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Subject: Ten Things to Like - And Five Things to Dislike - About Copycat rss

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Trent Hamm
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Copycat is a politically-themed deckbuilding and worker placement game for two to four players. It was designed by Friedemann Friese, published by Rio Grande Games, and playable in about an hour. In Copycat, you're a politician hoping to work your way up from dreams of a political career to the upper echelons of political power, represented by victory points.

The gameplay of Copycat borrows heavily from other well-known games, particularly Agricola and Dominion. Each player starts with a deck of ten cards (seven of which generate a single coin and three of which generate a single victory point) of which they draw a hand of five cards each round, much like Dominion.

Players also have three workers, which they place on the board on different locations, which affords them different abilities during the action phase of the round, a la Agricola. The actions on the board enable you to directly earn more victory points, add more cards to your deck, or duplicate the effects of cards that you play.

The game takes place over a series of eleven rounds, within which there are a series of turns. In the first part of the round, players engage in a blind bid for turn order, then take turns placing workers (one worker placed per turn). Once all workers are placed, players resolve the abilities of their workers and the cards in their hand in turn order. At the end of the round, players draw a fresh new hand of five cards.

The game ends at the end of the eleventh round or at the end of any round where a player crosses the 95 point threshold (or if the bottom four cards in the purchase deck are all purchased). The player with the most victory points wins.



Ten Things to Like About Copycat
Here are ten things I particularly like about Copycat.

1. It does a brilliant job of taking familiar game mechanisms and twisting them just enough that you're on unfamiliar ground.
When you first place this game on the table, you can't help but see familiar elements.

Each player gets a deck of ten cards, seven of which represent one coin and three of which represent one victory point. Even better, the coins are gold colored and the victory points are green colored! This is all pulled straight from Dominion.

There are also a number of shared spots where players can place their workers. Each round, a new spot for worker placement is revealed. That new spot is printed on a card and the order of the reveal is semi-random. All of this is straight out of Agricola.

Those two elements feel familiar, but they're twisted. The victory point cards in your deck take on an active role in that you actually play them to earn a victory point rather than having them merely earn a point at the end of the game because the card is in your deck. The worker placement options on the board are drastically different than what you'll find in Agricola.

The mechanisms are very similar to what you know, but they're different enough that they feel new (or at least refreshed).

2. Because of that, the game is easy to teach, especially to experienced players.
Given that the two main portions of the game come from two of the most popular board game mechanisms of the past decade, this game is naturally very familiar to anyone who has played many board games over the last few years. It all feels very natural.

If you're an experienced gamer, you'll pick up this game very quickly. You'll also be able to teach it pretty quickly because it doesn't do anything very extravagant with the mechanisms. You'll spend more time explaining what the spots on the board do than anything else.

With my group, we were playing within five minutes of opening the box and only one of us had played the game before. The rules flowed together naturally, taking advantage of familiar mechanisms with little twists that were easily explained.

3. There are several different routes to victory.
Even though all players share the same goal of acquiring the most victory points, there are many different ways to get there. The best way to explain this would be to describe how differently the top three players approached the game the last time I played it.

The player in first place had twenty eight cards in his deck at the end of the game. During the last round, he played twenty three cards, earning somewhere around sixty points. He was able to do this by "storing up" cards in hand.

The player in second place had a copy of a card that earned ten victory points when played and a copy of a six victory point card along with a ton of card drawing. He'd just duplicate card effects for the last few rounds, earning 25 points or so each round.

The player in third place had a five card deck, with all of the cards earning 3 victory points each. He placed his workers each round on spots that earned the most direct victory points.

These players were six points apart at the end of the game.

The fourth place player, who was about ten points back of the pack at the end, was using a strategy that revolved around maximizing victory point chips (a victory point chip is placed on each unused space on the board at the end of each round). The third place player made a few suboptimal moves to block the fourth place player a bit or else the game would have been extremely close.

There are many routes that lead to a game win in this game. The "deck thinning" strategy is the first one that players usually discover, but it's far from the last one.

