Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Ideas and Happiness

The first thing that you need to know is that despite its name, CVlizations is not a game in which you take a tribe and guide it through the ages exploring the world, expanding territories, conquering allies, developing technologies, and building wonders, the aim being to develop the greatest civilisation. So it is not a game in the mode of the classic Civilisation, the Civilisation from Fantasy Flight Games, any of the  computer game versions, or indeed, 7 Wonders from Asmodee. So there is no map and there is no conflict. The second thing that you need to know is that CVlizations is a civilisation-themed card game in which you take a tribe and guide it through the ages, collecting resources, and developing ideas that will make the tribe happy. The third thing that you need to know is that CVlizations won the award for Best Family Game at UK Games Expo, which is the United Kingdom’s biggest hobby gaming convention and the second biggest in Europe after Essen in Germany.

Released by Polish publisher, Granna, but available in English through Coiledspring Games, CVlizations is based upon an earlier game, C.V., in which you guide a character through their entire  making many important decisions about their professional career, relationships, interests, and life goals. In CVlizations though, you guide a whole tribe through its history, but where C.V. uses dice to generate and direct your actions, CVlizations uses just a single set of cards per player from which a player selects his actions. What this means is that CVlizations is not as random as C.V. and that each player has more choice in what he can do. This also means that CVlizations is a slightly more complex and more thoughtful game. This means that it is not quite a ‘gateway’ game like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne, but it is still a family game and so relatively easy to teach and play. Adults will pick up it with ease and anyone who has played a gateway game like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne will have no problems learning the game.

Designed for two to five players, aged ten plus, CVlizations can be played in roughly forty-five minutes (though longer on the first game and quicker with practice). It consists of five sets of Order cards (eight cards each); thirty-two Idea cards for Ages I and II; sixteen Idea cards for Age III; twenty food, twenty stone, and twenty wood tokens—these are the game’s resources; thirty-six Happiness point tokens; one wooden Leader Helm token to track player order and one wooden Crown token to track the Ages; two player aid cards and an eight-page rulebook; and a board where the resource tokens are stored, the Ages are tracked, and the Idea cards are stored and displayed.

CVlizations is a played over three Ages, each Age consisting of three rounds. During a round, each player selects, plays, and discards two of his Action cards; all Action cards played are resolved; and each player has an opportunity to buy an Idea card. At the end of each round, the Leader Helm token is passed onto the next player and then a new round begins. During an Age each player will play a total of six Action cards, so he will need to be careful in the cards he chooses to play. Once three rounds have been played, a new Age begins and the players receive all of their Action cards back. During Age III, Idea cards are drawn from the Age III deck. At game’s end, the players count up their Happiness Points and the player with the most wins.

The Idea cards are what each player is trying to buy. Each Idea card is unique and comes packed with a lot of information. This includes its name, its type (Building, Tool, Invention, or Ideology), a cost, a special rule or power, and the number of Happiness Points it grants at game’s end. For example, the ‘Gunpowder’ Idea card is a Tool card, costs one Food and two Wood tokens to purchase, and grants one extra Food when the Hunting action is taken and one Happiness Point at the end of the game. Whereas, the ‘Law’ Idea card is an Invention card, costs two Food and two Stone tokens to purchase, limits the number of resources that can be stolen from you to one per turn, and grants two Happiness Points at the end of the game. Most of the Idea cards grant powers, although some of the Ideas from Age III do not, merely granting Happiness Points. In general, Idea cards Ideas from Age III are more expensive than those from Ages I and II, but grant more Happiness Points.

At the core of CVlizations are the Action cards and how they are played. Each player has an identical set of eight Action cards. They consist of—in the order that they are numbered and resolved—Thieving, Logging, Hunting, Quarrying, Cunning, Slacking, and Trading, plus Doubling. Thieving allows you to steal from other tribes; Logging, Hunting, and Quarrying allow you to gather Wood, Food, and Stone respectively; Cunning lets you gather any resources; Slacking allows you to gather Happiness Points; and Trading allows you to swap resources. The Doubling card is not numbered because when played it doubles the effect of the card it is played with.

Action cards are always played in pairs, one face up so that everyone can see it, the other face down so that no one can. This is because the number of players who play an Action card determine its effectiveness. If only one player plays an Action card, it has a minor effect for that player; if two players play an Action card, it has a greater effect for both players; and if three or more players play an Action card, it either has a minor effect or no effect at all. So the Thieving card allows a player to steal one resource if one player plays it, two resources if two players play it, and nothing if more than three players play it. Both the Cunning and Slacking cards work the same way. The Logging, Hunting, and Quarrying cards gain a player two (one player), three (two players), or one (three plus players) resources of the respective types. The Trading card works in reverse, so it lets a player turn one resource into three of another kind (one player), two of another kind (two players), or one of another kind (three plus players). Lastly the Doubling card allows a player to do the action on the other card played again if one or two players play it. The effectiveness of each Action by player number is clearly marked on each card.

Since one Action card is played face up and one face down—though some Idea cards change this—CVlizations involves a certain amount of card counting as the players keep an eye on what each has and has not played. Only a certain amount because only one card of a pair can be seen and because in most cases, as soon two Action cards of one type have been played, there is limited benefit to gain from playing another of that Action card. (Alternatively, a player might play an extra Action card of the same kind to effectively block the other players.) Players higher up the player order of course have more choice in what they can play, but for all players as an Age progresses, the number of Action cards they can play and thus their choices diminishes. Further the card counting becomes easier as an Age progresses because everyone has fewer Action cards to play. Overall, this is a simple, but clever mechanic.

Physically, CVlizations is a lovely game and very well presented. The rules themselves do feel slightly underwritten, but they are easy to understand. In terms of presentation, the artwork on the back of both the Idea and the Action is not bad, being perhaps a bit scraggly and scruffy, but it actually looks bad in comparison to the artwork on the front of both cards. This is because the artwork on the front of card is utterly charming, Piotr Socha’s paintings neatly encapsulating the idea or concept on the card in a style reminiscent of children’s picturebooks. These illustrations are not without a sense of humour and they are worth taking a closer look at.

CVlizations is an easy game to learn and play. I read through the rules twice in ten minutes and brought it to the table at my regular gaming group meetup without any issue. Everyone grasped the rules quickly and enjoyed playing the game, saying that they would happily play it again. We did find that more reference cards—two are included in the game—would have been useful, but this did not greatly hamper play.

CVlizations is a light Civilisation-themed card game that is suitable for family play while still offering thoughtful play for experienced players. Certainly experienced players will appreciate the clever Action selection mechanic and for them CVlizations is a light-to-medium filler. For family play, CVlizations is probably a step up—perhaps two—from a gateway game, but without undue complexity. For either group, CVlizations is an engaging design with delightful artwork.