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Subject: Friedemann Friese’s Flagrant Frankengame rss

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Kyle Woods
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When I was a kid, I used to love going to Grandma’s house. One of the best features of Grandma’s was her pantry, which was always well-stocked with treats. Sometimes, I was content with the treats as I found them, but sometimes I used to like to try to combine them into something better. As a kid, I sincerely believed that everything that was good could really go together. And so I tried crazy combinations. One of the “classics” involved combining peanut butter, crystal lite mix, chocolate syrup, Kool-Aid power, and Nestle Strawberry Quick. I would then take this mixture, roll it into tiny balls, and freeze it. Back in the day, I thought it was absolutely delicious, and I couldn’t understand why some people wouldn’t devour it. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the valuable lesson that, just because things are good, it doesn’t mean they will be good together.

Later in life, I continued to try other strange combinations – chocolate ice cream with sausages and cherry sauce (bad idea) and maple ice cream with candied bacon chunks (excellent idea). The process of combinations is a difficult game of trial and error, and you can never tell until you’re done whether your crazy idea will work or flop.

This experience came back to my mind recently when I played “Copycat,” the latest offering from acclaimed boardgame designer Friedemann Friese. Friese is the author of several other successful games, including Powergrid. Fearsome Floors, Fast Flowing Forest Fellers, Funny Friends, and four or five more (yes, I chose that for the alliterative value, I know there are more than 4 or 5). Most of his games are whimsical, cleverly designed, and unique.

Because I like Friese and his games, I remember well the day I heard the announcement that Friese was going to be designing a game that combined featured and mechanisms of various other popular games if the day. The idea sounded fabulous, like playing all my favorite games at the same time.

In this review, we will look at Copycat and see if it’s a winning combination, or whether it’s a peanut butter and Crystal lite flop!



THEME OVERVIEW:

The theme of the game involves a young politician trying to muster the money and influence he needs to achieve a successful political career.

GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW:

First of all, let’s look at the “copied” features. The game is really a marriage of deck building and worker placement. Friese credits Donald Vaccarino’s Dominion for its deckbuilding aspects and Uwe Rosenberg Agricola for its worker placement with expanding actions. Vlaada Chvatil’s Through the Ages also contributes to the gameplay in lending its card selection mechanism. Friese also credits Andreas Seyfarth’s Puerto Rico for its incentivizing certain actions that have been unused in prior rounds. He also nods to his own Powergrid for its variable phase order features, though these last two seem like a bit of a stretch.

So, that’s all well and good, but what do you DO in the game? Well, each turn consists of four phases: planning, actions, buying, and cleanup.

In the planning phase, players draw hands of five cards. They then select one of the cards to sacrifice to determine turn order. Each card has a number, and the sacrificed card with the highest number will make its owner the first player for the round. Being first has some advantages, in that the first player has first choice of action spaces and first choice of cards to purchase. However, higher numbered cards generally provide greater benefits, and sacrificing one of them can result in a player having to forego a valuable benefit.

In the action phase, players take turns placing their three “campaign workers” in the various “office” spaces. Each space provides an action that the player can use. Players can also play some action cards at this time. Generally, in the action phase, only action spaces and cards that are purple, gray, or blue will be used immediately. Players can sometimes acquire up to 4 additional campaign workers through card play, but additional workers only remain with the player for the round in which they are acquired.

It is important to note that some of the action spaces provide a green or yellow benefit, such as additional money or the right to buy a card. These spaces must be taken in the action phase, but they do not confer their benefit until the next game phase. Also, some spaces will have green victory point markers, which players take immediately when they place a worker in that space.

Once all workers have been placed (or not placed if a player decided to pass), the buy phase begins. During the buy phase, yellow, green, and gray actions and cards can be used. Green cards generally get players points immediately, whereas yellow cards and spaces usually produce money. If (and only if) players used their workers to take a “buy” action in phase two, they may perform the buy action now.

Buying cards is straightforward. The “street” consists of eleven spaces. The later spaces contain an additional coin or two cost. As the game progresses, cards will shift to the left, decreasing their cost. One interesting thing about the game, though, is that several worthless red cards will come up. When a player buys a card, he must take all the red cards to the left of the card he is buying as well. Though free, these cards do nothing and simply clog a player’s deck.

In the cleanup phase, victory point markers are placed in unused action spaces, cards are discarded from the street and shifted left, and players discard their used and unused cards from the round. Also, a new action is turned over, providing players an additional option in their next turns.

This continues until 11 rounds have passed, or until a player has 95 points.

THEMATIC GAMEPLAY:

Friese admitted from the outset that he was starting with the game’s mechanisms. His goal was to make a game that incorporated the various means described. Playing this game, you can tell from the outset that theme was more of an afterthought.

Yes, folks, Copycat has just a pasted-on theme. At no point will you feel like you’re a politician gathering support. You will feel like you are building a deck just for the purpose of building a deck. When the game is over, you will have trouble remembering what it is about. The game is just about playing it, and it won’t leave you with any story moments or fond thematic experiences when you put it back in the box.

