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Subject: first game, first impressions rss

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John Paul Messerly
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I showed up for my monthly wargaming meetup and the developer of the game was there with the first final printed copy. I missed the game on kickstarter and only found out about it yesterday while listening to the "wooden cubes and iron soldiers" podcast. I was pleasantly surprised to get an opportunity to play the game today.

First Impressions
The components are beautiful, especially the metal coins. It didn't take long to set up the game but it took about 30-45 minutes to learn the rules. The developer told us it was a deck building game but I still went into the game expecting more of a military conquest game, based on how much of the games visual real estate and how many of the national powers were tied to war.

setup shortcut
In order to get the game going more quickly we skipped the initial draft and gave everyone a random deck of cards. This resulted in worse starting hands but allowed us to get the game moving quickly. Every card (luminary) has a lot of text to read so the initial drafting will be an overwhelming experience until you have a better understanding of the game. I would recommend doing this for your first play.

...

Turns 1-2
It was a 4 player game with England, France, Poland, and Sweden (me). Everyone started the game focused on military (mainly just to understand how it worked). The result was devastating, we spent all our money supporting our own military ventures or thwarting our opponents. Each nation started the game with enough money to support their upkeep for about 3 turns but at the end of this military expansion most of the countries were broke. Each nation picked up another territory except for England (everyone teamed up against them).

Most of us learned an important lesson from this, which was that nothing positive comes from war. Attacking an opponent has no negative affect on the opponent! In the end you gain 1 VP but you have to pay upkeep every round to maintain the new territory.

All the players also started playing action cards to increase their Art or Science. At this point Sweden (me) and Poland discovered some powerful combo cards that gave us a boost in development. I had a 3 card combo that allowed me to raise my Science by 2 every round and increase the anti-catholic chart.

Turns 3-4
At this point Sweden and Poland realized that war was not the answer and began focusing on building combos and cleansing weak cards from our deck. France and England continued to fight. England invaded France. France attacked the neutral German city states and repelled the English invaders. Warfare also became a less viable option because everyone started getting cards that allowed them to make their opponents discard most of their money.

France began building a combo that revolved around getting bonuses for exhausting luminaries. Sweden (me) continued to advance in Science while Poland continued advancing in the arts. Through most of the game Sweden and Poland were tied in VP's.

By the end of the fourth turn I had my deck down to 10 cards and Poland had his deck down to 7 cards. England had almost 20 cards. Poland and France also had the best economic engines. The Catholic cards and Politics cards provide the most income so the Anti-Catholics truggled with money at lot.


Turns 5-6
A Religious Census was only a few turns away and the developer had told us that religion usually decides the game so everyone started collecting catholic/anti-catholic cards. I went out of my way to discard catholic cards thinking that they would hurt me but in the end only the stats that match your Nation's religious affiliation matter. My killer combo had allowed me to keep the religious chart on the anti-catholic side the whole game so I felt very good about our chances of winning.

During these turns both Sweden and Poland collected all the remaining medals (easy VP) on the culture tracks and moved even further into the lead.

At this point most countries were spending far less cards to produce income because without the constant wars we had little use for more money. Money becomes very important again when you get to an Art Census but we ended the game early in the interest of time.

The final turn was either turn 6 or turn 7. It was also our first Census turn. I felt very good going into the Religious Census because I had 13 Political and 13 Anti-Catholic power. Most challenges have two stats associated with them and your final score is the lowest total of the two. I was sure no one else could match my power! In the end every player had exactly 13 power so it was a tie. Luckily the Anti-Catholics win Religious Census ties so Sweden won.

Notes
The game is not balanced but I like that. Certain nations have powers that are better than others but each nation's stats and powers really gives them a unique personality. I was really happy with how much personality the nations and luminaries had.

Mistakes
We made a lot of mistakes while playing our first game. One of the biggest ones was that we only treating the tan territories as neutral, rather than all non player controlled territories.


War
Both sides combine their military strength (cards, stats, other buffs) and if the difference is positive in the attackers favor that defines how many dice he rolls. He must roll as many 6's as the territories defense value. Most cities have a defense of 2 or 3, easy right? In some battles an attacker would roll 30 dice and still not get the 3 successes needed to win! This game is far more of a dice fest than you would expect. In the end the only real reason we came up with to attack is to move the religious track in your favor. If you defeat a city of the opposite religious affiliation then the religious track moves 1 in your direction. This might be an affective strategy but it still feels too expensive when a single characters action could do the same thing.

Final thoughts
I'm not a huge fan of deck building games but I liked this. I feel like there are some great strategies to be discovered and that I've barely scratched the surface. I wish the military option was supported better. So much of the games flavor seems to be focused on military stats that it seems strange to not be able to use that option more effectively.

The theme is interesting but I felt like it became transparent within 2-3 turns. In the beginning we read out the thematic names of the actions and called characters by name but after a few turns we just talked about stats and icons. If I was actively studying this time period I think the theme would come alive but in the end it didn't do much for me. When I heard about this game I was looking forward to it igniting a spark of curiosity in my mind that would make me want to learn more about the period but it didn't happen. After playing "Friday", I immediately read everything I could find about Robinson Crusoe, watched the movie and even watch castaway again just to get in the mood to face the challenge of surviving on a dangerous island. I wanted this game to have the same affect on me.

I really enjoyed discovering combos and strategies in the game. While the theme didn't blow me away I like it better than most of the deckbuilders I've played. I expected the theme to be more interesting than the gameplay but now I feel like the opposite is true.

...


