Rex: Final Days of an EmpireWhen I walked into Coolstuff on Wednesday I was not expecting to be buying Rex: Final Days of the Empire. I have been dissatisfied with Fantasy Flight Game’s for a while, both from a component quality and a game design perspective, and while I admit I was pretty curious about the Dune-style game play Rex offered I was not expecting to buy it. Of course my opinion changed when I saw an employee bringing a copy in the ding and dent section. An additional $5 off the already fairly reasonable $38 dollar base price was sufficient to push me over the edge into a purchase. Luckily I was in early enough that I was able to read the rules and get the game played that night, albeit with some rules errors and with a less than optimal number of players.
Even with just four us, the game was fairly impressive. We played with the rule book’s recommended factions, whose name I frankly do not remember, but it seemed that together they provided an interesting array of options and special abilities. I particularly appreciated how the special abilities of the factions caused an interesting shift in each player’s incentives. For example, during the phase where you bid for strategy cards (essentially special player powers), the faction I was playing, the Empire, had an ability that made it so whenever anyone else won one of the cards that I would get the influence for it, meaning that even if I did not want a card I was encouraged to go ahead and push their values up, while other players were encouraged to let me win, as once I got to four cards (my hand limit), I could no longer bid on it, making it more likely they could get a reasonable cost for it. Similarly, there is plenty of hidden information in the game (though very little hidden trackable information, thankfully), with various factions having an ability to get a hold of this information, giving them information they could both use for themselves and potentially to manipulate other players. This differentiation continues further with victory conditions; some of the factions have their own special ways to win giving them their own little subgoals beyond those that apply to everyone. This combination of varying incentives, powers, and goals results in a very interesting environment that allows for entertaining game play.
Rex is an open negotiation game, but actual deals can only be made during special, randomly appearing, turns called Ceasefires, that allow for the permanent transfer of influence and the forging and breaking of alliances. Alliances (mostly) allow for multiple people to win the game, but only at the cost of a increased requirements to win. Normally control of three fortresses is enough to ensure the win, but with an alliance of two people, this requirement goes up to four, and an alliance of three means that all five fortresses are needed to win. The randomness of the appearance of these cards requires some interesting options for backstabbing and betrayal. Our game saw a pretty entertaining double cross that allowed for two of the three players who were going to lose if the game to conclusion to pull out a surprise win, which was quite entertaining. I suspect with six players the potential for double crosses and alliance swapping will be even higher and I look forward to trying it out.
I have discussed in the past how a game’s incentive structure can create what I considered to be an overly chaotic or destructive environment, but Dune is able to neatly avoid that by allowing negotiation in only very specific situations. Since the amount of times these negotiations will occur or when they will occur is unknown it also encourages players to both work as hard as possible for their alliance, since they do not know if the alliance will ever end, but at the same time be ready for the possibility that there will be an opportunity to switch sides.
I also appreciated the fact that, unlike a lot of FFG products Rex is not overloaded with components. The game’s footprint is really quite light and it does not require a large table like many of their games do. The board is kind of ugly, and reminded me a bit too much of Arkham Horror, but the information on it is fairly clear and the art did not get in the way of the game play. Unfortunately the game came with an errata sheet in the box which confirms my current negative impression of their quality control. I do like that they caught the errors before the games in the hands of customers, but it is disappointing that they failed to catch it before the game went to print. The spaceship they included to represent the fleet bombarding the planet was pretty cool though. I am generally indifferent to plastic figures, but I cannot deny that this added a nice bit of flavor to the game.
There is quite a bit more to the game that I like, but I think I will probably wait to talk about it until if and when I write a review. Currently if you are interested in it I think I can pretty safely recommend you buy it. It was a good time for those of us who played, and I suspect that further plays will only confirm my initial positive reaction. I know now why Dune is considered such a classic, and it seems that Rex has implemented Dune in an effective enough manner that it is still a quality game.
Wherein I Discuss Those Games Described As Gamer's Games
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