COMPONENTS:

The game has just a few components. Actually, the box feels surprisingly empty.

1. Cards: The cards for Copycat come in two basic types: player cards and “office” cards. All cards are the same size and shape. In truth, they are a bit thin for my taste, and they feel quite flimsy. I have doubts as to whether they will hold up under repeated play.

The cards have a simple layout that is straightforward. However, the game tries too hard to be text-neutral. As in most other such cases, this requires players to learn a variety of symbols. Most of them make sense, but some are a bit abstract. Fortunately, the game comes with a nice card manifest to explain some of the less-obvious cards. Ultimately, I never felt like I had no idea what a card did, though I had to consult the manifest and summary card many times.

Also, the game falls a bit flat with the “starter decks.” The decks are all 100% identical. It would have aided sorting and setup if the cards had had a different colored border on their front side, so that players could instantly know that they are starter cards.

2. Wooden pieces: Each player has 7 worker pieces and 2 bookkeeping pieces used to mark turn order and score. These pieces come in blue, white, red, and gold, so hats off to Friese for deviating from the standard red, blue, yellow and green! I also like that the pieces not cubes or standard meeples. They are nice quality and add to the game.

3. Board: The board is actually quite nice. It is a good size, cleverly illustrated, and does a good job of keeping track of the various important gameplay concepts. I like that it is set up as an office building, and that the various other points of the board (the card display and the turn order track) are “hidden” within the board’s artwork.

4. Box insert: As usual, there isn’t a useful one. However, this is a game where bags work well, because there really isn’t much to the game component-wise. I wish the game had come with enough bags, though.

RULEBOOK:



The rulebook is reminiscent of many of Friese’s games. It is divided into sections by phase, and it uses a minimal amount of text to explain the game. However, I did not find this to be a problem as the game is easy enough to grasp. My only complaints are (1) the rulebook is a foldout design, rather than a more traditional booklet, which makes it harder to search and (2) the setup instructions are on a separate sheet, which I learned after getting frustrated because I couldn’t find them in the main rulebook. While far from outstanding, the rulebook serves its purpose, though I wish it bolded key concepts (like card color) to make them easier to find.



TIME TO FUN RATIO: The game suggests 95 minutes of playtime, which I found generous. I think the game can easily be played in less time, as long as players are familiar with the symbols and actions available to them. Ultimately, for what the game is worth, I think 45 minutes is ideal, and I would feel it was dragging at 95 minutes.



SOLO SUITABILITY: This game is not suitable for solo players.



COST AND VALUE:



This game is priced at about the median. Coolstuffinc has it for $32.99, whereas the suggested retail price is $49.99. However, for what you get in the game, you might find this to be a bit overpriced.



GENERAL COMMENTS AND FINAL THOUGHTS:



First of all, I want to compare Copycat to the games it claims to be copying:



1) Dominion: The game feels a lot like Dominion, actually. Certainly the two games are equally un-thematic and mechanical. There are two main differences, one good and one bad. The good thing is that Copycat doesn’t have Dominion’s odd end-game condition (piles empty). This saves Copycat from being an indefinite number of turns and keeps the game the right length. The bad thing is that, unlike in Dominion, Copycat has a fixed set of cards that will appear in each game. That effectively helps ensure that games will be pretty much the same each time, and this hurts the game’s replayability. Honestly, the game feels like Dominion and Assentation combined, and might make a nice substitute for one of those.



2) Agricola: Copycat falls flat in comparison to Agricola. Actually, the game doesn’t feel like Agricola at all. What it has is Agricola’s ever-expanding action choices without Agricola’s controlling sense of urgency. In Agricola, players compete for scarce resources and make sacrifices to increase their worker pools, all the while living under the Sword of Deomocles of being unable to feed their families. In Copycat, extra workers are nice, but they come at essentially no cost (other than buying a card), and there is no pressure to feed them.



3) Through the Ages: There is almost none of Through the Ages here. All that is borrowed is the card distribution system. However, the game does not even attempt to capture the depth of the Through the Ages economic engine.



4) Puerto Rico and Powergrid: Copycat really didn’t even need to mention these games. It feels nothing like them.



Ultimately, Copycat fails to be what it promised…it is less a combination of the games, and more of a Dominion clone with worker placement. I don’t mean this in a negative way; I think the game set the bar too high by trying to take on some great games.

Overall, Copycat is not a bad game. It is balanced, well-designed, and it works. The only problem with it is that it isn’t really very much fun to play. It feels like the worst aspects of a themeless deckbuilder packaged nicely with promises of depth, but it really failed to excite me.

In point of fact, if the game had not been designed by Friedemann Friese, I probably would never have played it. Actually, it probably would never have seen the light of day. I love Friese’s designs, and this game does possess some of his whimsy, but not enough to carry the day.

