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Board Game Review – Vici

Vici BoxThere’s a place for luck in a game. I’m mostly fine with it being all over the place. But there’s also a time when you should not allow luck to take a flawless strategy and turn it into a clown car full of acrobatic bobcats on their way to a jazz flute convention.

Vici looks like it should be a successor to chess. It’s got strategy, clever moves, different pieces with special powers, careful maneuvering and other stuff that makes it a pretty smart-looking game. But it also has some painfully apparent flaws that kept me from wanting to play it again, despite being a good idea.

Vici is a two-player game, with no option for more, which I like because too many games try to present variants and replay options and special scenarios and let’s face it, there’s just no need to trick it up all the time. Vici is simple and straightforward – two rival commanders face off across a movement grid, each equipped with similar armies, and they then deploy those armies in whichever manner makes them believe they will be able to dole out a beating to the opponent. When one player can move a piece to the other player’s camp, he can place a token and block that space. Block five spaces, and you’ve beaten the other guy.

The difficult decisions start right out of the gate. You’re buying troops on a limited budget, with horsey guys costing a whole bunch more than sword guys or spear guys, and a little more than arrow guys, and each troop has different movement and battle capabilities. Should you react to your opponent’s cavalry with spear-carrying pikers, or set a screen to get your archers in place? Start off cheap with a wave of foot soldiers, or dive right in and go for the expensive guys first? The decisions are difficult because it’s important to make them correctly, so as not to wind up building a road of dead bodies for your enemy to follow into your house.

Sadly, that strategy isn’t particularly well-developed. You might have a good idea for a couple turns, but it’s not like you can decide on a course of action and follow it for the whole game. You’ll be switching it up every turn, which means that you’re missing that warm fuzzy you get when you build a plan and stick to it and watch it blow out your enemies like Conan’s birthday candles.

The best part of Vici happens right at the beginning of the game, when you’re jockeying for that first hit on your opponent’s camp. In a really good game, you’ll go back and forth, blocking moves and swapping hits to keep the whole thing tense and unpredictable. Unfortunately, if your opponent lands a hit and you don’t manage to keep up, you’re flat-out screwed. You have fewer places to deploy troops and fewer points to buy them, and once you’re behind in this game, you stay that way. It won’t take long to see the writing on the wall – and it says, ‘give it up, loser.’

But my biggest beef with Vici is the way it handles luck. You can plan and scheme and have an impeccable series of plays that results in a devastating advance, and then watch it all fall apart because you lose a fight you most certainly should not have lost. See, some guys are stronger against other guys – like, horsemen are better than footmen, and everybody beats archers if they can get up close and nasty. In those cases, I would have vastly preferred a system that said you only roll dice when your strength is equal, and when one player has a clear advantage, the other person just loses. Unfortunately, the way the dice work, you can easily win a fight you should have lost just because the dice throw you under a bus, and that makes me sad.

Vici can’t be the successor to chess because chess doesn’t ever have a thing where the queen rushes over to capture the pawn but the pawn pulls out a bazooka and blasts the queen into sandwich meat. Chess allows players to pit intellect against intellect, and the result is determined by skill alone. It doesn’t have you maneuver for a winning move, brilliantly drawing your opponent into a trap, and then have your entire brilliant plan dissolve because you rolled snake eyes. Vici, by comparison, has that.

When you combine Vici’s luck-based snafus with the tendency to allow an early lead to dominate, you wind up with a situation where one player might be better at the game, and gets utterly destroyed because the numbskull he plays is luckier. It’s a shame for a game with this much interdependent tactical brilliance and strategic possibility to be undone by a stupid die roll. As much as I enjoyed the beginning of the game, I was terribly disappointed when my lucky dice allowed me to win a battle I should have lost, then roll right over my opponent because I was now in an absurdly overpowered position.

Vici has some great ideas. If it goes back to the drawing board and enjoys a little more development, it could come back as a seriously impressive game. If that were to happen, I might play it again.

Summary

2 players

Pros:
Some really excellent ideas
Tactics and strategy that engage your brain
Very nice playing pieces

Cons:
It’s very difficult to recover if you fall behind
One unlikely roll can completely ruin a brilliantly played game

If you think you can throw a couple tweaks on Vici and make it rock your face off, you can pick up a copy from Game Salute here:

TO THE VICTOR GO THE GOOD DIE ROLLS

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