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Subject: A Meeple Pusher Review of: Viceroy rss

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David McMillan
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Madison
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“This chair is quite possibly the worst chair I have ever sat in in my entire lifetime,” I thought to myself.

“It’s high time I had a real castle with a real throne room and a real throne.”

These thoughts spun around in my head day after day incessantly as I went about the business of waging a far off war, sorting out food production for the armies abroad and the populace at home, traveling here and there signing treaties and forming alliances, and all the other duties that came with being the new viceroy. Looking back, I wasn’t even sure how I’d gotten here or how I’d gotten sucked into the role so deeply, but I suspected it had everything to do with that witch.

My father, the old viceroy had just died and because I was cursed with his bloodline, like it or not, I’d ascended in his place. I went about the job haphazardly not really knowing what I was doing and not really giving a damn either. I hadn’t asked for this and I didn’t really want it. I supposed that I was thinking that if I did a bad enough job of it that the people would just kick me out and get someone else to do it, but it didn’t work out that way. These people had watched me grow up and they knew there was more to me than even I knew. I’m glad they were feeling confident about the arrangement because I certainly wasn’t.

The days went by in a blur and somehow I managed to not screw things up entirely, but that wasn’t for lack of trying. If I ever succeeded at anything or made a right call, it was mostly by pure, dumb luck. Then one day, the doors to the common room that served as my meeting chambers swung open and in walked one of the most beautiful women I have ever laid eyes upon. She was lithe of body and had long, curly locks of flaxen hair that swept down just beneath her shoulders. She wore a look of fierce determination on her face that on any other woman would have come off as a scowl. It wasn’t until she drew closer that I realized this was partly due to the scar that ran down the left side of her face. It began just to the left of her nose and ran upwards through her eye and into her hairline. Where an eye should have been was just a milky white orb staring back at me. Somehow, instead of detracting from her natural beauty, this had the opposite effect. It took what was there and enhanced it. When she was just a few paces away, she stopped and knelt to the ground.

“Viceroy.” She said.

“That I am. And who, pray tell, are you?”

“My name is of no consequence, but I come bearing a message for you.”

“A message, huh? Well, go ahead. I am listening.”

“That’s just the problem. You aren’t and you haven’t been for a very long time.”

She reached into a sack at her waist and removed a pouch with some seeds in it. Reaching into the pouch, she deftly plucked a handful of seeds from it and sprinkled them onto the floor. My eyebrow rose. I was intrigued by this bizarre behavior and I wanted to see what she would do next, so I let her continue. She stared at the seeds for a moment before shaking her head vehemently. Clearly unhappy with what she’d seen, she used her foot to clear the area of seed and then sprinkled some more. After gazing at these fresh seeds for a moment, she sadly nodded her head and looked up at me.

Staring me straight in the eye, she said “I have gazed into the future and I see terrible things coming our way. The nation of Laar is changing all around us. There is an evil that stirs just beneath the surface and threatens to overtake us all if we are not wary and vigilant. You have sat there for too long as a boy playing a boy’s game when what is needed is the wisdom and the foresight of a man. Now is the time to become that man. Now is the time to shine and to take what is rightfully yours. When the history of this world is written, nobody will remember the players. They will only remember the people who led them. It is time for you to make a choice. How will you be remembered, viceroy? What legacy will you leave behind? Unseen forces move against us even as we speak and the time for action is upon you. The future is not set in stone. It is not immutable and it can be changed. But you must act soon!”

Clearly out of breath after her imploring speech, she stood there gazing up at me expectantly waiting for my reply. How dare she speak to me so bluntly! I should have her thrown into a cell for her impertinence! It took some effort to hold my initial rage at her outburst in check and to allow myself to give thought to what she’d said.

I mulled over her words for a moment and thought about what she’d said. And I couldn’t entirely fault her. I knew deep down inside that I wasn’t doing all that I could and I knew that the people were in dire need of leadership and so far nobody had stepped up. I realized then that my destiny was inescapable and, like it or not, I was viceroy and I had a duty to perform. My facial expression must have changed because her scowl slowly turned into a smile.

