Published on April 3rd, 2013 | by A. J. Asplund
It’s Time for a Revolution!
In 2009, Steve Jackson Games, best known for its card game Munchkin, released Revolution!, their first foray into the Euro-game market. Designed by Phillip duBarry, the game presents a generic, European-style city facing the oncoming revolution of its title. Players represent different factions vying for the most influence in the city. When the inevitable revolution happens, whoever has the most influence will end up the winner.It is designed for three-to-four players and takes roughly 45-to-60 minutes to play.
PRODUCTION: The Tools of Revolution
Everything in the box is well-constructed and functions solidly during play. There is a bidding board and screen in four different player-colors. Bidding boards are clear and legible, and the bidding screens are sturdily constructed and have useful play-aid information printed on the inside. The tokens are all thick, laminated stock that hold-up well after multiple plays.
The city board itself is cleanly illustrated, and sturdy. It is divided into eight locations of interest and a decorative element in the center. Throughout the game, players place wooden cubes (influence) on marked spaces within these locations to represent their growing influence there. Although a minor quibble, I cannot help but feel that while some of the locations have very tightly-packed spaces for influence cubes (the Fortress, for example), others seem to take up much more of the board despite having very few cube spaces (specifically, the more decorative Harbor and Marketplace locations).
My only real complaint about the components is the illustration on the board. The American release, published by Steve Jackson Games, used very simplistic art for the city. It is colorful, but not especially compelling. The German version, published by Pegasus Spiele, featured a very different illustration for the city that gives it a much more pleasing Euro-game look. Although it all comes down to a matter of aesthetics, I find that I prefer the German illustration to the American one.
The rules are relatively simple and are summarized on a two-page booklet. Like most games published by Steve Jackson, the rules seem relatively simple on first-pass as most of the complexity in the game comes from player interaction. However, the rule sheet includes a number of optional rules that provide different ways to play the game.
GAMEPLAY: The Ways of the Revolutionary
The basic gameplay for Revolution! is extremely simple. Players have tokens representing different persuasive methods that they use to coerce various members of the community. On each turn, the players secretly place their bidding tokens on a bid board representing these characters, hoping to secure their influence. When all players finish bidding, the bid boards are revealed. The player with the strongest bid on eachcharacter space wins their favor and gets a reward while the losing bids are discarded. Once all character spaces have been resolved, the next turn starts.
Bidding is resolved quite easily. There are three types of bidding tokens: force, blackmail, and gold. Force always beats blackmail and gold, blackmail always beats gold, while more of one thing will alway beat less of the same thing. When ties occur, players consider the next kind of token (so a tie on force will go to whoever has more blackmail or, if that is a tie as well, to whoever has more gold in their bid). An absolute tie goes to nobody, and all players lose their bids.
The different biddable characters provide any combination of three rewards. Some provide bidding tokens to be used in the next turn (since players use all of their tokens each turn). A number of characters influence board locations, as explained above. Some spaces on the bidding board immediately provide points, another avenue toward building support.
The game ends when all of the influence spaces on the board are filled with the players’ cubes. Each player’s support is added up and the player with the most is the winner. The end-game has a significant amount of point-swing as the different locations add a considerable amount of points, but it is not definitive. Victory can still be taken by the player who didn’t necessarily control the most locations during the game.
EXPERIENCE: Learning to Love the Auction
Having played a number of games of Revolution! with several different groups of players, I find that each game presents a different situation representing a new challenge. It is difficult to use a single, decisive strategy during each play-through since so much of the game depends on what bids the other players make. Unlike some classic Euro-games where an optimum strategy often develops over time, I look at Revolution! as a game that depends entirely on the makeup of the players and the situation at the table. Yesterday’s winning strategy could become tomorrow’s failure-state.
This peculiar aspect of Revolution! comes from its auction mechanic. Since practically all of the gameplay hinges on said mechanic, the primary player action is trying to determine what other players will bid and to counterbid accordingly. Each auction space ends in a winner-takes-all resolution, so a player can (and often does) have an entire turn that feels like a wasted effort. If, for example, I place bids on three different characters but other players match or beat all of my bids, I walk away from the turn with nothing to show for it. For some players, this can be extremely frustrating. On the other hand, players who develop a keen sense for what other players are doing can do very well by bidding accordingly.
Revolution! is interesting in some regards because unlike a majority of popular board games around, it has absolutely no random elements; every game starts the same and follows the same rules. Despite this lack of random features, Revolution! often feels like one of the most random and chaotic board games I have played. It is easy to walk away with the notion that fortunes are won or lost in a couple of bids and that everything boils down to that one last turn. Yet, from my experience, the game rests much more heavily on the interactions of player behaviors. I have seen several games spin on misdirection, misinterpretation, and general confusion. In that regard, this chaotic player interaction as a primary game element sets Revolution! apart from a majority of the popular Euro-games out there, which makes it a nice change from the more strategic fare.
Keeping all of this in mind, I consider the Revolution! game play experience to be a bit bittersweet. Although I like the shift from standard Euro-style gameplay while retaining some of the Euro-game feel, I have some concern toward a game that can so readily frustrate players. The last thing I like at my table is players walking away angry. This makes me somewhat pensive about recommending the game for every group.
OVERALL: Where Everybody Hangs Separately
Steve Jackson Games has a long history. For some, it starts with Car Wars. Others came in with Ogre or GURPS. More recently, it has been the Munchkin series. Revolution! feels like a considerably new direction for the Steve Jackson line while still managing to capture some of the flavor of the line’s entire history. I like where the company has gone with this and I hope that future products will continue in a similar fashion.