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Subject: They called me mad! A Nefarious review. rss

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King of All Simians — Not a Mere Diplomat
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OK, so I'm totally biased, right? Scott from Ascora Games is the host of our game group in Chicago, and he's one of my favorite humans. So of course I'm a booster.

But I'm telling you: being friends with a publisher isn't all fun and games. Well actually, it is a lot of games--but some of them ain't much fun. If Scott bothers to show them to us they're probably not outright dogs, but you end up playing a lot of games that are missing something vital. When the Vaccarino name is attached to a prototype it certainly piques one's interest, but even a sterling pedigree isn't a guarantee of a sterling game. There was another DXV game we played that was perfectly serviceable, but still missed the beam.

All of that considered, we knew we were in on to something special when Nefarious was brought to the table. It was played several times the first night with excited discussion between rounds, and was a games night fixture in following weeks. When I moved from Chicago to North Carolina, Scott allowed me to make a copy for myself to bring along, and it continues to be very well received by folks in my new group.

Nefarious is a game about mad scientists building wild inventions for fun and profit. Most of the game is about researching infernal devices and acquiring loot to build them, but there's a kind of crazy investment layer as well. To be honest, I'm not sure where the investments really fit into the theme, but it does add to a skewed, humorous tone and it works very well as a mechanic so I'm inclined to cut it some slack.

At the start of the game, each player is given a set of four action cards, five assistant meeples to keep track of investments, a player mat, and ten bags of loot. There are two decks of communal cards, a large stack of invention Blueprints, and a deck of "twists", which will change the rules of the game each time you play. Players take three blueprints in hand to start, and turn over two twists for the session.

I haven't seen the final printed version to comment on the quality of the components, but I think that the design is clean and attractive. The card art is done by a bunch of different people, and some cards are definitely rendered better than others. But this is to be expected in a game where the cards are done by a variety of artists. The overarching mood of the cards is consistent, though, in a lighthearted pulpy style; these scientists are more akin to Dr. Horrible than to Herbert West.

Each round, players simultaneously select an action card. The actions are numbered and are executed in numerical order from least to greatest. But I'm going to explain each action in reverse order, for ease of explanation:

#4 - Work - When a player selects this action, they simply take four bags of loot from the supply.

#3 - Research - Draw a Blueprint and take two bags of loot.



#2 - Invent - Play a Blueprint from your hand face up to the table in front of you, paying the cost in the upper lefthand corner of the card. Each card has a victory point value, and the object of the game is to collect 20 VPs. Most cards also have actions that occur when the card is "invented". Some of these actions affect the player who invented the device (as denoted by a green, downward-pointing arrow), and some affect everybody else at the table (as denoted by a red, upward-facing, multipointed arrow). These effects can force players to draw or discard Blueprints, gain or lose Loot, and gain or lose Investment meeple assignments. If multiple players invent in the same round, all effects occur more or less concurrently; if there are conflicting effects (one invention says draw a card, another says to discard one), they're resolved in clockwise order from each player, with personal effects taking place before table effects. Successfully chaining inventions together, setting yourself up for future rounds and balancing effects versus VPs makes for good decision points and strategic thinking.

Lastly, #1 - Speculate - This is the weird investment part. Players who select Speculate will take one of their Assistant meeples and place it on their player mat, on one of the four action spaces, paying the investment cost for that space. In future rounds, after players reveal their action cards, you will look to your left and right and see if your neighbor has selected an action upon which you've speculated. If they have, you gain one bag of loot per meeple on that action space. You've got five meeples to invest with, and you can put a bunch on one spot or spread them across the actions. I don't understand thematically what this really represents, but it adds an element where you have to read your neighbors' intentions and speculate wisely to reap decent benefits, and it's a lot of fun to risk playing an "Invent" card that you won't be able to afford unless your neighbor selects an action that pays out for you.

And that's the pith of the game. Get Blueprints and Loot, convert them into Inventions. The base mechanics are interesting enough to carry the game pretty far, but introducing the Twists is where the game turns it up to eleven!

Two Twists are used in each session, and they'll make changes to the base rules. Some of these changes are simple things like not being able to select the same action two rounds in a row, discarding loot down to the nearest increment of five each round, or increasing the victory point total from twenty to thirty. But some are more complex conditions, like Forgotten Epiphanies, where every time you Research, you draw two cards instead of one, but every time you Invent you discard a card. Or there's Repetition, where inventions with no abilities gain the abilities of the previous Invention played. Sometimes the two Twists interact in delightfully synergistic ways, like one Twist that says you play two actions instead of one, and then all effects from actions are doubled by the second Twist!

The Twists in play give each session of Nefarious a unique flavor and demand new strategies to exploit the current conditions. I'll also allow that there are (thankfully rare) times when you can get stuck with a bum pair of Twists, where they don't seem to make much difference or can even make things frustrating in an unfun way. But these occasions don't happen very often, and the game plays quickly enough that the taste of a dud session can be washed away by setting up another!

Though Nefarious is nothing like 7 Wonders in its core mechanics, the way that they're applied does bring it to mind in a good way. The investment payouts where you monitor your neighbors and get paid based on their actions is reminiscent of 7 Wonders, and the simultaneous action selection helps it to scale exceedingly well up to six players with no great amount of play time added. All in all, I think lots of folks are really going to love Nefarious. It's quick to set up and play, the Twists add boatloads of replay value, it's very accessible and fun for both devout and casual gamers, and every session strikes the right balance between familiarity and novelty thanks to the simple mechanics and clever Twists.
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Todd
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Re: They called me mad!
Speculating sounds more like spying.
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Mark Finch
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Rule changes for tonight's game:-
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Re: They called me mad!
Thanks for the overview.

I guess as we haven't seen much in the way of rules, the main attraction up until now would appear to be the theme. Yet the theme itself seems entirely pasted on from this description. Am I being unfair?


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Re: They called me mad!
I wouldn't call it quite pasted on, no. It feels truer to its theme than does Dominion, and that shouldn't be taken as damning with faint praise. It's not a deep mad scientist simulation, it's true, but the mechanics hang together generally, and the card effects follow from the ostensible invention they're attached to.
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Re: They called me mad!
Thanks for the review. The grammar nazi in me needs to point out that you used the word "affect" when you meant "effect" in lots of places though.

I like the Speculate option in theory, because it adds mind games and outthinking your opponents, which is always fun. However, from looking at the available actions, it seems like most of the game is split between Actions 2 and 3, and everyone will have to take those actions multiple times per game. There are no multiple paths to victory, where Speculating on certain actions can cause your opponent to switch strategies, or anything like that. So I like that this part of the game was included, but I am really worried about how it will actually play out in a real game.

One question - how much of the blueprint deck gets used every game? And is there a good variety of card effects? Other than the twists, the blueprint deck is the only thing that changes from game to game. I am worried that even with the twists, seeing the same deck of cards each time will limit the replayability.
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Re: They called me mad!
Good lord; how horrifying! I wish you woulda PM'd me so I could have been spared the public humiliation and made the edits discreetly; this is the sort of thing that I pride myself on, and I'm truly mortified! I have no idea what came over me...

In our games, the blueprint deck has rarely come close to being exhausted, so there is some variability there. But you're right; the same cards will generally be seen. But I can't overstate the variability that's injected by the Twists; many will completely change the desirability of some actions and have massive effects (*ahem!*) on gameplay.

In play, it doesn't break down that actions two and three are necessarily predominant. Taking the Work action is very important to build up cash, and Speculating is frequently employed as well. Paying attention to your neighbors and noting when they're low on cards and will need to research, or low on cash and need to work, is very important. Being able to collect three, four, five bags of loot without spending an action is a great advantage. Like in many (most...) games, it's best to note what your neighbors are doing and do something else, especially if you've got a card in your hand to refill cash or cards, or screw your neighbor out of theirs, forcing them to take actions you've speculated on.

As well, sometimes you do monitor what your neighbors have invested in and try not to take an action that will pay them out if they're low on cash and you can avoid it, though most of the time the attention is paid more from investor outward, it's true, since you're going to need to Work or Research or Invent eventually...
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Apologies, didn't even consider PM'ing instead, but will do next time. I don't ever wish for public humiliation of anyone. blush

I guess this is just another example of needing to play before criticizing the game design. But from what I understand, in order to earn money while saving actions, you really need each Speculate to generate more than $4 worth of money, which will likely take multiple turns. But it seems like the ebb and flow of which actions your neighbors are most likely to take would change faster than you can compensate with your Speculates.

I just wonder what the downside is, of simply sticking 2-3 meeples on Actions 2 and 3 each, and just leaving them there the rest of the game. Every player will be constantly drawing cards and playing cards, since that's what's needed to win the game. I just don't see people choosing actions 1 or 4 very often compared to the other actions (barring certain twists of course).
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No worries at all! My pride's been wounded before; I wouldn't call my mortification feigned, but it was certainly played up for comic effect.
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J Knoerzer
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okkay wrote:

I just wonder what the downside is, of simply sticking 2-3 meeples on Actions 2 and 3 each, and just leaving them there the rest of the game. Every player will be constantly drawing cards and playing cards, since that's what's needed to win the game. I just don't see people choosing actions 1 or 4 very often compared to the other actions (barring certain twists of course).


