Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Latest micro-game addition - Council of Verona

Earlier this week I received my Kickstarter reward copy of Council of Verona (designer Michael Eskue, artists Darrell Louder and Adam P. McIver, publisher Crash Games).  I was intrigued by the description of this game as soon as I read it, both for the Shakespearean theme and for the apparently tactical gameplay in such a small package.

I am fascinated by the micro-game format.  I'm not sure I've seen a definition of "micro-game," but I'd say that any game with 27 or fewer cards and few other significant components qualifies as what I have in mind when I use the term "micro-game."  (I picked 27 because it's half a standard 54-card deck.)  CoV fits comfortably in that definition with a card count of 17 (not including the "Council" and "Exile" cards which are not essential to gameplay).  And four of those are only used in the five-player game, so in most cases there are only 13 cards in play.  There are also a few scoring tokens for each player.

Kathy and I tried out the two-player format yesterday, in which the 13 cards are shuffled and then three removed at random before each player is dealt a hand of five.  So there are really only ten cards in play in any two-player game.  Players each keep three cards and hand their opponent two, so there's a bit of a drafting mechanic as well as some knowledge of what your opponent has to work with.  

A turn consists of playing a character card to either the "Council" or "Exile," then taking an action if the played card allows you to do so, and finally placing a scoring token on an "Influence" character card, which accepts scoring tokens.  Every character card either allows an action or may score points at the end of the game.  Those that can score points have "agendas," conditions that must be satisfied in order for the scoring tokens on them to count at the end of the game.  There is a nice symmetry to the cards that are in the deck, as well as a certain thematic consistency to their behavior, which appeals to me.

The brilliance in this game is two-fold.  First, card luck is relatively muted; once you've drafted three and exchanged two, you already know seven out of the ten cards in the game and where they are.  So logic governs the tactics of cardplay.  Except, of course, for the second brilliant element of the game - the bluffing.  Scoring tokens are played face down, and one of them has a value of zero, which means that a player can misdirect her opponent with a couple of cards and a scoring token and then switch gears to complete her true objective.  

Kathy and I split our first two games, and right away we could tell that CoV will be a good candidate for situations where we want to play a quick but thoughtful game.  It should also work well in a restaurant situation, since it takes up relatively little real estate and can be completed in a fairly short time.

CoV revitalized my interest in micro-games, which got me to reflect on others that I own, have played, or at least have read about:
  • Love Letter was the first game to which I compared CoV as a character action micro-game.  LL has
    The quintessential micro-game
    a very tight mechanic given that each player has only one card; its only weakness is probably that card luck is a strong factor.  Still, I'm very fond of it.
  • Are You a Werewolf? is the one other micro-game that we actually own.  The cards are only used to establish each player's initial identity at the start of the game.  Everything else that happens is subject to the group dynamic of the players within the framework of the rules, which promote paranoia and deceit.  Werewolf has become a family re-union favorite.
  • The Resistance got my attention when one reviewer called it better than Werewolf, with no player elimination, no moderator, and requiring players to cover their eyes only one time at the beginning of the game.  I've played Resistance enough to agree that I like it even better than Werewolf.
  • Coup is a game I was introduced to at PrezCon last February, and I was so excited about it that I backed the Kickstarter to have it reprinted (and threw in extra to get a copy of Resistance: Avalon as well).  
  • Two Rooms and a Boom was another social identity PrezCon experience, although I will say that I found it too chaotic to evaluate whether I like the game or not.
  • Mascarade is a Bruno Faidutti game that I've only read about but seems to have all the elements of a hidden identity micro-game that I've come to enjoy.  I hope to have the opportunity to play it sometime soon.

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