Well, after obsessing about this game for the past week and half (2 weeks?) it finally arrived in the mail yesterday with the rest of my Fairplay order.
I called my brother (Jagsaw) up to play. Ravsitar wasn't feeling well, so it would just be 3 of us: myself, my wife Sarah, and brother.
I pretty much knew the rules forward and backward, so explaining the game wasn't too much of a problem. It did take a while, though, with Elizabeth crawling all over the table and trying to grab the pieces but then crying when we put her on the floor.
After an eternity, we got through the rules and started to play. To begin, I dealt out the starting characters randomly -- I thought it would be more fair for a first play, and I rather like how it worked. I ended up dealing out 2,4,6 around the table, starting with myself and ending with Jagsaw.
I started by taking my extra dollar, grabbing the Artisan and building a cheap central palace in the 1st city. I felt kind of bad, thinking the "runaway leader" issue I'd heard so much about would rear its ugly head right off the bat -- but no, Sarah managed to steal the 1st city away from me, as well as nabbing control of the 2nd one the next round. I won the 3rd city, and Jagsaw took the 4th. The biggest problem was that we'd keep thinking that the governor track showed the city to be visited THIS round -- when it really shows the NEXT round's city. But that was only a minor problem that didn't bother us after the 4th turn or so.
We were (or at least I was) surprised by how balanced the game turned out. Jagsaw and I both went into the 7th turn with 2 palaces left (Sarah had 3) and enough money (we kept ours mostly open) to be able to take the Artisan and build a cheap palace for each of the next 2 turns, ending the game by turn 8. We both knew that we could do this, so we knew it would come down to whoever had the most money. The two of us actually ended round 8 with 7 palaces and 9 dollars each, so the winner was the player who scored highest in that city. That was me, as I had already had 2 palaces and 3-4 houses built in that city from a previous turn, PLUS the palace I built the final turn and my Architect.
Jagsaw actually may have won had he not made a mistake around midgame, where he selected "Build Palace" for both his actions, mistakenly thinking that palaces cost 9 instead of 12. That mistake cost him an action and gave Sarah and I 2 dollars each, and may have cost him the game -- though with the chaotic way the game plays out, it's impossible to know for sure.
I was most pleased with the fact that I had been really REALLY excited about this game, and from the first turn through the end of the game, I was not disappointed. I'm rating it a 9 right now, after that single play. I cannot wait to play it again.