“Thank you, viceroy,” she said before spinning on her heels and casually exiting the room leaving me there to mull over my next move. Just like that, it had begun. The future of Laar was unwritten, but I was determined that I would be the one helping to write it…

In the game of Viceroy, each player will take on the role of a viceroy competing to gain control over the kingdom of Laar. This is accomplished by hiring characters who can perform special actions that will provide wealth and prestige for their ruling kingdoms. But it’s not going to be easy. Players will be vying for these characters’ loyalty and only through careful resource management and future planning can they succeed. Who will emerge as the victor?

Now, before I delve too much further into this review, I’d like to take a moment to thank Alexey Babaitsev and all of the fine folks over at Hobby World games for sending me the copy of this game that I am basing this review upon. Soon, they will be re-launching this game with its new English rules and I am grateful to Alexsey et al for allowing me the opportunity to try out, demonstrate, and review it. However, their generosity has not had any impact upon my overall opinion of this game. Rest assured that if this game is terrible, I will tell you so.

CONTENTS

Viceroy comes packaged in a large box about a foot across either way. Front and center on the front cover stands a red haired man, posing in his finest suit of armor. One hand rests on his hip and the other grips a large, winged helmet. In the background is a foggy image of a fortress of some sort. Combined with the broad white and red striped flag rippling in the air behind him, one can only surmise that this is the scene of a hard won battle recently fought. This is a man that lives for battle and laughs in the face of death.

Inside of the box is a collection of cards and a large assortment of various tokens and chits. The cards are divided into two groups - Character cards and Law cards. Each Character card features a unique character with its own unique illustration, but the layout of each of these cards is the same. In the upper left and right hand corners of each of these cards is a quarter of a circle in one of four colors - green, yellow, blue, and red. Beneath theses and running down the left hand border of the card are four circles and each circle is one of the four previously mentioned colors. To the right of each of these circles is some iconography which describes what the card actually does (this will be discussed later). Just beneath this in the lower left of the card is a full half of a circle which is also one of the four colors and just to the right of that is the name of the character depicted on the card. And, in the lower left hand corner of each card is a very tiny number which becomes significant later on. The artwork on these cards is in the same vein as the art work on the front of the box. The characters depicted are very stern and self-sure. These characters are experienced masters of their crafts.

The Law cards, like the Character cards, feature the same semi circles in the upper corners and along the bottom of the card, but these cards are void of any illustration. At the top of each Law card is the title of the specific card in question and beneath this, in a text area, is some text describing what the Law card does. Combined with the Character cards, these are the cards that will be used to construct your card tableau to earn the points that you will need to win the game. There are also four cards that are used to create the card auction arrow. On each of these is a circle that corresponds to one of the colors. During the card auction part of the game, cards will be arrayed above and below these cards.

The various chits and tokens come in many types - gemstones, power point tokens, bonus tokens, attack/defense tokens, and magic/science tokens. Each gemstone token is simply a circle of the same color printed on both sides of the token. Power point tokens feature a number underlined with a filigreed wreath on both sides of the coin. The attack/defense tokens feature an image of a sword on one side and the image of a shield on the reverse. The magic/science tokens have a picture of a gear on one side and the image of a scroll on the opposite side. While these tokens are all circular in shape, the bonus tokens are more oblong - almost rectangular - and these feature some iconography on the left side of the image and a filigreed wreath on the right side with a number. The reverse of these is exactly the same.

The only other things of note inside of the box are the rule book and the player screens. The player screens are nothing special. The out-facing side of the screen features the Viceroy logo on a maroon background and the player-facing side features some information about the various bonus tile types. The rule book is the real star here. It is incredibly well-written and packed with game play examples (both graphical and text in nature). In a game like Viceroy that has so much going on, it is imperative that the rule book be clear and concise and this rule book is just that.

