Viceroy is a game in which the players will recruit allies and pass laws, all while collecting valuable gemstones, to build their pyramid of power. The player whose pyramid is most powerful by the end of 12 rounds is the winner.
The Board and Components
Note: Some of the components pictured here are upgraded from the base game. For example, the play mat doesn’t exist in the regular game and the gemstones are cardboard rather than plastic, as seen here.
First is the play mat. Again, this is not in the regular version of the game, but it will be helpful to describe some of the other components. In the center of the mat is where cards will be up for auction. Players will bid on the cards in this area, and gain them to their pyramids. There is also a round tracker, and spaces for the decks of cards to be placed.
There are 64 character cards and 24 law cards (some copies may have the 8 additional Kickstarter cards). 4 auction cards are also included. These are helpful especially if you don’t have the play mat.
There are 64 gemstones – 16 of 4 different colors. These will be collected and spent by the players throughout the game.
Science, magic, attack, defense, point, and bonus tokens will also be commonly gained by the players as cards are built into pyramids.
Finally, each player gets a screen, and there is a scoring pad to tabulate the end of game scoring.
The four colored auction cards are placed in the center of the table (unless play mat is included, in which case this is unnecessary). There should be room for a card beneath and above each auction card. Piles of each token type are placed near the ‘board’. The gemstones are also placed near the board (64 for 4 players, 48 for 3, and 32 for 2, with an event distribution of colors). Each player is given a player screen and places 2 gemstones of each color behind their screen. Then they randomly return 2 gemstones to the reserve. The character cards are shuffled and 4 are dealt to each player. Each player chooses 1 card and places it face-up in front of them, starting the bottom row of their pyramid. They gain the lowest depicted bonus on the card (indicating the bottom row). Each player adds a second card to their hand and returns the other 2 cards to the deck. 48 cards are shuffled and put into the ‘large deck’ and the remaining cards are placed in the ‘small deck’. These decks are kept separate. 4 cards from the large deck are placed in the play area, one below each colored auction card. Finally, each player adds 3 random law cards to their hand. The remaining law cards are placed in a stack next to the play area.
The game is played in exactly 12 rounds. Each round will follow this structure:
1. Auction phase
2. Development phase
In short, the players will each gain cards, and then build cards into their pyramids collecting bonuses as they do so.
During this phase, players bid on the face-up cards next to the colored auction cards, as described in setup. Each player decides which card they want. Then they see which colored auction card it corresponds to, and put 1 of that color gemstone into their hand, so that they can bid for the chosen card. When all players are ready, they simultaneously reveal their bids. If a certain color has been revealed by only a single player, they gain the card of that color. The gemstone they bid is returned to the reserve. If 2 or more players bid the same color gem, the stones are returned to the reserve and players can participate in a second auction (exception: if there are 2 cards corresponding to the color bid, the players can reach an agreement to each take 1 of the available cards, avoiding another bidding round). The players who did not pass or receive a card continue to the second auction round. If, at the end of the second auction, there are still players who haven’t passed or gained a card (because they tied with another player, again), the third auction begins. Any players that don’t gain cards by the end of the third auction do not gain a card. This is highly costly, as 3 gemstones would have been wasted to gain nothing. Players are allowed to openly discuss who will be bidding what color gem to avoid ties.
If a player chooses not to bid a stone, they open their empty hand and declare that they’re passing. Passing players don’t receive any cards and can’t participate in any auctions.
Players can only receive one card per round in the auction. Cards received during the auction are added to the players’ hands. If 2 cards are available next to an auction color and only 1 player bid that color, they choose which card they would like to gain.
When each player has gained a card or passed (which will forcibly occur to remaining players after three auction rounds), the auction phase is over. Any cards remaining above the colored auction cards are removed from the game and all cards at the base slide up above the auction cards. Four new character cards are added from the large deck to the base. So, characters will be available for 1 or 2 rounds, depending how popular they are, but will then be cycled out.
If a player passes during the auction phase, they gain 3 gemstones of their choice from the reserve. They can take an extra gem for each science token in their pyramid.
This phase consists of 3 rounds of playing cards. In the beginning of each round, the players secretly choose a card they wish to play and place it facedown. Starting with the player who played the lowest numbered card, the cards are built into the players’ pyramids. On each card, the cost and rewards are depicted. If played in the lowest level, only the gem from that level is required, but if played in a higher level of the pyramid, the gem cost of that level and every lower level is required. Playing law cards is free, but they’re still played into the pyramid. The pyramid has a maximum height of 5 levels. Cards on the lowest level must be played to the left and right of cards already played. To build the pyramid up, the player must have two cards below to support it, as seen in the example below:
The players should try to match colors of as many of the circles at the intersections of the cards as possible. If they complete a circle of a single color, they immediately take a gem of that color from the reserve. Once placed, the player immediately gains the effect of the card, depending on the level played into. Unlike the cost, they don’t gain the benefits of previous levels. Cards on the fifth level cost the gems of the previous 4 levels, as well as the gemstone shown in the top row of the card. Playing a card into the fifth level gains the player the rewards of the bottom 3 levels or 15 victory points.
