Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Avalon Hill, 3-5 players, ages 12 to adult, about 75 minutes; $49.95)


If you discount the numerous Axis & Allies and Risk spin-offs, the new Avalon Hill has offered a dizzying line of all different types of games. There is the throwback to older style American gaming with Sword & Skull (Spring 2005 GA REPORT), reworkings of past games including Monsters Menace America (Summer 2005 GA REPORT) as well as a double dose of science fiction in RoboRally and Nexus Ops (both featured last issue). Now, Avalon Hill has gone in yet another direction, attempting to bridge the gap between American and European style gaming with their newest release: Vegas Showdown. Vegas Showdown, the brainchild of Henry Stern, places players into the roles of casino operators building up their casinos to attract customers, money and, finally, fame.

Players begin with a set of color-coded markers used to track customers, their monetary holdings (on their individual tracks) and their fame (on the “communal” scoring track) as well as a piece used for bidding. Players also receive $20 in chips and their own play mat. (A mounted mapsheet, instead of laminated, heavy, paper, would have been nice.) The main board is the staging area where buildings up for grabs are displayed. The deck of Event cards play a pivotal role in the game.

Building tiles are separated. The Restaurant, Lounge and Slots tiles are placed, face up, in their respective spaces. Remaining tiles represent “premier” buildings which are more expensive but have bigger “payoffs”. These tiles are separated by size (with “A” tiles stacked on top of the “B” tiles). Three of these premier tiles, one from each stack, is turned over and placed on the board. Premier tiles list a “minimum bid” marked with a clear plastic chip on the track below the tile space. The final space for building tiles is filled by drawing an Event card. Event cards specify which type of tile should be placed on that space. It will also cause something to happen, from giving bonuses for having built certain tiles, to limiting auctions, to changing minimum bids in the next series of auctions etc. As you might suspect, much of the game centers on auctions.

To bid on a tile, you take your marker and place it on the bid track below the tile you wish to purchase. Your bid must be equal to or greater than the minimum bid stipulated on the board. The player with the “First Player” button has the opportunity to make the first bid. Should another player decide to bid on that same tile, he must place his marker higher on the bid track and the outbid player REMOVES his marker until his turn comes around again. At that point, he may return to the same bid track and outbid the current high bidder OR he may place his marker on ANY other open track on the board. Bidding continues until ALL players who wish to bid have made a successful and unchallenged bid.

Upon claiming a tile, a player may immediately place the tile on his play mat which represents his hotel/casino complex OR keep it “off board” to be placed later. Tiles must be placed so that you can trace a path from one of the two entrances of the complex to the doorway of the new tile. Only yellow tiles may be placed in the casino section. Only blue tiles may be placed in the hotel section. Green tiles may be placed in both.

Instead of bidding, however, players may choose renovate or publicity as their action. Unlike bidding, multiple players may “win” these actions. Renovate allows you to remove 0, 1 or 2 tiles from you hotel/casino sheet and then replace them with 0, 1 or 2 tiles. (They can even be the same tiles!) Publicity allows you to place one of those tiles you placed aside onto your sheet. (You also get 1 Fame Point for this action.) All tiles placed in a player’s complex can affect his population, revenue and/or fame.

Once a tile/building is placed, you adjust your running total of fame, revenue and population, the first player marker shifts to the left and the game continues until one player has completely filled up his hotel/casino sheet OR a premier tile called for by an Event card cannot be placed. At that point, we score.vegasshowdown2

In addition to Fame points accrued during the course of the game (through Event cards and/or building tiles), players score 5 Fame if they have completely filled in their Casino section, 5 for a filled Hotel section and another 3 if they have managed to CONNECT their hotel and casino sections. The player with the highest population scores 5 Fame (with second and third place worth 3 and 1 Fame respectively). Highest revenue scores the same. Cash on hand converts to Fame too at the rate of 1 Fame for each full $10 you have. Finally, some of the tiles have diamond designs on their corners. Each complete diamond you manage to construct (and that’s why renovate and publicity actions can be valuable) adds 3 Fame to your score; a three-quarter diamond is worth 1. The player with the most Fame wins!

Vegas Showdown straddles the gap between standard American gaming fare and Euro style gaming. The prohibition against building valuable prestige tiles until lesser tiles are in place as well as the requirements of tile placement forces players to abandon a haphazard approach and do a little planning. The placement of tiles on a board is similar to The Princes of Florence (Fall 2000 GA REPORT), the concern that walls do not block you in or prevent you from linking to other tiles is something fans of Alhambra (Summer 2003 GA REPORT) would recognize. And the bidding mechanism has been used in games such as Evo (Summer 2001 GA REPORT) and Amun-Re (Summer 2003 GA REPORT). These game devices are gently assimilated into play. As such, it may not be as heavy a dose of gaming as Euro gamers are used to. But the target audience for this game is not the hard core gamer but rather those gamers interested in something a bit more substantial but leery of jumping into unknown waters. As such, Vegas Showdown does the job well.

For those looking to add a little more “weight”, we suggest modifying the Event cards. Use them to determine the next type of prestige building to be available but ignore the actual Event. This way, the randomness of Events you cannot control is eliminated. The game comes with two “Building Prerequisites” play aids. These offer a “flow chart” of what you need in order to build more desirable buildings as well as how many of each building there is and a recap of all the final scorings. Ironically, THESE and not the mapsheets are mounted! But for reasons unknown, they are printed on BOTH sides! When placed on the table, you can only see one side and no stands are in the game! You might want to color Xerox them so that all players have their own handy guide. But there are two pitfalls that may undo the good work here that cannot be so easily rectified: the title and the artwork.

With high stakes poker enjoying such a vogue, the title of the game – Vegas Showdown – automatically suggests gambling and poker. But the game has NOTHING to do with either! Buy the game with that in mind and you’ll be sorely disappointed. The artwork of the box, conjuring up memories of a more traditional style of gaming, may also prove to be a hard hurdle to overcome. At first glance, the artwork suggests more of the old “roll the dice and move around the board” style of play. If that’s what you want, look out! The game is a lot more than that. More sophisticated gamers may be fooled by the art into thinking that the game offers little. They, too, would be wrong. (This is one of the reasons why Tycoon, the brilliant Kramer & Rösner game featured in the Summer 1998 GA REPORT and nominated for Game of the Year honors, failed to be fully appreciated.)

Vegas Showdown is arguably the most ambitious yet of the new Avalon Hill releases as it explores the market and demand for a hybrid Euro/American style of gaming. In this case, ambition pays off as this blending of styles comes up a winner. – – Herb Levy

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Winter 2006 GA Report Articles


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