Now for Something Really Old: Troyes

(Note: Obviously this game isn’t that old, but it was a review I wrote awhile ago, and it slipped through the cracks for posting. So, pretend this game came out a million years ago, even though it came out at Essen 2010. You know, with the speed games are coming out now, it almost feels that way…..)

Troyes Review

I love this game. Let’s get that out of the way. I know a lot of people are claiming JASE (Just Another Soul-less Euro) with this one, and it certainly does not have that wonderful thematic feeling that some are looking for in their games. But, for me, it provides scads of really interesting decisions and strategies, while including dice (which I love when done well) and a variability that really amps up the replayability. I adore the art, on the cards as well as the board, and it scales well for player number. Lets talk about the mechanisms:


Designed by: Sebastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, Alain Orban
Published by: Pearl Games, 2010
Playing time: 90 minutes
Ages: 12 and up

Summary:

Troyes is about defending and building up a city. Its also a game about getting the most vps. The players have meeples, coins and influence to put to various uses gaining those vps. There are events, cards, actions and dice that come in three colors that correspond with the three main areas of city life: white-religion, red-military, yellow-civic. The game is played over a variable number of turns based on player count, and in each round the following phases happen:

0. Reveal action cards: This is where most of the replayability comes in. During the main action phase (coming up) players spend dice to do actions. The cards each contain a possible action. Each game, three random cards of each color are chosen to be the actions for that game. One of each color is revealed at the beginning of each of the first three rounds. The three areas of three cards each, above, show the action cards. More on this later. (Yes, the game numbers this phase with a “0”.)

1. Pay your dudes: Players have meeples hanging out in buildings of each of the three colors. Each needs to be paid, but luckily, the game provides a 10 coin subsidy for your payroll. Guys in the red building cost 2 apiece, white are 1, and the yellow building guys are free. You get the remainder from the 10 bucks to use on your turn.

2. Roll some dice: You get to roll 1 die for each meeple, matching up colors. Place them in the middle of the board, in your little section, to indicate that they are yours. The game has some neutral meeples that can occupy the buildings, and any dice they are entitled to are rolled as well.

3. Events: The other main source of variability are the events. Each turn a red event is added to the existing queue of events, as well as either a yellow or white one. Now all the events are carried out. Most of them are bad for the players, with a substantial portion of those simply adding to the invading forces of Troyes. The invading forces work like this: the events that add to the forces show a number of black dice. Gather up and roll those dice. Now, it is up to the players to defeat these dice, using the dice they rolled earlier. Each player is required to defeat at least the largest die remaining, and then passes on the responsibility clockwise around the table. Defeating a die means simply discarding dice with enough pips to match the value on the die. One big note though, red dice count double for the players. (They are the military dice, remember?)  A player does gain 1 influence per die defeated for his/her trouble.

4. Actions: Here is where the magic happens. In turn order, players do one action, round and round, until all the dice are used up, or everyone has passed. There are two pieces to doing an action; gathering the dice you want to use, and then applying them to an action.

Gathering the dice uses one of the really clever bits of the game, as well as one of the most luck-mitigating. Players use their own dice, or can pay others to use theirs. The unit cost of using someone else’s die is based on the total size of the group to be used, not the number bought. Its a little unintuitive at first, but works within the structure of the game. So, I can buy Billy’s red die for 2 coins if I use it by itself to do something, but if I add my own 2 red dice to the action, I need to pay Billy a whopping 6 coins. Then, I use my group of dice to do an action. Most actions take the following form: Add up the total on the dice, divide by X (X being specified on the action) and then do the action that number of times. So, a bigger total is usually better.

There are inherent actions available all the time, plus the actions on the action cards from Phase 0 above. Here is a list:

  • Build Cathedral – Spend dice to place cubes in the corresponding columns for points and influence.
  • Get Money – Spend yellow dice, divide by 2 to get some coins.
  • Fight Events – Each event specifies a color, the divide by number, how many times it must be hit to be eliminated, and some vps for doing so. These usually take red dice, but not always. If events are not eliminated, they continue to happen, so you might fight some events that are particularly bad for you. You also get influence for your trouble.
  • Place Meeples in Buildings – Spend exactly 1 die to place a meeple in a building, often kicking someone else out. This will allow you to roll an additional die in the following turn, at the cost of its salary.
  • Action Cards – The cards require dice of a particular color, and follow the same “add up and divide by X” framework, with an additional requirement. Before the first time you try this action, you must occupy the card with a meeple, which costs coins. This meeple will earn points at the end of the game, and allow you to do this particular action for the rest of the game, at the cost of more dice, of course. These cards form the meat of your strategies, and are different each game. Some examples are below:


(Spend up to 3 yellow dice. Divide the total by 2 to see how many activations you get. Receive 2 coins per activation. Before doing that, you would need to spend 4 coins to place a meeple on the card, occupying the 2 or 1 vp space, if available. That then gives you the ability to use this card as an action at any point later in the game.)

