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Prosperity

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Ystari Games/Asmodee, 2-4 players, age 13 and up, 60 minutes; $49.99)

The struggle to balance a safe and healthy environment while meeting increasing demands for polluting power sources is one that all of us living in the 21st Century face. That struggle translates into challenging game play as players seek to deal with it – and come out on top – in the new game from Reiner Knizia and Sebasprosperityboxtian Bleasdale: Prosperity.

Prosperity spans seven decades with play beginning in the 1970s and ending at the close of the 2030s. Each player is in charge of a European country, that stewardship represented by individual boards. (This is just to give the game a bit of theme as all the boards are identical.) These boards are two sided with an “easy” and “difficult” side and track a player’s Energy and Ecology totals (on two separate tracks) and have an array of different colored spaces (some filled in at game’s start and some empty). There is also a “Pollution” track studded with a few “globes” which help players score Victory Points (globes = Victory Points). Black discs (representing pollution) are placed on the first eight spaces of that track. There is also a central board which displays two Research tracks and individual scoring tracks for each player. Players begin with 100 Euros and five cubes in their color which are placed on specified spaces on the Energy and Ecology tracks, one at the bottom of each of the two Research tracks and the final cube at “0” on the scoring track.

The seven decades of Prosperity are distilled into tiles and there are lots of tiles in the game. All of them have interesting artwork (of factories and such) but what’s important are the icons representing the five “resources” of the game: Energy (shown as lightning bolts), Ecology (trees), Capital (Euros), Research (magnifying glasses) and Prosperity (globes). The Research tracks are divided into six sections and the game begins with 24 tiles in play, two on each side of the research tracks. The rest of the tiles (36 in all) are specific to the decades of the game, from the 1970s all the way up to 2030s, with five tiles for each decade (except for the last which has six).

On a turn, the active player draws the top tile from the stack and everybody scores whichever icon is framed in white. If Energy is drawn, players get 50€ for each positive value; they either pay 100€ OR add a black disc to their Pollution track for each negative. With Ecology, each positive value allows you to remove a black disc while each negative forces you to add one. Capital grants players 100€ for each € symbol on their board. When Research is rewarded, you advance one space for each magnifying glass you have on your board on either of (or split the number of spaces allowed between) the research tracks. Finally, when Prosperity appears, you score Victory Points equal to the number of globes found on your board and those appearing on your Pollution track. ALL icons will appear ONCE every decade (except for the final decade when Prosperity appears twice) so there is a certain amount of planning you can do. Once scoring is done, the active player adds the new tile to the technology board (a small number on the left or right hand edge determines where the tile is placed) and now takes his turn.

Players may do two actions on their turn (and may do the same action twice if so desired). Some of the possibilities are simple: take 100 €, remove a black disc or advance one space on either Research track. But the focus of your decision making will be on the fourth option: buy a tile.

A player may purchase a tile with the cost depending on his position on the specific technology track. If a player is level with the tile, the tile costs 100 Euros. But for each level above, add another 100 Euros to the cost. Conversely, as you advance in technology, ALL tiles below your position are half price, only costing 50 Euros to add to your display. Buying tiles allow you to upgrade your strength in the various resources – but there are restrictions! You just can’t place a tile anywhere. Newly obtained tiles MUST be placed on spaces of the matching color. If, when doing so, you cover up a previously placed tile, you immediately lose whatever attributes that tile gave you. Sometimes, this is a good thing as this allows you to remove negatives from your display. A few tiles are “one shot” deals awarding Victory Points or allowing you to remove some of those pollution discs but those are exceptions. Virtually all of the other tiles are a trade off which makes this an exercise in perceived value. If a tile increases your energy, rest assured it will damage your ecology! If your ecology improves, chances are your energy will diminish as a result. Perhaps you will cover up a tile with research benefits to set up a potential big payoff in funds. Or vice versa. Knowing when (or suspecting when) to make these changes will mean the difference between success and failure.

prosperity2When the last tile is picked and the player who picked it performs his last two actions, the final scoring occurs. Energy and Ecology are scored TWICE! Then Capital is scored and players turn their money into Victory Points at the conversion rate of 300 Euros equalling one VP. Now players advance on both Research tracks equal to their current magnifying glass totals. Players finishing first on each track earn 3 VPs while second place is worth 1. Then Prosperity is scored. The player who finishes with the highest total wins! (Tie? Left over money is the tie-breaker.)

Graphics in Prosperity are a mixed bag. Both the box and tile artwork are eye catching and appealing and certainly capture the theme. (The box, especially, portrays a powerful, futuristic city caught in a haze – of pollution?) The money certainly looks like Euros but the paper is, well, paper thin. Since money is handled a lot here, a thicker stock (or even chips) might have been a better way to go. The scoring track is the only serious disappointment as it is an unexpected challenge, a bit too small for the cubes used to mark VPs and its winding trail a potential pitfall as errors when totalling points are made all too easily. Be very careful here!

With 36 tile draws, turns are divided evenly with 2, 3 or 4 players so that all players will have an equal number of actions. Going first when the game begins can be important as it gives you first crack at tiles to help prepare you for upcoming scoring opportunities. But going last has its own advantages too since that player knows which icons have already been scored and is better able to determine which tiles are primed to pay off right away. While the game scales well with 2, 3 or 4 players, there is a bit more control with 2 since, with more players, there is a greater chance of tiles you are interested in being gone by the time your chance to buy them comes up. In a 3 or 4 player game, you must be more able to adjust.

Despite being relatively easy to teach and play, all of the decisions needed to be made are both meaningful and difficult. The “see-saw” nature of Prosperity challenges players to make sure they are not vulnerable to “inopportune” scoring. As turns are taken and decades fly by, positions on each player’s Energy and Ecology tracks will fluctuate. It is a good idea to try to strike a balance between the two. Getting too far ahead in either one generally means getting too far behind in the other. This can lead to penalties either in losing money (which is bad) or adding black discs to your Prosperity track (which is worse). Not only will will too many black discs cost you Victory Points when Prosperity points are scored (globes covered by discs do NOT score points for you) but can be devastating if the track is completely covered! When you reach that point, you do not score ANY Victory Points for globes at all! Balance in the other resources is important too. Trading in Research values for more Euros is a tantalizing proposition because the more money you have, the easier it is to buy those tiles that other players may find out of reach. But such a situation could leave you further back on the Research tracks, making tile buys more expensive and putting you in an unfavorable position regarding those 3 VP and ! VP endgame bonuses. (This may seem like too few Victory Points to worry about but, in Prosperity, 1 VP is a big deal.) Flexibility is important and, if you can keep track of which icons have been scored, you will have a better idea of which tiles to purchase, which tiles to bury and which icons will, in all probability, be next to score. Making these “educated” guesses mark the path to victory.

Despite all of these good qualities, this is a game that has “flown under the radar” and not gotten a lot of press or buzz among the gaming community. Let’s correct that oversight. Prosperity brilliantly captures the balancing act between energy and ecology, offering choices and challenges satisfying for both new and experienced gamers as Knizia and Bleasdale have struck the right balance in the pleasing package that is Prosperity.


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