…well, I’m deffo prepared to bargain away the world and as for war, well, it is the only way to maintain peace, even if peace is a matter of will…and I will declare war on the super rich, refugees and small fluffy white dogs… I may even just print a load of new money…just for the sake of it, although smuggling Chinese food has never been so lucrative…oh, decisions, decisions…
What’s All The Fuss About?
Fuss? Well to begin with this game, Gray M & M’s…I mean Eminence is so very far removed from the norm of my gaming endeavours. Primally because it is set in the real world and involves politics, a subject I would steer clear of in pub based conversation for sure. So I have definitely approached the game from a more sceptical angle than the many fantasy, make-believe games of past reviews. SO, the burning question here is definitely ‘is it any good?’ On first inspection it definitely has an interesting look about it. And takes is into the real world of political decision making. Real life situations are in abundance and difficult decisions are thrust upon us in rather copious quantities.
Immersion or Subversion?
From the outset I must clearly state I am no expert on the day to day running of any form of political intrigue beyond the abysmal mess the UK Government have made of the country. That said, I am await of the diabolical, conspiring intrigue the world media would have us believe goes on behind the closed doors of power. So, from an immersion perspective, I think the way the game has been played out, the various mechanics and life references used within game play, certainly dipped my toe into the boiling broth of worldly dilemmas. Situations arise throughout the game that beg us to question firstly how real leaders have approached and dealt with world crisis, and further provoke us to not only consider suitable solutions but force us to choose between readily formulated solutions or take a less than morally correct approach to achieve our own needs and personal goals. There is a very dark seriousness about the content and theme, and it most certainly provokes thought, but as the game offers numerous ways to approach gameplay that even permits a satirical view of each dire circumstance. As bluff, politics and intrigue fill every corner of this game, it really does feel like the weight of the world rests upon our shoulders, and as such, I believe does immerse us into the very depths of the political shadows.
There is a lot going on within this game to keep it constantly changing and evolving from round to round, making each new round very different from the previous round. The early reveal of events allows players to make some informed choices on how we might proceed for each round. Victory cards give very specific point earning opportunities, making each of us seek a very secret goal. I usually don’t like bidding but in this case, valuable resources are bid to determine player order and not always first place is desirable. Being first and in the public eye has some benefits but restricts under hand activity, being in the grey eminence allows for far more ‘wriggle’ room and in the shadows allows us to be down right despicable with options of blackmail and such.
Numerous cards we acquire have multiple uses as resources for personal gain or the common good. These form a hand from which certain cards are selected and ‘programmed’ …placed on the board ready to use. Luckily there is flexibility for their order of use. This is handy as tweet cards start causing problems when the president begins responding to world events,,,never happy about not controlling the media. Our choices for common good or personal gain provide us with many difficult decisions especially as we have to play at least one of each…and this may not always be to our benefit.
Bluffing and unscrupulous trading mean we never really know who has what resource and who has contributed what to resolving an event, this does create high tension, excitement and, with the right group a lot of fun.
If the world was not already ever changing enough for us, forcing countries to move from ailed status to conflict or cold war status can have dramatic influence on the state of play. I have skimmed very lightly over the mechanics, but needles to say, it certainly replicates the fragile, unstable world political stage.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
The copy I have is a highly finished prototype and the likelihood of components and some art changes is possible. However, the quality of these components is excellent so I see no reason to doubt the final published edition to be above and beyond the quality of the prototype. The bulk of cards used in the game are heavily text based but player boards and the mail play area are sporting an interesting and theme supporting style of are that further adds to the setting
Meeples and Standees:
Game Design: Ren Multamaki
Artist: Lars Munk
Game Publisher: Dragon Dawn Productions
Playtime:(recess for those of the American persuasion) 60-90 mins
Gangs of One: Age of Consent: 3-5
At the present there is not a solo option and looking at the nature of player interaction, group decision making, attempting to replicate a live player in AI form would be a pretty huge undertaking…but it would be a pretty nice idea for the soloists
The Real Nitty Gritty:
Winners and Losers: The way the game flows in the games I played, saw no runaway winners, and with several scenarios offering common win objectives/goals, in conjunction with ever changing personal victory conditions, the game is constantly changing and evolving as we have to adapt strategies from round to round and have to consider how our moral standing may have to be compromised to achieve victory
Rules is Rules is Rules: The rule book has gone through a number of improvements and adjustments as players have questioned certain explanations but as it stands, the rule book consists of around two A5 pages. The game play and explanation look pretty straight forward, but it does take a preliminary rules/play run-through to identify certain concepts introduced. It is not a complex game and the rules do a good job of talking us through the individual steps per game turn. Where confusion and the need for experience rise to the surface, is in the rounds where players are forced to open up discussion with one another. Players do not need to resolve aspects of the game such as event cards (as this forms a large part of the bluffing and political manipulation), but for some players having a non-scripted element can be a daunting aspect.
