Advent reviews: Revolution!

I am no big fan of Munchkin. Sure, the images are nice and the game has loads of funny references, but I am not overly fond of the gameplay, which will often fail to end when you think it will, and end only when someone tries to gain their tenth level after everybody has exhausted their means of stopping them on the previous two or three people to try to win the game.

There’s another game, also made by Steve Jackson Games, that I much prefer, even though this game might also not end when you think it will: Revolution! (and yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title).

What kind of game is this?

In Revolution! you play agitators in a colony on the brink of revolution. Throughout the game, you use certain… assets… with certain members of society to gain what you need: support in the general public; influence in powerful institutions such a the church, the plantations and the army; and resources to gain more …assets… with which to exert more pressure.

Mechanically, this is a double area control game. On the board are representations of several powerful groups within the colony – a plantation, a tavern, a fortress, the market. Each has a number of spaces for cubes and an associated point value. Whoever has the most influence cubes on a group at the end of the game takes the points.

Influence cubes are placed using a secret bidding mechanic, the second kind of area control I mentioned above. At the beginning of a round, all players reveal how many of each of the three different kinds of resources they have: money, blackmail and force. They will then place a screen in front of their player board, and secretly put their tokens out on the board to bid on the different characters. When everybody is done, all players lift their screens, and you determine control of each character in order from top left to bottom right. Control is determined first by resource quality, then by quantity: one force beats any amount of blackmail, while one blackmail beats any amount of gold. At the same time, one force and one blackmail beats one force. Some characters, however, are not susceptible to susceptible to certain assets. The general, for instance, ignores force (but not blackmail), while the innkeeper cannot be blackmailed, though he bows to force.

The characters will each gain the player who wins them some combination of support (victory points), influence and tokens for next round. A few has special effects, like switching two cubes or replacing any cube with one of your own.

At the end of the round, you take stock of all your tokens. If you have less than five, your “secret benefactors” give you gold so that you have at least five tokens to use to bid with. The game ends when all influence spaces have been filled.

How many people should you play this with?

This is a game about getting in each other’s way. It is fun with three, and probably easier to strategize, but the real game, in which you get in each other’s way all the time, doesn’t start till you’re four players.

What do I think of this game?

This game hurts my brain – but I really like it. It’s very stimulating, trying to figure out where you can bid, and how not to be outbid, but also not to bid too much. I’m not always very good at the game, as it varies a lot, depending on the people involved. This also makes it a game that beginners win surprisingly often, as they don’t always play how you expect them to, throwing you off course.

I like this game, not just for its core mechanics, but also for its pacing. I feel like interesting things are going on, right up till the end. A clever play can swing a 4-3 lead in one area and 3-2 in another into a 2-5 loss in the first and a 7-0 lead in the other. And because the end of the game is very dependent on player actions, you may think the game will end, but because of people tripping each other up, it goes on for a few more rounds – just in time for the board to shift decisively.

The game has a great game design, and good components to boot. I would probably recommend getting the expansion, adding another area, more characters and two more player – but it isn’t really necessary. The game is good on its own terms.

A few interesting things to note

  • You might think that allowing players to keep resources from characters they bid for but didn’t get would could serve as a catch-up mechanic. I thought so. But when we tried it (it’s a variant rule) I quickly discovered that I was wrong. In fact, the result was that the people who won some characters would gain resources while at the same time not losing anything from characters they bid on – while people who got little would at most keep what they had but would never gain more.
  • This game relies a lot on psychology. One player gets an early lead on an area? It is quite possible that nobody ever challenges him, just because “Oh, he’s going to get it anyway!”
  • It is very easy to get too focused on winning areas. I’ve seen people win by almost only using the “printer” character, giving them ten points they can’t  ever loose – as opposed to the fortress, which gives them 55 points that they can loose, and which requires around 10 cubes to close.
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