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Review: Revolution!

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It’s the French revolution, and you are the leader of an opportunistic faction seeking to control Paris. In order to gain control of the city, you will have to enlist the help of various powerful personages…but doing so isn’t cheap. And while revolutions are built upon principles, you’ll have to throw your scruples out the window to gain traction with those who can help you. Of course, those who can help are equally unscrupulous and will just as easily serve your rivals if the price is right.

But this is revolution! Down with the king! It doesn’t really matter who wins the revolution…as long as it’s you.

How It Works

Revolution! is an area control/blind auction game for three or four players. Players seek to gain the most support for their faction from the various personages around Paris to become the successful manipulators of the French Revolution. The player with the most support (victory points) at the end of the game is the winner.

At the start of the game, each player receives one blackmail, one force, and three gold tokens in addition to a personal player board, a player screen, and a set of cubes of their color. Players place their marker on the 0 space of the support track.

The game board. I like the art, and the layout is clear.

Each turn follows three main phases: bidding, actions, and topping up. At the start of the bidding phase, each player announces the funds they have to bid with. Then each player secretly and simultaneously allocates these funds on their player boards. The player boards have twelve people that players can influence through bids of force, blackmail, and gold. But these people are fickle and will only give advantages to the player who bids highest.

Bids work like this: one blackmail beats any number of gold, and one force beats any number of blackmail or gold. However, some people on the board (like the general or the captain) are immune to force; others (like the innkeeper or the magistrate) are immune to blackmail. Advantages given include things like influence, which allows a player to place cubes in areas on the board (worth lots of support at the end of the game); force/blackmail/gold to be used in the next round’s bidding; support (straight-up points); or a special ability, like swapping cubes or replacing cubes on the board.

Player board and screen. These screens are NICE and actually block others’ view.

Once bids are revealed, the player who bid the most for each person on the player board takes that person’s action. Finally, after actions are taken, players top up to five currency with gold. (For example, if a player earned one blackmail and one force in the action phase, they will receive three gold at the end of the round. A player who earned no currency will receive five gold.)

The game ends at the end of the round when every influence space is filled with a cube. Players are awarded points for controlling different areas on the board, and the player with the most support wins.

Revolution, or More of the Same?

I really like Revolution. Blind bidding is a mechanism that not many (or, really, not enough) games employ, but it’s one I enjoy quite a bit. You have the agonizing internal debate of wanting to bid enough to win what you need without paying more than you have to. This involves reading other players–what they want, what they’re willing to pay, and what they’re willing to bid just to keep you from what you want. Yet despite the agonizing decisions, Revolution! doesn’t really bog down. The fixed ending time helps this, as does the limited amount of currency each player has available each turn (and the currency hierarchy limits choices in a good way).

The currency in Revolution! The bits are on thick cardboard and are fun to handle.

Revolution! has the added benefit of being simple to teach and learn. I’m amazed every time I teach this game at how basic it is. Yes, there’s a lot of text on the player boards, but it’s pretty intuitive. A simple glossary explanation–“‘Support’ is victory points, ‘influence’ gets cubes on the board”–and players know what they’re getting into. Yet despite being easy to teach, the game itself can have a steep and brutal learning curve for new players. (Although it’s like most auction games in this respect.) Because players must be able to properly value the spaces on the board, it’s very possible for them to underbid. In other auction games, this isn’t a huge deal: you lost the bid, but you still have the resources to bid better the next time. However, in Revolution, players do not keep their resources from round to round. Resources bid are resources lost, regardless of whether a player wins the bid. Players who bid poorly are doubly hurt: first by losing what they needed to win, and second by losing what they tried to win with.

Now, this sounds on paper like bad design, a case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. And there is (or certainly can be) some of that in Revolution. However, I don’t find this to be too much of a problem. I’ve heard of some players house ruling that players receive their bids back if they lose. I wouldn’t play this way because I like that there are consequences for bad bids. That’s what keeps the game tense. It’s not just a matter of “better luck next time”; players must engage with one another and actively guess at what the other players are up to.