Anyone have any suggestions for books or movies to help get in the mood for playing this game?
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Dan Moore
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The Three Musketeers

http://www.online-literature.com/dumas/threemusketeers/46/

a taste.
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Kurt R
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Thanks for the first impression report. I KS'd this and am very much looking forward to it. Your report sounds mostly positive to me. I'm OK with asymmetrical powers and question if they're really "not balanced" or if further plays will reveal that they are. The only negative aspect is the rolling of 30(!) dice. Sounds annoying and I wonder if it could've been designed in a way that you roll 1 die for every 10 points of strength or something.
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Many thanks for the very informative report.

You might want to check out the movie Barry Lyndon by Kubrick (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Lyndon ). Even though the movie is set later than RtE (1750-1790s) it illustrates very nicely that people in that time switched national allegiances when it suited they plans - similar to the fact that Players in RtE can use Luminaries from all nations.

In fact your dice rolling tale invokes some question marks for me. When I read the rules, the dice rolling (and getting 6s) feeled a bit ill placed being added on top of negotiating and the hidden usage of cards & coins. Feels to me that you can negotiate and deckbuild as good as you want if you fail to roll 6s (like I do usually) its all in vain.

To be honest the dice rolling and the extra round of negotiating in case of a combat tie are the only parts in the game that I would have dropped in order to achieve a more streamlined and less random game play.
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Michael Tan
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John,

Thanks for the feedback on the game session I hosted. I was quite involved in the early development of the game, but took a backseat a bit in the final 6 months as work and family took precedence. So that was actually my first time playing the game since several revisions ago. In retrospect, I realized we played a few things incorrectly. Firstly, although I briefly reviewed VPs (prestige) before we started, we all forgot that its -2 VP each for losing a territory you originally held. Also, you must still form an alliance or declare war on a non-player Major Power. So other players can't thwart your attacks by dumping military cards or coin unless they form an alliance first - big difference from how we played it. The above two factors alone make victory by conquest much more attractive than we thought.

I also agree that combat is dicey. This was something that was heavily debated since the earliest prototypes. It really comes down to if you want combat to be historical (very risky) or game balanced (more predictable). I think ultimately Dirk decided that he wanted the battles to reflect the bold successes and catastrophic defeats of the real wars. Much of of R2E is about deck building and resource management. If you want to play it safe and get a guaranteed return on your investment, play a luminary card that gives you guaranteed movement up the art, science, and religion tracks. In this way combat stands out on its own as being highly volatile. I like this because it prevents someone from developing a killer strategy by just min/maxing the game mechanics and economic engine.
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Michael Tan
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Shelfwear wrote:
In fact your dice rolling tale invokes some question marks for me. When I read the rules, the dice rolling (and getting 6s) feeled a bit ill placed being added on top of negotiating and the hidden usage of cards & coins. Feels to me that you can negotiate and deckbuild as good as you want if you fail to roll 6s (like I do usually) its all in vain.

To be honest the dice rolling and the extra round of negotiating in case of a combat tie are the only parts in the game that I would have dropped in order to achieve a more streamlined and less random game play.


As I mentioned in the reply I just posted, this was a designer choice and he was aware of the pros and cons. After our game several players debated the merits of attacking if no number of cards and coin could assure victory. I think it's a losing strategy to view the game strictly as a resource management / worker placement game where you try to attain guaranteed results with the minimum number of actions and card plays. Instead of concluding that one must roll 30 dice to assure 2 hits with one action, perhaps the winning strategy is realize that rolling 10 dice to get 2 hits with 3 separate actions is a much better play. I talked with Dirk yesterday and he agreed that there is tendency for some players to get hung up on things like "don't attack until late in the game, otherwise you just get saddled with upkeep early on" or "never attack unless you have overwhelming numbers otherwise you might get bad dice and need to waste a second or third action to take the region." These are textbook "Agricola" strategies and do not reflect the type of game he was trying to design. He noted that players who employed these strategies in play tests almost always lost to players who attacked more aggressively...
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Thanks for the insight Michael.

Have you playtested/tried the game during the design with less random dice combat, for example just adding the defence value of a region as an amount of dice the defender adds to his total? (eg Defense 3 means, the defender adds 3D6 to his cards+coin value)
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John Paul Messerly
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m3tan wrote:
John,
Firstly, although I briefly reviewed VPs (prestige) before we started, we all forgot that its -2 VP each for losing a territory you originally held. Also, you must still form an alliance or declare war on a non-player Major Power. So other players can't thwart your attacks by dumping military cards or coin unless they form an alliance first - big difference from how we played it. The above two factors alone make victory by conquest much more attractive than we thought.


Thanks for the clarification.
Yes the -2VP for losing home territories is huge! I can see how that could make warfare an important element in taking down the leader.
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Michael Tan
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Shelfwear wrote:

Thanks for the insight Michael.

Have you playtested/tried the game during the design with less random dice combat, for example just adding the defence value of a region as an amount of dice the defender adds to his total? (eg Defense 3 means, the defender adds 3D6 to his cards+coin value)


Actually, I believe I'm the one who lobbied for most of the mechanics in the current system. I'm sort of the resident quant / statistician in the CQ Games circle of designers / play testers so BLAME ME . The original system was for the attacker and defender to each roll dice based on the sum of army strength, guns, and coin, then compare results. I felt that this was a little tedious, involved too much math, and resulted in very few negotiations. I argued that only one player should roll dice, fewer dice should be rolled, and the target number should be relatively small so as to increase the likelihood of a negotiation. Although the system reflects many of my sentiments, I was not involved in the final design. Perhaps the only thing I might have changed is to roll for 5s and 6s, and increase the defense ratings accordingly. I'm permanently scarred by games where you roll for 6s. I've seen too many AA guns in Axis & Allies either miss 20 times in a row or get 3 hits with 4 dice! But again, I'm pretty certain Dirk is happy with the variability in combat.
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