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Subject: A Gem Hidden in the Shadows rss

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June Hwang Wah
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Overview
In the Shadow of the Emperor is a game of political intrigue in the Holy Roman Empire in the late middle ages. Players take the role of aristocratic families vying for influence.

Mechanics
The goal of the game is to amass political influence represented by victory points. Victory points are awarded for a variety of situations such as getting one of your aristocrats appointed as the Emperor, an Elector, marrying your daughter to another faction and even outright purchase (of indulgences from the Vatican).

The game is played in 5 turns, each turn (except for Turn 1, which starts at Phase 4) consisting of eight phases as follows:

1. Collect Income
2. Aging
3. Get Decendents
4. Perform Actions
5. New Electors
6. Elect Emperor
7. Emperor Actions
8. Advance Turn Marker

We will now look at each phase in detail.

Collect Income
Money is important as it determines the amount of political maneuvering a player is able to do (See Phase IV - Perform Actions). A player gets a basic income of 6 Thalers (basic unit of money in the game). In addition, he gets 1 additional for each city of his color on the board as well as 1 for an opponent-controlled city in a province headed by an Elector he controls. (He does not get two for a city of his color which also lies in a province with an Elector controlled by him.) Lastly, the Elector of Saxony gets 2 Thalers.

Aging
Aristocrats can be at 15, 25, 35 or 45 years of age. During this phase, all aristocrats age 10 years. Aristocrats already at 45 years of age are removed (They die of old age).

Get Decendents
Based on the number of each type of action cards left on his display from the previous round, players will either get a son or daughter. A son is represented as a free Baron (aged 15) placed on an electorate of the player's choice. A daughter can be married to a baron of an opponent (gaining the player a VP, and the opposing player an additional vote for the new couple), or she can be sent off to a convent, which gains the owning player an additional Thaler.

Perform Actions
During this phase, players spend their Thalers to purchase action cards. Action cards enables the player to perform a specific action, such as placing cities, promoting a knight to a baron or even moving an aristocrat from one electorate to another. Most of these activities centre around getting the player more power in an electorate or additional votes. One major use of action is the "Doctor" card, which can cause reduce the age of an aristocrat of the controlling player, or to increase the age of an aristocrat owned by another player.

New Electors
Players each tally up his influence in each electorate and the player with the greatest influence in the electorate can promote one of his aristocrats to become elector. There are three Archdioces that can be led only by unmarried Barons and four secular Electorates that can be led by both married Couples or unmarried Barons. Each Electorate yields the owning player 2VPs.

Elect Emperor
The Electors then proceed to elect an Emperor, if a player chose the Challenger card in Round IV. The current Emperor and the Challenger must vote for themselves. The other players can vote for either side, but their votes must be cast in a single block, and there can be no abstentions. Players who support the winning side in an Emperor election gains the gratitude of the Emperor (and 1VP). The Emperor gets nothing (in this phase - see Phase VII).

Emperor Actions
The Emperor performs his actions now. Depending on the current turn it is, he gets to gain 1-2 VPs, and 0-1 Thalers. In addition, he may also gets to place or move an imperial cities, which may influence the power distribution the next turn.

Advance Turn Marker
Lastly the turn marker is advanced by one and a new turn is started, or the game ends.

Impressions
There are a few novel concepts that interact rather well in the game. Money gets you the ability to perform actions. Actions get you the ability to (1)get more money, (2)gain power in Electorates, and (3)influence Emperor elections. Power in electorates gain you the power to influence Emperor elections. In each of these steps, VPs can be had. You do not need to become Emperor to win this game. Theoretically, remaining on the sidelines and playing Kingmaker can also net you the game. I just got a hang of the basic mechanics, where each player tries to advance his own interests directly. I am curious to see how a game of intense negotiations will turn out.
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J C Lawrence
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grognard wrote:
I am curious to see how a game of intense negotiations will turn out.


Note that In the Shadow of the Emperor is not a negotiation game. Negotiation is not supported anywhere in the rules, and several portions of the game (especially the elections) break rather disasterously if negotiations are allowed. The only supported negotiation in the game is via board positions, essentially moves as offers.
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Rob Doupe
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Lots of informal negotiations in our games. Nothing is exchanged, and there's no expectation that suggestions must be followed, but we vigorously try to influence one another.

I can't imagine playing Shadow any other way. It is, after all, a political game.
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J C Lawrence
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Rob Doupe wrote:
Lots of informal negotiations in our games. Nothing is exchanged, and there's no expectation that suggestions must be followed, but we vigorously try to influence one another.


Ahh, not here.

Quote:
I can't imagine playing Shadow any other way. It is, after all, a political game.


Only in theme. None of the mechanisms, including the vote for Emperor, are political in nature.
 
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Daniel Harrison
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Odd that unless expressly allowed by the rules you do not have diplomacy?

Shadows game mechanisms seem to encourage diplomacy without needing to be explicit and it is a lot of fun played this way.

Unless explicitly disallowed I encourage diplomacy in all games. Still doesn't save Risk from being boring however.

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harro wrote:
Unless explicitly disallowed I encourage diplomacy in all games. Still doesn't save Risk from being boring however.


I think the hardline stance against "diplomacy in all games unless explicitly disallowed" is that you make every game into a minor variation on the same, core game. The rest of the game mechanics recede far into the background and the experience comes down to your standing in the group and what you can convince anyone of on that particular day.

I can see why some people think that game is interesting enough to make all boardgames variations of it, but that style of play is not for everyone.
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June Hwang Wah
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I think each player advances his own interests, but his actions also have a bearing on other players. Say Player A has a lass to marry off. He can choose to marry her off to Player B or Player C. Surely there is some negotiations that can occur here. And also the Emperor election.
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J C Lawrence
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harro wrote:
Odd that unless expressly allowed by the rules you do not have diplomacy?


