Reviewed by Herb Levy

REVOLUTION! (Steve Jackson Games, 3 to 4 players, ages 13 to adult, 60 minutes; $39.95)


Throughout history, we’ve seen government change happen in different ways. Sometimes, a new leader brings a change through a landslide election. Perhaps the death of a royal ruler causes a change in governance. But sometimes, the political pot boils over as dissatisfied factions gather together and stage a revolt. In Revolution!, the new game designed by Philip duBarry, players are leaders of factions competing to win the most popular support so that, when the dust settles and the fighting is over, their group is the one on top. And this will be done by any means necessary including force, blackmail and bribery!revolution!box

The game board represents the town and seven areas of influence (such as the Cathedral, the Fortress, the Harbor etc.) ready to be won. Each of these areas has vacant spaces (from 5 to 8). As players exert influence in these areas, the spaces will be filled with their influence cubes indicating that player’s popular support there. A “popular support” track along the perimeter charts each player’s progress.

Everyone begins with a set of 25 “influence” cubes in his chosen color, a matching color screen and a scoring token (which begins on the ! space on the board’s “popular support” track). On the first turn, players are given 1 Force, 1 Blackmail and 3 Gold tokens for use on their individual “bid boards” as the means to spread influence and gather support.

Each player’s bid board is identical and represents 12 influential people of the town, ranging from the General down to the Mercenary. ALL of these people offer something of value to the player they support. Getting their support is the essence of the game.

A game turn consists of four phases: Espionage (where all players reveal what tokens they have available to use to influence the townspeople), Bidding (where players use their tokens), Resolution (influence is awarded) and Patronage.

All bidding occurs BEHIND each player’s screen. One or more of a player’s tokens are placed on up to six spaces on their bidding boards. ALL tokens must be used each turn (no “saving up” for later use). The townspeople names – and the influence and bonuses they give – are listed right on the bid board. But there are some restrictions.

The BACKGROUND color of each townspeople space is important. Red Force tokens may NOT be placed on a space with a red background nor can black Blackmail tokens be placed on a black background space. Two spaces (the Rogue and the Mercenary) with a red/black split are not susceptible to Force or Blackmail so those tokens may not be used on them. Money talks, however, and Gold may be placed on anyone. Also, you are limited in your quest for influence and may only bid on up to SIX townspeople on a turn. Should you try to do more, extras do not count and bids placed there are lost. Once bidding is completed, the screens are removed and the influence attempts resolved.

Starting with The General and moving across the bid board row by row, the player who has offered the most (in terms of tokens) receives the benefits of the townsperson they have successfully coerced or cajoled to their side. Benefits include popular support (immediately added to that player’s support track total), an influence cube in a specified town area (immediately placed) and additional tokens (Force, Blackmail or Gold) for use on the following turn. The resolution follows a kind of “rock-paper-scissors” format: Force beats Blackmail which beats Gold. If there is a tie on one type of token, you move to the next, lesser token(s) played on the same person. Still a tie? Not good. Ties are unfriendly. Tied bids are LOST and NO ONE benefits.

Once each townsperson is resolved (and support credited, influence tokens placed and new tokens received), Patronage occurs. Simply put, players who end up with fewer than five tokens of any kind receive Gold from the bank so they now have five tokens to use on the next turn. Support is fleeting. Townspeople who supported you on the turn are now free to support someone else. If you want their support again, you must win them over again. No such thing as loyalty here.

The game continues until all vacant influence spaces on the seven town areas have been filled. Now, there is a final surge in support. Additional influence is awarded to the player who has the most influence in each area. Again, ties are unfriendly. If two or more players are tied, NO ONE reaps the influence there. The final bonus comes from tokens won in that final turn. Force tokens earn 5 support, Blackmail earns 3 and each Gold piece earns 1 more support. The player with the highest total support has earned the favor of the populace and has won the revolution!

While Revolution! has a healthy dose of area control in its make-up, the driving force behind it is the challenge of trying to read your opponents. Some may be tempted to call this merely a “guessing game” and, to a certain extent, they’re right. Of course, the trick here is to “zig” when other players “zag”. But it’s way more than that. You have a limited knowledge as to what your opposition is capable of doing. Through “espionage”, you know which tokens are in play; via the bidding board, you know which tokens may be played where. Since each townsperson offers specific benefits, you can reason which people are the most attractive to your competitors and make educated guesses as to where they will spend their resources. And, of course, your opponents know the same things about you! You need to weigh possibilities carefully and assign your very limited resources shrewdly. Ties can kill you. You can end up spending part (or even, worse, all) of a turn watching opponents gather up support and influence while you are relegated to bemoaning your fate as all your bids have been topped or tied leaving you with nothing to show for your efforts.

Several townspeople offer lots of support. (For example, the Printer offers 10 support if you manage to get him on your side.) But an early lead can be deceiving. Unless you’re making it your business to use resources to garner town support at the expense of placing influence on the board EVERY turn, you are likely to be swamped by the final support town areas provide. No area provides less than 20 support (Tavern) while the Fortress awards 50. Fighting for control of these areas should not be underestimated. The good news is that players lagging behind in support can jump into the lead if they can win two or three crucial town areas. This is where the Spy and the Apothecary can be critical.

Placed influence cubes stay where they are throughout the game UNLESS the Spy or Apothecary get into the act. The Spy allows you to replace an opponent’s influence cube with one of your own! The Apothecary allows you to switch any TWO influence cubes with each other! (They do NOT have to be one of your own!) Using these abilities can shift the balance of influence in areas and make the difference between winning and losing. Because of this, expect heavy bidding on these two as the game moves into its final stages.

The rules to Revolution! are very simple and straightforward (you really can explain the game in less than five minutes) and really does play in an hour or less. Yet, the game holds enough challenge and fun to keep you coming back for more. Vive Le Revolution! – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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