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Subject: Good game poorly produced - updated rss

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Scott Bender
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I received my Kickstarter copy recently and did a thorough read of the rules and played a couple of dummy rounds. It took a couple of weeks until I could get it to the table and get some real play in. I revised the initial review fairly extensively, inserting new and expanded material where it make the most sense.

Game Overview
In general terms this is a pretty standard Euro hand management/resource control game, but with a few really interesting twists. The central strategy is developing your cities by building; the buildings in turn generate resources, income, science or allow you to draw citizen cards to your hand. The core goal is to score points, largely through control of resources, but like most games of this type there are scoring opportunities for area control, excess income and so forth.

Cities and Towns
Players start with one stock "land" on which to found their first city. It can support up to five buildings, although there is a mechanism to add districts which can support additional buildings. All buildings will require money, but higher value buildings may also require science. Buildings that generate resources require control of appropriate terrain types. The starting lands provide the most common terrain types, which generally support the lower value resources. Moving beyond this base requires some sort of expansion.

The simplest form of expansion involves adding a new district to an existing city. This is fairly easy and cheap, but does not give you access to any new terrain types.

Expansion can involve exploring to settle new lands (which requires use of the Explorer citizen card plus enough additional citizen cards to supply the necessary travel power - see below). These new lands will not be able to support cities as large as the base land, but will provide exotic terrain which will allow building the higher value buildings that provide more lucrative resources. You have tiles which allow you to add up to three additional cites, supporting 2 or 3 additional buildings. Aggressive builders will find that adding districts is most useful for expansion cities, which can not support as many buildings as your base city.

Expansion can also involve conquering smaller unaligned towns and adding them to your empire. Each unaligned town has an associated distance and defensive cost that will require playing citizen cards with a total military and travel power sufficient to overcome this. These towns resemble buildings in that they provide access to a resource or generate income/science, but do not require space in an existing city nor do they require control of any particular terrain. As a result, conquest represents a viable alternative to building.

Expansion can even involve attacking other players and taking their conquered towns. This is generally harder than conquering unaligned towns, but has the benefit of reducing their resource generation while simultaneously increasing yours.

Cards
The citizen cards are multi-purpose cards and come in military and civilian flavors. They may provide military or travel power, or may provide special abilities that influence building, income, science, and so forth. The cards can also provide skills that may be needed to pay to activate another card's special ability. So,in any given turn you may be playing a card as itself, as military power, travel power, or skills to power other cards. (Think "Race for the Galaxy".) Generally, you will be drawing your hand largely by having built specific buildings, but there are other ways, too.

You build your deck through purchasing specific cards. Basic cards just cost money, but the more powerful cards also require some science. This is quite expensive and can require a certain amount of development in your city before you can reliably generate enough income and/or science to buy the more powerful cards. However, this gives you a lot of control over your deck and can ensure that you get that one card that you really need when you need it.

The other interesting twist is that when you need to replenish your deck you simply take your discard pile and flip it over - no shuffling allowed. This means that you have to pay attention to your hand and when you play a given card because that directly dictates when it will be available again. You may find yourself picking one card over another because of this, or using it less than optimally so you can can get it back in your deck in the right place. This also lead to a table rule that cards had to be played in a logical order if applicable. We made a player play her "Explorer" card first, even though she really would have preferred to play one of her distance cards or the ship first. (We eventually decided that without the Explorer in play there is no need for a ship or for distance.)

Buildings
Buildings are dealt across the bottom of the main board and may be bought/built in any order. The deck of building cards also functions as the game timer and cards are removed from the left each time one of the unaligned town is conquered (keeping the game moving forward even if there is lots of conquering going on) and four are removed at the end of the round. At the beginning of each round the remaining cards are condensed and the row replenished. How many cards get dealt at the beginning of the round is a function of how many players there are. (You also remove specific building cards from the deck for 2 or 3 player games.) The deck has three "scoring" cards which divide the building deck into three sections of increasing value buildings and also triggers a scoring round. Scoring is largely based on who controls the most and second most of a given resource. Final scoring also includes ancillary scoring for amount of cash on hand, number of conquered towns, deck size, etc.