Lucky Buggers: The luck of card draw can feature, dependant upon the Tweet cards, associated hashtags and Presidential responses, but this merely adds to the political intrigue and holistically influences the game so no individual is faced with the luck of the dice.
Highs and Lows: The situations, circumstances, dilemmas thrown up in the events that unfold can have a very real feel to them, but equally opportunity for an element of role play offers itself to players. Not a costume drama or D&D style of role play, but players can chose their level of moral standing, whether for personal gain, the good of the many or manipulate like a professional Tory. The game itself will not offer lows and down time is pretty minimal, but the situations that need to be resolved could be discussed and dealt with in a particularly deep manner if player so wished. In this way I think it is essential for a group to decide beforehand how serious they wish to play, as this can lead to certain players feeling quite down about real life events. As gameplay goes this can offer a lot of interaction and a really positive, high gaming experience.
Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: The game uses Euro sized cards for most elements with only player boards, character cards, Event cards and a central public display board taking oversized formats. The game in its current state will require no more than about 1m x 1m (depending on player numbers)
Set IT Up Just To Tear It Al Down Again: There are four decks of cards, player boards and player persona cards and a number of resource tokens but its relative simplicity means set up can be achieved in only a matter of minutes. Equally, packing away takes no time at all
Me, Myself and I:
It was a surprise to me that this game really did prove to be entertaining. I am hesitant to say fun as it is a serious theme, but interaction with players is high, bluffing, bidding, backstabbing, selfishness, compassion and an awareness fr the good of all make for some very interesting debate both as part of game strategy but also for a wider discussion. I guess the aim of the game is not only to provide a challenging situation, but to also make players really consider the wider issues/implications of the world political arena…and how staying in the obscurity of the shadows means we can become increasingly devious and dastardly with our influence over the dilemmas that arise. I particularly enjoyed the Tweet cards raising certain political agendas and provoking certain Presidential responses so that the entire collection of players have an ever changing arena to manipulate and influence. But also having a large deck of Victory cards means that all players have an ever changing personal goal, be it acquiring certain resources, locate one’s self in the shadows, be in the limelight or (a particularly nice idea) score points for unresolved events. This notion of scoring points for not completing events becomes a fun element for the players who enjoy a small amount of ‘screw over your neighbour’ as selfish victory point seeking can be to the detriment of others. This is balanced by victory point conditions that require players to do good for the world, so it does become a most diverse playing field with no one really knowing anyone else’s strategy from round to round. The communal win conditions set out by each scenario card force us to work together at times, like it or not, because if they are not met, no one wins…a nice touch to force the selfish to have to work towards the good of the group. All in all this proved to be a most enjoyable experience with play and interaction carrying a very different feel to most games I have played. It does not reinvent the wheel but has reshaped it enough to give us a particularly entertaining ride.
Yay or Nay?
Sneaking about in the shadows, away from the vulgar gaze of the public view, Grey Elephant…eminence back stabs, bluffs and damned right abuses the system to roll a (7) on the BS0MT 1d8 die.
…Right! Time to burn the Amazon… bloody idiots sent me the wrong sized central American regime. I ordered extra small and they shipped me a medium. How can I distract the devious Germans or the Frenchies who look to charge me an extra 2% for Nato fees?
I should never have restricted the Chinese to strategic technologies. Now they but too much salt in my Chowmein…
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
Grey Eminence Kickstarter page: