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Subject: One box. Hundreds of (technically) different games. Worth it? rss

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Paul Zagieboylo
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At this point, everyone who cares has probably had a chance to at least learn what 504 is about. Nine (9) modules, pick 3 in order, play the resulting game. A little elementary combinatorics tells you that there are 504 technically distinct games possible; thus, the name.

Everyone I've talked to, upon having this concept explained to them, has opened with one big question:

Does it actually work?
I've played 6 rounds now, including at least one try with every module, and I can say that yes, it works. There are some tricky rule interactions. Ok, there are a lot of tricky rule interactions. You do have to be willing to read very carefully, and possibly consult https://504rules.github.io/ or the forums here for clarifications. But I haven't encountered or investigated any combinations that just don't work. It doesn't always work perfectly. That would be impossible. But it does always pretty much work, and that alone is an accomplishment worthy of song. Well done, Friese.

Here are some other questions:
Are all 504 games created equal?
No. Of course not. How would that even be possible? Some combinations are better than others.

Are they all really different?
Technically, yes. There really are 504 distinct games in here. That said, all of the possible games are clearly somewhat related. To draw parallels, I would say that the most similar of the games are about as similar as Catan and Star Trek: Catan: basically the same game, with an extra relatively minor mechanic. For example, modules 2.III and 7.III each just add a minor scoring condition, so games that only differ between these two modules (352 vs. 357) will be very similar. On the other hand, the system does have scope for some very different games indeed. For example, 123 (an express delivery game with technologies) vs 956 (a stock trading game in an unexplored land with optional highways) are so different as to be almost unrecognizable.

Components
Wooden tokens: excellent. Generic, but well made. Each "main" player color gets 30 settlements, 30 residents, a capital, and a little cart. The 5th player, only used in games with 5 stock companies (the game only supports 4 actual players), has 15 settlements and 15 residents in addition to the capital and cart. The red "neutral" player has just 8 residents and settlements, used only for module 4 games.

Cardboard tokens: also excellent. The game comes with an absolutely preposterous number of punched countersheets. Expect to spend a good half-hour punching and sorting all of these. I don't know how well they stand up to abuse long term, but they're thicker than cardstock, and indistinguishability isn't needed for these tokens anyway, so if they get stained or nicked, it doesn't matter.

Cards: small. The cards are mostly single-module components, such as the scoring round cards (used for 7.I) or the technology cards (used for 3). These do need to stay indistinguishable on the back, so be careful not to spill anything, or sleeve them, or preferably both.

Monopoly money: not good. It's too bad that it's used in all games. 2F-Spiele's other games (Power Grid, Factory Manager) all have this same crap money, and it sucks. If you have some nice money from some other game, I won't mock you for using that.

The flipbook: a work of art. Truly, just astounding. If you haven't seen it, this works like those 3-part flipbooks for kids that let them make a picture with the head of a doctor, the torso of a police officer, and the legs of a ballroom dancer. Except that this one has game rules, so it lets you flip to a game that requires getting to the checkpoints first, income rules having to do with exploring, and some extra rules about production requrements (game 258). This doesn't quite have the comprehensive rules, especially for some of the more complicated modules. But if you've read the full rules, it serves as a great reminder, and it does have all the lookup tables you'll need during the game, except for the map layouts, which are only needed during setup.

Rules
This game is very confusing. I think this is probably not avoidable, given the concept. While the basic mechanic of each module generally comes through no matter what it's matched with, that basic mechanic may be somewhat abstract, or have a lot of special cases. My personal favorite is a special rule that only comes into effect in the specific games 942, 924, and 294, which states that: contrary to the normal 4.II or 4.III rule, in 9.I and 9.II games one company is allowed to attack the capital of another company, even if the defender owns no other city (which would eliminate the defender); however, in the presence of module 2, the fight happens with different timing, in such a way that a pyrrhic victory could be salvaged into a true victory by immediately moving one additional attacker to the contested city (if any can reach). In this case, the attacker is considered to have conquered, rather than neutralized, the defender, and therefore the defender's remaining assets (if any) are converted to the attacker's color, rather than simply being removed.

This is the kind of conflict the rules attempt to adjudicate. It's probably worth going through and incorporating the official errata (they're posted here on BGG) before studying too carefully, and some study will definitely be required. The rulebook includes the fully worked example of game 123, which is a very simple game that (like many games with module 1) actually removes one of the basic mechanics of the 504 system.

