Clinton Sattler
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There is an art to classification.

Let me be clear; I’m not talking about sorting things based on physical characteristics. I’m not even talking about categorizing a game based on its underlying mechanisms. I’m talking about classifying something on how it feels to experience it. I’m talking about classification using the most subjective and individualistic criteria.

On the surface, Lords of Vegas and Stephensons Rocket share many characteristics. Both are games of fleeting alliances, brinkmanship, collusion, and hostile takeovers. Both are brilliant games, but both games may not appeal to the same people. What makes these two games interesting is just how differently each one feels while playing.

In Lords of Vegas, players are casino bosses attempting to gain monopolies of resorts in Las Vegas. Clashes inevitably occur as casinos start to sprawl across the boards. Casinos merge and unsteady partnerships are created between payers, all of whom are seeking to establish a single, dominant position. This results in the execution of hostile takeovers as players seek to wrest control of larger and larger resorts.

Lords of Vegas is game of managing odds. There are absolutely no certainties in a game of Lords of Vegas, not even the length of the game. Money flows into the game based on a probabilistic model of investing, control of casinos can hinge on the rolling of a single die, and player can extend their turns and increase their capital by literally gambling against their opponents. At first blush, this sounds like a terrible and random mishmash of mechanisms and fate. The brilliance in the game stems from how all the luck is manageable, and how everything just makes sense within the thematic space of developing Las Vegas. Players can take larger stakes in casinos to maximize their chances of maintaining control. They can time investments and takeovers to maximize the probability of cash payments. Clever tile placement can allow players to gain stakes in larger casinos through mergers. Player positions ebb and flow as their empires rise and fall, and it all feels like a natural extension of Las Vegas glitz.

In Stephensons Rocket, players are building an early rail network in England. They are seeking to link towns in which they have influence with infrastructure they control. Tile placement allows rail lines to merge from two distinct companies into a single corporation, with the old company liquidated into (reduced) shares of the new one.

Stephensons Rocket is a game of managing your position. Your goal is to set yourself up for clever moves in order to take advantage of the opportunities as your opponent leaves them on the table. Turns last exactly two actions, but you can hijack the actions of other players through clever use of a veto. The veto allows the players to exert influence over how a company develops its route, but it comes at the cost of influence in the company (in the form of surrendered stock). Clever use of the veto seems to be what makes or breaks a game of Stephensons Rocket. The veto mechanism adds just the right amount of uncertainty and brinkmanship to the game to prevent it from feeling too dry and abstract. But make no mistake, most people would still classify Stephen’s Rocket as a dry affair. Railroad barons have the reputation of being cold and calculating individuals, and thematically, that is how the game play in Stephensons Rocket feels to me. A game of Stephensons Rocket is a struggle to out-think your opponent. Luck be damned.

So which game is better? That is impossible to answer because each game will appeal to different types of gamers. Lords of Vegas is a much more social experience. It is the kind of game where people will huddle together to watch the roll of a die, and gasp, cheer, or groan depending on the outcome. The atmosphere tends to be boisterous with negotiation, threats, and pleas. The game was designed to keep most players within striking distance of the lead and this helps to ensure that players are engaged until that last card is drawn. Long term planning is somewhat laughable, because the situation on the strip can turn on a dime. Lords of Vegas is certainly a tactical affair. However, it takes a lot of creativity and a little nerve to make the most out of what you have, and it is immensely satisfying when you can beat the odds.

Stephensons Rocket, on the other hand, seems like a much more cerebral affair. The low density of actions per turn means that changes in the board state are develop much more slowly than Lords of Vegas. This allows you much more strategic space to operate, which means players gain satisfaction when they finally execute that merger they have been planning for the last 3 or 4 turns. The system is far less forgiving of non-optimal play. Bad moves early in a game of Stephensons Rocket will be much harder to overcome than early miss-steps in Lords of Vegas. Whereas Lords of Vegas is a game of leveraging opportunities to quickly knife your opponents, Stephensons Rocket is more about slowly strangling your opponents of capital in order to ensure your dominance.