Turn order
City of Iron has a turn order bid system that is unique in my experience. First round bid order is determined randomly. (We drew lots.) In subsequent turns players bid in reverse turn order. Turn order is tracked on a number line, with the middle values (near the zero) being free. Positive and negative values cost more the further from the origin you go. So, not only can you guarantee going first if you are willing to pay enough for it, but you can also pay to go last. We never did end up in a situation where going last was such an advantage that anyone was willing to pay anything for it, much less pay a lot. We did have a few minor bidding wars for first though, but nothing that went more than 2 spaces into the positive zone.

I'm still waiting to see how this system plays out over more games. In early plays everyone tended to prioritize the free spaces, but we were steep on the learning curve and I think a lot more conservative as a result. I suspect as we get more confident bidding for turn order will become more important.

Races
There are four player "races." Each player takes on one race - the humans, elf-like Cresarians, toads or hogmen. Each race has two special powers - either innate abilities or unique cards. The base game strips out the special abilities for each race, and they aren't strictly necessary to play the game. But they do add an interesting dimension and can influence overall strategy. Generally speaking, humans are builders, hogmen largely military, Cresarians have an advantage in generating science which facilitates exploration and certain higher level buildings and citizen cards, while the toads seem geared towards playing a spoiler role by being able to tweak turn order.

In game play the races do not seem perfectly balanced. Cresarians have a Scholar card (generates science) with a discounted activation cost. This sees a lot of play as it is one of the starting cards in your base deck. Their other card is the Genius, a unique card which also helps generate science. In our first games this never saw much play as there are several other routes to generate science, and between these and the base Scholar card it didn't seem cost effective or strategically necessary to buy this card. Cresarians seem best geared towards a building "tall" strat - shooting hard for controlling one or two high value resources, which require both exploring for new land with appropriate terrain and building fairly expensive, late game buildings. In many ways this is the easiest stretegy, or at least most obvious, and in early plays the Cresarian player won or came in a very close second.

The Toads' innate ability is to rebid for turn order after every one has had their chance. This didn't see any play, although the Toad's unique card granting a discount to turn order bidding was used often and to good effect. In essence, Toads can pretty much always go first. First by just flat out buying it with their "Fixer" card, second by repositioning themselves with their innate ability if someone cuts them off. I'm tempted to say that their innate ability is not terribly useful, but after only a few plays my feeling is that the whole turn order system itself is not terribly useful. This leads me to believe that we haven't actually exploited turn order to its best effect. Our first games did tend to have each player pursuing a fairly different strategy. I can see if players are going directly head to head that turn order could be a lot more important. So Toads might be best for undercutting one of the other races. Especially if one of the other races is pursuing a strategy not well supported by their special abilities. In practice the Toads never did terribly well in our early games, and I suspect a successful spoiler strat is quite difficult to pull off.

Humans seemed the weakest of the four races. They have two innate abilities - one to allow them to move buildings between cities and one that allows them to build one of their subsequent cities a little larger. None of us could figure out the function of the first ability, and it never came into play. Best case we could see is that it allowed you to pay for a mulligan if you put a building in the wrong city. It might also allow you to destroy a lower value building in your base city, move an intermediate value building from one of your expansion cites (which generally have access to the more unusual and higher value terrain types) to your base city to free up space for a higher value building. The larger city ability is marginally more useful but unless you have a very aggressive builder most folks won't find the base building rules terribly restrictive. On the whole, humans seem geared for a building "broad" strat - focusing on picking up second place production points for lots of resources rather than fist place on just a few. No one in my group has tried this yet, but this may turn out to be a viable approach. In early play the humans did poorly in all showings.

Hogmen, on the other hand, have two clearly strong abilities. They have two unique cards. One is a military card that replaces one of the starting military cards with a significantly stronger card. Since this is in your base deck it allows for early and rapid conquering of some of the lower value unaligned cities, and can give the Hogmen a big boost on a conquest strat. Their other unique card, the Strategist, allows you to draw more military cards as a free action and is incredibly useful if you are pursuing the conquest strat. I lost as a close second as the hogmen in our first game. I attribute this to failing to build a barracks, an early building allowing you to draw extra military cards. As such I wasn't able to get a decent military engine running until mid-game when I could finally afford the Strategist. I'm sure with two more cities I could have won the game.

