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ROCKETVILLE

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Avalon Hill, 3-5 players, ages 10 to adult, 45 minutes; $35)

 

The time is the future and the place is Rocketville where a mayoralty race is heating up. Players are candidates vying for that office by campaigning throughout the different areas of the city in this newest Avalon Hill release, designed by Richard Garfield.

Rocketville comes with a mounted board divided into a six by six grid which is further drawn into six different “neighborhoods” with a scoring track on the perimeter. There is a deck of 84 “Campaign Promise” cards, 21 Robot cards, 20 Endorser cards, campaign “buttons”, 5 Campaign Planning cards, 5 “popularity markers” (and “undecided” markers), a “Rocket” and a four page set of rules.

Each player gets the popularity marker (which is placed on the scoring track on space 5) and a set of campaign buttons in his chosen color. The Campaign Promise cards are shuffled and each player receives four cards plus one Campaign Planning card. The Robot card deck is shuffled and placed near the board. Whoever is going first takes the rocket and places it on any space on the board. That space is the first area of contention for all players.

On a turn, all players choose one card from their hands and simultaneously reveal them. The player with the highest valued Campaign Promise card played wins the space and claims it by placing one of his campaign buttons on it. That area is now closed. All played Campaign Promise cards, win or lose, are discarded. The winning player now moves the rocket to an adjacent (but not diagonal) space which will become the new area of contention.

Campaign Promise cards come in matching colors to the neighborhoods: brown, gold, green and purple. They carry a high value (from 41 to 48) when played in a neighborhood of the matching color but a low value (single digits) when played elsewhere. These cards also come in white which have only one value (from 9 to 40) which is valid in any space. Instead of a Campaign Promise card, players may opt to use their Campaign Planning.

All players who decide to play a Campaign Planning card instead of a regular card get to draw a new card from the Campaign deck. (The Campaign Planning card returns to the player’s hand.) There is a hand limit of 7 cards. If all players opt to use their Campaign Planning card, that area is considered “undecided”, marked as such, and no player gets credit for it.

As the game progresses, players will earn popularity for wining spaces, lose popularity in some neighborhoods when they’ve played the LOWEST cards and, if winning a space with a Robot icon, draw Robot cards. These cards offer goals that, when met, increase a player’s popularity and stay hidden. When the final space is decided, the final scoring occurs.

Scoring is done by neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has a value for the most and second most spaces won. If a tie, these values are shared. (If one player manages to claim ALL the spaces in a neighborhood, he scores for BOTH first and second place!) Now any Robot cards held are revealed and popularity awarded to those players achieving those goals. The player with the most popularity wins.

Whenever a designer such as Richard Garfield is linked to a quality company such as Avalon Hill, the presumption that a classic game is in the making is hard to resist. Unfortunately, that presumption proves unfounded in the team-up that took us on the road to Rocketville.

While the game has been savaged in the hobby press, it should be said, in all fairness, that the game is not the disaster that some have characterized. It IS very light and it IS very chaotic. So, if you like to be “carried by the tide”, this game will do the job. But for those expecting more, the problems stem from certain factors, specifically:

1. Pedigree – Richard Garfield is rightly respected as a clever and innovative designer. If he had only designed Magic, the Gathering, his reputation as a designer would have been secure. But with a design resume of additional games that attract a large following such as Roborally (Fall 2005 GA REPORT) and more, a new game has a tough act to follow. Rocketville couldn’t.

2. Pedigree 2 – Couple the failure of the design with the imprint of Avalon Hill. AH has long enjoyed a certain cachet of high quality and challenging gaming. Regrettably, those expectations are not met here either.

3. Decision making – Part of the pleasure of gaming is in determining the right decision at the right time. The idea of cards having multiple values in different situations is an excellent one. Spencer-Murray’s Broker from 1961 (and featured in the Fall 2002 GA REPORT) and 3M’s classic Mr. President in both the 1967 and 1971 editions (Summer 1992 GA REPORT) used this device brilliantly. But here, despite multiple values, only one value has any real meaning. If you don’t have a high card in the right color, play a Campaign Planning card. If you do have a high card in the right color play it – and that can be easily neutralized if another player has a higher card. Not a satisfying use of that mechanic. Regrettably, in Rocketville, you don’t play the game. The game plays you!

4. Endorsers – As an optional rule, one (of 20 Endorser cards) is randomly picked. If only one player revealed a Campaign Planning card, that player gets the Endorser (and this holds true throughout the game so the card continually shifts from player to player). These cards are “special powers” that allow you to break the rules. This may have worked with Cosmic Encounter (Winter 1992 GA REPORT) but not here. You can’t plan to “win” the Enforcer and you can’t plan to keep it either! This just adds to the game’s general chaotic world. And those other 19 cards just sit in the box! What’s the point?

5. Graphics – Opting for a pastel motif is all right. But when the counters are designed with the identical color scheme so they blend in with the board, that’s a prescription for disaster – especially when you need to see at a glance who controls which spaces! Graphics should enhance play, not get in the way of it. (We substituted different colors of generic chips and they worked much better but we shouldn’t have had to.)

Rocketville was a good idea. Some area control with some card management has been the basis of many first class designs. Unfortunately, the flaws outweigh the assets here. Rocketville might have been a blast in the planning stage but by the time it got to the gaming table, Rockville failed to launch. – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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