Lord$ of Vega$

Reviewed by Nick Sauer

(Mayfair Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; $45 )


lordsvegasboxIn Lord$ of Vega$, players enter the glitzy world of Las Vegas by building and fighting for control of casinos on the strip. The game is designed by James Earnest and Mike Selinker and published by Mayfair Games. The game’s Las Vegas casino building theme may remind one of the excellent Vegas Showdown (featured in the Winter 2006 GA REPORT). However, the theme is the only thing the two games share as their game play is worlds apart.

Lord$ of Vega$ is as beautifully produced as one would expect for a modern Eurogame. The board features an abstract map of Las Vegas with property laid out in squares that are collected together in groups of 6 to 12. The groups of squares are split evenly down the middle by Las Vegas Boulevard (aka The Strip). There is a scoring track around three of the edges and a set of spaces for discards, separated by casino color, along the fourth edge. The game comes with a deck of cards, 49 of which control the game flow. There is one card for each of the 48 properties and an end of game card. The cards also feature one of the five casinos or “The Strip” on them. Each player gets 12 dice in their own color as well as a score marker and clear property markers. The game also comes with some additional player aid cards and a set of money that features the images of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and, of course, Elvis.

The final components are the casino tiles themselves. They come in five colors (each a fictional casino) of nine tiles each. These tiles are large, double thick cardboard squares with the unique feature of having a smaller square hole cut in their center. This smaller hole is designed to hold the player’s dice. Tiles are built upon the spaces on the board with a player placing one of their dice in the central hole to mark that player’s ownership of that casino tile. A casino can consist of one such tile or many. The rule is that all casino tiles of the same color that are connected orthogonally count as one casino. Multiple players can have dice in one large casino but, there can be only one boss. The casino’s boss is the player with the die showing the highest number in the casino. If there is ever a tie for highest die, the tied players re-roll their dice immediately until there is one boss.

Game play is very straightforward. Players are first dealt two property cards and mark each with one of their property markers. Each card also has a starting money amount on it and the sum of these two values is the player’s starting total. These cards are then discarded face up into their matching color discard space on the board such that players can easily track how many of each of the different casino’s cards have been played.

lordsvegas2The remaining property cards are shuffled with the “Game End” card inserted about three-quarter’s of the way down. A player begins their turn by drawing a card and placing one of their markers on the property square listed on it. Then all players receive one dollar (actually one million dollars) for each of their marked properties on the board. The casinos of the color featured on the card then score money and victory points. The players in the casino get money equal to the total of all of their dice in the Norge casino but only the boss scores victory points equal to the total number of tiles in the casino. If one of The Strip cards is drawn, all casinos bordering the strip score, thus making these property spaces more desirable.

The second part of the player’s turn consists of actions taken by the player. There are five possible actions which, with one exception, can be done as often as the player’s money will allow. The actions include Building, Sprawling, Remodeling, Reorganizing, and Gambling.

Building allows a player to place a casino tile on a space they own. The cost to build is marked on each space on the board with spaces bordering the strip costing considerably more to build. Once the player pays the build cost, they can place a casino tile of any color that is still available on that space. They then mark ownership of that casino tile by placing one of their dice in the center of the tile. The value the die is initially set to is also marked on the board space.

If a player is the boss of a casino, Sprawling allows them to expand the casino into an unclaimed square on the board by paying twice the normal build cost. This is a gamble because if someone later draws that card they will get to replace the sprawling player’s die with their own. However, since a quarter of the property cards will not show up in the game, there is a reasonable enough chance that this will not happen making the risk potentially worthwhile.

Remodeling allows the boss of the casino to change the casino from its current color to any other color as long as there are enough tiles available to allow the entire casino to be switched to the new color. If this color matches any neighboring casinos they merge into one giant casino.

Reorganizing allows any player in a casino to force all players in that casino to re-roll their dice in there, potentially forcing a change in the casino’s boss.

Finally, the Gambling option allows a player to try to win money from another player in a casino where that player is the boss. It is single dice roll (that obviously favors the casino owner) with the maximum bet limited by the size of the casino. The Gambling action can only be taken once during a player’s turn.

Trading is free form in the game with players being allowed to trade or sell properties or dice in casinos. The current player is even allowed to sell actions from their turn.

Play then passes to the next player who draws a card. This continues until the Game End card is drawn forcing one last money/casino scoring round at which point the game is concluded with the player furthest along the scoring track being declared the winner. In the case of a tie, most money is the tie breaker.

The scoring track has a novel game feature called breaks that are a critical component of the game play. The score track initially goes up by single points like a regular scoring track. However, after eight, the track jumps to ten with a two point break. Each casino’s victory points are scored individually so, in order to clear a two point break the player has to be the boss of a casino consisting of at least two tiles. The breaks get higher in value as the track proceeds so, as each casino scores, a player will only clear as many breaks as the total casino’s points will allow with any remaining victory points being lost. Building your casinos with a long term eye towards clearing these breaks is a critical factor towards winning the game.

The flavor of Lord$ of Vega$ definitely matches the Las Vegas theme. There are a number of “push your luck” elements to the game, apart from the obvious gambling turn action. Sprawling is risky in that you may ultimately be handing another player a free source of income but this future risk may be more than rewarded by one or more chances to clear a critical break point on the scoring track. Reorganizing is a gamble as well but it is one that you can stack in your favor by merging another casino into the one you are planning to reorganize thus giving you a one or more dice advantage over the current boss on the reroll. There are also downright dirty tactics like getting a property that gives you five or six next to a large casino with a bunch of low numbers and building into the larger casino to become the new boss. Of course, canny players will build their casinos in such a way to guard against just such a possibility.

To beginning players, Lord$ of Vega$, may look random given that you acquire properties by drawing from the deck. The actions that one can take are very powerful and, in the hands of an experienced player can easily compensate for this. The game is deceptively simple at first glance but the effective use of actions, especially in combination with one another, is something that will require multiple plays to master. This was evidenced even in our most recent playing of the game where one player benefited from a fortunate series of property draws in the same block of spaces. After the game, it became obvious to the other players what we should have (and easily could have) done to rein the winner in.

Lord$ of Vega$ is one of those rare games that features simple rules with a depth of play that will require multiple plays to truly master. Recommended.


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