This development is carried out three times in each round. Once this is done, the players proceed to the next auction phase.
Let’s take a look at some of the rewards:
1. Gemstones – These simply grant the player gemstones of their choice from the reserve.
2. Power points – These are end of game victory points.
3. Cards from the small deck or law deck – These add more cards of the indicated type into the player’s hand.
4. Science – A science token is added to the card. These allow the player to take extra gemstones if they pass in an auction round. They also add points at the end of the game.
5. Magic – A magic token is added to the card. These add points at the end of the game.
6. Defense and Attack – Attack tokens are placed behind the player’s screen. Attack tokens are played during the auction round instead of a gemstone. The player takes the card of their choice before other auctions are resolved.
7. Bonus tokens – These add victory points to the indicated card.
8. Infinite gemstones – These allow the player one of the indicated type of gemstone each round to spend during the development phase.
End of Game
Once 12 rounds are complete, the game is over. Remaining gemstones are used to ‘paint’ imperfect circles (intersections) to complete them, thus scoring more points. Victory points are scored in this order:
1. Points for single color circles - one for each
2. Points for infinite gemstones - equal to the level of the stone
3. Points for law cards
4. Points for power tokens
5. Points for magic - each token is worth the total number of magic bonuses in the pyramid
6. Points for completed sets - 12 for each set of defense, magic, science
7. Penalty for attack tokens - 4 points lost for each opponents’ unused attack token. Each defense token neutralizes one attack token
Image courtesy of punkin312
The player who has the most points is victorious!
Pyramid Building – This is a pretty fun concept. It’s fun to be physically building a pyramid as the game progresses. It’s also neat to be able to choose which level you’d like to play a card into, based on the bonuses it provides. The downside is that this game takes up a lot of table space, as each pyramid can be quite large.
Pace – The auction and development round usually play very quickly. This isn’t a long game by any means and it tends to play at a good clip.
Artwork – The art is gorgeous. This doesn’t make or break a game for me, but it’s certainly a nice touch.
Challenge – This game definitely poses a challenge. It’s not a game where you can do everything and you have to choose wisely which cards to play each round. A couple mis-steps early can haunt you for the rest of the game. I think this is a good thing because it ups the competition, but some players might find this to be more of a negative.
‘Bidding’ mechanic – This is my major problem with Viceroy. It’s called an ‘auction’ round, but really, it often turns into the players openly discussing which cards they want such that ties are avoided. If player A bids on the same card as player B, players C and D benefit. Tying is so costly, that you’re better off avoiding it altogether. It’s really more of a negotiation round and at that point, why bother? Just deal every player 2 cards and let them choose 1. It doesn’t make much sense. This mechanic makes me cringe.
Uneven final scores – I’ve never played a game where all players had decent final scores. Due to the multiplier and set scoring, the spread is usually very large. And if you’re losing by a large margin, this becomes apparent about half way through the game, and there usually isn’t a great way to catch up at that point. It’s very difficult to see what everyone else might be bidding on based on their pyramid’s strengths, so it can be difficult to employ much blocking.
Unbalanced law cards – I’ve only played with the Kickstarter promo cards, and I’ve been told this is largely where the problem is. There are a couple overpowered law cards that really unbalance the game if built.
Colored circles – This really has nothing to do with the theme and seems to be a pasted on scoring element. For what reason? I’m not sure. The game has plenty of points without this, and it’s often not in the players’ control. To me it just seems quite random and unnecessary.
The basic concept of Viceroy is cool. I love the choices involved in playing each card strategically into the pyramid and gaining more useful bonuses. The law cards can be integrated into a strategy really effectively too. However, at the end of the day, this just isn’t a game for me. A primary focus is supposed to be the auction round, and it just doesn’t work. If players were allowed to bid more than one gem (or didn’t lose gems each bidding round) maybe I would feel differently. But if bids aren’t discussed ahead of time, ties are common and extremely crippling. It just doesn’t make sense.
How easy is the game to learn?
The basic rules are pretty easy to pick up, but it will be hard for new players to grasp the implications of the final scoring until the experience it. Many, many points can be scored via set bonuses and magic tokens for example and new players probably won’t focus as much on these strategies until future plays.
Will it be easy to find players?
Unless they speak to me first, yes! The art is fabulous and the pyramid-building concept is refreshingly unique. On the surface, this game has a lot to offer.
Is the reward worth the time spent?
I really don’t think so. It’s not a total disaster, but I never feel very satisfied after a game of Viceroy. The other players are playing a fairly independent game after the ‘auction’ mechanic, and it’s difficult to interrupt someone else’s engine (only at the cost of bidding for the cards they want, which feels like taking one for the team).
How much fun is defeat?*
Defeat is about as unsatisfying as victory. Again, this game just doesn’t work for me. I find myself puzzled at the end of the game, because the strategies don’t seem particularly balanced and the end of game scoring leads the scores to be vastly different. There just isn’t enough ‘game’ here.
*I think one of the best ways to evaluate a game is to consider how much fun it is to lose. The goal is to have fun whether I've won or lost!
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