SET UP

First, the Law cards and Character cards are separated into different decks and each deck is shuffled together. Each player is then dealt two cards each from the Character deck and three cards each from the Law deck. Then the four auction cards are laid out in a row and 48 cards are removed from the Character deck and placed face down to the left of these. The remaining Character cards are placed face down to the right of the auction cards to create a small pile and then the Law card deck is placed face down to the right of this. Each player will then select a Character card from their hand and place it into play for free making sure to collect the reward for it being played into the first tier (more on this in a moment).

Once the cards have been arranged, each player will receive a player screen and then two of each of the different gem types from the gemstone reserve. Depending upon the number of people playing, the number of gems that are initially in the gemstone reserve will vary. Then the players select two of their eight gems to return to the gemstone reserve. The leftover gems are kept hidden behind their player screens. Then all of the various other tokens and chits are separated by type into different piles, a starting player is chosen, and you are ready to begin playing.

BUILDING the PYRAMID

This game revolves around the construction of a pyramid of cards. When a player plays a card into their pyramid structure, they will gain some kind of benefit from the card being played depending upon which tier of the pyramid the card was played into. Cards in the first tier can be played side by side, but any cards played into the upper tiers must be played in such a way that the half-circle at the bottom of that card forms a complete circle with the quarter circles at the top corners of the two cards that are beneath it. If a player manages to form a circle in this way and that circle is a single color, then the player will instantly gain a gemstone of that color that they will take from the gemstone supply and add to their own. A player will have three opportunities per round to add cards to their pyramid, so they will need to manage their resources well to make the most of these opportunities.

To add a card to their pyramid, the player must pay the costs associated with doing so. These costs are shown with the four circles on the left hand side of the card. These circles can vary in color. The bottom circle represents tier 1 of the pyramid and the upper circle represents tier 4. To place a card into the pyramid, the player pays the cost for the current tier plus the cost for all of the tiers below it, but they only gain the benefit associated with the current tier. If a player manages to play a card into the fifth tier, then they pay the cost for all four tiers plus the cost for the fourth tier and then they can decide to reap the benefits from the first three tiers on the card or they can decide to add a 15 power point token to the card.

Law cards are played into the pyramid for free, but they must also follow the 'create a full circle' rule when being played into the upper tiers. When playing a Law card, the player will simply do whatever the card says.

THE BENEFITS

As I have mentioned previously, each Character card and Law card comes with several benefits and these benefits align with the various tokens that were set aside at the beginning of the game. So, to keep this as succinct as possible, I will present you a list of the various benefits and what they do. They are:

Infinite gemstone: an infinite gemstone is a gemstone of the appropriate color placed on top of the card that put the gemstone into play. This gemstone can be used multiple times throughout the game to help pay for the costs associated with playing a card into a player’s pyramid, but it can only be used once per turn.

Magic Scrolls and Magic Scroll bonuses: Magic Scrolls and Magic Scroll bonuses are placed on top of the card that brought them into play. Magic Scrolls and Magic Scroll bonus tokens are worth nothing by themselves, but when combined together, they are worth victory points at the end of the game. The Magic Scrolls are also worth extra victory points at the end of the game if they are combined with the appropriate other tokens.

Science tokens: Science tokens are placed on top of the card that brought them into play. These tokens will allow a player to earn extra gemstones during the Auction phase of the game. When combined with the appropriate tokens, these can also be worth victory points at the game’s end.

Attack tokens: Attack tokens are placed behind a player’s screen when that player earns one. These tokens can be used in one of two ways. Firstly, they are invaluable during the Auction phase of the game; allowing players that use them to have first pick of whichever cards are available at the time. Secondly, unused Attack tokens are worth negative victory points to the opponents of the player that own the unused Attack token.

Defense tokens: Defense tokens are placed on top of the card that brought them into play. During the game, these tokens don’t do anything special, but if they are combined with the appropriate other tokens at the end of the game, they can be worth a lot of points. And, if an opponent has any unused Attack tokens at the end of the game, any Defense tokens a player has will offset those.

