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Andrew Asplund
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Seattle
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Steve Jackson Games, a company with a long (and some might suggest sorted) history in game design, has released their first foray into the Euro-style board game with Revolution! Designed by Phillip duBarry, the game presents a generic, European style city facing an oncoming revolution. Players represent different factions, vying for the most influence in the city when so when the revolution does happen, they will be the one on top of it all. It is designed for three to four players and takes roughly 45 to 60 minutes to play.

COMPONENTS:

In terms of construction and design, everything in the box is well constructed and works well in gameplay. Bidding boards are clear and legible, bidding screens hold up well and have important information written on the inside, the board is sturdy and cleanly illustrated, and the tokens are all thick, laminated stock and hold up well after multiple plays.

The rules sheet that comes with the game is a quick read and sums the game up very well. Revolution! does not have a lot in the ways of rules so two pages sums it up pretty well. In addition, they provide a number of Optional Rules and even a "Hints and Tips" section. When I first read the rules, I did not bother reading either of these "bonus" sections as I felt it would be better to play a few games first; as we played, my group began discovering some of these "Hints and Tips" through gameplay only to discover they had been suggested to us from the beginning. In retrospect, this improves the value of the rules sheet by my assessment.

The board itself is colorful, decorative, and makes for a nice surface upon which to play. It is divided roughly into eight locations of interest and a decorative element in the center. Throughout the game, players place wooden Influence cubes on marked spaces within these locations to represent their domination of it. Although a minor quibble, I cannot help but feel that while some of the locations have very tightly packed spaces for Influence cubes (the Fortress, for example), others seem to take up a great deal more space for very few "cube spots" (specifically, the more decorative Harbor and Marketplace locations).

The only issue that confused my play group was the seemingly wasted space in the center of the board; a large "town square" takes up roughly a ninth of the board in what seems nothing more than a cosmetic feature. I have been told that the original designer made a 5-6 player expansion that utilizes a new location and it was suggested that, if implemented, the expansion would overlay the new location atop the town square.

Overall, I would rate the art and construction of components to be Excellent. While this game may not come with a huge number of wooden bits or cardboard counters (such as some other games), what it does come with is colorful, durable, and makes for a pleasurable game experience.

BASIC GAMEPLAY:

The basic gameplay for Revolution! is extremely simple. Players have tokens representing different persuasive methods that they use to coerce various members of the community; on each turn, each player secretly places these bidding tokens on a bid board representing these various characters, hoping to secure their influence. When all players finish bidding, the bid boards are revealed; players with the strongest bid on a character wins their favor and gets a reward (either points, more bidding tokens, or getting to place influence cubes on board locations). One all bidding spaces (characters) have been resolved, the next turn starts.

Bidding is resolved quite easily. Three types of bidding tokens exist: Force, Blackmail, and Gold. Force always beats Blackmail and Gold. Blackmail always beats Gold. More of one thing always beats less of the same thing. When ties occur, players consider the next kind of token (so a Force tie will go to whoever has more Blackmail or, if that is a tie, to whoever has more Gold in their bid). An absolute tie goes to nobody (and all players lose their bids).

The different biddable characters provide any combination of three rewards. Some provide bidding tokens to be used in the next turn (since players use all of their tokens each turn). A number of characters "influence" board locations; the board is composed of seven locations, each with a number of empty spaces. As a player influences the location, they place on of their colored cubes on an empty space. At the end of the game, a player with the most influence on a location gets a considerable number of points (Support), making control of locations an important factor in the game. Some spaces on the bidding board directly provide points, providing another avenue to "build up Support."

The game ends when all of the influence spaces on the board are filled with the players' cubes. Then, each location "goes" to the player with the most influence. Each player's Support is added up and the player with the most wins.

As far as Euro-style games go, this game can be picked up very quickly (I would say five minutes or less). It is easy to learn on your own and also easy to teach to others. As a board game player who routinely plays with both gamers and non-gamers, I consider this game excellent in either setting. From the perspective of ease of play and approachability, I consider the gameplay to be Excellent.

GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCE:

Having played a number of games of Revolution! with several different groups of players, I find that each game presents a different situation representing a new challenge. It is difficult to consider a decisive strategy for this game since so much of it depends on what bids other players will make. Unlike some classic Euro games where an optimum strategy often develops over time, I look at Revolution! as a game that depends entirely on the makeup of the players. Yesterday's "winning strategy" could become tomorrow's "failure state." The groups I have played with found this strong variable aspect of the game an appealing feature.

One thing that separates Revolution! from a lot of standard Euro games is the chaotic and often frustrating behavior of the Secret Auction mechanic. Since practically all of the gameplay hinges on this mechanic, the primary player action is trying to determine what other players will bid and to bid accordingly. Each auction space ends in a Winner-Takes-All resolution, so it can happen (and often does) that a player will have an entire turn feel like wasted effort. If, for example, I place bids on three different characters but other players match or beat my bid for those characters, I walk away from the turn with nothing to show for it; for some players, this can be extremely frustrating. One of the Optional Rules (Bid Refunds) attempts to alleviate some of that frustration but either way it can easily put some people off to the game.

Revolution! is interesting in some regards because unlike a majority of popular board games around, Revolution! has absolutely no random elements; every game starts the same and follows the same rules. Despite this lack of random features, Revolution! often feels like one of the most random and chaotic board games I have played. It is easy to walk away with the notion that fortunes are won or lost in a couple of bids and that everything boils down to that one last turn. Yet, from my experience, this game rests much more heavily on the interactions of player behaviors. I have seen several games spin on misdirection, misinterpretation, and general confusion. In that regard, this chaotic player interaction as a primary game element sets Revolution! apart from a majority of the popular Euro games out there, which makes it a nice change from the more strategic fare.

Keeping all of this in mind, I consider the Revolution! gameplay experience to be a bit bittersweet. Although I like the shift from standard Euro gameplay while retaining some of the Euro game feel, I have some concern with a game that can so readily frustrate players. The last thing I like at my table is players walking away angry. In this regard, I consider the gameplay experience to be Above Average.

OVERALL:

Steve Jackson Games has a long history of making games. For some, it starts with Car Wars. Others came in with Ogre or GURPS. More recently, it has been the Munchkin series. Revolution! feels considerably like a new direction for the Steve Jackson line that still manages to capture some of the flavor of the entire history of the line. I like where the company has gone with this and I hope that future products will continue to develop the SJ Games board game line.

Pros:
Very simple, easy to understand rules
Attractive art, solid construction
A different focus from your standard Euro game
Every game requires reconsidered strategies

Cons:
Easily frustrating with some unforgiving gameplay elements
Can become very chaotic (generally a bad thing, right?)

Overall assessment of the game (not an average): Very Good
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Philip Reed
United States
Kyle
Texas
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Thanks for the review. I hope you'll try some of our other upcoming releases (like Nanuk).
 
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