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Subject: My Take on World of Smog rss

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Chris Laudermilk
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Introduction
World of Smog, or it's full title: The World of Smog: On Her Majesty's Service is a recent Kickstarter from Cool Mini or Not, and highly anticipated if you go by the impatient comments on the campaign page. As of this writing, games are arriving at backers' doorsteps and have hit FLGS (mine just got their copy in two days after me). It is based in the setting of The World of Smog by a French-based team of artists (http://world-of-smog.com/en/) at Panache Animation.

I ran across this early in its Kickstarter campaign and was immediately intrigued. Offering a Steampunk theme, nice-looking components, and interesting & unique game mechanics. The video they had posted really sealed the deal. So, 8 months of waiting ensued and has finally ended. Yes, I contributed in a small way to those impatient KS campaign comments. However, in a nutshell: it was worth the wait, IMHO.

Basic Premise
The background for the game is you are in a Steampunk setting in England. So, you have steam powered infernal devices, Faerie, and magic all present. The leader of the Faerie, Oberon is going to be at Queen Victoria's Jubilee, so she has tasked several adventurers (the players) to enter the mysterious "Shadow Market" to obtain four magical Artefacts (game's spelling): the Atlantean Key, the Adamantine Key, the Spectral Chain, and the Mithril Lock. You must then return to London to present these to the Queen and be showered with glory and riches. The challenge is that the market is a constantly-shifting landscape of shadowy, rotating gear platforms inhabited by the mysterious Shadow Master and his agents. He and his agents can both aid an hinder the gentlemen in this dangerous setting.

Each character in the game has a little backstory to place them and their motivations within the world. Reading & knowing these are optional, but helps immerse you in the setting.

Game Components
This game simply drips with theme in every aspect of its components. Every component aids in giving the feel of the Victorian-era, steam-powered setting.

The board itself is square with a number of holes in it for the rotating tiles (styled as gears) to fit into. There are plenty of Victorian-style printing flourishes and a large gear graphic in the background to really drive the theme home. Each gear has four quadrants with a numbered edge.

Player and agent pieces are nicely-scuplted plastic busts, with different color bases. One KS option was to upgrade to a set of full-figure miniatures, but I skipped that as I felt the busts with the Steampink-flavored bases fit the theme better. I've seen photos of some people who have painted theirs up, and they really pop--I'm debating whether to follow suit or not.

Each player uses a simple play mat. This has a nice portrait of the gentleman character being played, space to track the four Ether being gathered, for the player's coin supply, and for the tribute to the Shadow Master & his favor indicator. As with the rest of the components, these are beautifully-illustrated and continue the theme.

To track the four Ethers being collected (Blood, Ectoplasm, Mana, and Titanium), the KS bonus comes with a nice plastic marker with a color-coded translucent insert. I believe the retail games will have cardboard chits for this. These pieces are my only niggle with any of the components. The translucent pieces' colors were not well-chosen. Ectoplasm is white and the pice is yellow, Blood (red), and Titanium (brown) look more pink and orange and are difficult to tell apart in all but the best lighting. A minor stumble in a spectacular game.

For player money the KS edition comes with plastic coins--again I think cardboard chits are in the retail version. There are also translucent, blue plastic Pente stones for "hourglasses."

Finally, you have several decks of cards. As with the rest of the components, these are illustrated to the hilt and drip with theme. You have a small deck of Agent cards to select the specific agnet in use in that play; these are 41x63mm. Then you have several 64x64mm decks of Special Action, Secret Combination, Secret Door, and four Artefact decks. Again, well illuistrated an help with the feel of hte game. The KS edition has a second set of these cards with gold foil printing, and they look spectacular.

Game Mechanics
At the beginning of the game each player is dealt a secret combination and location. In order to win, you must a) obtain all four artefacts, b) obtain the combination of ether on your card, and c) reach the location specified on your card. With this, you goal from game to game will always be different; you will also not know exactly what all your opponents' goals are. That makes for interesting tension & deduction during the game.

Each player also receives two coins and two hourglass pieces. Players take turns placing the hourglass pieces on the board, one at a time.

The board itself consists of 13 spaces and is one of the interesting mechanics in the game. The center space is non-moving and is restricted to two actions (Request Coins and Rotate & gain a Special Action card). The other 12 are rotating gears with the four numbered quadrants. Eight are circled around the central space, the last four are centered outside each side. The four outer gears are for purchasing the Artefacts, then middle 8 are for purchasing Ether; these have color-coded quadrants to indicate which Ether may be purchased. The middle tiles on each side also have a single side that acts as a barrier, making it more difficult for players to move that direction--costing a coin or Ether to pass through that side. Each player's board is different as you look at the board and the side of each space facing you (the face-up number) is the one that applies to you.

Each player has three actions they can perform in a turn. These are: move, buy ether, sell ether, rotate their gear, remove an hourglass, and exit the Shadow Market. There are also two free actions a player can take during their turn: use a Special Action card, and play the Shadow Master.

