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Reviewer: Chris from Essex
A 2-5 player game published by GRANNA and designed by Jan Zalewski
GRANNA and/or Jan Zalewski took a fair risk by publishing a game with the name CVlizations, obviously being read at first glance as Civilizations, for as most boardgamers know there are already a number of extremely popular games, board and electronic, that really have that title wrapped up.
The artwork for this game is in the style of animation, the sort of characters you would expect to see dancing around in a Pixar or Dreamworks movie, for CVlizations the Illustrator is Piotr Socha and a very fine job he has made of them.
So having established that we already know about the Avalon Hill, Eagle Games and Sid Meier’s versions of Civilization let’s open the box and peek inside. It’s quite a large box to hold the 90 cards, 60 wooden pieces, folded board and a collection of smiley-faced happiness tokens, but with so many boardgames arriving on the scene at regular intervals the size does count; it ensures reasonable face space on shop shelves.
The goal of the game is to have the most happiness when the game ends, so we are off to a jolly start; any game where happiness is the goal is always worth a look, then a second look and then a lot of looks.
The cards are split into several decks; 5 similar sets of 8 in player ID colours and a deck of 48 Idea cards split again into 2 separate decks of 32 Ideas for Ages I & II and 16 Ideas for Age III. The wooden pieces are a Gold Crown and a Silver Helm along with 3 sets of 20 Food (yellow) Wood (wood) and Stone (grey). With the pieces in place on the board the Players each take a set of cards, plus one Stone, one Wood and one Food, and the first player is the last one to have “held any kind of tool in their hand” (oh come on, grow up, stop chuckling right now).
The "3x" tokens are not used on their own. They are added to one other resource to make three resources of that type at times when there aren't enough single resource cubes available. Simply lay the 3x token flat and sit one of your resource cubes on top of it, thus the cube plus the token equate to 4 cubes of the same resource.
Games are played over 3 Ages, I, II & III, with a constant sequence of play: Order phase, Action phase, Development phase and Cleanup phase. At the end of the 3rd phase the game ends and the count up begins but because each collected card may give bonus happiness it is unlikely that you can recognise the winner until the count is made. In several games we have played one or two players have amassed a fair number of happiness tokens and looked to be heading for the win, but the bonuses from the cards have proven to outweigh the value of the tokens.
So what card collections am I chattering on about? Well the Ideas decks are placed on the board as a shuffled mix for Ages I & II and a separate deck for Age III and 4 cards are positioned face up as a display. These cards have a cost, in resources, on them, and that is what must be paid to collect them. The way players obtain resources to buy cards is a neat mechanic, easily explained and quick to determine.
In turn order each player lays down 2 of the cards from their hand, one face up, one face down. It is essential that the players do this in turns, noting what cards have been played by the others, so they can try to plan which cards to play. After each round the cards played are put aside and cannot be used until the next Age. As each Age lasts 3 Rounds this means that the players begin with a choice from 8 cards, then 6 cards and finally selecting 2 from 4.
The cards are numbered 1 through 8 and are actioned in that order. Apart from their colour ID all sets are the same, thus all #1s are Thieving and have the same effect, actually 3 effects, and which of those 3 effects are auctioned depends on how many players have chosen the same card. For example, with the Thieving card, if only one player selects it in a turn then they get to steal 1 resource from any player. However if 2 players select Thieving then they both get to steal 2 resources, each from different victims (many times this has meant that they steal from each other), but if three or more players have selected Thieving then nothing happens.
The cards are laid out the same as far as what triggers the effects but only 4 of them have “nothing” as the 3+ player effect, the other 4 cards give a reward, either a single resource or the chance to Trade resources. The Trading card is excellent but as it is #7 it cannot be used in association with the Doubling card as that is #8; the numbering of these cards shows that a lot of thought has gone into the design of this game.
Play is quick and fun and interesting. The card sets, in order, are: Thieving, Logging, Hunting, Quarrying, Cunning, Slacking, Trading and Doubling. Cards #1 -#7 can be used on their own whereas card #8 Doubling has to be used in conjunction with another card. Guessing (or knowing) when to play which card and what card to try to double the effects of, along with the blind card aspect, gives the game an element of bluff, then there’s the strategy of which Ideas cards to purchase, and also the memory aspect where you have to remember to use the abilities of those Ideas cards in your possession; all minor cogs that together are a major part of a well oiled engine.
The IDEAS cards may give Happiness when first collected, others may give it at the end of the game and others may not give Happiness, but give other rewards such as resources, or the ability to use other cards out of place; but whatever the effect it doesn’t come into play until the turn after you obtain it. Each time a player buys a card or cards from the display new cards are added from the deck. After the second Age the I & II cards are removed completely and the third Age (III) cards are brought into play.
Here’s a quiet word of warning for your first game. When we played our first game we read the rules, split the decks, shuffled them, and started to play, never taking the time to look through the differences between the decks. Then when we switched over to the third Age deck and displayed the cards our eyes bulged at the cost for them which was quite a lot higher than the cards in the first decks.
So what at first looks like a simple family game (which it can be played as) and possibly a bit silly due to the cartoonish artwork, is actually a 45-60 minute semi-strategy game that core gamers will thoroughly appreciate.
The two-player variants (yes I did mean variants in plural) introduce a third non-player tribe of Cave Geeks who are more spoilers than an actual full-blown third player.
I still think the game’s title could be misleading to anyone looking the renowned, popular games of similar heading and thinking this to be a revised edition. It has its own good, strong mechanic and it plays really well, all it requires is for a few players to try it and how good it is will spread quickly by word of mouth.