4. Turns move quickly, with limited downtime.
In a given round, players alternate turns placing workers. A turn merely consists of placing a single worker on a spot on the board, as well as possibly playing a card that lets you draw more cards or playing a card that gives you an extra worker for the round. That's it. Turns fly around the table.

Once all workers have been placed, a turn consists of a person playing cards from their hand as well as activating their workers on the board. It's a bit of a "solitaire" turn, so that doesn't take too long, either.

There just isn't much downtime between turns. Most of the time, I'm still figuring out what I'm going to do with my next worker when it's already my turn again.

5. There are many creative card and worker placement combinations.
When you're planning your turn, you're simultaneously analyzing at least five cards in your hand (sometimes more) as well as at least eleven spaces to place your workers on the board (often more). Since you'll usually be activating most of the workers and the cards at the same time, understanding the synergy between them is vital.



Unsurprisingly, you quickly figure out that some combinations of spaces and cards make more sense than other combinations. Over time, you'll begin to see some very strong combinations that will begin to form the backbone of your overall game strategies.

Sometimes, cards combine well together. Other times, the placements of your workers combo off of each other. Most often, though, the cards and the spaces work together for a coldly efficient brew. Spotting those combinations and mastering them is a big key to this game, both in terms of enjoyment and in terms of winning.

6. Every move is vital - the more efficient your moves, the more likely you are to win.
The game has eleven rounds at most. Many games only have nine or ten rounds. During each round, you have the ability to place three to seven workers - and in the early rounds, it's usually just three. Thus, between the start of the game and the end of the game, you're only going to have thirty or forty workers to place. That's it.

You're also only going to have somewhere between nine and eleven chances to actually play the cards in your hand. When you buy a card, you'll likely only be able to use it a few times in a game - and sometimes only a time or two. That's it.

This means that every decision you have to make in this game is vital. You can't waste a single worker placement or a single card purchase. Every move you make has to be in line with your strategy for winning the game.

7. The hybridized design solves several of the problems I have with many deckbuilding games.
In many deckbuilding games, you are restricted to a few specific actions on your turn. For example, in Dominion, you are restricted to a single action and a single buy. However, there are turns in the game where you may find the "buy" to be useless.

In Copycat, that's never an issue. Through the benefits received by the placement of your workers, you have the power to determine what happens on your turn. If you don't need a buy, don't place a worker on one of the "buy" spaces. If you want two buys, place a worker on the "double buy" space.

In other words, with Copycat, your turn options are freeform. You get to essentially decide what your turn is like based on the choices you make with your workers. If your hand doesn't lead into making a purchase, you don't have to make a purchase - instead, you can utilize that worker in another way, such as earning a few victory points or something else.

8. The blind bidding for turn order is really clever and makes for a very interesting choice each round.
I really enjoyed how the turn order is achieved in this game. It was perhaps the single best innovation that Friedemann brought into this game.

Each card in the game has a number in the upper left. That number is usually an approximate indication as to the strength of the card - the higher the number, the more useful the card is. The "trash" cards have a low number, for example, while the single coin cards have a bit higher number, the two coin cards are even higher, and so on. You get the idea.

At the start of each round, each player looks at their fresh hand of five cards, chooses one of them, and lays that card face down on the table. When everyone has chosen, all cards are revealed and the player with the highest numbered card is first player, with the other players following in the order of their card numbers.

So, in order to secure a good place in the turn order, you have to use one of your best cards in the bidding. To become the first player, you have to make your hand significantly worse. The reward for being first player? You get first choice during each worker placement.

It's a very difficult balance to achieve. Sometimes, it's best to ditch your top-valued card to ensure a good spot. Sometimes, it's better to wait. No matter what, it's an interesting decision that pops up throughout the game.

9. The "achievement" sheet is a great idea, one I'd like to see in more games.
In the box, there's a sheet of paper that lists "achievements" you can earn throughout the game, such as the first person to win a game this year, the first person to win a game with the white-colored pieces, the first person to finish a game with fewer than six cards in their deck, and so on.

It's a simple touch, but it's one I enjoy quite a lot. I like filling out this sheet after each game, checking to see if any of the players made it, and having them sign and date the sheet.

It's a small hint of what makes Risk: Legacy so enjoyable without causing permanent modification of the game. It's something simple that all game designers should consider including in their games.

10. There is enjoyable humor throughout the game, but it does not overwhelm the game.
Many of the cards in the game use humorous elements in the art. Some of them just make a humorous nod at the idea of a political campaign for Friedemann Friese. Others take very nice jabs at real-world political events, like the ones depicted here:



When the card depicting Bush and Merkel was first flipped over for our gaming group, it received quite a few chuckles, as did the one clearly parodying Putin's "virile" PR campaigns.

The humor is all over the place in this game, but it never interferes with the gameplay. It just shows up in the artwork and presentation, adding enjoyment to the game without turning the game itself into a joke. It fits Copycat perfectly.

Five Things to Disike About Copycat
On the flip side, here are five things I found frustrating about Copycat. Some gamers may find these issues to be unimportant, and others may even find them to be positives.

1. There's a strong sense of multiplayer solitaire, as the player interaction is purely indirect.
The only real way that players interact with each other is through the worker placement phase, in which players do actively block each other through their worker placements. The activation phase of the game, in which players carry out the abilities of the cards in their hand and the spaces on the board, is almost wholly solitaire, with only changes in the cards available for purchase affecting other players.

Because the player interaction is purely indirect, there are large vibes of "multiplayer solitaire" running through this game. For some players, that may be a boon. For other players, it's clearly going to be a drawback.

For me, it somewhat restricts the groups I will play Copycat with. I have one friend that decidedly prefers "multiplayer solitaire" games, but most of the rest of my group prefers at least some direct player interaction.

2. Although the theme is humorous, it's merely painted on - this isn't a game of politics.
The game's theme revolves around the running of a modern political campaign, but that theme is very lightly connected to the gameplay.

There are many other themes that would have worked quite well with the mechanisms of this game, such as a castle-building theme or a civilization theme.

If you're expecting a game that digs deeply into political themes through the gameplay, you're not going to find it with Copycat.

3. The game starts to feel full of familiar patterns after several games.
The deck of cards that generates the cards you purchase stays the same each game - and there's only roughly sixty cards in it. Beyond that, the cards are only semi-randomized, as the deck is made up of five ordered "sub-decks." You start with the cards marked I. Under that, the cards marked II are in random order, and under that are the III cards in random order... you get the idea.

Given that, you begin to see a lot of patterns in the card reveals throughout the game. You know that certain cards are coming along at certain points in the game. You also know that certain worker placement slots are going to appear at certain points in the game.

After several plays, the possibilities begin to see much more limited. You know what's coming - and you know approximately when it's coming. You really start to feel the lack of variation from game to game.

This could be solved pretty easily with a small expansion. All you'd need is a "Copycat 2" deck of cards that provides you with a new deck of purchaseable cards and the game becomes more fresh. You could then play it with the Copycat deck, the Copycat 2 deck, or some mix of the two. This would help a lot with the predictability.

4. The two player game pales in comparison to the four player game.
There is virtually no player interaction in the two player game unless you really force it. Most of the time, you'll naturally end up choosing strategies that require almost no overlap of the worker placement on the board, enabling the two players to simply "race" to see who will execute their strategy the fastest.

This lack of interaction leaves the game feeling a bit lacking. Much of the challenge of the game comes from seeing the spaces you really need vanish before your eyes, forcing you to find the best suboptimal path. You might sometimes place a worker in a spot to block another player if you don't have any good choices left for your strategy. That type of gameplay is completely missing from the two player game.

The game would have been better had there been an even tighter restriction on initially available actions in the two player game, but I don't see any easy house rules that will achieve this.

5. Rather than being a "mix" of Dominion, Agricola, and Through the Ages, it feels more like a deckbuilding game with worker placement tacked on.
The worker placement aspect of this game is important, but it's mostly a supplement to the deckbuilding game that Copycat is at its core.

If you're looking at this game because you want a thorough mix of the elements of several different games, you should be aware that this is a deckbuilding game first and foremost. Most of your worker placement choices either modify your deck directly or key off of the cards already in your deck.

That being said, it does make for a unique deckbuilding experience, but if you're looking for something that focuses more on other elements with deckbuilding as just one element in the game, you might not find that here.



My Take
I quite enjoyed Copycat for the first ten plays or so. At that point, the game began to feel overly familiar to me, with most of the choices coming down purely to a sense of optimization.

One of the big aspects of gaming that keeps me replaying the same game over and over is a genuine sense of surprise, where something completely unexpected happens or someone utilizes a strategy that I didn't see. Given the relatively tiny universe of deckbuilding options and worker placement options, the surprise in this game goes away faster than I might like. At that point, it becomes an optimization game, which will still appeal to many gamers, but if I'm playing an optimization game, there are other choices for me.

Don't get me wrong, I deeply enjoyed the "discovery" phase of this game. The first ten or twelve plays were really enjoyable, and I will absolutely pick this up again if they create an expansion as alluded to above.

Who Would Like This Game?
Copycat holds a lot of appeal in the box. There are many groups of gamers who will like this one.

People who will like this game include:

Deckbuilding game fans - If you really enjoy the deckbuilding genre, Copycat will be a lot of fun. It includes some tweaks to the deckbuilding genre that really set it apart.

Gamers with a sense of humor - There is a healthy dose of humor spread throughout Copycat that's quite a lot of fun to discover, particularly for people with an interest in politics. It doesn't dominate the game, but it certainly adds flavor.

A Video Review
I also posted a video review of this game, which touches on many of the points described above in a reasonably short package. If you want a good glimpse of the game components, this is worth watching.



This review can also be found at http://www.gamingtrent.com/review-copycat/.
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Luis Fernandez
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good review, i really like the 10 pros and 5 contras!
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EXTRA AVOCADO! Sonderegger
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As I noted in my review, that blind turn order is genius, and at the heart of what should've been a clunky frankenstein- but ends up being the innovative cog at the heart of a well-oiled machine.
If he can mix mechanics, I can mix metaphors.
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caleb G.
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I have a quick question. I am a fan of humor and deck-building and dont mind skipping the two player game or that its multiplayer solitare, but do you think that the end game comes down to turn order? i have read complaints that whoever draws the right cards at the end of the game gets first player in the bid and can win from one or two good buys.
Any thoughts?
 
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Trent Hamm
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See this text? It's a gratuitous waste of GeekGold.
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The game itself isn't important. Spending time intellectually jousting with likeminded folks is the real reason to game.
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MasterMidori96 wrote:
I have a quick question. I am a fan of humor and deck-building and dont mind skipping the two player game or that its multiplayer solitare, but do you think that the end game comes down to turn order? i have read complaints that whoever draws the right cards at the end of the game gets first player in the bid and can win from one or two good buys.
Any thoughts?


This is 100% mitigated by how you build your deck. Some decks are far more draw-dependent than others.
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trenttsd wrote:
MasterMidori96 wrote:
I have a quick question. I am a fan of humor and deck-building and dont mind skipping the two player game or that its multiplayer solitare, but do you think that the end game comes down to turn order? i have read complaints that whoever draws the right cards at the end of the game gets first player in the bid and can win from one or two good buys.
Any thoughts?


This is 100% mitigated by how you build your deck. Some decks are far more draw-dependent than others.


How much have you been shredding? And as first player, what card did you give up for that last turn? Do you get the copy spot or the buy x2? A myriad of hilarious, interactive decisions that still haven't worn themselves out with me, and I'm not sure if there's a sure thing, especially with a view to active opponents.
 
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caleb G.
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cool thank you. This game did seem really fun, i appreciate the input
 
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