It should be obvious that I enjoy both of these games for different reasons. Each game creates its own atmosphere, and in turn, elicits a different emotional response from me. Each game asks different questions through its game play. Each game just feels different from the other, and I hope that this review helps you determine which game reflects the feel of your gaming life.

After all, there is an art to classification.

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David B
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Though I enjoy my copy of Lords of Vegas from time to time, I would trade it for a copy of Stephenson's Rocket in a second.
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Patrick C.
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I'm not sure why there was a need to compare the two games which are so clearly intended for different purposes and audiences.

LoV is comparable to Acquire and Chinatown. Stephenson's Rocket, not so much.
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Martin G
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travvller wrote:
I'm not sure why there was a need to compare the two games which are so clearly intended for different purposes and audiences.

LoV is comparable to Acquire and Chinatown. Stephenson's Rocket, not so much.


Huh? Stephensons Rocket is quite obviously inspired by Acquire.
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Clinton Sattler
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I feel there are obvious similarities in mechanisms between the two games.
Part of the point of the review was to help folks decide which game fits their style better because of how radically different each game feels.

I'm hoping the review helps each game find its appropriate audience. Sorry if that was not clear in the review itself.

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Clinton Sattler
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pfctsqr wrote:
Though I enjoy my copy of Lords of Vegas from time to time, I would trade it for a copy of Stephenson's Rocket in a second.


What I think is funny to me, is that, at some level, I think I respect the design of Stephensons Rocket more so than Lords of Vegas. The rules are so streamlined (though I have a hard time remember how all the scoring works), and that veto mechanism is just so great....

... the problem is that nobody else sees it that way. I think the theme and the social atmosphere helps make Lords of Vegas more accessible to the people I generally play with. Therefore, with my group, LoV is much more in demand than SR.
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Martin G
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I've had the same problem with SR. It seems so dry until everyone gets into the brutal extortion.
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David B
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ContainerJones wrote:
pfctsqr wrote:
Though I enjoy my copy of Lords of Vegas from time to time, I would trade it for a copy of Stephenson's Rocket in a second.


What I think is funny to me, is that, at some level, I think I respect the design of Stephensons Rocket more so than Lords of Vegas. The rules are so streamlined (though I have a hard time remember how all the scoring works), and that veto mechanism is just so great....

... the problem is that nobody else sees it that way. I think the theme and the social atmosphere helps make Lords of Vegas more accessible to the people I generally play with. Therefore, with my group, LoV is much more in demand than SR.


My issue with LoV is that money and points have to calculated and distributed for every players turn. Because of that, the game never feels like it is flowing like it should. I bet half the game is spent adding up money.
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Martin G
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pfctsqr wrote:
ContainerJones wrote:
pfctsqr wrote:
Though I enjoy my copy of Lords of Vegas from time to time, I would trade it for a copy of Stephenson's Rocket in a second.


What I think is funny to me, is that, at some level, I think I respect the design of Stephensons Rocket more so than Lords of Vegas. The rules are so streamlined (though I have a hard time remember how all the scoring works), and that veto mechanism is just so great....

... the problem is that nobody else sees it that way. I think the theme and the social atmosphere helps make Lords of Vegas more accessible to the people I generally play with. Therefore, with my group, LoV is much more in demand than SR.


My issue with LoV is that money and points have to calculated and distributed for every players turn. Because of that, the game never feels like it is flowing like it should. I bet half the game is spent adding up money.


Poker chips. Essential for this one.
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Blank Francis
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qwertymartin wrote:
pfctsqr wrote:

My issue with LoV is that money and points have to calculated and distributed for every players turn. Because of that, the game never feels like it is flowing like it should. I bet half the game is spent adding up money.


Poker chips. Essential for this one.


Not only that, but having everyone do their own banking. The first game of this I played, we had one banker dealing out everyone's cash each turn. It brought everything to a screeching halt and made the game go on longer than it should've. Since then we've just had people grabbing their own money at the beginning of each turn and it speeds things up considerably.
 
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