Better explanations can be found elsewhere, especially from the game's designer himself, but a quick overview:
d10-1 Module 1 is about picking up goods with your little cart, and shipping them somewhere. Generally the goods are created by cities, and delivered to other cities; sometimes the goods are created by the land, and need to be delivered to cities. Sometimes there are no goods and the little cart is just a way to move your residents around faster. (Shouting "Forward glorious kart!" in a thick Russian accent is optional.)
d10-2 Module 2 is about Getting There First. Generally, "There" is the cities; think of them like checkpoints in a racing game such as RoboRally. Sometimes "There" is just what you were doing in the rest of the game anyway, except, there's an extra reward for Doing (part of) It First.
d10-3 Module 3 is about technology. Technology gives you an unfair advantage over your opponents. Some of them are really pretty unfair. Fortunately, there may be a chance to steal the most unfair ones at the patent auction. Games with module 3 involve setting up a deck of technology cards (about 5-6 per player) that specifically interact with the other modules in play. You may also be asked to build factories in the cities, which provide income or prestige for your burgeoning technological empire.
d10-4 Module 4 is about fighting. Gone (mostly) is the idea of coexisting peacefully with the other players. No, now your land is yours, and those other folks better keep out! The fighting system is pretty simplified but it gets the job done.
d10-5 Module 5 is about exploration. The world is a mystery! You don't know what's beyond the horizon, until you send some residents there to find out.
d10-6 Module 6 is about roads. Territory might not really be part of your empire until you've connected it with highways, which can be expensive. Fortunately, once you have highways, your people can move along them quickly, allowing them to reach the borders of your empire efficiently.
d10-7 Module 7 is about Being The Biggest. Whatever you do, you want to be the Biggest at it. Second place is for wimps. As a corollary, whatever you don't do, you really shouldn't try to do. Module 7 rewards specialization.
d10-8 Module 8 is about production. Now you have to go out into the fields and forests, and construct plants to produce resources, which you and your clients need.
d10-9 Module 9 is about stocks. As a wealthy financier, you want to buy into the winningest stock companies. But you might need to know when to sell! Or perhaps, as a startup, you may want to sell some stock (or as I like to refer to it, part of your soul) to build capital, but beware: selling stock means selling a slice of your final prestige, and other players might buy up that slice for themselves...

Is it worth it?
Bottom line: is it worth it? Is it good? I would say yes. Especially for players like me who always like to try new games: you won't run out anytime soon. It really works surprisingly well, and the more I play it, the more I'm surprised. That said, there are some caveats:

Not every game is amazing. I haven't encountered or heard of any that were truly "bad", but there are definitely some that don't make it past "acceptable". (I played a round of 429 yesterday, which had a weird rule interaction: one player sold a share of himself for a big cash influx, which allowed him to trigger the sudden ending conditions of 4.I long before anyone else was expecting it. Even having sold an extra share of his final points, he crushed the rest of us brutally with all the extra territory he claimed on his game-ending turn.) That said, if you hate a particular mechanic (Exploration in particular gets a lot of hate, although I think it works ok), just don't use it! That was easy.

No individual game is likely to be as good as your favorite purpose-built game. There is just no way to make this concept mesh as perfectly as a game that was constructed as a single game in the first place. That said, I have played a couple of individual games I would rate in the 7-8 range (163 was quite good, as was 543). Given that I'm certain there are at least a dozen highly distinct 7+ games somewhere in this box, each with at least a couple of good variations, I'm perfectly happy to give the whole system an 8+.

Truly, 504 was a brilliant experiment. I would have been willing to support it just to encourage designers to try more experiments like this. As a great added bonus, it's also an extremely playable system of games, with a new surprise every time you open the box!
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Stephen Sanders
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Zahariel wrote:
There are some tricky rule interactions. Ok, there are a lot of tricky rule interactions.


This is the one thing that keeps me away from this game. But it might work for others who are willing to keep up with this kind of thing.
 
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Scott Kovatch
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Thumbed mainly for the link to the dynamic rules web site project -- what a great reference. That is a work of art in itself!
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Richard Hutnik
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To get play out of it, you really need to find a group who will stick to learning the system here, and play through modules. I would say it is likely what you would do with the Legacy type games. Without this, it just ends yup not being worth it. I say the group should be 3 or (preferably) 4 players in size.
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Andy Mesa
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Quote:
No individual game is likely to be as good as your favorite purpose-built game.

I genuinely enjoy 94X more than Imperial.
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Russ Williams
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the review wrote:
(I played a round of 429 yesterday, which had a weird rule interaction: one player sold a share of himself for a big cash influx, which allowed him to trigger the sudden ending conditions of 4.I long before anyone else was expecting it. Even having sold an extra share of his final points, he crushed the rest of us brutally with all the extra territory he claimed on his game-ending turn.)