Power Point tokens: Power Point tokens are placed on top of the card that brought them into play. These tokens do not have any intrinsic value during the game, but will add bonus victory points during scoring.

Single color circle bonuses: There are several different types of these tokens and they will award the player that controls them for each single color circle of a specific color that they have in their pyramid at the end of the game. These tokens are placed on top of the card that brought them into play.

AUCTION PHASE

Each round begins with an Auction phase. At the end of this phase, any cards that were left over from any previous auctions at the top of the Auction cards are removed from the game and any cards at the bottom of the Auction cards are then moved to the tops of the Auction cards. Then four fresh cards are drawn off of the top of the Character card deck and one is placed at the bottom of each of the Auction cards. This means that each Auction phase will begin with four brand new cards and that players can strategize during subsequent phases about which cards they’d like to obtain during the next Auction phase.

Conducting the auction is simple. Each player chooses a gemstone that corresponds to the Auction card that the Character card they are interested in is adjacent to. Then they will conceal the gemstone in their hand and extend their fist, indicating that they have made their selection. Once everyone has made their selection, they will all reveal the gemstones in their hands simultaneously. Anyone who has selected a gemstone that nobody else selected automatically receives their card which is then placed into their hand. If two people chose the same color and there are two cards present then those players may each take one of the cards provided they can come to an agreement. If they can’t, then they and anyone else that bid and lost will move on to the second Auction phase where this entire process is repeated. If similar results occur, then a third and final auction phase is performed. And, regardless of whether a person won or lost, they must pay whatever they bid into the supply.

It is not necessary for a person to bid anything at all. If they choose to pass, then they can take 3 gemstones of their choice from the supply and add those gemstones to their own supply. Anybody that chooses this option and anyone that has bid and won a card may not take part in subsequent auctions this turn. Anyone that has not won anything by the end of the third auction can then take 3 gemstones of their choice from the supply and add those gemstones to their own supply.

PUTTING it ALL TOGETHER

Each round is going to play out like this:

1. Auction phase - An auction is performed as described earlier and then the auction layout is refreshed.

2. Development phase - Players will add cards to their pyramid structure. The chosen cards are selected and placed face down. When everyone has selected all of the cards are flipped up simultaneously. The person that has the lowest numbered card in their pyramid (including the new card that they are adding) gets to resolve their card first followed by the person with the second lowest, etc. There are three development phases per round so that each player will have the opportunity to add, at most, three cards to their pyramid per round. If a player passes during any of the Development phases, they will not have the opportunity to build anything else this round.

And then it starts all over again. Once the last four cards from the Character deck are added to the auction tableau, this signals that the next round will be the last round of the game and when that round is finished, the players will tally up their final scores.

SCORING

Before the scoring begins, the players will have an opportunity to use any leftover gemstones to 'paint' any quarter circles so that they create a single colored circle. For instance, if you have the top half of a blue circle and directly beneath that you have a blue quarter and a red quarter, you could use a leftover blue gem to paint the red quarter blue. To signify that you have chosen to do this, you would place the blue gemstone on top of the red quarter circle. Once everyone has painted as much as they can, then scoring continues.

There are multiple ways to score points in this game and all of them will be considered when tallying up the final scores. After all of the points have been added up, the player with the highest score will win the game. Players will receive points from:

1. Magic scroll bonuses: the number of magic scrolls times the number of magic scroll bonuses

2. Single color circle bonuses: the number of single colored circles of the appropriate color times the number of bonuses for having that color of single colored circle

3. Points from Power Point tokens: the value of all of these tokens added together

4. Infinite gemstone bonuses: the number of infinite gemstones of the appropriate color times the number of bonuses for having that color of infinite gemstone

5. Infinite gemstones in your pyramid: the value of these is equal to the tier that the infinite gemstone rests upon. For instance, an infinite gemstone in the third tier of your pyramid structure would be worth 3 points

6. Single colored circles in your pyramid: the value of these is equal to the tier that the top half of the circle appears in. For instance, a single-colored circle whose top half is on tier four of your pyramid structure would be worth 4 points.

