Viceroy is a game by Russian publisher Hobby World and designer Yuri Zhuravlev that was released at Essen 2014. There were only 50 English copies available which sold out in the first hour, so I'm very lucky to have obtained a copy. I played it as soon as I could, and here's a description of the gameplay and my first impression thoughts.

I played a 2 player game, so the gameplay examples will be with 2 players to give the flavour of my experience.

If you already know how to play and just want to read my thoughts, feel free to skip to the "My First Impression" section.

Gameplay

Viceroy is a 1-4 player game in which each player is trying to build the power of their nation and to be remembered in history. Throughout the game, players will be obtaining cards, representing people and laws, which they can then place in their pyramid of power for a number of bonuses. The player with the most power points at the end of 12 turns is the victor! In a single player game you always win (a nation will always be the most powerful if nothing is competing with it), but the goal is to beat your best score in subsequent games.

Setting up

Players start with 2 of each of the four colours of gems - red, blue, yellow, and green - and then randomly put 2 back into the supply, so everyone will start with a slightly different combination of gems that are kept secret behind their screen. Players also start with 3 law cards and 2 character cards.

From the two character cards, each player must choose one to place on the first level of their pyramid at no cost. They then gain the first level advantage depicted on that card, and keep the other one in their hand. In the example below, the player places the Butcher and gains a magic token.

The turns

The game is played over 12 turns, each with two phases - the auction, and development.

In the auction phase, players can bid on one of the four available character cards. Each character can be bought with one of the four colours of gems, indicated by the colour they are next to.

To bid, each player will place a gem in their fist corresponding to the character they wish to purchase. Once everyone has selected a colour, they will reveal their bids at the same time. If the players bid on different colours, then they will receive the corresponding character into their hand. In the below example, one player bid a red gem and the other bid a blue gem so they each receive a card.

If two (or more) players choose to bid the same colour, they lose their gems as usual but do not gain a card. They may bid again, losing their gems again if they are the same colour. Up to three auctions can be held in this manner. If players don't successfully bid by the end of the third auction, they are considered to have passed.

A player can also choose to pass, instead of bidding, at any point. To do this, they simply reveal an empty fist when the other players reveal their bids. For passing, players receive 3 gems from the supply of their choice, and an additional gem for every science token they have in their pyramid. If you're running low on gems, this might be your best (or only) option for getting some back and being able to build in phase 2.

Once everyone has bid and received a card, or has passed, the remaining cards are moved up and four new ones are laid out for the auction next turn.

Next turn, if two players were to both bid on green or yellow, they will both receive a card if they can agree on the card they each want. However, if more than two players bid on one of those colours, or if they can't agree, the bid is wasted like normal.

The turn then moves on to the second phase, development. This is where players can build their pyramid of power by placing up to three cards. Each player will select a card from their hand and place it face down in front of them, or declare that they are passing (there's no bonus for passing in this phase). Players will then reveal their cards, pay their costs, place them in their pyramid and gain the bonuses. Pyramids cannot be more than 5 levels high, but can be as wide as the player would like. Each card must rest on two cards below it, but the colours in the corners are not required to match up. If a player creates a full circle of one colour in their pyramid from the symbols on the cards, they gain a gem of that colour from the supply and earn bonus points at the end of the game.

The cost of character cards depends on the level of the pyramid on which they're built. If this player built the Saboteur as shown on the first level, they would pay one blue gem, and would earn the first-level reward depicted - 3 power points.

Building on the second level, however, would cost the second-level gem and all lower-level gems - in this case a red and a blue. The player would gain only the second-level reward, however - an attack token and three gems of their choice.

Law cards cost nothing to place, and grant advantages such as extra points at the end of the game, bonuses such as gems, tokens or additional cards, or the ability to manipulate the cards you've already placed. The images below are examples of these.

Once all players have built 3 cards, or passed, the game moves on to the next turn.

Final scoring

At the end of twelve turns, players calculate their score based on the tokens, points and cards they have in their pyramid of power:

-12 points for each set of one defense, one magic and one science token.

-The face-value for each power point token

-Points from single-colour circles formed from the cards in your pyramid. Each circle is worth points based on the level of the top card of the circle - in the example below, the blue circle is worth 2 points.

