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Adam Skinner
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Seven Hills
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I played Doge for the first time last night. At first I thought it was going to be some lame El Grande clone. Area majority, has a "special" area, made in 2000.

I was wrong though. It's very cool, and totally different.

While the board is an area divided map of Venice, the theme is totally pasted on. The game features no adjacency rules, so you may as well have 6 boxes with different symbols in them for "scoring regions" and another special box as a "leverage / utility region".

Each round prior to scoring the players must blind bid 3 of the region cards with at least one influence token on it. The players are given 7 tokens: 3322110. These cards and tokens are chosen each round in turn, and the tokens are placed face down (values hidden) on the area that the card indicated. Each player has one card representing each region, and can only play once in each region each round.

After those three bidding turns are over, all 7 of the regions are evaluated in turn. The player with influence majority (the highest value of the face down influence tokens in the region) takes control of the "advisor"(?) of the region and may place him in any of the other 5 normal scoring regions. This advisor counts as one extra point of influence when the region is scored in it's turn. In lieu of placing this advisor, you can place him off the board and move one of your houses in a different region to the region you just won, or from the region you just won into a different region.

So where do the houses come in? When you win majority (or tie for the win of majority) in a region, you get to place two of your houses in the region. If you come in second (or tie for second) you get to place one. It's only if you have more influence in the region than any other player that you get to use the advisor.


Image by Brian Rowe

The houses are very important: they upgrade to palaces. Depending on how quickly you get your houses into a region, you'll be able to convert a certain number of them into a palace. And having palaces in the different regions is the end game condition and how you win the game.

Each region has a number of different palace slots in it, with numbers indicating the number of houses it takes to do the house/palace upgrade. If you're the first person to get 3 houses in, you get a palace there. The next person needs 4 to get a palace, and so on. If you're the first to get a palace in all 6 regions, you win. Or if you get 7 palaces in 5 regions, you win. Or 8 in 4.

It's a game of tactical bidding, to try and get houses on the board. The more houses you get on the board, the more likely it is that you're going to be able to convert those houses into palaces. By gaining a clear majority, you get the advisor which will help you in gaining these majorities, but sometimes you want to adjust assets you already have on the board (houses, that is) to different regions so you can concentrate your efforts into obtaining a majority you want. So you might want to try to win a region you don't want a palace in simply because it puts two houses on the board which you can later move to a more contested region that you need assets in.

There is one other way to move these houses around, and to introduce these "tipping point" advisors into play: the special "leverage / utility" region. If you gain majority here by placing your influence tokens in this region, you get two advisors you can use. They work just like all the other advisors: move a house, or get an extra point of influence where you want it. You can use them to ninja a palace somewhere, or place them into a region that nobody bid on (or only one person bid on) to get majority or second place (extra houses in a region at least, with the possibility to place another advisor!). If you come in second in this region, you get a the third advisor.

The thing with these advisors is that they swap hands. So if I had the Region A advisor last turn, and I have it in Region B (and maybe I'm kind of taking it for granted that it will stay there when that region is scored) and somebody steals that advisor from me by during the Region A scoring, it can throw a monkey wrench into your plans. One point of influence doesn't seem like a lot, but it can be a 2 point swing in influence between two players. Winning majority is a multifaceted thing.


Image by Geo

You can kind of project what's going to happen, or at least what the risks are. When each region is being evaluated in turn, the order is determined by cards that have been shuffled and dealt out onto the board at the beginning of the turn. Each each time a region is evaluated, one of the hidden cards (shuffled and dealt face down) is turned up (this is to help you project what's going to be happening in future turns - you always see this order 6 or 7 cards out; it's used to help you place the advisors to your advantage). But even though you can tell what's going on, at least your first game is going to be played by the seat of your pants. But there's definitely the possibility (with familiarity) that you can successfully project your devious master plan for the round to mess with your opponents.

I like Doge a lot. I'm a fan of area majority, and while this game is mechanically simple (play your cards and tokens, evaluate, rinse and repeat), there's a lot going on and important decisions going on when you actually do win a majority.

The game that I played last night I won. In the last round, both Don and I met the end game condition: he had one palace in each of the 6 different scoring regions, while I had 7 palaces in 5. The primary tie breaker is the number of palaces you have on the board, so I got the win. It could have pretty easily gone the other way, and I was actively working against Don at the end of the game to thwart him gaining a majority (but he was shifting around houses and still ended up getting another palace!).

The game is fun, and tense. Lots of interesting decisions to make, trying to get a sense of the whole, gauging the other player's interests as well as your own. I was setting aside three regions at the start of my hand, planning ahead, playing them in order of least important to most important (soas not to give information away based on the number of tokens that I played into an important region so another could come along and try to thwart me).

One thing we started doing as stuff started to get tense was to start concealing our bid during the blind bidding phase. We'd take our region card and place it face down, and then palm our bid and place it on top of the card. The remaining influence tokens would also be palmed in our other hand (soas not to give away the number of tokens we were going to play into the region at hand).

That's the game! It's fun; you should try it.
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Richard Diosi
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Nice review Adam.

I couldn't agree more. This is a great game. I think I would have to say it is in my top 5 for Desert Island games. Leo Colovini really outdid himself on this one. You are correct to advise anyone even a little curious about this game to play it, it is fun. I'm not necessarily a fan of blind bidding games but the way this is implemented absolutely does it justice. I think another plus for this game is that it doesn't play overly long.

Doc
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