February 5, 2014 by crew
“Cry Havoc! Cry Havoc! And Let Slip the Dogs of War!”
These were the immortal words bellowed en masse by the hardcore collective at GenCon 2012 for the production of geek-comedy film The Gamers: Hands of Fate; a film depicting Sean “Cass” Cassidy’s (played by Brian Lewis) attempt to gain the attention and affection of Natalie Warner (played by Trin Miller) by learning and playing the game Romance of the Nine Empires, a fictional card game produced by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) for the film.
Okay… I need to take a few steps back.
The production company behind The Gamers, Zombie Orpheus, approached AEG and told them their idea of the film, the Kickstarter project to cover the film budget and that the fictional game of Romance of the Nine Empires was a spoof of AEG’s popular game Legend of the Five Rings. AEG and Zombie Orpheus agreed that a physical copy of the game should be made available as a pledge level in the Kickstarter scheme.
Upon further discussion, AEG noticed that there were similarities between Romance of the Nine Empires and a game they had created several years before – Legend of the Burning Sands. AEG honed and refined the game play from Legend of the Burning Sands and Romance of the Nine Empires was created.
So… this is a review article of a fictional CCG, which was the brain child of a film production company, spoofing an already in-production game in the catalogue of the real gaming company in the film, had similarities with an out of production game and brought into existence by internet crowdfunding and the gaming company that appeared in the film.
Got it? No?
Ok, let us “Cry Havoc! Cry Havoc! And Let Slip the Dogs of War!” and take a deeper look at Romance of the Nine Empires.
In the Box
Upon opening R9E, I was blown away by the sheer amount I got for my money; two rulebooks, a set of tokens and hundreds of cards to play the game. I made the further investment to buy packets of card sleeves and spent a good two hours in sleeving purgatory. The effort was worth the reward however; the artwork is incredible and protecting the text that tells players how to use the cards is important – wear and tear on any game component could fade text and ruin the card, which would annoy me as the owner.
The tokens fill the purpose they are designed for. They are great looking tokens and certainly fit the artwork on the cards but I would’ve preferred them to have been double sided instead of the matte black they are on the reverse. A friend I played with wished for the food tokens to have been barrel-shaped but another friend made the point that they could be easily lost; there are one hundred of these tokens, so losing one is very easy.
The main gripe I have with the contents is the rulebook. If any BoW fans read my Letters from Whitechapel review, poorly laid out, poorly written rulebooks is my main gaming pet peeve. With R9E, I have found a new level of rulebook hatred; complexity paralysis. A third friend of mine commented “this rulebook reads like a legal document… a legal document with comedy written into it”.
This was our first attempt at playing R9E so we began reading the “WAIT! READ ME FIRST!” version of the rulebook, but halfway through, my opponent was utterly swamped with text on the cards, game phases and turn order that were not clearly detailed in the quick start guide, so had to switch to the main book.
I am very relaxed gamer and happy to take things as they come and accept that I’ll misinterpret things as it’s all for learning the game and the experience of gaming. However my friend likes to digest rules completely so that the early games aren’t constantly interrupted by going back to, in the case of R9E, a biblical size rule set.
I definitely understand his perspective and I believe we are two sides of the same gaming coin, fighting for the same outcome but we were getting frustrated at the way in which the text was presented; the small font size, the long winded written examples of turn orders and the layout in some places just leads readers back to previous pages in this 20 page document.
Furthermore, the quick start guide suggests playing FOUR introduction games in order to grasp the game – that’s the largest tutorial I have ever seen. R9E needs a bullet pointed and pictoral document, breaking phases of the game down, to have at your side. If you have ever played/own a copy of Small World, something akin to the faction/race guides in that are of a great need for new R9E players, especially when the age range is 12 and up. It would take a determined 12 year old gamer to digest both whole rulebooks.
I recommend to anyone who purchases R9E, making a large tea or coffee and spending some serious time reading the rulebook. Even if mistakes are still being made in the early games you play, having spent time reading the rules so you know where to go to in the rulebook when a new player asks a question will save an immeasurable amount of time, instead of shouting at pieces of paper “WHERE ARE YOU RULES?!”
The gameplay for R9E is nothing like I have ever played before (take from that statement what you will upon first reading of it). It has elements of Magic: The Gathering, Warhammer: Invasion and The Lord of the Rings Card Game, all amalgamated together in unequal proportions. Sadly, I have never played Legend of the Burning Sands so I can’t comment on the progression between that game and R9E.
A game turn plays out like this; there are 4 phases in a turn, where 2 to 5 players conduct a shifting round-robin style of playing until each player passes their turn in each phase.
In the Spring phase (yes, the phases are the 4 seasons of weather) players reset any cards they have bowed (essentially this is AEG’s version of tapped, why they can’t write tapped on their cards is another discussion entirely) to straight. Woo, that was quick.
In the Summer phase starting with the denoted first player, which is marked by the fact he/she has “The Ordained” token by their side (the first player marker for that turn) players bring a variety of cards into play, whether they are property cards that give gold, quest cards that give renown and rewards, or heroes that conduct any manner of actions, including going on said quests, stealing food from opponents, or going into battle against your opponents forces. All of these actions can be performed in a non-strict turn order too, even to the point where a player could pass their turn, wait to see what their enemies do and then play a card. This calculation of strategy and risk VS reward aspect is something I love about this game, it adds such a high element of analysis from the players involved and takes it to a verbal discussion between players, negotiating whether to play cards on the dominant player in a multiplayer, or wait to see what your opponent does in a 1v1 scenario to play a card after them.