In summary, the races do not seem well balanced at first glance. The Toads and humans require more advanced strategies that are not readily apparent in early play. Moreover, their special abilities are more specialized and less valuable when pursuing "non-target" strategies. On the other hand, both the Hogmen and Cresarians have specials that are easier to understand and more valuable in more situations. (Everybody will need science, and most strats can make use of at least some military power.) For the causal player I would order the races:

Cresarian -> Hogmen -----> Toads --------------> Human

Components
The art is, on the whole, excellent, and I really like the overall tone of the artwork, especially on the building, land and conquerable town cards. There is a real fantasy cum steampunk feel to the art that ties in well with the theme. The component design is also solid, the common and individual game boards are well thought out and well organized, and the graphic design generally really pulls things together.

I was a little disappointed by the duplication of about half of the citizen and military card art across the individual race decks. There is only one or two truly unique cards in each deck, all the other cards are the same in title and ability. These cards appear about equally split between common cards with race specific art (like Cartographer or Magician) and common cards with common art (like Arms Dealer or Merchant). I understand the demands of providing artwork for so many cards, but the duplicated art made the decks seem incomplete, as if the artist ran out of time half-way through and finished up by creating a batch of shared art. It makes the decks feel cobbled together and seriously undermines the feeling of "uniqueness" for the various races. I notice this particularly with some of the cards that represent ships, airships and steam-powered clanks - these are all the same in all decks. It seems self evident to me that each race would have it's own "design" and would produce ships and clanks unique to their culture (just as Japanese architecture and design is different from British). The end effect is that each race's deck feels much more more similar to one another than different. At the end of the day, though, this really has no impact on game play. Each race has enough that is unique that they stand apart despite the duplicated art.

I have larger issues with the component quality. The pressboard pieces are sturdy enough, but have a high-gloss finish with "linen" embossing that makes them feel oddly greasy and very slippery. This is purely a taste issue, though. They should play just fine. There are sets of wooden cubes in four different colors, one for each player, to use to track resources, income, score, etc. The colors really do not match the overall color scheme of the game, particularly the yellow. They look very much like they were just pulled from existing stock and thrown in with the game. It's an oddly discordant note in an otherwise very cohesive design.

My biggest issue is with the cards. They are extremely thin and cheap feeling. I have no idea how they will wear, but I have serious doubts. I am very much of the mind that games are meant to be played and consider wear merely sign of a good game well played. I have never considered sleeving any of my cards in any of my games (and have always looked on those who do with a touch of affectionate pity). However, I did sleeve City of Iron.

Most concerning is that straight out of the shrink wrap about a dozen of the building cards are actually creased - about a quarter of the way from one end, across the narrow dimension of the card, front to back, as if folded. Moreover, several other cards have defects in the finish that looks like the finish is separating from the card. It looks kind of blistery, as if I could take my fingernail and scrap off the finish. I suspect both of these issues stem from the cheap quality of the cards not standing up to processing and packaging. To top it all off, the cards have the same slippery high-gloss finish as the pressboard components. In the pressboard pieces it's just a taste thing, here it actually makes the cards too slippery to handle easily. These suckers just slide all over the place. If not sleeved I could foresee lots of time wasted policing slumping card decks. (Unfortunately, sleeving continues the slippery problem . . . )

Summary
Interesting, fun game with broad and diverse strategy, well-implimented theme, and great replay potential. Good graphic design with excellent but "incomplete" art. Player races unbalanced for introductory or basic play; humans in particular need advanced strategies to be competitive. Component quality ranges from adequate but odd to appallingly poor. My hope is that the second edition will provide fully unique art for each race deck, counter cubes whose color actually matches the design of the game and dramatically improve the quality of the cards.


I keep tweaking this review. Every time I read through it I find several things that need to be changed. It also seems quite long and I may revisit it in order to edit it down.
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Scott Lewis
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Re: Good game poorly produced
spbtc wrote:
There is only one or two truly unique cards in each deck, all the other cards are the same in title and ability.

I'm not sure I understand this comment; were you hoping that every race would have a completely unique set of unit abilities?

I can understand the comments about the artwork duplication, but in terms of unit abilities and titles, I'm not sure the game was ever intended to have every race be so vastly different; rather, for balance purposes, the unit cards are pretty much the same, with a few minor tweaks for each race in the way of a few unique characters.

But perhaps I'm misunderstanding the comment here altogether.
 
