Game Buzz: Tempest

We’re less than a month from Spiel 2012, the annual gaming fair in Essen, Germany, so it’s high time I start looking at some games coming out then.  And I’m going to start by looking at a series coming out from AEG:

image by BGG user edbolme

The Tempest games are a series of board games (four so far) in a shared world called Tempest.  The idea of the series is to create a series of inter-connected games with a continuing storyline, all set in the fictional city-state of Tempest.  AEG put out the call to designers, offering to set their games in the world and wanting different takes on the world.  So, it’s not like a book series where one author explores the world in a number of different ways.  Instead, it would be like if every novel in the series was written by a different author.  Imagine if Stephen King only wrote the first novel in the Dark Tower saga, then all subsequent novels were written by others.  It’s a unique idea, and it remains to be seen if it works.

There are four games from the Tempest line coming out at Spiel.  In this post, I’m going to take a brief look at all of them.  I’ll give a few thoughts after the overviews.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Courtier is the first game in the series, designed by Philip duBarry.  It’s for 2-4 players aged 10 and up, and takes 45 minutes.  The object is to gain the most recognition in the royal court, spreading your influence to get people to act for you.  The game comes with 48 influence cards, 44 power cards, 26 petition cards, 17 fashion cards, 8 coterie ability cards, 140 wooden cubes, and a game board.  At the start of the game, each player gets one secret petition, with four public petitions dealt face up.   You also get 15 influence markers.  The fashion deck is created by shuffling “THE QUEEN IS ARRESTED” card into the bottom half of a 13 card deck.  An influence and power card are flipped face up from their respective decks, and you’re ready to play.

Each player chooses a mix of five cards from the power and influence decks to create one hand.  These hands are then bid on by the players using influence markers.  The winners get the hand they bid on.  Alternately, you can each draw three influence and two power cards for each hand.

On your turn, you do one of three actions: play a card, discard any or all cards in your hand, or gain one influence marker from the reserve.  Influence cards increase your influence over the royal court, while power cards affect your board position positively.  Petitions are completed when the courtiers listed are completely filled with influence cubes, and when you control each one by having the most of your influence on them (other player’s influence can be replaced by yours as long as they do not control the courtier).  When a petition is completed, a new one will be drawn to replace it and the top fashion card will be drawn, which represents the shifting fancies of the court.  The game ends when THE QUEEN IS ARRESTED card is drawn from the fashion deck, and the player with the most points wins.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Mercante is the next game in the storyline.  This Jeff Tidball design is for 3-5 players aged 12 and up, and takes an hour to play.  This game leaves the royal courts of Tempest and goes into the merchant houses where you are acquiring goods, selling them, fulfilling contracts, and trying to control the trade in the entire city-state.  The game comes with a market board, 5 merchant ledgers, 3 reference tracks, 9 house power cards, 32 shipment cards, 38 event cards, 20 contract cards, 72 goods tokens, a reference track marker, 2 upkeep markers, 20 agent markers, 15 warehouse markers, 40 VP tokens, and 140 crown tokens.   The game starts with the top card of the event deck flipped up and five shipment cards revealed.  Each player gets 8 crowns plus twice their turn order, a random house power card (which you can discard for a new one), two random contract cards (keep one), two random event cards, a merchant ledger, a warehouse marker, and two agents to place on the Security seal and the unassigned agents area.

On a turn, you perform an upkeep action (but only if you hold the upkeep marker), a shipment auction, collect agents, and assign agents.  The upkeep marker is held by the player to the start player’s right, so it will be several turns before an upkeep phase, in which goods are removed from the markets, an event is applied (the top one from the deck), VP tokens are auctioned, and the upkeep marker is passed to the right.

In the shipment auction, the active player chooses one shipment card to be auctioned off.  Shipment cards show 1-3 goods tokens, which can each be auctioned off individually or as a single lot.  Each player can bid exactly once.  If all players pass, you skip to the next goods token.  After the auction, you take your agents and assign them to carry out an agent action – buy a victory point, gather intelligence (look at decks and possibly discard some cards), hire dockworkers (which deliver goods from the warehouse to the market), improve house assets (an extra agent or warehouse), manipulate events (draw an event card and either play it or draw another), security (protect a warehouse from skulduggery), select a contract (draw two and keep one), or skulduggery (steal goods from another player).

