2-6 players, Competitive, Dice Placement Resource Managing
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone
Artwork: Jacqui Davis
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Release Year: 2013
The theme alone on this game already had me hooked from the very beginning. A dystopian society where you are attempting to improve upon it and take the lead. That sounded awesome to me and something that I had never seen before in a board game. As I delved deeper into the game mechanics I discovered that you actually place dice on the board kinda worker-placement-ish but with a nice twist based on the number the die is showing. My intrigued deepened. Read on to see if all these aspects combined to create a truly great game!
Overview of Gameplay
So, right from the onset of the game you will be starting with two of a total of four “worker dice”. You will roll these babies and keep them close at hand to spend on your turn. On your turn you will take one of two possible actions, either place one of your worker dice on a specific spot on the game board or collect all or some of your worker dice. Taking that second action you will immediately re-roll the dice you retrieve to generate new numbers for future placement.
Now, the numbers you roll is a key aspect to the game because these numbers dictate exactly how powerful your placements will be on the board. For example, when placing a die on the Aquifer space you will gain a water resource and an increase to the Subterran faction level IF the die place ranges from 1-4. If the die is a 5-8 you get a water and get to go down a step on the knowledge track (which is good) and 9+ placement nets you TWO waters but also increases your knowledge a step (which is not so good). Now you may be asking yourself, “how in the tarnation am I supposed to get a roll over 6 on a six sided die?!” WELL my good friends, it’s because once you place a die in a space, it stays there until they are collected and any other die that gets placed in that same spot ADDS their number to the number/s that are already there. It’s a nifty mechanic and works well with the many different areas you can place. There are also areas that only one die can be placed and these spots are dedicated for the construction of new areas on the board that, once constructed, open up more elaborate placement options for your dice. Going even further there are places where you can “bump” other dice off to perform that locations action and the owner of the original die gets it back to place again, helping them out a tad so they don’t have to waste a turn retrieving their dice so quickly. It’s a gamble for sure, weighing your own needs with helping out the enemy.
I mentioned earlier how gaining knowledge was a bad thing in this game. It’s true and it fits with the theme really well as if your workers knowledge gets too high they will run from the dystopia. This is really cool as it will cause you to LOSE dice and force you to spend precious actions and time getting them back. So, the way this works is at the onset of the game everyone’s knowledge tracker is set at +3 knowledge. When you retrieve your dice from the board and re-roll them you add up the collective amount rolled AND whatever your knowledge is set at and add all that together. If the total amount is equal to or greater than 16, your workers have become aware and you lose the die with the highest knowledge amount. This will not only hinder the amount of placements you can take but also hinder you greatly as you then have to spend time collecting resources to spend on a certain board action to get your dice back. On top of that it gets more difficult to keep that knowledge low as you gain more and more worker dice up to the max of four as the game progresses. Suffice it to say that keeping your knowledge low is of the utmost importance.
The entire point of the game is to place down all ten of your “authority tokens” which are these little wooden star tokens. There are a number of ways to pop these little critters on the board such as helping construct a market tile, get your particular factions allegiance all the way up, visiting said markets and paying the resource cost (which is usually high). Each player also gets one Ethical Dilemma card that allows them to exchange artifact cards for a star token as well. The artifact cards are another form of resource that can be collected. Some placement spots allow you to draw from the artifact draw pile and collect these things which are a variety of random items like books or toys. With these cards you can trade them in at other locations at an exchange rate of 3 different cards for 1 star token and an increase to a faction track, OR if you have two cards with the same item you can do that swap. The first player that is able to place all ten of their authority (star) tokens wins the game!
As is common with Stonemaier Games the components are all of excellent quality. There are numerous different kinds of wooden tokens to make up all the resources in the game, all of different colors and shapes to easily differentiate them. The cards and card stock of the board tiles are sturdy and thick. Easily my favorite component though are the dice. Again, these are colored differently for each player and they have a nice custom etching on each side resembling the gears of clock work, putting off an almost steampunk vibe. Actually now that I think about it, the game is VERY Steampunk with the way the different factions look on the cards and the art on the board as well.
