reviewed by Herb Levy

Mayday Games/Hobby World, 1 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 45-60 minutes; $34.99

In the fantasy Berserk universe, power is paramount and in Viceroy, designed by Yuri Zhuravlev, up to four players, immersed in that universe, compete by constructing a viceroy1“power pyramid”, amassing influence by recruiting allies and enacting beneficial laws (at least, beneficial to them) to command dominance.

The world of Viceroy is populated by a wide array of characters represented by character cards depicting the different personalities of the realm. Though different, these cards share some key characteristics. All cards have a quarter circle of color (red, yellow, blue or green) at each upper corner and a semi-circle of color (one of the four colors) on the bottom. Four rows on the left indicate the cost of placing that particular card on a certain level of your power pyramid and the rewards it will bestow once placed. A pyramid may extend as far as you’d like but the height is capped at five levels.

To start, all players receive a screen and eight gems, two in each of the four game colors (red, yellow, green and blue) but then must randomly return two gems of their choice to supply. Now, all players are dealt four character cards: one is placed face up to begin that player’s power pyramid for free (still receiving the award that card gives), one is kept in hand with the remaining two returned to the character card deck. The character deck is then shuffled with 48 cards counted out to create a “turn deck”, a name I give it since four cards will be drawn from this deck each turn and there are precisely 12 turns in the game. Remaining character cards form a separate “auxiliary” deck.

Four “auction cards” (matching the four colors of the game) are placed in any order in the center of the playing area. Four character cards from the turn deck are then revealed with one randomly placed under each auction card. Finally, the deck of “law cards” are shuffled with each player dealt three of these to add to their starting hand, keeping them secret until played. Remaining law cards are placed aside to form their own draw deck. Now, in the Auction phase of the turn, players may bid for the available character cards.

Bidding works a little differently than your typical auction. All players may bid for all available cards by placing ONE inside a closed fist matching the gem of the color of the auction card aligned to the character card that player wants. Once everyone has decided, bids are revealed simultaneously. If only one player has revealed a gem of a color, that player receives that corresponding character card. (Gems bid are returned to supply.) If more than one player has revealed the same color gem, all bid gems are lost and a second round of bidding occurs. If multiple bids occur yet another time, a third round of bidding happens. Players who have won a card at auction in the round are out of further bidding as only one card may be claimed per round by a player. Cards left unclaimed at the conclusion of an auction phase “rise” to the top of the auction card, available to be chosen when a new set of four cards are drawn for the following round. (In that case, two cards will be available for a single color so players who bid the same color may actually be able to come away with a card IF they can agree to choose different cards from the pair.) A player may, of course, pass but once passing, may not reenter the auctions that round receiving compensation in the form of three gems from stock in any color available. (The amount of gems in the game is limited.) Once the dust from the auctions settle, the Development phase, the second part of a game turn, will commence.

Development simply means adding cards to your pyramid. All players choose a card and reveal them simultaneously with cards being played based on their number (small numbers are found on each card), low number first and then in ascending order. Cards may be placed adjacent to cards on the pyramid’s lower level or on an upper level as long as there are cards below to “support” them. The cost for placing cards, however, varies.

On the first level, a player must pay the color of gem that is on the lowest row of value on the character card. If placing the card on the second level, two gems (those of the colors shown on the first and second rows of the card) must be paid to supply and so on. (If placing on the fifth level, you must pay the gems shown on the four rows PLUS an additional gem as shown on the fourth row.) Cards may match the colors of the semi- or quarter circle colors on the cards but do NOT have to match. (You will want to, though, as completing a circle of a color grants you a bonus gem of that color AND completed color circles will be worth Victory Points at the end of the game.) Once placed, a player IMMEDIATELY receives the award matching the row of the card (so, for example, placing a card on the second level of your pyramid will grant you the reward noted on the second row of the card. You do NOT get the rewards from more than one row.). Rewards are a virtual cornucopia of possibilities.

Rewards come in all shapes and sizes including getting more gemstones, earning Victory Points and being able to draw additional cards from the auxiliary or law deck. You might receive an “infinite gemstone” allowing you to place the appropriately colored gem on that card and then being able to use that gem once per round for the rest of the game! Special tokens can be both useful and powerful such as Science (allowing you to take an extra gem per science token if you pass at an auction), Magic (depicted as “scrolls” and potentially worth a lot at game’s end), Defense (useful in making token “sets” and fending off an attack at the the end of the game), Attack tokens (which may be used to ensure that you get first pick in an auction and, if unused at the end of the game, threaten damage to your opponents) and “Bonus Tokens” (which will give you additional points for Magic and completed circles during final scoring.)  And then there are the law cards.

Like the character cards, law cards have colored semi- and quarter circles but, unlike the character cards, these cards are FREE to place throughout the pyramid. Law cards can be very beneficial in allowing you to get gems, getting special token tiles (potentially worth large amounts of VPs), providing additional character cards (from the auxiliary deck) and awarding VPs for a variety of conditions.

As with the Auction phase, up to 3 developments may be done in a round. Once everyone has either added three cards to their pyramid or passed, the round is over. When the 12th and final round is concluded, scores are tallied.

Victory Points in Viceroy come from a number of sources. First, players score VPs for single colored circles. (Gems are not worth Victory Points in the game but, if you have extra gems when scoring, you may use them to “paint” incomplete colored circles, using one gem for each “missing” quarter, to make them complete.) Completed circles score VPs equal to the highest level they touch. (So a completed circle touching level 3 of your pyramid will earn you 3 VPs.) Infinite gemstones score points for the level they are on (a level 4 infinite gemstone will score 4 VPs) plus score for any bonus token you might have earned in your pyramid. Any points awarded for played law cards are added to the running total as are any VPs tokens found in the pyramid. Now those special tokens are tossed into the mix.

A set in your pyramid of a Magic, Science and Defense token is worth 12 VPs! Have three sets and you have 36 VPs! But not all is accumulation; you can also LOSE points. Unused Attack tokens held by an opponent not countered by your own Defense tokens will LOSE you 4 VPs each. So, for example, if your opponent has 3 Attack tokens and you only have 1 Defense token, you will lose 8 points. The player with the highest final total wins!

Although the core mechanism of Viceroy is not exactly new (building a “power pyramid” was recently done, for example, in Guild, featured in the Summer 2012 GA Report), this puzzle-like power pyramid building is very enjoyable and there is certainly enough touches here to give this an original feel. The quest to complete colored circles, the payment/reward dynamic when placing character and law cards, the whole challenge of making the most of gems available is completely engaging. While the fantasy world of Viceroy is evidently an important one to the designer, the theme of the game would have worked just as well, perhaps better, if more was made of the “power pyramid” motif by having the game coincide with a culture associated with pyramids such as the Egyptian or Mayan cultures.  Scoring in Viceroy is akin to the scoring in 7 Wonders – points come from EVERYWHERE! While some may dislike this onslaught, I do not as it provides different pathways of play and viable strategies to pursue.

While the game holds your attention, there are some flaws to consider. The differences between the colored cardboard pieces used to represent gemstones are slighter than I would prefer. This is a case where purchasing the 18mm gems pack from Mayday Games is a worthwhile addition as these gems are not only clearly colored but come in different shapes for ease of identification. And, while not exactly a flaw, size DOES matter. With four players, the growth of pyramids demands a large playing area; a simple card table will not do.

The auction aspect of play is a valiant attempt at increasing player interaction but the reality is that the artwork (attractive as it is) obscures important card information, particularly from across the table; you can’t easily SEE what other players are doing. As a result, it is difficult to know precisely what you should bid on or to plan ahead to stymie their strategies. You are, out of necessity, forced to concentrate mostly on your own plans, sharply undermining the interaction the auction is supposed to provide. Solo play (where the auction is strictly random) or two player games lessen this impact.

Viceroy is a game that rewards resource management and well played tactics. Choosing the right gemstone combination, building as many completed circles as possible, deciding which character card rewards will be most rewarding, keeps the game interesting. Despite some flaws, the game design is solid and, in the best sense, addictive, giving Viceroy a high replay value.  – – – Herb Levy

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