If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
This ain't my picture, but I'm using it. I'd expect that it might make some aspects of my review a tad more clear if you're not familar yet with the game. And if you are... well, I'll say now that I like the game. After that, there should be no new news here.
Louis XIV looks complicated, and it doesn't help that my lot had a hell of a hard time with the rules when we first approached them. However, with some work and a few practice turns, we found out we had a solid gaming experience.
The game runs on four turns of four phases: Supply, Influence, Scoring, and Mission.
Supply phase is where you get your money and influence cards. Simple enough.
Inflence phase is the meat and grizzle of the game, where all of your thinking and most of your non-automatic gameplay will be happening. Beginning with a starting playing and going in a circle, players place down the influence cards they acquired in the Supply phase. These cards match up with each of the nobles who make up the "Board." They then place three influence tokens (the little coloured blocks) on whoever they matched up with, and can move them to touching nobles as they like, making sure to always leave one behind. If one were to run out of token, influence cards can be returned to regain tokens instead.
The game is basically an area-control game. Each noble on the board has a different condition for winning its prize, and each noble has a different prize. Your ability to gauge what prizes you need the most based on what influence cards you have, as well as your timing in placing these cards so that you either scare or don't scare the other players into reacting, is what drives the strategy of this game.
Scoring phrase is fairly simple and straightforward. Starting in the centre and moving outward, each noble is scored based on its conditions, and the winner takes the prize. Sometimes the losers can pay money for the same prize, sometimes not; it depends on what the noble says that turn. Usually scoring moves along without surprise, although there are Intrigue cards that can change the winner of a noble.
The most important nobles, generally, are going to be the inner four. These four offer four different Mission chits: a Helmet, a Ring, a Scroll, and a Cross. The outer eight nobles offer a variety of useful prizes and gimicks, from more money to more influence to wild card Crown Mission chits to Intrigue cards. The most harked of the outer eight is usually number eleven, a noble who offeres you an extra influence card (and essentially an extra action) next turn.
Mission phase uses the Mission chits that you hopefully win from the inner four nobles. With these chits, and maybe some Crown chits as well, you cash in your mission cards you get at the beginning of the game. Missions come in three flavors: easy, hard, and the middle.
Completing missions has two purposes. One, each mission has a really nifty power that you get to use for the rest of the game. These might be "get more money every supply phase" or "get extra influence on noble five every influence phase" or even better. Regardless, cool powers is cool powers. Two, completed mission cards are worth 5 Victory Points come the end of turn four, so you're going to want to rack 'em up.
The starting player of each turn cycles every turn, so in a four player game, every player will have a shot of starting once, and, more importantly, ending once. At the end of turn four, count the points. Points will be completed mission cards, Shield chits collected through the game, and almost everything else you collect which gets converted into Shield chits just before you count them.
The boards are beautiful, and the art is fantastic. The bits and tokens and chits are all of very high quality; frankly, this is probably the nicest looking game I gots.
The gameplay is fantiastic, and highly interactive. It might not tie to the theme perfectly, but it's close enough that I can wonder exactly what good old Louis is thinking of my political designs every time I play...