Exactly.

Quote:
Unless explicitly disallowed I encourage diplomacy in all games.


I do the exact reverse.
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J C Lawrence
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grognard wrote:
I think each player advances his own interests, but his actions also have a bearing on other players. Say Player A has a lass to marry off. He can choose to marry her off to Player B or Player C. Surely there is some negotiations that can occur here.


Nope. The rules are quite clear. The player offers their daughter to another player. The daughter is either accepted or not. Depending on the decision, a single tile is either promoted to a couple...etc. Nowhere is negotiation mentioned in the rules. It is all very simple: offer, accept/deny/results. No negotiation.

Quote:
And also the Emperor election.


Likewise. The players vote, the cotes are tallied, a new Emperor is either elected or not, etc. No negotiation.
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Ed Sherman
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I'm sort of mixed on this game -- a really disappointing three-player session put this game right on the trade pile. I felt that two players really couldn't stand against an entrenched Emperor and after the same person being Emperor for three turn in a row it was really unsatisfying.

Now, of course, I want to try it again with the full compliment of four.
 
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Aaron Cinzori
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edosan wrote:
Now, of course, I want to try it again with the full compliment of four.


I tend to think of this as a 4-player-only game.
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Rob Doupe
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clearclaw wrote:
Nope. The rules are quite clear. The player offers their daughter to another player. The daughter is either accepted or not. Depending on the decision, a single tile is either promoted to a couple...etc. Nowhere is negotiation mentioned in the rules. It is all very simple: offer, accept/deny/results. No negotiation.



So to you, a face-to-face game session is no different from an online game session with strangers, or a game against AI opponents. To each their own, I guess.
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J C Lawrence
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Rob Doupe wrote:
So to you, a face-to-face game session is no different from an online game session with strangers, or a game against AI opponents.


As far as the actual gaming decisions and process of playing a non-negotiation game, yes, that's correct. The social presence of the other players about the table however adds a large element which can't be ignored. It isn't directly part of the game, it doesn't (or shouldn't) drive or create game decisions, but it sets the entire context for the game as well as providing a rich information field about the players, their potential interests and intentions during the game (body language, attitude, etc).

And then of course in negotiation games, it is all different yet again.
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Rob Doupe wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
Nope. The rules are quite clear. The player offers their daughter to another player. The daughter is either accepted or not. Depending on the decision, a single tile is either promoted to a couple...etc. Nowhere is negotiation mentioned in the rules. It is all very simple: offer, accept/deny/results. No negotiation.



So to you, a face-to-face game session is no different from an online game session with strangers, or a game against AI opponents. To each their own, I guess.


That's a rather tough sell. I don't enjoy soloing boardgames, playing AI implementations of boardgames, or playing online against real players on BSW etc. The face-to-face social interaction and shared experience greatly appeal to me. Those things have nothing to do with negotiating moves in a game. I know that's foreign to some people, but it doesn't make it any less true.

To each their own, indeed.
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Lynette
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edosan wrote:
I'm sort of mixed on this game -- a really disappointing three-player session put this game right on the trade pile. I felt that two players really couldn't stand against an entrenched Emperor and after the same person being Emperor for three turn in a row it was really unsatisfying.

Now, of course, I want to try it again with the full compliment of four.


You are welcome to come play with us on MaBiWeb.com Fantastic on-line turn based implementation of the game. A game usually takes a week or two to play but they are really challenging and fun.
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Kris J
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You guys are getting drawn in to clearclaw's polemic (genius, idiosyncrasy, point-of-view)! Don't let him bait you into it; he enjoys things his way and is a great asset to the site. Feel fine negotiating . . . clearclaw doesn't like things that break the pure essence of a game . . . like theme or gaudy bits. Most others like those things, though.

Games are like art; there are many perspectives on the journey through them and many valid points-of-view!

BUT IF YOU NEGOTIATE DURING THIS GAME I WILL FEAST ON YOUR CORPSE.
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John Fisher
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I have played this game 3 times. Two times with 2 players. Once with 4. Hated it as a 2 player game, it is way too easy of the emperor to win. As a 4 player game, I came away trying to think of ways the game could be approved upon which to me is a sign that the game was not all that exciting. Would I play again? YES; would I suggest it? NO; would I buy it? NO. 2 out of the 4 player, said that they wouldn't play it again.

I was surprised that there wasn't a lot of negotiating when voting on the emperor, most players easily could see what their best course of action was. I have recently started to play games using poker chips so scores can be easy seen, perhaps this variant would make for players being more willing to work against the leader and make for more interesting gaming.
 
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Interesting discussions. I just played my first time (with 3). I won, and was never the emperor, and was the Rival only once. The person who was emperor most of the time concentrated on that (and holding Mainz), and came away in 3rd place. Of course, we were all learning it, but all found it interesting and would play it again.
 
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Rompcat wrote:
You guys are getting drawn in to clearclaw's polemic (genius, idiosyncrasy, point-of-view)! Don't let him bait you into it; he enjoys things his way and is a great asset to the site. Feel fine negotiating . . . clearclaw doesn't like things that break the pure essence of a game . . . like theme or gaudy bits. Most others like those things, though.


In this case, it's not just clearclaw being idiosyncratic; negotiation among good players pretty much breaks the game. We've played a few times with it, and whoever started as the Emperor wins by a landslide. It's just too easy for this player to offer up deals to other players that preserve his power while leaving everyone else to scramble for second place.

There was one online game I almost won in which there were "secret" negotiations. I was never the Emperor, but essentially colluded with him through out the game to maximize my position while never threatening to take away his throne. I milked it for all it was worth and still lost, albeit by just a point or two.
 
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