However, I was pretty disappointed by the game board itself. On one hand it is VERY colorful, the artwork looks incredible and it really pops on your table. Just sitting back and gazing upon it is a delight. On the other hand when you are playing the game, it is overly busy. There are SO many options of resources to choose from and stacking all of these tokens on the board like the manual recommends just compounds this. Take it from me, just place the resources off the board to the sides. It makes the game seem less busy and overwhelming and removes some of that fiddle. Now, that said, even with the components off the board and out of the way I still struggled with the board layout a bit. There are four different factions all vying for control displayed on the board and depending on which faction cards everyone chose, you might be focusing on certain ones more than others. The board is designed in such a way to distinguish these factions by changing up the artwork for their specific areas but honestly this didn’t help me much as there is just SO MUCH STUFF already on top of the artwork. From the dice placement spaces to the areas for market tiles to the tunnel areas you will send workers, it’s just…BUSY. This is why it’s hard to find space to set all the resource tokens, there isn’t hardly enough space without them on the board.
The box and storage solution is out of this world excellent. Utilizing GameTrayz again (my favorite) everything is kept perfectly organized in and out of the box. Heck you could easily just keep the resource tokens in the gametrayz and set them aside the board for ease of access. These trays not only look amazing and increase the speed of setup and take down of the game but also pack up into the box perfectly. On top of that there is extra space in the trays to accommodate the expansion that is also available for the game as well. There is literally nothing I can say negative about this box and storage solution, it’s amazing.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Another interesting theme here! I’m always getting lured in by these themes and I’ve always been a sucker for steampunk. Toss in a dystopian society to the mix and I’m just going to go wild all day every day. What I really love about the theme is how well it integrates into the gameplay. How your worker dice get more knowledgeable from taking certain actions which could eventually lead them to flee causing you to struggle to get more workers. That’s such a cool and very well implemented mechanic.
Visually the game hits all the right notes with the colors and gorgeous artwork, especially on the board itself. That backdrop is incredible and makes the game standout like no other. If only the overlay had melded a bit better with art I think this board would be one to beat! The colors of the resources and the shapes of the tokens all look nice as well. Overall the theme and visual appeal of the game are excellent!
The rulebook is well done with nice picture examples to explain the different action placement areas. Once you learn what the areas do on the board the game pretty much explains itself to be honest. There is a small part explaining how to gain stars in the rulebook but you can easily see on the board which locations will give you said stars. There is also a nice tips section at the back that kinda helps point you in the right direction starting out. Oh, and on the reverse side of each ethical dilemma card has a lovely reference section to help each player out as well.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
There is a decent amount of player interaction in this game considering your actions can change depending on others dice placements. Add to that the bumping of dice and the interesting way you can kind of work together to help get a new market tile built is also interesting. You may also find yourself helping along a certain faction that another player has so there can be this kind of symbiosis between players at times. Of course it is still a competitive game so you will want to find other avenues to help yourself just a bit more.
I like the game mechanisms but I do feel the over-abundance of different kinds of resources mixed with the board layout puts a damper on the fun a bit for me. You end up placing a die on your turn and collecting said resource over and over until you get enough to put your dice elsewhere and spend said resource to do something else. It’s not terrible but at the same time it wasn’t overly exciting either.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Luckily with how fast the turns move this is a game that can be played at a higher player count with not that much of an increase to down time. And I actually prefer it with more players just because it creates a more interesting board dynamic with multiple areas filling up quicker than normal. The replayability is really high as you end up only using six of the 18 available market tiles and since they are randomly shuffled and placed face down you never really know which tiles you are gonna get every game. The same can be said about the factions dealt at the beginning. Everyone gets four faction cards dealt to them and they choose two to keep with one going face down and the other going face-up and active at the start. So even though you are generally doing the same stuff every game, your focus might be on a completely different part of the board every time as well.
Positive Final Thoughts
Love the theme and the bright colorful board. The components are excellent and the storage solution is just incredible. I also enjoy the interesting dice mechanic and how it works and how it is so well integrated into the theme of the game.
Negative Final Thoughts
Wasn’t a fan of the cluttered board layout and the wide range of resources, in this case more isn’t better. The gameplay is just ok, with the dice mechanism being the best part. However the actions you take with them are rather dull and don’t really feel all that impactful.
The Bottom Line
I like the game and wouldn’t turn down a pay of it. It’s not the most interesting as far as the general actions go BUT I do like how your dice directly affect the action. The colors of the board are gorgeous and I love the theme and randomized market tiles and factions. I could see a new edition with a cleaner looking board and more interesting actions just wowing. As it stands this is one that I think is worth a look but not one that is going to go into the hall of fame.
The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence