Before I begin, I was provided with a prototype copy in exchange for a review, this i snot a paid review. Please note that the game may undergo revisions after this review is published. If you would rather check out a video about this game you can check it out below. You can also learn more here.
You cannot invoke the name of Machiavelli without dropping a LOT of expectations on a game. After all, this is a man widely credited with promoting and perfecting unscrupulous politics, and committing of horrible acts in the name of political expediency. Now, enter Makiavelia, a game with adorable art, and very simple game play.
I first was interested in trying Makiavelia out when I saw the art work. I find it to be absolutely delightful, and the tag line “Wealth, power, and mustache.” makes me smile each time I see it. However, I must admit that when the game arrived, and I looked over the rules I was bumfuzzled. Why? Well the game is really simple and fairly straightforward. It does not seem, on the surface to be at all Machiavellian.
In the game all players will be drawing from a specifically set deck in the center of the table, the market. The market includes buildings, influence, and army cards. You will “building” these in your cities, as your city tableau grows, so too will your power. Each turn is broken into two phases. There is the action phase where each player gets to take two of the following actions : Draw a card, build a card, attack another player.
Drawing a card and playing a card is self explanatory, while attacking is slightly more complicated. To attack you add up the dice provided by your armies, select a player to attack, roll the dice (they have a 50-50 chance of inflicting a wound), then assign the damage to that players city however you like. After all players have taken their turns damage is resolved.
This brings us to the second phase of each round. The Negotiation phase. This is where the intrigue moments can occur. You add up each city’s power score, then players can form regimes together. In other words they can team up. However, here is the thing, these regimes break at the end of each round, so loyalty is truly just a word in this game. There is nothing stopping a player from agreeing to ally with someone at the beginning of the negotiation phase and then dropping their supposed ally when another player makes them a better offer.
You see, at the end of the day the game is all about money. Whichever regime has the most power gets to collect a set number of coins from the bag, these coins have random values assigned. Prior to the negotiation phase wrapping up the regime that is winning will have determined who gets how many coins…this is really the only thing that you cannot lie about. You play until the market deck is empty, the player with the most money wins.
So what do I think?
I really like the art. It is unique, it is fun, it makes me happy. I also enjoy the simple gameplay, and ease of teaching the game. The cards have good variety of abilities, and while a few seem like they might be a bit more powerful than the others, overall the balance is good. However, where the game really shines is in the negotiation phase. That is where things get interesting. This is where you can be Makiavelian, and do whatever it takes to get those coins. Go ahead and ally with someone three rounds in a row, just until you have enough power to obliterate their city and leave them to be eaten by the dogs of war. No seriously do it! Their tears are so sweet.
I think that there are definitely some cards that are better than others, and can definitely give a huge advantage to a player. I do not list this as a “bad” thing because I do feel that might be part of the design. If someone has one of these units, then it just might be time for everyone to gang up on them and crush them like the bugs they truly are. Next some people might find the dice “swingy”. It does not bother me, but it is possible to go in with an overwhelming amount of force, only to roll not hits at all.
I will also add here, that this is an aggressive game. This is not a game for care bears. To be honest if you are not stabbing your friends in the back, you are probably doing it wrong.
My only real complaint is with the set up. It takes an inordinately long time to set the market deck. It requires you to separate out the three types of cards, then shuffle them, then layer them into a market deck. Not shuffle them, layer them. I am sure this is so you can, in theory have an idea of what kind of card the players after, and before you are drawing…but it does make the set up take, what feels like a long time, for what is a fast paced game.
My second quibble has to do with the characters. Each player gets a ruler that they are ostensibly playing. This is fine. I just wish that there was something special about them, something to make them slightly unique. Maybe it is a once per game power or whatever. I feel like it is a missed opportunity here.
Bringing it all together
Makiavelia is a quick, simple game of backstabbery, and greed. It has delightful artwork, and does manage to live up to the name reference more than I would have thought such a simple game could. The game shines when you start to negotiate with other players, only to make a change at the last minute. Some people might find the game a bit “swingy” and I was bummed that the different characters were different only in artwork.
I could have read The Prince faster than this
* Fast, simple game that shines when you start to stab each other in the back
* Delightful art
* Set up takes longer than is ideal
* Clear rules, clean iconography and text on cards