The game is over when one player gets up to 80 crowns, or when the reference track marker reaches the end, or the last shipment card enters the harbor.  When it’s over, all players sell their remaining goods, then can buy VPs for 10 crowns each.  You add your points and subtract penalties from uncompleted contracts.  The player with the most wins.

image by BGG user chaddyboy_2000

Dominare is the next entry in the Tempest series, this one from Jim Pinto.  This is easily the longest game of the first four, clocking in at two hours for 2-6 players aged 12 and up.  Once again, you’re spreading your influence, but this game stretches out into the greater city of Tempest.  The game comes with a double-sided game board, 95 agent cards, 30 event cards, 8 district ability cards, 6 reference cards, 300+ influence tokens, 8 VP markers, and 74 coins in various denominations.  Each player gets a color and eight agents (you will choose three to keep secretly).  There’s a suggestion for some agent combinations in the rules for your first game.

Dominare is played over seven rounds, called seasons.  In each season, there are four phases – a conspiracy phase, an event phase, a canvassing phase, and an action phase.  In the conspiracy phase, each player will add one of their agents to their conspiracy into a line – the order from the left is called rank order, and you have to play each season’s agent into the next rank spot.  If you don’t have an agent, you draw one and play it immediately.  In the event phase, you’ll reveal the top event card and resolve it.  In the canvassing phase, you collect income and place influence.  In the action phase, you’ll be able to take 2 actions (3 in the seventh season): use one agent ability; use one ability in a district you control; gain a crown; purchase influence; rally your agents (flip face down ones up); recruit a new agent; discard an agent from your ranks for one in your hand; and spend money to reduce your exposure.

At the end of the seventh season, you add up your VPs for each district you control, each block controlled, and bonuses for specific agents, then subtract VPs for a player’s exposure.  The player left with the most points wins.

image by BGG user edbolme

Love Letter, on the other hand, is the shortest game of the series.  This is a 15 minute game for 2-4 players aged 8 and up (designed by Seiji Kanai).  This one concerns the heartbreak of Princess Annette after the arrest of her mother, the Queen (back in Courtier).  You are a suitor, trying to get your love letter to the princess.  The game comes with 20 cards – 16 game cards, and 4 reference cards – as well as tokens of affection.  The 16 cards are shuffled, and the top card is removed from the game (four cards in a 2 player game).  Each player gets one card.

Each round in the game is a day.  At the end of a round, the Princess gets a letter from one of the suitors.  On your turn, you will draw a card, then discard one of the two cards in your hand, applying any effects.  This could knock you out of a round.  When the deck is empty, the round is over and the player with the highest ranked card still in their hand wins, and their love letter is delivered to the princess.  You can also win the round if you are the last one standing.  You win after 4-7 of your love letters have been delivered (depending on the number of players).

So, that’s the four games from the Tempest line so far.  Of the four, I’m probably most interested in Dominare, then Courtier, then Love Letter, then Mercante.  I think my aversion to Mercante is my dislike of auctions more than anything else.  I am interested in the line as a whole, however, and I do want to see how the stories interact with the game.  There’s a brief story at the beginning of all the rules that set the scene for the particular game.  Apparently, the arrest of the Queen at the end of Courtier kind of sets the stage for the rest of this wave of games.

The games all seem fairly politcal, and more Euroish than the standard fare from AEG.  Courtier is essentially an area influence game, where you’re trying to control people rather than places.  Mercante boils down to an economic warfare game (that’s the terminology from the rules), whereas Dominare looks to be more of a maneuvering/combo style game.  Love Letter seems to be a very light and fast game, and it seems odd that there are only 16 cards.  It’s pretty cool, though, that all four seem to be fairly different.  This is definitely a series I’ll be keeping my eye on.  Thanks for reading.

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