The Summer phase can certainly be the longest part of the game depending on how it’s played by you and your mates, but for me, it’s mostly down to the way in which battle is performed.
Battling your opponent(s) takes the game out of complete turn order and it feels like it creates a whole sub-section within the Summer phase of the game. It is complex from first reading of the rulebook; there are a lot of abilities that heroes can use in battle and cards that can be played mid-battle called tactics. When you finally work out exactly how much damage each force has done to resolve the battle, the game gets tangled up in so many game-centric phrases and steps, the resolution of said battle doesn’t give as much joy to the participants as it should; destroying your enemies units, or even castles, in a game of this quality and of this calibre should be of great joy, but at times it feels almost like administrative work.
In the Autumn phase of the game, the main action that is taken is raiding, which is essentially attempting to steal food from your opponents to keep your own empire going and thus, starving your opponents out. This is done by sending a hero to one of your opponent’s castles, they choose if they wish to defend and it’s a straight card draw, using what is called ‘Fate’, which is a simple highest-number-wins contest, using the values at the bottom of any given card. It’s simple, it’s suspenseful and can even be scuppered by opponents with relevant tactic cards.
The Winter phase is when successful raided food is sent from your food-thieving heroes to any castles and check for win conditions which can be either;
• Win by Conquest (destroying the last opponents castle in the game)
• Win by Domination (be the last one standing with food at their castles)
• Win by populous vote (complete enough quests to receive 50 renown points and three quests in the same turn)
Taking the Game to the Next Level
As well as receiving the five standard decks, Holden, Malchior, Ixhasa, Ord and Displaced, you receive loads of neutral cards that can aid players into creating their own deck. This is where I feel the game will progress for those people (including myself) who want to advance in their play style of R9E and adds longevity and replayability to it. There are also hints within the supplied cards of the expansions that are yet to come which greatly excites me. My main issue with expansions for games such as R9E is that they can go over the top; case and point, Warhammer Invasion’s seemingly endless cycles of cards. If the expansions provided for R9E stick to core decks and a few more neutral cards, it’ll certainly keep me happy, as opposed to a multitude of new tactics, quests, etc.
This, as well as how it was depicted in the film, is the main reason I bought R9E. It’s £27 and for me, that is an incredible price for 350+ cards and all the tokens. A lot of friends down at my local gaming store play Magic and they spend X amount of money on releases, new decks and boxes full of booster packs for the game. I personally find it crazy that people can spend so much on a game that has a very quick turnaround, with stacks of cards becoming obsolete every time a new edition is released. Yes, you can play old versions of the games with cards that were once current, but with the populous movement of players towards newer editions every new release, the return for investment to me doesn’t stack up. I’m not slandering Magic, I think it’s a good game, but the money cost for me, is insane.
Which is why I believe my initial £27 investment for a game stands up well against other CCG’s. Yes, expansions are coming. Yes, I had and will have to in the future, buy a ton of card protectors out of my own free will and yes the rules are clunky at first, but this is all par for the course of learning a new game, gaming ownership and being part of gaming culture. The Lord of the Rings Card Game was confusing at first and Race for the Galaxy took me about a dozen games to fully understand the synergy of it. In recent plays I completed the first two quests of LotR in 12 turns and have an almost eidetic memory for RftG cards and how they work. I’m not bragging about my gaming talent, my point is that it takes persistence with any game to learn the full range of it– to have that massive scope of learning ahead of me in a game worth £27 is a great challenge and one of great excitement for me.
In all honesty I can’t give a fixed score-out-of-X for R9E. It is like no other game I have ever played which is a bit of a double edged sword. There are points in the gameplay where I have celebrated, jumped for joy and loved some of the synergy between the cards. Then there are moments where the game is paused, sitting with the rulebook open or watching a friend pour through it and shake their head in frustration and become utterly bogged down by it all.
This game requires perseverance and passion for not only the franchise of The Gamers, the back stories and history of R9E (which is beautifully described in the fluff section of the rulebook) but a passion for these type of games too. If you are a purely boardgaming person and CCG’s/LCG’s haven’t crossed your path, don’t start your collection with this game. It is a sheer mountain of rules and text to climb and I worry that the design of the rulebook will put people off, especially young fans that have watched the film and have ideas to buy it which could result in the game resting under their beds or in their wardrobes.
If you are a fan of this style of games, I recommend R9E as a game to consider purchasing, because it will fill a hole in your gaming collection you didn’t know you had. The gameplay when ironed out and past all the complex rules is brilliant, the social aspect in multiplayer mode will have you placed between fits of laughter and utterly tense as a battle rages even when you’re on the sidelines watching, the history about the nine empires is captivating, each one standing out in a story arc of aiming for strategic dominance through different means is great.
The best thing for me is the history of the game itself; the idea of a film company, being made by a real game company purely because of an enthusiastic fan base funding a film is the story of modern gaming; Sentinels of the Multiverse expansions, Boss Monster and Cards Against Humanity are all games with varied styles of play but all possess the one thing in common required to actually exist; a growing and passionate fan base of gamers willing to hand over their money in order for them to exist – the fact that R9E now sits among this collective of games, makes me so happy. Every time I sit down to play R9E, I can channel the spirit of the mass audience, actors and extras of GenCon 2012 and…
“CRY HAVOC! CRY HAVOC! AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR!”
Box Contents – Morsecrossing
Faction Cards – MyParadox
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"With R9E, I have found a new level of rulebook hatred; complexity paralysis"
"Every time I sit down to play R9E, I can channel the spirit of the mass audience, actors and extras of GenCon 2012"