I’m a sucker for an original theme:
Dreaming Spires is a game designed by Jeremy Hogan that being published by The Secret Games Company and Game Salute. It’s a 3-5 player, 90 minute game about building your own Oxford college. It’s currently running on Kickstarter, having quadrupled its $5,000 goal with a couple of weeks left. Jeremy Hogan contacted me through this blog to see if I wanted to talk about the game, which I had not heard about before. The theme caught my interest (how many games do you know where you can recruit Tolkien, Sir Walter Raleigh, AND Oscar Wilde?), so here it is. All pictures here are provided by him.
Dreaming Spires comes with a board, 75 cardboard tiles, 30 cardboard coins, 100 wooden cubes, 42 scholar cards, 24 event cards, and a chancellor pawn. People and event cards are sorted into stacks by era – medieval, enlightenment, imperial, and modern. You’ll draw two event cards per era and put them in a stack, revealing the first medieval event. Additionally, you will reveal five medieval scholars and ten building tiles. You’ll also reveal the garden and quad building tiles, which are basic buildings that are always available. All money is placed in the bag, and one player receives the chancellor token.
In each era of the game, there will be two turns (so eight turns in all). At the start of each era (1st-3rd-5th-7th turns), you will set up the new era. Each player will randomly draw four money tokens from the bag (each coin worth 1-3). Next, event cards and people cards from the previous era are replaced by two events from the current era and 5 people from the current era.
The next thing that happens (and will happen every turn) is that the Chancellor flips and reads a new event. The event card gives some flavor for things happening, and tells you the type of auction that will be held at the end of the turn (auction, silent auction, Dutch auction, or contribution).
- Build a building – Take a building from the available stock and place it next to a pre-existing building. Your first building must be a garden or quad. Buildings must be touching one other building of the same color (or a garden or quad). Some buildings are free, some have a cost that goes to the bag. There are three types of icons you may see on a building: a full icon in the center; a half icon on the side that must be connected to another half to form a whole; and a quarter icon in the corner, which needs four to be complete. Complete icons give you benefirst in their type – academics, beauty, social, and status.
- Admit a scholar – If you have the required benefit symbols in your college, you can admit a scholar. Take it from the display and add it to your area. Scholars and buildings will be replaced after a player has spent their actions for the turn.
- Use a scholar you haven’t yet used this turn – Each scholar can be used once per turn to use a special ability or to increase your college’s reputation in a subject.
- Draw a money – Take it from the bag.
Once all players have taken their action, the chancellor resolves the event. As I mentioned, there are four types of auctions:
- Auction – The Chancellor opens the bidding which proceeds until no one wants to bid higher. The high bid gets the reward listed on the card.
- Silent auction – Players all put their bid in a closed fist, then reveal. The winner (or winners, if there’s a tie) can take the reward.
- Dutch auction – The Chancellors counts slowly down from 12. Players can say “bid” at any point to win and take the reward, paying money equal to the last number said.
- Contribution – As with a silent auction, bids are made in a closed fist. The 1st and 2nd place bids both win a reward with tied players sharing the reward. All money bid in a contribution is lost, win or lose.
The player who wins the auction, along with their reward, gets to be Chancellor for the next turn. Ties are broken by the current Chancellor.
At the end of each era, there is a scoring phase. The board shows a grid where college reputation (tradition, students, and fellows) is tracked, as well as where academic reputation (politics, theology, philosophy, science, humanities, arts, sport) is tracked. These reputations meet in what are called scoring boxes. Each era has a different set of active scoring boxes. The player with the highest reputation score for each active scoring box gets a cube in the box. The player who then has the fewest cubes in the scoring area is then out, and their cubes get redistributed to the next highest. This continues until there is one player left. In the first three eras, that player gets a free money draw. After the final era, that player wins.
Dreaming Spires has several things going for it. As I mentioned, the theme is very unique – you’re building a college through history, and using different scholars and buildings to gain advantages in different departments. It’s a different side of history than the specific events a lot of games are built on – it’s cultural history. I find that stuff fascinating, and I think it’s a definite untapped market in themes.
Mechanically, there are some unique things going on. It has auctions (not a selling point for me), as well as tile placement and some money management – these are pretty familiar to gamers. But then there’s the random money draw, which I don’t know if I’ve ever seen before. Also, there’s the scoring system, which is a little convoluted but makes sense once you get your head around it.
Overall, I think this looks like a pretty solid game, and one that should do fairly well. I’m looking forward to hearing more impressions about the game. If you’re interested, you have until November 30 to back – it has exceeded its funding, so the only thing left now is to find out what stretch goals there are. Thanks for reading!
- BGG page for Dreaming Spires
- Kickstarter project page (running until 11/30/13)
- Secret Games Company website
- Review by BGG user CarcassonneFreak