Sunday, February 24, 2008

Board Game Review - Intrigue

Game Summary (from rule book): "You begin the game with a palace (encompassing 4 areas) and 8 scholars in your color. You send your scholars to foreign palaces and try to place them in high-salary positions. In order to successfully apply for positions at other palaces (and try to ensure a higher income), you must convince the palace owner of your scholar's excellent qualities. Competition for each position is fierce, and even a hired scholar can be replaced. Everything is allowed -- a little bribe under the table, promises, threats, persuasiveness, and flattery -- and every promise can be broken.

You make money in 2 ways during the game. You collect wages from all of your scholars employed in other players' palaces. You also make money from the bribes that you collect every time someone applies for a position in your palace.

The player with the most money -- collected by whatever means possible -- after 5 rounds wins the game!"

Intrigue is, well, interesting, to say the least. Once you get the game play down, it is very simple. There are only three things to do during your turn: collect the salary for your scholars working in other players' palaces, which is over in a few seconds; decide who to hire in your palace, which is where you'll spend most of your time; and send two of your own scholars to any of the other players' palaces.

The second action is where things get interesting. After people apply to your palace, you get to decide how much they get payed, and which player's scholars get hired when two are vying for the same position. To help you decide, those applying grease the wheels with a little cash, as well as try to wheel and deal to convince you that their scholar should be hired, and at a good pay. But the catch is, it doesn't matter what deals you make or bribes you take: nothing's permanent and every promise can be broken. This creates some very tense moments in the game.

I played with fellow Hobsonian Drew, his girlfriend Kelsey and her roommate, Kat. This, I felt initially, put me at a slight disadvantage, because Drew and Kelsey might work together, and the same might hold true for Kelsey and Kat. However, as I was delighted to discover, the game was so good at creating bad vibes between players that I needn't have worried about pre-game alliances. All it takes is one deal going south for you after you've just forked out for a hefty bribe to realize all bets are off in Intrigue. Thankfully, we all went into the game knowing that's what it was, a game, so there was no lasting harm, even after all of us were back-stabbed by those we trusted. Perhaps even because of it: everyone betrayed everyone else, so there were no hard feelings.

The game was well balanced throughout, and even at the end, when we were only going to get one or two more payouts from our scholars' jobs, it was still very competitive in terms of who would be hired and who banished to the island, although the bribes were a bit smaller. There were all sorts of deals, which were then completely ignored once one person realized the other would be unable to do anything in retribution. It was also interesting to see how being betrayed (or betraying) didn't really affect how you interacted with each other later. If you needed to make a deal to get one of your scholars into a high-paying spot, you made it, even if you had just had the rug pulled from under you last turn. The game is not about trust, but about manipulation, and as such, I enjoyed it very much (even though I lost).


Drew said...

It was a very awesome game indeed! I didn't expect Kelsey to win because she was never pulling in a very large salary, but because she took in so many large bribes and because she didn't make very many large bribes, she wound up thumping us soundly!

It was also so sweet to do so much backstabbing to everybody. It just felt right to make intricate deals with people, and then completely violate the terms of them when it came time for you to uphold your end of the deal. I can't describe how great it felt to set people up and then go turncoat to suit your own needs.

The low playtime was also very nice, but I am not sure I would want to play two games of that in a row. It worked out well for us to move on to another game afterwards though because we still had the time.

Kat said...

I second the awesomeness of this review.

An excellent game for people who are already friends. How crazy would it be to jump in on a game of this with mostly people you hadn't met before? "Hi, my name is Kat. I'm going to lie and cheat and you have to decide if you can trust me!"

It would be a psychologically bizarre party ice breaker. Something makes me want to test this out...

Jeremy said...

It would be fun to try and get a group of people together and have it so that no one knew each other, but that sort of makes it hard to get people to play, when you don't know them. "Hey, wanna come play a game with a bunch of strangers where you will lie and bribe and betray each other?" If only ... :)