In the end, I think that Copycat will fall off the planet in a couple months. Much like Uwe Rosenberg’s Merkator, it will just be “that other Friese game” that no one remembers. I doubt very highly that it will make anyone’s Top 100 Games of All Time list. I rank the game a 6 out of 10 – ok to play, but why not try something better.

Going back to my introduction, the game certainly isn’t an ingenious combination like bacon ice cream, but it’s also not bad enough to be called peanut butter with Crystal Lite. In truth, Copycat is like…Cream of Wheat…edible but not very exciting or memorable. I certainly don’t hate the game, but I also am not eager to replay it. Copycat is a singularly forgettable experience
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Jonathan Harrison
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I love Cream of Wheat!

Seriously, thanks for the review. Saved me from keeping a further eye on this.
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Chris Gray
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I played my first game last night (4 players), and thought it was quite fun. I agree that it would get more fun with more experienced players... our game ran maybe 105 minutes including teaching... but I still enjoyed the time. The game came down to two points at the end, so very tight. It does rely on some luck (card draws from a shuffled deck) but it seemed like there were various strategies that you could follow.

I agree with you that most of the game is worker placement Dominion. It seemed that most strategies also reflected Dominion -- thin the deck, get cards that help you draw more, go VP heavy, or lots of coins for hefty buys. I sometimes wonder if these strategies are as different as they seem, but that complaint holds just as true for Dominion.

As for Agricola: I think you're cutting it short. While it's true there isn't the harvest-pressure in this game, I did find that the game mounts in tension towards the later rounds. The entire pace and end game seemed more reminscent to me of Agricola than Dominion. I definitely had the same "I wonder if I'm going to be able to pull this off" feeling that I do in Agricola, especially planning for those phD's -- it gave the same sense as being poised for the "Plow then Sow" or "Family Growth without Room" actions. This is a lighter game than Agricola, but also faster. That's an ok combination (but we'll see what Uwe has up his sleeve with this new Agricola game coming out... whistle).

Additionally, I found the art pretty charming. All in all, I thought it was a nice package. I believe the other two people that I learned the game with are planning to buy a copy. Mid-game, girl turns to boyfriend/husband(?) and says: "Let's get each other games for Valentine's Day, ok?" I think that's a pretty good endorsement.

For me the "other FF" game is First Sparks. I'd much rather play Copycat.
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Jason Birzer
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I think one thing it does do for deckbuilders is that the worker placement supplements the randomness of the draw with workers so that you can select stuff that can help you out so that you can accomplish your goals for the round. I also think there are a lot of tough decisions, between if you are going to give up a valuable card to go early, trying to select things so that you can get what you need before others mess up your plans.

I don't know if it is a great game, but I think it is at least a good one and wouldn't mind playing it again.
 
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Dan Moore
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KRWoods1 wrote:
Ultimately, Copycat fails to be what it promised…it is less a combination of the games, and more of a Dominion clone with worker placement. I don’t mean this in a negative way; I think the game set the bar too high by trying to take on some great games.

. . . it feels like the worst aspects of a themeless deckbuilder packaged nicely with promises of depth, but it really failed to excite me.


From the designer:

Quote:
As I said, in Copycat you absolutely know what to do to win – get high VP cards and double them – but you have to find out every single game how to get there and when to start collecting VPs. It depends on the other players' actions, and this is where I think the tension comes from.

If you dislike this, okay, it is your taste, but the game is not broken.


So, there isn't all that much game in there. What this review points out, is that the designer intended this to be the case. We read too much into the description, is all.
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Matt Sanders
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Had Copycat for a little while now, and we (me and the wife 'n' kids) really enjoy it.

It's fast, fun, and there are more strategies than you might think (or find) in your first few plays.

It scales well with all number of players (2, 3, & 4), and it is quick to learn and to teach.

It was most definitely a solid buy for us.
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Chad Taylor
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"Frankengame" would have worked. They should have used that as a title.
 
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Luis Fernandez
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Kyle Woods
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I feel the same way you do! i would make soon a review of copycat in spanish and is the SAME feeling you got. you put in therms of this is the game take it or leave it.
 
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Doug Adams
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I think Copycat is going to be a different game to different people.

I've played it four times and to me it's a race game, using some of the mechanics of the other games. A bit like Formidable Foes is a race game ... in a dungeon.

You're trying to set up your deck so you can monster the end game. The last game I played I did it so well it sucked all the fun out of the room ... oops!

I really like it, but it's going to disappoint those expecting something with the grandure of the BGG top 20.
 
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Lawrence Low
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HuginnGreiling wrote:
I love Cream of Wheat!

Seriously, thanks for the review. Saved me from keeping a further eye on this.


I really really REALLY hate Agricola, it is soooo irritating...
AND I find Dominion so bl**dy boring to keep cycling & recycling the deck... all that multiplayer solitaire is almost like cardturbation...

so, it's a no-brainer for me
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