The player board–where the action happens.

And, despite good bidders gaining an advantage, there is a built-in catch-up mechanism for bad bidders: the mercenary and rogue spots. Because good bids typically result in better currency to use in the next round, there needs to be a way for players to get back in the game. The rogue and the mercenary generate two blackmail and one force, respectively, and can be won only with coins. Each player will start a round’s auction with at least five currency, so even players that seem to be in dire straits have a shot at winning the rogue and mercenary (and likely an even better shot than the commanding player). These spots help mitigate potential runaway leader problems (at least if players recognize their value–which isn’t always the case).

One of the things that Revolution! has going for it is its interactivity, especially for a Euro game. Euro games have gained a reputation (sometimes warranted) as dusty cube-conversion affairs, with little in the way of player interaction beyond taking a spot that another player wanted. Revolution! has some of the typical Eurostyle interaction (for example, auctions!), but it’s mixed with more aggressive interaction and even conflict. While the auction is the driving force in Revolution!, the main scoring happens through area control, which is already one of the most confrontational Euro mechanisms. Revolution! introduces direct conflict through action spaces like the spy and apothecary. The spy lets a player replace an opponent’s cube with a cube of their own. The apothecary lets a player swap any two cubes on the board. This isn’t Dominion, where everyone is attacked equally. These are targeted attacks, and while feelings may be hurt, the game is better for it.

In case you doubted, with all this talk of interaction, that Revolution! is a Eurostyle game, I give you cubes.

And even the auctions are interactive. I mentioned before why I love blind bidding. Here the blind bidding isn’t for one item at a time; players allocate their bids all at once. Players announce what they have to bid with, so each player can make informed decisions–and choose to bluff. Okay, Caleb doesn’t have any force, so he can’t oust me on any of the top blackmail spots. But maybe Caleb knows that. Maybe if I bid two coins, I can use my force elsewhere… These kinds of decisions abound. In addition, players have to weigh what’s important. Is it better to have lots of influence everywhere on the board or to take the printer (which grants ten support) every turn? Is it better to make sure you win one or two hotly contested spots on the action board, or should you spread your bids over lots of less popular options, hoping simply to take lots of actions? I love the choices in this game and trying to outthink my opponents. It’s good stuff.

Really, there aren’t too many cons for this game; only differences in taste. The game is so elegant that it’s easy to teach, even if it needs a few plays to fully grasp. Players who don’t want to put in the time to learn the strategy might have a rough go of it. Also, the base game plays three or four players, so you might have a hard time finding the right opportunity to play. (There’s an expansion that increases the player count to six.) The game’s components are nice (the screens are especially cool), and I like the artwork, but they aren’t outstanding. The game box is much larger than it needs to be (even the board scoots around); I assume this is to give it more shelf presence.

Revolution! does not fill its box volume very well.

But overall, Revolution! is a great game–simple to learn with enough considerations to keep it fresh over multiple plays. Since the game hinges on the other players, the game should retain its replayability, especially if you play with different groups. It also fits easily within an hour with both explanation and playing time, making it an ideal lunch game. Revolution! is an excellent example of a game that uses auction mechanics as only part of a system. I think the game works very well, and I enjoy every time I get to play. The game involves bidding and bluffing and sneakiness, and not every player will enjoy it. But for those who like such things, Revolution! is sure to be a hit.

Summary

  • Rating 8.5
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Summary

Pros

  • Simple to learn, play, and teach--very smooth and elegant design
  • Blind bidding forms the basis for the game but does not overwhelm gameplay
  • Clever currency/bidding system keeps choices tense
  • Lots of opportunities for sneakiness
  • Very interactive

Cons:

  • If you don't like auction games, you might not like Revolution
  • Some targeted attacks are included
8.5 Very Good

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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