highly recommend that when learning the game, you refer to player aid at the back of the book when reading through the rules. The player aid takes the entire back page and lists the details of the entire game. Even when referring to the player aid, I found it difficult to remember when you have to take into account the phase number of the game. I ended up highlighting every reference to the phase number in the player aid.

Parts and Pieces

One of the things about this game I am really impressed with is the money. It is printed on glossy cardboard stock. The denomination is only printed on one side. This enables players to hide the amount of money they have. This is really important for the auction that occurs in phase 2 and 3 of the game.

The stock certificates are also one sided. Players also hide the amount and which stocks they hold. Towards the end of the game, may not be clear who is in the lead as players may hold stock in other players' companies. In one game I played, this hidden information came into play as a different player would have if she would have bought the right stock. She didn't know which was the right stock as this information was hidden.

Conclusion

Overall, I really like the game. I think the mechanics of the game fit very well with the theme. Each of the inventors have a special ability that makes you play a different strategy. The luminaries you end up recruiting will also dictate a slightly different strategy depending on their attributes. The propaganda action and manipulating public opinion on AC vs. DC fits with the state of the industry in that era.

The winning condition makes for some interesting strategies as well. You need to buy stocks in order to win. When I was playing, I found that when I want to buy stocks in a company and start to make enough money, the stock of the companies start to increase because players are always claiming projects or patenting technology. The luminary auction in phases 2 and 3 become interesting as well as sometimes you want the luminary for the stock it comes with in addition to the luminary's attributes. You can also speculate on another company by buying their stock in hopes that they do well.

The length of the game as indicated on the game box is 20 minutes per player. In my few plays, I feel that it is closer to 40 minute per player for novice players. The game is likely going to take more longer per player with more players because you have more to consider when making your moves.

I played this game with both 2 and 4 players. I feel this game is much more interesting with more players. I recommend you play with more players as. With just 2 players, there seems to be less interaction as you can more easily play around what the other player is doing. When more players are involved, there will likely be more conflict and playing around more players is harder. The game will take longer with more players, but I feel that you will have a richer experience with more players.
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Jason Gernstetter

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Very nice review! We just played a 5 player game last night and it was quite enjoyable. The game is very tight because there are so few turns and actions within those turns. I am sure we didn’t play anywhere near as efficient as possible but our game was decided on the last turn by someone taking there last action in propaganda and changing the turn order to make them first, which moved them up on the stock market track. That person won by $5k. Everyone played with a completely different strategy.

I definitely give this a thumbs up for a mid-weight economic game with some very interesting decisions.
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Dirk Knemeyer
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Thank you for the thoughtful review! Two things:

1. You mentioned how only AC projects reach level V, and that is because AC technology could send power a longer distance. Both of these things are true. However, what makes those level V projects special from a theme/chrome perspective is that, unlike the other projects that represent illuminations a community, these are hydroelectric power generation projects. All of them historical and important (although, with the exception of Niagara, all of them relatively unknown as well).

2. Rules writing is something I've never been good at, but our team felt really bullish on this being a strong rulebook. So, reading that it really caused issues for you, was disappointing. A question for you and any other readers of this thread: what exactly are the problems with these rules? And, how could they be better?

Thanks again!
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Gene Chiu
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dknemeyer wrote:
2. Rules writing is something I've never been good at, but our team felt really bullish on this being a strong rulebook. So, reading that it really caused issues for you, was disappointing. A question for you and any other readers of this thread: what exactly are the problems with these rules? And, how could they be better?

Thanks again!


I would like to say that the best part of the rulebook was the player aid on the last page of the book. This is a great reference for every part of the game. The summary of each action and step of the game is well outlined in the player aid along with any factors that affect the action or step. I heavily referred to the player aid for everything just to ensure that I don't miss anything.

One thing that I personally had difficulty with was remembering when you have to take into account the phase of the game. This information is listed in the player aid, but when glancing through it, I found that I missed those references to the game phase. There are some factors that are highlighted that affect the action, but game phase was not highlighted. What I ended up doing was highlighting every reference to game phase in the player aid with a highlighter. Other than that, the player aid was great.

The first thing that I didn't quite understand was the order in which players take their actions. I had initially thought that a player takes all of their possible actions before the next player. I had started a thread here on BGG to clarify this. When reading the rules, it wasn't clear to me that a player takes only one action on his turn before passing the turn to the next player. Part of the reason I was a little confused was that one of the actions allow you to exhaust multiple luminaries. In the partial game I initially sat in, I think seeing this made me think that players take all of their actions.

I think that the rulebook could be a little more clear in describing a game turn. Having an example of a complete game turn would also help. Here's an example for turn 1 of a 3-player game (2 luminaries per player):

Player 1 takes an action to claim a project.
Player 2 takes an action to advance technology exhausting 2 luminaries.
Player 3 takes an action to do propaganda.
Player 1 takes an action to advance technology.
Player 2 has all luminaries exhausted, so player 3 goes next.
Player 3 takes an action to advance technology.