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Scott Bender
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Re: Good game poorly produced
spbtc wrote:

I was a little disappointed by the duplication of about half of the citizen and military card art across the individual race decks. There is only one or two truly unique cards in each deck, all the other cards are the same in title and ability. These cards appear about equally split between race specific art (like Cartographer or Magician) and common art(like Arms Dealer or Merchant).


No, I am referring only to art in this section. I had hoped each race would have a completely unique set of art.

If you look through the deck you could make three piles of cards.
1)Unique cards with race specific special ability AND race specific art.
2)Common cards with race specific art (like Cartographer).
3)Common cards with common art.

So, when you pick up a deck and flip through it, only about half of the Hogmen deck (for example) features anything that looks specifically "Hogmanish." The remaining cards look exactly the same as what's in every deck. I can see that some of the cards could be easily considered to be outside of the player race (like Merchant or Arms Dealer) and so it isn't too odd that they don't necessarily match the race of the deck. But most of the rest really should be. I don't see why the Hogman Tax Collector or Engineer wouldn't be a Hogman. And I really find it odd that the Hogman Scout Ship looks just like the human Scout Ship looks just like the Toad Scout Ship.

The end result is that each deck feels MUCH more similar than different. What I can't say is if that feeling of similarity will hold up through actual play. It may be that the unique cards are distinct enough that each deck will feel quite different from the others during play. What I'd like to see is that each race deck has it's own art, so that even though most cards are in fact identical to every other races they would at least LOOK different.



I did go back and edit that section in the review. Hopefully it makes my point a little more clear.
 
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Andrés Pérez
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Re: Good game poorly produced
I read this post about an hour before my copy arrived and I slightly scoffed at the comments regarding the card quality. I am sitting here sleeving them. You weren't kidding. I bent the corner of one while shuffling through and looking at them and the paper separated.

But I do like all of the cardboard components and the art is fantastic.
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Steve
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Re: Good game poorly produced
HokieGeek wrote:
I read this post about an hour before my copy arrived and I slightly scoffed at the comments regarding the card quality. I am sitting here sleeving them. You weren't kidding. I bent the corner of one while shuffling through and looking at them and the paper separated.

But I do like all of the cardboard components and the art is fantastic.


I think the game looks beautiful and although I was sad to see each race (card art) was not completely unique, I can forgive that. Sadly, While sorting/bagging everything I ended up having very similar issues to HokieGeek. So now, Even though I really want to play, I won't until my sleeve order gets here in a couple of days. The biggest issue I have is that all the player boards (not sure about the big main board,need to look)and cards(never shuffled) are warped/ warping.

If anyone has any advice on how to deal with warping issues, please let me know. I live in AZ (past 2 years) and this is the first game that I have had warping issues with out of my collection.


 
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Jeff C
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Re: Good game poorly produced
What size sleeves does it need?
 
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Michel Goldstein
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Re: Good game poorly produced
It uses the standard Euro Game card size, 59x92mm.
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J. Chris Staufer
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Re: Good game poorly produced
Follow-up question, how many sleeves are required?
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Andrés Pérez
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Re: Good game poorly produced
cstaufer wrote:
Follow-up question, how many sleeves are required?

I believe I roughly calculated 192, so two packs of 100 gets it done.
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Re: Good game poorly produced
cstaufer wrote:
Follow-up question, how many sleeves are required?

199 cards
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Elliot Kravitz
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Re: Good game poorly produced
I don't have the warping boards issue, but yes, the cards are very thin and require sleeving before even the first play. Game looks great though and rules are clear. Looking forward to our first play.
 
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Byron Kropf
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Re: Good game poorly produced
I got my copy and fell in love with the art. I also found the boards and cardboard pieces to be very well made. But like others I see here, the cards leave a little to be desired.

The biggest issue I found is that a few of the cards actually have about a 0.25 inch cut in them like they were sliced with a knife that was opening a box containing them.

I did play the game and found it to be ALOT of fun, I also am working to get these sleeeved. I would caution the use of whoever made these cards to any game designer, as defects like these simply should not be.
 
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Mark Turner
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Thanks for the heads up on the card quality issue.

As someone keen to get kids and non-gamers to play these games, ie people who happily scrunch, suck, chew, and bend cards without a second thought, I have learned that card quality is a big deal.