I am in Holmes and Scott's game group and I have played this game quite a few times. So I will address your concern. The game is quick. Using your first 2-3 turns, let alone 4-6 turns to speculate can put you behind enough that you might not be able to catch up depending on the twists. Plus there are inventions that take away minions so all the hard work you put into speculating can be washed a away. After playing the game 10 times or so I personally find speculate the least useful role but I am in the minority with that view. (Please don't speak to my grammar, I am dyslexic and could never post something without a spelling or grammar mistake in it.)
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Ben Wand
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cool overview!

It matches what I had in mind after reading the blurb and seeing some of the photos. Still seems like a ton of fun!
 
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hobbes_inc wrote:
okkay wrote:

I just wonder what the downside is, of simply sticking 2-3 meeples on Actions 2 and 3 each, and just leaving them there the rest of the game. Every player will be constantly drawing cards and playing cards, since that's what's needed to win the game. I just don't see people choosing actions 1 or 4 very often compared to the other actions (barring certain twists of course).


I am in Holmes and Scott's game group and I have played this game quite a few times. So I will address your concern. The game is quick. Using your first 2-3 turns, let alone 4-6 turns to speculate can put you behind enough that you might not be able to catch up depending on the twists. Plus there are inventions that take away minions so all the hard work you put into speculating can be washed a away. After playing the game 10 times or so I personally find speculate the least useful role but I am in the minority with that view. (Please don't speak to my grammar, I am dyslexic and could never post something without a spelling or grammar mistake in it.)


That is exactly what I'm worried about though. Just from reading the game description, it sounds like Speculate isn't too useful, since most of the game is spent doing either the Invent or Research actions.

What I was saying is that in theory, Speculate sounds fun because it would affect how your opponents play, if they don't want to give you money. But the way this game is designed, I don't really see any use for ever Speculating on actions 1 or 4. If you speculate, you'll do either 2 or 3, since those are the actions most people will definitely have to use - there's no way to with without doing them. Also, since the purpose of Speculating is to get money without wasting an action, then it makes sense that the earlier you do it, the better. Losing your meeples and/or deciding whether or not to Speculate later in the game is another issue which is harder to theorize about.
 
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Mike Bonner
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I have played with Holmes a few times and I love the game. I am very excited about its release!

One thing that may not be clear is that speculating costs loot and that cost varies. If I recall correctly, the cost is 0 to speculate on speculate, 1 to speculate on either work or research, and 2 for invent.

It is true that is some games, speculating on speculate is probably not worthwhile. But in games where the twists change things (such as being able to choose two actions per turn) is may be more useful. Work is often used to quickly build up loot and is used more often than you expect as there are some high value cards that are costly to play. Speculating on work generally pays off.

Additionally, some inventions give you minions that can immediately start speculating. So you may be able to speculate without spending an action at all.

Personally, I usually speculate a little bit at the start of the game and hope for the best.
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Jonathan Franklin
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Depending on the twists, you could use the action you were going to use to speculate to work, gaining an immediate $4 without any risk of losing your minion before it pays off $4. Yes, a minion could get you more than $4, but it did not appear to often be the case.

From my few games, not speculating at all as appeared to be a reasonable/strong strategy. I have no idea if there is a twist that gives $2 per hit, as opposed to the $1 in the base rules.
 
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Terry Mikrut
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In one game last night we had the 2 Twists "play two Actions" and "everyone else loses 2 cash for each Invention you put in play" and using speculation to get and keep all your minions in play (at least one on each option) insured you had at least 4 cash at the beginning of each turn (two from each of your adjacent players).

I played this game last night for the first time and after the first game we immediately played it 4 more times. Thanks Dallas Games Marathon. laugh

I can't wait 'til I can get my hands on a copy.
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Just wondering... How many Twist cards are included in the base game?
 
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David Jensen
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Holmes! wrote:
In our games, the blueprint deck has rarely come close to being exhausted, so there is some variability there. But you're right; the same cards will generally be seen. But I can't overstate the variability that's injected by the Twists; many will completely change the desirability of some actions and have massive effects (*ahem!*) on gameplay.


We played a game where we entirely went through the invention deck. We had both the draw one extra card, but discard a card and! the discard if you have more than one card in your hand.

What was even more fun was when I secretly and purposefully played a card that made all the others discard the invention in their hand. =) mwahaha. Anyone who didn't invent lost there one card.

This game turned out to have a triple 'over time' since - brilliant - there is no tie breaker. Actually this gave the person in third enough time to take first.
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