7. Bonuses from Law cards: some Law cards will provide players with bonus victory points at the end of the game.

8. Completed sets: for every set of 1 Science token, 1 Defense token, and 1 Magic Scroll token that a player has, they will earn twelve points.

9. Penalties for unused Attack tokens: Each player loses four victory points for each unused Attack token that their opponents control at the end of the game. If a player happens to have any Defense tokens, then one Attack token is negated for each one of these.

THOUGHTS

I will admit it. I liked Viceroy from the moment that I opened the box. The art work in this game is phenomenal and it drew me in instantly. After punching out all of the pieces, I sat there with the rule book in hand poring over all of the pieces and just marveling at what a well-designed game this is. Of course, there was always the chance that actually playing the game would change my outlook considerably, so I twisted my wife's arm and got her to agree to give it a go. Thirty or so minutes later, we sat across from each other completely mesmerized. Viceroy had won us over without a fight.

And I have seen this same reaction time and time again each time that it gets brought out and taught to a new group of people. Everyone has an amazing time and everyone is left wishing they'd done something differently at the end. There is just so much to do in this game that there is never enough time to get it all done. Every single decision that you make is meaningful and it is often difficult to decide just what the best decision should be. Bid or pass and collect some gemstones to help you during the Development phase? Play this card into your pyramid now or save it for later when it might be of more benefit? And then there's trying to figure out which card you think your opponent will most likely go for and working to deny it to them. The game is absolutely packed with strategic decision making and it plays flawlessly.

But that's not to say that everything about the game is perfect. There is one glaring oversight that definitely leaves a sour taste in my mouth every time that I play the game and that glaring oversight is this... there is no scoring pad included. It might seem like a small and insignificant thing, but in a game like this where there are victory points coming at you from every direction, then there really needs to be a way for people to keep track of how many points they've scored for two reasons. First is the most obvious. It helps with the scoring. But for me, the best thing about a scoring pad is having that visual representation of my past performances versus my current one. I like that feeling of improving from one game to the next.

And then I have one more issue with this game and it is a pretty negligible one… more of a warning to the wise than a complaint and here it is. This game takes up a lot of table space. With each card measuring about 3” x 3”, then a four tier pyramid of these cards takes up a foot of table space from the edge of the table moving inwards. If you couple that with an opponent sitting directly across from you, you’ve used up two feet already. And then, right in between the two of you is the array of Auction cards. That’s another 9 inches of space – a total of 2’ 9”! And that’s assuming your pyramid cards are smashed right up against the Auction cards, which they’re not going to be. Needless to say, if you factor in all the piles of tokens and another two players and no limit to how wide the base of each pyramid can be and the player screens, this game can grow to be pretty large. If you’re the gamer that typically plays games on a standard square card table then be forewarned, it’s going to get uncomfortable.

All in all, though, Viceroy has quickly become one of my all-time favorite games. The richness of the game play and the wide variety of choices ensures that no two games are ever alike. The multiple paths to victory ensure an engaging and thoughtful experience every time. The astounding art work adds another level of respectability to the game. Viceroy is a joy to play and a joy to teach and it has quickly grown to be a staple at my gaming group and in my household.


*****EDIT: Apparently someone was listening because the game now includes a scoring pad.*****



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Nice review.

Look into the files section, I've tried to make a Viceroy score sheet. I'll print it today so I can see how it looks on paper. And also see how many of these I can put on a A4 sheet.
 
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Esben Meulengracht Flachs
Denmark
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Thx for the rewiew. There's a scoring pad in my copy of the game.
 
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Mayday Games
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Yes, Mayday added a scoring pad during the Kickstarter and we believe that same pad has made it into all the other versions as well
 
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