I find it sad that this hobby so often skrimps on such an essential part of the product...

For an example of cards done well, check out a game like Kemet. Really top notch. If only other publishers would follow suit.

Ps. With you in spirit on the games meant to be played thing... But I have learned the hard way that one or two ruined cards can destroy a game, especially when anonymity is required. A little bit inside of me died when I sleeved my first game, but the relative peace of mind that followed was priceless.
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so we wait for the second edition
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Scott Bender
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zebani200 wrote:
so we wait for the second edition


Yeah, and I will totally buy the second edition because I do think the core game is quite good. There are three bits I'd like to see tweaked - card art, card quality and faction balance.

I'm not sure if I mentioned it in the review but the designer basically conceded that he ran out of time on the card art and didn't get all of the unique art done that he'd have liked. I try to not let this get to me because the rest of the game is so damn pretty, but it does.

Card quality - obvious.

And I'm pretty sure that mentioned this in the review, but humans kind of got the short end of the faction power stick, with toads close behind. I do suspect that they can be effective, but the toads require a certain style of game to really work (which may or may not develop during play) and the humans require some higher order strategy (which means in a casual game they're going to be a handicap).
 
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spbtc wrote:
And I'm pretty sure that mentioned this in the review, but humans kind of got the short end of the faction power stick, with toads close behind. I do suspect that they can be effective, but the toads require a certain style of game to really work (which may or may not develop during play) and the humans require some higher order strategy (which means in a casual game they're going to be a handicap).


I have kind of noticed this too, there are ways where arc, and toads can compete but they require a very targeted strategy with some luck on buildings. Where Hogman and Scolars can win with a wider variety of strategies. I have toyed with the idea of giving arc and toad a 3 base income instead of 2. This may make them overly powerful though.

In one of the earlier rulebooks, Ryan said that City state of arc's starting city was 6 instead of 5. This changed in the production version, so that their military district is +2. I think if you use both (6 starting city and +2 military district) Arc is just as powerful. Thoughts?
 
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Scott Bender
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kjncl wrote:
spbtc wrote:
And I'm pretty sure that mentioned this in the review, but humans kind of got the short end of the faction power stick, with toads close behind. I do suspect that they can be effective, but the toads require a certain style of game to really work (which may or may not develop during play) and the humans require some higher order strategy (which means in a casual game they're going to be a handicap).


I have kind of noticed this too, there are ways where arc, and toads can compete but they require a very targeted strategy with some luck on buildings. Where Hogman and Scolars can win with a wider variety of strategies. I have toyed with the idea of giving arc and toad a 3 base income instead of 2. This may make them overly powerful though.

In one of the earlier rulebooks, Ryan said that City state of arc's starting city was 6 instead of 5. This changed in the production version, so that their military district is +2. I think if you use both (6 starting city and +2 military district) Arc is just as powerful. Thoughts?


Both would certainly support the concept of Arc being the "builders", certainly. I haven't played for a while (despite trying to), so this is something that I'd have to keep in my head for next time. On the whole I think that a base of six is a much more useful power than +2, and much much better than being able to pay to move a building. On the down side I have only rarely felt the need to add territory because I'm running out of room in my main city - it's almost always because I need access to new terrain for the higher value buildings. Large base cities tends to emphasize early buildings and I just can't imagine how controlling the market on turnips can be turned into a win.
 
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spbtc wrote:
I just can't imagine how controlling the market on turnips can be turned into a win.


Only indirectly, I have always found that people who use their merchant very successfully almost always use turnips as the good they base it off of. Mostly due to the very available towns that produce turnips, but certainly also due to cheep turnip farms in the first round.
 
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I'll admit I haven't payed much attention to that card. I'll have to go back and look at it again.
 
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Jesse Steinfort
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zebani200 wrote:
so we wait for the second edition


Any other comments on card quality? Is it a show-stopper? I would sleeve my cards.
 
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I Sleeved, and the quality is great for everything else. It's actually not that bad for the cards either, I just sleeved because I kickstarted it and was a little ocd at the time.
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Derek H
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jsteinfo wrote:
zebani200 wrote:
so we wait for the second edition


Any other comments on card quality? Is it a show-stopper? I would sleeve my cards.

Any one who has experience with both editions able to comment on whether this has aspect been improved?
 
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