Buying and selling all have the same sequence: you pay or receive the number of coin showing face up on the occupied space, you increase or decrease the Ether, or take the purchased Artefact. Then an hourglass is placed over that number--thus blocking it--and the space rotates 90 deg clockwise. This constant rotation of spaces is part of the challenge and unique game play. In a full game, the board quickly becomes littered with blue Pente stone hourglasses and the value of the remove hourglass action becomes apparent.

The two free actions also add interest. The Special Action cards have varying effects, and each requires a combination of Ether to be in the player's posession to use. This Ether is not consumed, just required to play the card. The more powerful the effect, the more complex the required Ether (from one to three different colors).

Paying the Shadow Master is to attempt to gain his favor. Achieving this gives that player several advantages. First, the player gets to begin his turn by moving the agents (one space, or two spaces on a 2-player game). If there are hourglasses on the agent's space, they may be removed to increase his movement. The player also gains an additional action. The downside, is the once-per-round free coin must go to the Shadow Master pool, not the player's pool, so building funds to make purchases is more difficult.

Each of the Agents has a special effect; some help players, some hinder players. These are things such as restricting what actions may be used in their presence, allowing more freedom in movement--or restricting movement, helping or hindering transactions, etc. In the KS bonus there are additional agents and cards to allow using the gentlemen not in play as agents.

While we are still getting familiar with the game, the plays have taken anywhere from just over an hour to nearly two hours. You kind of have a feel for how far along the game is, but never quite know.

Overall Impression
As I've mentioned a few times, this game is simply dripping with theme in every part of play, and in the mechanics. It could be a pretty abstract game and still work, but the addition of the theme really takes it over the top.

The constantly-shifting board and uncertainty of exactly what each players' goal and progress in adds tnesion and makes long-term planning difficult. The more players, the more chaos. This really keeps you on your toes, and forces constant re-evaluation of where you're going next. If you like dealing with this kind of ever-changing field and re-tooling you immediate strategy, you'll enjoy the game; if you prefer a more chess-like experience and the ability to plan dozens of turns in advance, this game may be frustrating.

That said, each of my plays so far has turned out to be fairly close, with most or all players within a turn or two or three of a win. Everyone always felt they were in contention right to the end.

I have anticipated playing ever since jumping on the Kickstarter eight-ish months ago, and the game has really come through. By the end of the weekend, I'll be more than halfway through my 10x10 challenge for plays of this one, and I do not anticipate being bored with the game for some time to come.
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Thomas
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Does it scale well, how is it with two?
 
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Kristofor M
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Thank you so much for this review. I am still waiting for my kickstarter copy and I can't wait to get it to the table. I'm so excited!
 
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Miguel Duran
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I'm excited to play now that my copy's arrived. It does seem highly tactical (the constantly shifting game-state reminds me a bit of Five Tribes) and I agree that people may love or hate it on that basis. It's interesting because I think the game initially is underwhelming when you look at its individual parts, but something about how the whole might come together is what got me to pledge and has me itching to play it -- even if Tzolkin has me convinced that these wheel-based games of spatial anticipation aren't exactly my forte.
 
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Chris Laudermilk
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Three of my plays were with two player, one with a full game of four. There is definitely a different feel between the two extremes.

With two players, each of us can only affect so much of the board without sacrificing an entire turn messing with the other player, so you can count on some of the settings to remain. Also, the hourglasses don't pile up all that much and we rarely used the Remove Hourglass action.

With four players, it's very chaotic. You kind of get the sense of the Shadow Market with all the moving gear platforms and spacial relations constantly shifting. You really can't count on much staying where it was when you finish your turn. The hourglasses pile up quickly; I noticed the board quickly filled up with them and we all needed to use the Remove Hourglass action a few times.

While there is a different feel to each payer count, I for one enjoy both modes.
 
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Jon H
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I was able to get into a quick demo of this at Gen Con. The game pieces themselves are quite nice (minis and board) but I would prefer a less opaque item to cover the purchased items (we had to lift and check under it a few times to see if it was what we needed).

The theme of the game (and look) prompted me to demo it. Even though the rules seemed a little heavier than what I would prefer it made much more sense after playing through a quick round.

With four players at least three of us were within two rounds of winning at the end so even if it seems to start slow you have to keep an eye on what everyone else seems to be working on along with your own requirements. Control of the Shadowmaster is worth the investment once you begin to see how it can impact the other players future moves.
 
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Chris Laudermilk
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Funny you mention that. The last game we ran into the same issue. I'm going to look at the local craft store to see if they have a more clear set of Pente stones, or something similar.

I'm also looking at metal gaming coins to pimp the game out. The plastic ones are nice, but some metal ones will really finish it off.
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Oliver Brettschneider
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Let us know when you found any!
 
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