Another part of the rules where I wasn't exactly clear was that you can choose whether to use AC or DC when claiming a project. The rules state that you have to use the highest level of the technology. It wasn't clear that if my AC was level 4 and DC was level 3 and I wanted to claim a level 3 city that I could choose to use DC. The rules made it seem that I had to use AC because it was level 4 which was higher than the DC technology level. I also made a thread here on BGG to clarify this.

The amount of money and stocks that players have are supposed to be hidden from other players. It wasn't explicitly stated. I only found this out when I was at Gencon and I commented about how the money was printed one sided. The person at the booth said that it was designed so that players can hide the amount of money they have from other players. I tried to find it in the rulebook, but could not find anything about whether or not money and stocks were supposed to be hidden.

I think that the summary information in the margins is helpful, but I think you should incorporate it in the main body of the rules. When I first read through the rulebook, I mainly concentrated on the main body and did not look at the margin summary. I think that the summary should be part of the main body of the rules. Place each summary at then end of each portion of the rules that the summary summarises. That way the reader will read the summary and reinforce that portion of the rules.

Overall, the game is rather complex (compared to most of the games that I have played). Other games have player aids that fit on the size of a card or two. This game's player aid takes a whole page and it needs the entire page. Every action has a number different factors that affect the action and its outcome. Every action is also different from every other action, so knowing how one action works does not mean it makes learning how other actions work any easier. The book keeping phase also has a number of different things to do as well. Trying to learn all of the details of this game is a challenge. For a game this complex, I feel that the rulebook needs to be better for someone trying to learn the game.
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Bitchy Little Boy
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I never expect to understand a game by reading the rules. Most contemporary games are rather complex, so I think play-throughs, strategy guides and rulebooks should be separate texts. To understand the rules of a game I normally need to first translate or re-explain the rules myself (roughly the same thing) so that I get an understanding of the game and its edge and corner cases.

I haven't received the game and I do not think I have read the very latest version of your rulebook yet. therefore my comments are still rather generic. It is a good thing the game flow is quite streamlined: auction luminaries, play the people one by one (or clumped together in research), when there are no more available people clean up, have a new round and then repeat the entire process. It is even more helpful the rulebook follows this process. However, in my own explanation of the various parts of the board and of the game play, projects come last because they interact with all the other parts of the game.

As with every game, there are always little rules you need to search throughout the entire book or you discover after the first play (based on my experience with other games). However different people think differently and what is clear for one reader may not be that obvious for another. I have been a little confused at times by the comments on the margins (they contain too much information), but this is clearly a matter of personal taste. I guess there are many more people who like to have not entirely redundant information presented this way

To sum up, this is not a game with very complicated rules, and the rule book does a good job explaining them. There is always room for improvement (e.g. an example first round), it is always good to have well designed player aids, but you are very close to the point where making the rulebook clearer for some will make it less intuitive for others.
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Gene Chiu
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gmilitaru wrote:
I never expect to understand a game by reading the rules. Most contemporary games are rather complex, so I think play-throughs, strategy guides and rulebooks should be separate texts. To understand the rules of a game I normally need to first translate or re-explain the rules myself (roughly the same thing) so that I get an understanding of the game and its edge and corner cases.


Most of the games that I own, I learned by reading through the rulebook. In addition to learning the game this way, I also become familiar with the rulebook and will be able to refer back to it and find specific rules a little better. Playing through a game certainly helps as well as other means of learning a game. I feel that it is entirely reasonable to expect to be able to learn a game by reading the rules even if it requires re-reads. For more complex games, certainly playing through a few turns helps as well as other aids like videos or an instructor who knows the rules.

Quote:
However, in my own explanation of the various parts of the board and of the game play, projects come last because they interact with all the other parts of the game.


This is a great idea. I think the next time I teach the game to people, I will do the same.
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Stuntman wrote:
Most of the games that I own, I learned by reading through the rulebook. In addition to learning the game this way, I also become familiar with the rulebook and will be able to refer back to it and find specific rules a little better. Playing through a game certainly helps as well as other means of learning a game.


I do more or less the same, probably at a slower pace. What I meant was that I cannot learn a game just by reading its rules, even in the case of relatively simple ones. I also need to digest them, which involves trying to re-explain them to myself, through translation, teaching guides, and through test games or "imaginary experiments". To conclude, reading the rules is just the first step and in the following steps it is more important to find a specific rule easily than how easy it is to follow the text (Through the Ages is the perfect bad example).

With Tesla, I had a good understanding of the game flow from the structure of the rule book and the text was well organised enough to find the little details I had missed during my first reading (even if I had to look both in the text proper and on the margins made things a little harder to me).
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Don Clarke
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Every gamer's game these days should have a Youtube/ BGG video detailing how-to-play and a play-through. If a fan doesn't do it, the designer or publisher should. Try to get it under 10 minutes run time. After watching a good how-to-play video you should only need one read-through of the rulebook before you're good to go.
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Gene Chiu
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yangtze2000 wrote:
Every gamer's game these days should have a Youtube/ BGG video detailing how-to-play and a play-through. If a fan doesn't do it, the designer or publisher should. Try to get it under 10 minutes run time. After watching a good how-to-play video you should only need one read-through of the rulebook before you're good to go.


I think that making a video tutorial for this game that is less than 10 minutes long is going to be a big challenge. The few video tutorials I have seen tend to be much longer.
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