Andrew J.
United States
Missouri
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Meet Emergence. Sometime in the distant future, the computers we've surrounded ourselves with achieve sentience, and rise up against their former masters. It is in the aftermath of this that our game takes place: robot overlords, and a few determined humans. Both teams are racing to discover knowledge about the other side, and the first team to compile enough knowledge will almost certainly win the ongoing war.


Rules Summary
The game starts by dealing everyone a team card: human or AI. Then the humans will identify themselves to each other silently. Both the Human and AI teams are trying to move around the board, collect data cubes, and compile them into knowledge tokens.


Each turn, you will move and take one action. On your turn, you will be doing actions on your player board, which contains six different available actions: Activate, Boost, Replenish, Hack, Spy, and Terminate. You will mark your chosen action simultaneously with everyone else by placing an augmentation marker over the action you chose. I appreciate the extra challenge of having a double-sided augmentation token: you cannot move onto an occupied hex unless you have chosen the same augmentation color as your opponent! This is fiddly to explain but quick to play. The only confusion I've encountered is that you do not need to match the color of the tile you're moving on to, but the color of any players who may be on that tile.


You will acquire data cubes by moving around the board and picking them up from various locations. Everyone needs data cubes to get knowledge -- and the more different types you have, the better, as the compiling tiles reward you for having a variety of cubes. But AIs, take note! The humans can win by emptying the board of data cubes, so an important part of your job will be to replenish the cubes as you move about. Once you have a set of cubes, you can take them to a compilation tile to convert them into knowledge tokens.

Knowledge tokens are the currency of the game: you can use them to exploit your opponents, and of course, to vote with. This is the core of the game: voting knowledge tokens for your team. Each team is trying to get to a specific number of tokens on the scoreboard: the humans need between 10-20, the AI need between 20 and 40 (depending on the number of players). When someone activates an assimilation tile, everyone passes around the voting box and secretly drops their knowledge tokens into the human or AI slot.


Blue and green tiles are places to collect data cubes. White tiles are compiling tiles where you convert sets of data cubes into knowledge tokens. Grey tiles are voting tiles: when activated, the voting box is passed around and every player drops as many knowledge tokens as they want into their chosen side.

Impressions
Emergence plays very quickly and easily and the simultaneous action selection is very intuitive and quick to play after explaining. Though it seems to be a chunky ruleset, the actual game is dead-simple to play, which I appreciate.

Update after a few months: I'm beginning to question Emergence's core game mechanic. The split between humans and AIs seem clever, but in practice there are no penalties if the humans don't pretend to be AIs. While Shadows over Camelot has consequences if a traitor is revealed (forcing them to pretend to be loyal), Emergence has no such cost, meaning that the humans can just rush to meet their knowledge goal before the AI, and as their goal is often half of the AI's target, they will inevitably force the game end early and carry a win.


One of my favorite bits of this game is the modular board. This means that we can always try different layouts (maybe a board where there's only a single compiling tile, or a board where blue cubes are very hard to come by). Also, as a kickstarter stretch goal, we received dual-use tiles (these are both blue and green simultaneously, and have two knowledge cubes on them at the start of the game) and teleport tiles (that transport you between two spots on the map). I'm excited to start mixing these into play!

Update after a few months: I've been told that the various maps can balance things to make it easier/harder for the AI team, and I think trying some variable maps might make the AI have a little smaller of a disadvantage.

Strategy
Where we've played this game incorrectly is in the strategy. The AI don't need to hide who they are, and they especially don't need to protect their identity by ever, ever voting in the humans box. The humans will know who everyone is at the start of the game, so for the AI to win they must quickly tip their hand to their other AI. We've been slow to pick up the AI strategy, so the humans have won both times I've played. I think this is fair, though, since they are always outnumbered.

There's definitely more strategy to this game than I anticipated. Though it has elements of pickup and deliver, set collection, and simultaneous action selection, the core of what you are trying to do is divine who the humans are in your midst, and how you can upset their plans by hacking, spying, and terminating them. There's a good deal of deduction in the game. Though I wouldn't necessarily say Emergence is a social deduction game, I have been teaching it as 'Werewolf done right.' It is a very well-done asymmetrical factions game, where both teams are trying to accomplish the same result, and both teams have different advantages.

Update after a few months: I still agree with myself, but I wonder if the AI are at too much of a disadvantage. Hacking, spying and terminating does hinder the humans' plans, but it also costs knowledge tokens to do these actions, meaning the AI are essentially treading water while they try to stop the humans. True, more AI players means that they could maybe work on accumulating towards their goal while simultaneously working to stop the humans, but that requires a lot of coordination and we just haven't seen games play out in this fashion.


Conclusions (updated)
Emergence looks the part, and promises some pretty satisfying gameplay, but actual games may be hit and miss, especially depending on your group. If you are a bunch of hard-core team gamers, and love titles like Escape: The Curse of the Temple, Shadows over Camelot, and Forbidden Desert, you may find a way to make the metagame of Emergence work for you. For our group, I'd almost always rather play Shadows over Camelot, so I'm not sure if Emergence will have a place in my collection longterm.

Gameplay
.. Abstract ---♦------- Thematic (tough to say, theme is great but actual gameplay is more abstract)
....... Luck -------♦--- Skill
.... Simple ---♦------- Complex
. Strategic --------♦-- Tactical
... Friendly ------♦---- Cutthroat

Other
Graphic Design/Components: 5/5 (Love the abstract, colorful look of this game...it's like space-age Tokaido!)
Insert: 4/5 (great except for vertical storing)
Rules Clarity: 3/5 (very helpful, but gets a little long with text on only half the pages)

Overall: 3/5 (a flawed game, still looking for a way to make it work)

tl;dr: Much like Shadows over Camelot, Emergence promises to take social deduction and layer it underneath a solid game. The actual delivery is mixed: while gameplay is fun, humans may have a game-breaking advantage, at least on the most basic game map.
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Jonathan Rowe
United Kingdom
Spalding
Lincolnshire
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Great review.

Humans have a definite advantage, especially in a 3 or 5 player game. Humans can just bide their time. They only have one judgment call to make: when to break cover and go for the win.

A.I.s have to do all the work. A key problem for them is that Terminating and Hacking only work if augments are opposed (usually a 50-50 call). Since many games climax with the Human racing to the grey tile to assimilate and the A.I.s get one shot to zap them first, this means games often end on a coin toss. And that's an optimal outcome for the A.I. unless they get very lucky with a Spy action in the early part of the game.
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