The ability for that kind of clever surprise seems like a good feature, not a bad bug, to me, but de gustibus non disputandum est.

docreason wrote:
To get play out of it, you really need to find a group who will stick to learning the system here, and play through modules. I would say it is likely what you would do with the Legacy type games. Without this, it just ends yup not being worth it.

FWIW I don't think that's necessarily true. I've successfully taught and played it with several different people who just played the one time and they enjoyed it. (Of course I hope to play again with them, but so far "real life" intervenes...)

Quote:
I say the group should be 3 or (preferably) 4 players in size.

The fact of it being evidently intended more for 3- and 4-player than for 2-player is a reason I've not played it more. (I do most of my gaming these days 2-player with my wife.) Still, a lot of the worlds seem to work quite nicely 2-player. The big fiddly setup and teardown is another reason we don't play more often, and the fact that it lasts a bit longer than she usually prefers (she likes short games).

(The fabled rules confusions are not a problem for us. Rarely do we have problems with the rules, no more than for any typical midcomplexity euro. And the flipbook works fine for me; I've never needed to consult that rule-summarizing website.)
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Stephen Buonocore
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Paul,

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this review.

You GET IT. It is heart-warming to see those that GET this game.

The game is not a matter of finding out that World 492 is great, but World 736 is not so good. It's a matter of exploring how game design and game mechanics work together. Friedemann is a genius.

IMHO, if you are a game designer, an aspiring game designer, or a deep enthusiast of the hobby, this game is a must.

Quick story of my involvement in the game:

At the Gathering of Friends in 2015, Friedemann showed me the game. Immediately, I said "This is amazing! I want this!" He loved my passion for the project, but had to show the game to RGG, as they were partners. As soon as they passed, I was in!


Thanks,
Stephen M. Buonocore
Stronghold Games
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Deranged
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It seems so awesome...

If I had a gamestore, I'd have this on a separate table .

Now if only I had all the money...
 
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Paul Zagieboylo
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caltexn wrote:
This is the one thing that keeps me away from this game. But it might work for others who are willing to keep up with this kind of thing.

Don't be afraid! Honestly you really only need one person who's willing to battle through the rules labyrinth. Since I'm the owner and I have abnormally high information flux capacity anyway, that's me (for my group). But as long as you have one person who feels prepared to explain whatever game comes up, you can totally do randomly-chosen worlds with a new group. I have several times.

russ wrote:
the review wrote:
(I played a round of 429 yesterday, which had a weird rule interaction: one player sold a share of himself for a big cash influx, which allowed him to trigger the sudden ending conditions of 4.I long before anyone else was expecting it. Even having sold an extra share of his final points, he crushed the rest of us brutally with all the extra territory he claimed on his game-ending turn.)

The ability for that kind of clever surprise seems like a good feature, not a bad bug, to me, but de gustibus non disputandum est.

Oh, I completely agree. If we'd thought about it, we would have known to expect this, and played more defensively (or maybe more aggressively, I'm not sure which would be better) in order to be ready for it. Honestly my cousin just had a good starting position (lots of double-income mountains) and benefited from me screwing myself pretty badly to one side of him, allowing him a little more income than round 4 was really ready for. Then he sold a share for $60 and built 14 residents. Module 2.II reducing the available resident pool also contributed to this one, making 4.I even more sudden than it usually is. But I agree, this wasn't bad necessarily, just kind of weird and surprising and no one was expecting it until he said "oh hey, I can just end the game" and we all went gulp. We didn't even bother counting up the share points: his base score was 66 against the next closest 42 and he still had 6 of his own shares (plus one of mine); there's no beating that. Then we played some Betrayal and he and I won handily as the heroes, so he's forgiven. whistle
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Mark Brown
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I bought 504 when it first came out. It sat on my shelf for 9 or 10 months and never hit the table. The rules are confusing. But http://504rules.github.io/ makes it approachable.

Recently I decided to take the plunge. My wife and I played world 123. It went well. So then we played world 234. Again we had a good game. Next we tried world 567. It was also a good game.

At this point the rules really started making sense. The key for me is understanding the method for gaining victory points, and the method for gaining income. Then you just use income to gain victory points.

We continued to learn other worlds, and now have experienced probably 8 different games. All of them have played quickly with 2 players, and each have delivered a slightly different experience.

I am glad I finally got this to the table, and I don't ever see this leaving my collection. There is a lot of game in the box that will provide challenges and enjoyment for years.
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