Viceroy: Stunning Artwork, Delightful Mechanism, Dead Theme.

In Viceroy, you are struggling for power and control of the fictional, and difficult to pronounce, world of Laar, which according to the card art is one heck of a confusing place full of profoundly interesting people. In Laar, just like real life, power is all about networking and your personal connections. However, everyone else is vying for these connections as well. For that reason you bid on and recruit (snagging them from the grasping, greedy hands of other players) different personages to add to your personal pyramid of power. You can also support specific laws that help cement your rise to power. But you have limited time and space and your power is represented by a pyramid where you stack personages in varying heights in order to gain their influence and reward. The higher they are in your infrastructure the better your reward. At the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins.

The Game

  1. Designer: Yuri Zhuravlev
  2. Publisher: Mayday Games
  3. Number of Players: 1-4
  4. Ages: 10+
  5. Playing Time: 45-60
  6. Mechanic: Auction/Bidding, Bluffing, Negotiation (?)

The Rules

Your rise to power in Viceroy takes place over 12 rounds. In each of these round, the players will be bidding on the cards (personages) available in the market through a series of secret bids. Then during the second phase of the round players will have the option to play cards and pay the appropriate cost to place them in their pyramid.

Phase One: Auction

At the beginning of the game, each player gets a supply of gems that remain hidden behind their screens. These gems are the currency of the game. During the auction phase, when the player finds a card from market they wish to bid on, they secretly choose a gem of the corresponding color from their supply and cradle it within their delicate, bureaucratic, little fist. Now, if each player secretly bids a different color then everyone goes home happy and picks up their newly acquired card. However, if they chose the same color then they both lose their bids and have to repeat the auction (players that won a card don’t bid again, basking in their own ephemeral glory). Players can choose to pass and not bid. By doing so they get to take three gems from the supply. Once everyone has won a card or passed, any remaining cards are moved up in the market above their color. There are eight open spots in the market, two for each of four different colors so unwon cards can be bid upon the next round. This will mean that some gems will have two cards associated with it and thus if two people bid on it, they can hash out who gets what. Technically, both people could ride it out arguing over whose merits are higher but generally they just arbitrarily decide who takes what. Additionally, it is encouraged to negotiate through the bidding process. Mind you, this is a suggestion to which no-one ever pays any attention. Bidding is largely a somber and silent affair.

The auction mechanic of bidding simultaneously and simply (you can’t out bid anyone) does lead to a very quick phase without that annoying slow up-bid that many auction games have.

Phase Two: Development

During the next phase of the round, each player can add to their pyramid. Players place a card in front of them (or pass but without any benefit) and then simultaneously reveal the card. If players discard a card from their hand they get two gems from the supply. Each played card has a cost to play which is cumulative the higher you go in your power pyramid so one gemstone at level one, two at level two, etc. The player can then get the bonus provided by the card played. Bonuses increase the higher the card is placed in the pyramid but the bonuses are not cumulative. Law cards are free to place anywhere in the pyramid but obey the same building rule of having to be played on top of two lower cards. work a bit different and are free to play in any level.  Over three rounds of building, players can add up to three cards to their pyramid if they choose to.

The Review

Artwork: The components in Viceroy are stellar. My copy came with plastic gemstones and a mat for the auction. Both of which were nice additions but even without, the gem tokens are sturdy and the cards certainly high enough quality. The artwork is amazing. Gorgeous. Each card has a unique piece of artwork and the quality of the artwork is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it adds much to the enjoyment of the game but on the other hand it presents a promise never completely delivered — a highly thematic experience.

Mechanics over theme:  The theme is hardly there. The gameplay is smooth and flows well but you never feel anything throughout the game. Visually it makes sense, you are basically bribing notable figures and then granting them positions of influence in your power infrastructure. In return they provide you with a bonus benefiting the rank you provide. But it isn’t cutthroat. You are never really vying for the cards. One will generally work as well as another. It is stoic, multiplayer solitaire. But, that said, it is well crafted multiplayer solitaire. And if you like Dominion, 7 Wonders or Race for the Galaxy, then this will fall instantly into your wheelhouse. Otherwise, it will probably be too dry and too dull.

Multiple paths to victory and plenty of breathing room for strategy: Dull may be a harsh and unfair criticism of Viceroy. While there is very little interaction with other players, there are plenty of paths to take for victory. And if you enjoy trying new strategies, then you can certainly find something interesting for a few plays.  I loved the sliding action of the auction which allows itself to constantly refresh and provide more possibilities to add to your pyramid. But this still feels like a pair of really good mechanics which need a better game to put them together into more of an engaging experience.

Higher player count: This game is dull as dirt with two players. There is very little competition over cards and rarely will you lose a gem over a contested card. However, the competition increases with more players. If you can just give up on playing this game with two players; it simply isn’t worth it. There are far better two players games out there.  

The Rub

Viceroy is an gorgeous game with some unique mechanisms but is devoid of theme and player interaction. If you enjoy a solitaire game with friends or enjoy games with numerous scoring options and paths to victory, then Viceroy will work for you.  then you would likely be very happy. However, if you want any (and I do mean *any*) thematic integration in your games then pass this one by and hope that someone in the future takes the wonderful pyramid-building, color schemed mechanism and makes a game out of it. That said, the price point is low enough that I think it is worth taking a chance on.

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