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Queen's Necklace is another delightful game brought to us by Faidutti and Friends. In this enterprise, the friend is Mr. Cathala. Like I mentioned in my Fist of Dragonstones review, Mr. Faidutti seems to always make something great when he teams up with another designer. You might think that the old adage "too many cooks spoil the soup" would apply to game designing as well; too many different ideas coming from two designers making what should be a simple and fun game jumbled and confusing. With Mr. Faidutti and Mr. Cathala, as is usual, this is not the case. Queen's Necklace has depth that many gamers will appreciate without unneeded rules or mechanics you might expect from having multiple game designers.
As is expected by now from Days of Wonder, the production value of this game is outstanding. Large, Tarot sized cards will please the most astigmatic of players. Beautiful artwork and large text make these cards a pleasure to play with. Thick cardboard counters are provided to help in determining a gem's relative value (explained later). They have nice artwork and are very sturdy.
One of my favorite aspects of the game are the small "gold" rings that are used to keep track of the cost of the various cards up for auction. This is a really nice touch that adds to the jeweler atmosphere of the game. Each card has a series of numbers in descending order printed in a column on the right margin of the card. The ring is placed around the first number to represent its cost. Then, if the card is still there next turn, the ring is slid down one row to the next smaller number. In this manner the cost is represented easily and effectively without the hassle of paperwork and bookkeeping. A very neat idea that adds to the overall theme.
Also included is the coveted "Queen's Necklace". In theory it sounds like fun, but playing this game with my girlfriend it got caught in her hair and we spent about 10 minutes getting it untangled. And unless you are very secure in your masculinity, I find that most male players won't wear it as the rules say you must if you have the Queen's Necklace card. It is a really neat addition, but I suggest just keeping it in your play area.
The mechanics of the game can be a little tricky at first. You have to understand both the system that gives value to the jewels and the different character cards available for auction. First the valuation system.
The game is made up of 3 "years". At the end of each year (each of which occur about 1/3 of the way through the deck) there is a sale of jewels. Jewels are made up of different gems that you bid on between sales. There are four gems: Amber, Ruby, Diamond, and Emerald. Each is randomly given a fashion value at the beginning of the game that can add anywhere from +30, +20, +10, or +0 points to that gem if it wins as a jewel in the auction each year. This represents the desire of the king's court for that type of gem in a jewel.
When the sale is called everyone reveals simultaneously how many gems they want to be a part of each jewel. You can only create a maximum of four jewels, one for each type of gem (you cannot mix diamonds and amber, for example). Once it is known how many total gems of each type are up for sale the rarity is determined. The most rare (fewest) gems of a type get a +30 rarity tile, adding 30 points to the total value of that jewel. The next most rare gems get a +20 rarity tile, and so forth down to +0. Whoever has the most gems in their jewel of a particular type wins the sale, and gets the fashion value plus the rarity value added to their overall score.
So you can see that this makes for an interesting situation: You want to have enough gems to win that particular jewel type, but not too many to make it so common that it does not get a rarity bonus. This is a great mechanic in my book, and makes for some nail biting decisions during sale time.
As if that were not enough in itself, Bruno & Bruno decided to throw in some varying character powers. This is not quite the same as Citadels, but is in the same vein. Every auction round there is drawn from the deck 5 cards that are placed face up. These cards can be gems (already mentioned) of various amounts, or characters. Each have a value that is highlighted by the gold ring. You have 10 ducats to spend each turn, and can buy any combination of face up cards if you stay at or below 10 ducats. When your turn is over you replace (from the deck) any cards that you purchased, move the ring on each of the remaining cards down one spot making them cheaper for the next player, then discard cards if they reach the end of their purchasing life and replace them from the deck. This creates a situation that if you do not buy a card, and it is not discarded, it is available to the next player at an even more attractive price. You not only have to buy the best cards for your hand, but prevent others from getting cards that can harm you.
The characters can give you different powers that can be used at different times. The King card, when played during the auction, negates the sale of the gem it is played with (it's good to be the King). For instance, I play 5 diamonds during a sale thinking that I have it cinched. One of my opponents plays one diamond, and along with it the King. This makes the Diamonds worthless and no one gets any points for them. A very powerful card, which can be countered by the Queen's Necklace. If I played the Queen's Necklace with my 5 diamonds, it negates the King card. If that weren't bad enough, whoever played the King card has to pay the Queen's Necklace player 50 points! This can make for some fun bluffing situations, because whenever you acquire the Queen's Necklace you have to wear the necklace provided in the game. This means that everyone knows that you have the necklace and are going to do their best to not play the King on any jewel you might play the Queen's Necklace on. This also means that everyone is going to try and steal the Queen's Necklace from you as well.
This brings us to another character, the Thief. You can steal a card at random from another player's hand. If you have the Necklace, you can be damn well sure this will get played on you quite a bit. You can counter the Thief with a Musketeer; if someone draws the Musketeer at random from your hand with the Thief, you can then turn around a take a card from them (just hope that it isn't another Musketeer or the vicious cycle begins anew). In addition, if you play 3 Musketeers together you can steal the Queen's Necklace from whoever has it. This can throw the balance of the game rather quickly in your favor.
In addition there are cards that give you extra ducats to spend during the auction, cards that allow you to change the fashion value of gems, cards that allow you to delay the sale, and others. Suffice it to say that there is enough variety and possible combinations to make this a very replayable game.
As I just mentioned, replayability is one of this game's high points. There are enough different characters and jewel strategies to make you want to try this again and again (especially when you lose). The bluffing element keeps this game fresh as well, even when played by the same group multiple times.
For most players up to the first sale is going to be a learning round. Unless you sit down and explain each and every character in detail the players won't have a real "feel" for the game since knowing how many of each character and their powers are vital to doing well. Not that card counting is necessary, but a good memory is definitely helpful. If you know that all of the Kings have been drawn and played, then you know you can play jewels without fear of reprisal. This is not foolproof, however, because of the starting hand (which is not revealed unless someone plays a card on you) and also card powers that allow you to draw cards unseen to other players from the deck.
Once everyone figures out the cards and the mechanics of the sale the game is very smooth and can be finished in under 45 minutes. Auctions are broken up nicely by card play and sales, and does not feel repetitive. The jewel sales can be made more dramatic by each player choosing their jewels then revealing each set of jewels one at a time. This is more fun, in my opinion, and provides for some entertaining cries of both agony and joy.
This game plays best with 3, very well with 4, and not so great with 2. The bluffing element and card turnover is too little with 2 players to make it much fun. There also seems to be a glut of gems available. There has been a fix posted on the Days of Wonder message board for this game, which does help a bit but the game just doesn't have the same appeal that it has with 3 or 4 players. If you can't get 3 players together, give it a go on the Days of Wonder website, where the game can only be played with 3 players.
I also suggest printing out the scoring sheet on the Days of Wonder website as well. Although the gameplay is fast, when it comes down to scoring time it can drag a bit if you don't have a good method. The score sheet helps a bit, but make sure you try doing a little "practice scoring" on your own before bringing this out to play with friends. You will be glad that you did.
This game is a treat in both aesthetics and gameplay. Fantastic bits all help to reinforce the underlying atmosphere of pre-revolution France. The mechanics add some new twists to old methods, and the gameplay is fast and fun. Although the scoring itself can drag a bit, experience and a good method can clear this small speed bump up quickly. I highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a great 3 player game, or just a great game in general.
Rating out of 10, 10 being the best: