Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Board games: Revolution

I used to play board games as a kid, but switched to computer games and the occasional card game long ago.  I hadn't really touched board games for years when I moved to San Diego 5 years ago, but as I moved into the computer game industry I also discovered many new friends and co-workers who still enjoyed playing board games, so I've been catching up on some great board games (and card games) in the past few years.

Someone on Facebook asked me to post some reviews of my favorites, but having realized how long it would take to write up a top 10 (or even decide on them), instead I will just post about a board or card game from time to time.

To start, here's one of my favorites: Revolution.  It's published by Steve Jackson games, a well-respected name you'll see on many board and card games including the infamous Munchkin series.

I like it for a number of reasons:

  1. It's very simple to explain and play.  No hours of reading a 50 page rule book here.
  2. There's no luck or memorization involved, it's all about guessing what your opponents are planning.
  3. It's short: takes about an hour, even the first time you play.

So what's it about?  The board shows you the layout of a small town, which contains a town hall, cathedral, market, barracks, harbor, and similar buildings.  Each building has a certain amount of room for people who work in it.  For example, you can see from the photo below that the cathedral (the cross-shaped building in the top right) has room for 7 people (who stand in those little white squares).  The harbor has room for 6, one in each boat.  Etc.

As the game's name suggests, there is a revolution afoot, and all players are vying for control of the town.  Whoever gains the most influence in the town will take over and win.  Players gain influence by outright buying it (as you accumulate influence directly, you move a token around the outside track on the board to keep count), and also indirectly, by gaining control of the buildings in the town.  Each building is worth a lump sum of influence which goes to whoever controls it at the end of the game.

To gain influence directly and to gain control of the buildings, players can bribe, threaten, or blackmail the town's key residents.  Each resident has influence over a different area of the town and can benefit players in different ways.  Each turn, all players try to bribe, threaten, and blackmail the residents they choose, and then their success (or not) affects their presence in the town.  For example, if you win over the priest to your side, you'll gain influence in the cathedral, meaning you can place one of your people in the cathedral that turn.  Next turn, you could try to win the priest again and place a second person in the cathedral - or perhaps someone else will win him away from you.  At the end of the game if there are more of your people in the cathedral than anybody else's, you'll gain the influence points that the cathedral is worth to add to your total.

The turns are simple: everyone has a combination of tokens indicating either bribes (gold coins), blackmail (black envelope), or force (red fist).  Everyone has a card listing the 12 key residents in the town who can be influenced.  In secret at the start of each turn, all players allocate their tokens onto the people they wish to attempt to influence.  Some residents are immune to certain types of influence: for example, the General cannot have force used on him, the Magistrate cannot be blackmailed.  This is indicated by the colour of that person's square on the board: you can't use a red force token on someone whose square is coloured red, and you can't use the blackmail token on someone whose square is coloured black. Everyone can be persuaded by coins.

Once all players have placed their tokens, as shown below, the privacy shields are removed and players evaluate who won influence over which town resident.  There is a hierarchy: force beats blackmail which beats coin, and more of something beats less of it.  So for example, one force token beats any number of blackmail or coin; but two blackmail beats one blackmail.  One blackmail and three coin beats one blackmail alone.  In the case of a tie, nobody wins.

Depending on the town resident, they will have different effects.  Some directly give influence on the board's outside track.  Some allow you to gain influence within a town building, as in the priest example. Others give you less direct reward but may give you extra tokens to be used the next round.  Some allow you to change places of markers on the board.  The strategy can be quite simple but can also become as complex as you want to make it, if you try to not only second-guess who your fellow players will be trying to influence but also who you need to influence this round to gain useful tokens to win next round also.  Many's the game I've seen where nobody puts even a single coin on the most valuable town resident, all assuming that someone else will have done so.

And that's all there is to the game.  Rounds continue until all spaces on in the town buildings are completely filled up, and when that happens, the influence from controlling buildings is added to the influence scores on the outside score track to determine the final winner overall.

The base game is from 2-4 players (best with 3-4) and there is an expansion which adds an additional building and more town residents, and takes the player total up to 6.