If the player also has bonuses from other cards in their pyramid for that colour of circle, then their points are increased. In the example below the circle is worth 6 points (2 base + 4 bonus)

-"Infinite gemstones". Some cards grant infinite gemstones, which can be reused during the game for building costs, but which also count for points in the same way as completed circles, based on the pyramid level and any circle bonuses the player has earned.

-Magic tokens with bonuses. Each magic token is worth the total of all the player's magic bonuses. Tokens without bonuses are worth nothing, and bonuses without tokens are also worth nothing. In the example below, the player earns 16 points for their 2 scrolls, worth 8 each.

-Law cards with end-of-game bonuses

-Finally, each attack token your player has damages your score by 4. Each defense token you have can mitigate one attack token.

My first impression

I enjoyed my first game of Viceroy, but I think it will really shine after a few more plays once I'm more familiar with the cards and the scoring. There are so many options and combinations of bonuses on the character cards that it was slightly overwhelming trying to figure out which we should be bidding on - we had little concept of which cards were "better" or how we should be trying to earn points based on the cards we had and the ones we'd already built into our pyramid.

The auction with two players was rarely competitive. We never ended up bidding on the same colour when there was only one card available, and only once bid on the same colour with two available but both of us wanting the same card - we came to an agreement even then rather than wasting a precious gem. The main difficulty of the auction was planning ahead to make sure you'd have a gem of the correct colour to bid on the character card you wanted for next time, rather than competing with other players. I imagine the dynamic would be very different in a 4 player game - the chances of everyone bidding a different colour is much lower and this is where pre-auction negotiating would be vital to prevent wasting your gem supply and crippling your building capacity. I actually enjoyed the planning that the two player auction allowed, but I'm looking forward to trying out the four player game to see how the social negotiation works.

A final note on the auction: it seemed difficult to impossible to predict what your opponent would be bidding on, because each card provides four possible rewards, and it's difficult to tell the strategy that the other player is following. The bidding can't really be used as a way to block your opponents, at least from my experience in my first game.

We also learned the hard way that both resources and cards are scarce. The plentiful gems and cards on your first turn dwindle quickly, especially since the auction only lets you gain one card per turn. If you're building more than once each turn, your hand runs out very quickly. Once you start building your pyramid higher, your gems run out too. It seems that the most important thing in the first few turns is building and buying cards that will give you more cards, more gems or an infinite gemstone. Having a reusable gem early in the game can save a lot of passes and scrambling for resources later, so you need to build up your resources before focusing on the points and tokens.

There is a little bit of player interaction, but not much. That's alright with me, as I don't like games where the focus is as much on destroying your opponents as building up your own points. The attack and defense tokens of your opponents are important to track because that can deal a significant blow to your points at the end if you're not anticipating it. Those are the only tokens that affect other players, however - the rest of the cards are just focused on building the power of that pyramid.

One of my favourite elements of Viceroy is the way the cards form circles when placed together, and the interesting choices that have to be considered when trying to create single-colour circles. Many of the cards I bought and played were based on the fact that they colour matched the cards adjacent to where they would be placed in my pyramid. At some points I had to give up on creating circles because the reward given by a particular card seemed to outweigh waiting for another matching card, but making the circles did provide me with valuable bonus gems and points. Being able to get bonuses for creating circles of certain colours makes those circles much more valuable for certain players, and might provide enough incentive to change the cards they buy based on their colours rather than their rewards.

There are a lot of choices to make in Viceroy, and a lot of possible goals to aim for and to base those choices off. The game has a 7 Wonders vibe in the resource management and building of your own tableau, but with a touch less player interaction and some added complexity.

Overall I really enjoyed it, and I'm excited to see how the player dynamics shift with three and four players instead of two. If I had one criticism, it would be the slight lost feeling that we both had while playing - unsure what to bid on, which method of scoring to aim for or prioritise, unsure how to judge how the other person was doing in terms of points. For the latter third of the game I thought I was definitely beaten because of how many magic points the other player had accumulated, without realising that my token set and the damage from my attack tokens was enough to make up that difference and put me in the lead by a single point. I'm hoping that with this will all become clearer with familiarity, and more strategic and planned moves will be possible.

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