Vertigo is a very unique game to portray global development and its pollution consequences. The game is very solid in its game play and also has a place in education as well IMHO. I found it to be engaging and rather straight forward. There is a small amount of downtime as each player goes through their country management phase.
Vertigo is based on worldwide industrial development; each player is building factories, which requires a number of graduates, which can only be created by a certain amount of population. These factories and the population to a much lesser extent in turn produce revenue for the country. They also produce pollution. Lastly, graduates can also become diplomats and establish laws (penalty sanctions against other countries or benefits for countries really).
The objective is to have the most number of factories at the end of the game. Ties get broken by graduates and possibly money.
Plastic graduate pawns in 4 player colors, wooden pollution die, plastic population pawns, card board law sheets, money counters, and boards. There are boards for each player in their color that depict 3 regions divided into 10 provinces. There is also a main board that is a huge dial. This depicts the global pollution level and has a track around the edge that depicts the number of turns ending on the 11th space with a '?'. My player boards have a slight amount of warp. (I bought my game used also.)
After an initial set-up where you expend up to $40 to build factories, populate your country and create graduates that become engineers in the factories or diplomats in the UN (CNU), the game turn consists taking phases with each player executing teh phase in player order.
Phase 1: Update Turn Track, Change Start Player
Phase 1 is where the start player rotates and the pawn indicating the turn number is advanced. If it is on the question mark you will roll a pollution die at the end of the turn to see if the game ends or not.
Phase 2: Manage Country
I won't go into rules details, but Phase 2 has the starting player managing his country, which consists of (in order) -
1) pay $1 per graduate/engineer/diplomat upkeep; payment for diplomats goes to the UN treasury, the rest goes into the general reserve.
2) movement of any graduates to new regions or to the UN to become a diplomat
3) construction of factories; there are 3 types: polluting factories, clean factories, and pollution treatment plants. (I have reworded the official names from the rules a bit here as I think it helps people mentally get a concept on what they do.) You can convert polluting factories into clean factories also.
Polluting Factory $5 + 1 graduate (becomes engineer)
Clean Factory $10 + 1 graduates
Pollution Treatment Factory $10 + 1 graduates
Conversion of Polluting to Clean Factory $5 + 1 graduate (brings it to two engineers)
4) Pollution clean-up; if the global pollution level is less than the regions's pollution level, you can clean it up. The cost varies as $1 if you have a pollution treatment in the region, $5 if there is one in the country, or $10 if you just want to pay the UN superfund (money to treasury in this circumstance) to take care of it; the other payments go into the general reserve.
5) Increase or move your population. Movement costs $1/pawn moved between regions. Each province can hold one population. Gaining population costs $5 for each additional pawn added.
6) Develop graduates. In regions where there is a population of 5 or more, you can get one graduate for each 5; cost is $5. Places these in the center region area. You can commit them as engineers or diplomats on your next turn in the movement (#2 above).
Phase 3: Pollution
Starting with the starting player, roll the pollution die. If a sun is rolled, nothing happens. Any clouds rolled increase the pollution 1-2 and taht # of pollution markers are placed; these get placed on provinces, usually your own based on the region you rolled, but perhaps a neighboring country. You roll the die one time for every polluting factory you have or 5 in population in a region. If the pollution covers a province with population or factories on it; they get eliminated. If all your population/factories are eliminated, you are eliminated.
For each pollution roll that occurs on this turn, place a marker down. I used the left over circles from punching out the factories/pollution markers. Once 4 markers are reached, the global pollution goes up 10%. if you reach 100%, everyone dies (loses). The global pollution will go down 10% if only suns are rolled on a turn.
Phase 4: Production
Earn revenue as follows:
$1 per population pawn
$5 for a clean factory
$10 for a polluting factory
Phase 5: Set Laws
Starting with the start player, propose a law by putting one of your colored pawns on the law. Then starting with the start player, each diplomat in the UN can vote for or against the law or abstain from voting. As a player you can only ever propose a law once during the entire game, and a particular law can only be proposed once per turn. If you are playing a 4 player game, then the most a law could be proposed is 4 times. There are 6 laws to choose from...
These laws either are sanctions that hurt other players or are specific benefits to players. Some do a little of both.
If the turn had reached the question mark, the start player rolls the pollution die; if the sun comes up (50% chance) the game ends. If any pollution marker shows up (50%) the game continues. Thus you know you will have 11 turns, but you could have several after that. The game can also end if the Global pollution reaches 100%.
The Interesting Bits...
Once pollution starts going up it is VERY unlikely to go down without people sacrificing revenue and/or the ability to create graduates. The more rolls you have the greater a chance of rolling a pollution result and thus working towards increasing global pollution. The pollution markers stay over from turn to turn.
The UN representation with laws is interesting as well. It really adds a fascinating aspect to the game.
You can take a strategy of fast development or slow development, along with the dimensions of what kind of factories you develop. Do you go for polluting factories to get lots of money and hope to clean it up later, or do you go clean at the start. Even just the number of graduates you want to produce per turn, dictated by your population, will impact how much pollution is potentially produced. The higher the global pollution, the less opportunity for your pollution treatment plants will have any effect in helping you.
Our First Play
(repeated from the session report to provide context of how I assessed the game in the conclusion)
In the set-up phase, I went with a clean plant, a low distributed population, and one polluting plant. I had only 3 engineers as a result. The other two players went with high population and only polluting plants.
They both pursued fast growth strategies later slowly converting to cleaner energy. I pursued a slower growth strategy and never had any more than 2 polluting factories.
In our game, we only had the opportunity to engage one law, by myself, and I did solidarity which pooled all the countries treasuries together and then divided it equally amongst everyone. I came out ahead...
Our game ended with us with global pollution reaching 100%. Even though people started converting to cleaner energy AND changing tehir population structures, it was too little too late. Most of my pollution came from others; with my much lower population (the most I ever had was 12, where as my opponents almost all started out close to 15). I didn't do many pollution rolls.
This game is a fantastic game addition; I think its theme may turn some folks off (those that think less green perhaps), but if more played it, I suspect the game would rate higher. The decisions are really hard and the UN usage plus number of turns that must be executed make for a really interesting twist to keep a runaway leader from emerging.
I also think with some thought, one could have interesting discussions about the potential meaning behind the choices made. There are some differences with reality (green plants could produce as much revenue as polluting ones for example), but that is to be expected to make the game playable.
Clarification: I stated "For each pollution roll that occurs on this turn, ..."
It should read (to be more clear), "For each pollution roll that results in pollution on this turn, ..."