(Spend up to 3 white dice, and divide the total by 3. Put that many cubes of your color on this card, as noted by the sandtimer icon. Later in the game, you can spend one of those cubes to treat a single white die as 3 yellow dice of the same value, to do a yellow action.)

These actions can get a little complicated, but they form the heart of the game, allowing some inventive combinations and strategies.

  • Pass – Passing earlier can earn you some cash, so that you don’t have to pass early next time.

5. End of Round: Once each person passes, or the dice run out, there is some cleanup, and we start over again.

Role of Influence: What do you do with these influence points we’ve been talking about anyway? Three things, 2 of which help with “bad” dice rolls.

  1. Spend 2 to gain a meeple. You know those meeples you place in buildings and on cards? You need more than your starting allotment, usually, and they come at the cost of influence.
  2. Spend 1 to roll one of your dice. Self explanatory, though sometimes its hard to remember that you cant buy someone’s die, then roll it.
  3. Spend 4 to flip 3 dice to their opposite sides.

End of Game. After the game is over, players earn a few vps for some end game bonuses. These bonuses are different from game to game, and each bonus category is only known by one player. They generally reward leftover gold, leftover influence, meeples on cards, meeples on buildings, etc. Stuff like that.

(Bonus example: Points are awarded for cubes in the Cathedral.)

Impressions:

Definitely my favorite game of Essen 2010. I mentioned the variability from game to game quite a few times, and it is certainly true. The different actions available to the players really does make a huge difference in the feel of the game. Have some great money making actions out? Then people will be awash in money and will be buying each others’ meeples left and right. If not, then players might focus more on having their meeple in buildings to build up their own stock of dice.

The money, meeple, and dice relationships are interesting. It costs 0-2 coins, plus a meeple, each turn to have a die to roll and “own”. At the least, that die, if used, will make you 2-6 coins back if someone buys it from you, so that they can use it. Yellow dice make on average a little less than 2 coins when used to obtain coins directly. So, barring all the various uses on cards and such, buying red dice from others, at least at the 1 or 2 dice level, seems like a good idea, while having yellow dice bought from you isn’t bad at all.

While some are turned off by the dice altogether, I think Troyes is a great example of the myriad of ways to mitigate dice luck. Higher valued dice are generally better, but:

  1. High valued dice have a tendency to get bought from you by others, and you are welcome to purchase their prized dice as well.
  2. Influence can be used to reroll or flip over your dice, to increase their value. It is important to remember that these actions can only be used on your dice, not the ones you buy. So, buy the high value dice from others, let them be sad when you have no high ones to buy back, then use your influence to bulk up your dice and do some mega-awesome action.
  3. When all else fails, low value dice are great for claiming spaces in the dice-producing buildings. Spend a die this turn, roll another die next turn, and thereafter, till you get kicked out of the building.

These aspects really focus the game on the strategy and choices, rather than the luck of the roll, for me.

I can’t say enough about the art and design of this game. Alexandre Roche did an amazing job with this game. Everything is clear yet detailed. The motifs are consistent, and the colors really make this game stand out on the shelf, and when played. The fact this style is continued on in Tournay is almost enough by itself to make me buy, outright.

Troyes certainly has a bit of a learning curve. The iconography is pretty consistent, but a little wonky to understand at times. New players are eased into the action system, with only 3 new actions per turn, for 3 turns. But once all 9 are out there, I have seen some glazed looks. Its not immediately intuitive how to get out of a hole, when all the high valued dice are gone. VPs are not immediately apparent either. There is lots to do, but often I find myself saying “Why am I doing this, it doesn’t help me get VPs.” So, not getting lost in all the cool things you can do is important. I don’t think this game is for any AP prone people. One last bit that I don’t love is the hidden end game bonuses. The idea is that if you see a player going for lots of influence, for example, you might grab some as well, as you think they have the knowledge that there will be a bonus for that. In practice, I have not seen this behavior at all. You make sure you hit certain thresholds in the bonus areas, and hope for the best.

But, altogether, with the variability from game to game, the sheer amount of possibilities, the gorgeous production and art, and the funky, unintuitive use of dice, and the player interaction, Troyes is a huge keeper for me.

Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers:

Larry Levy: (3 games)  There’s no question that Troyes is a quality design and a very clever one at that.  I love innovative dice games and this one has a ton of good ideas.  The ability to buy your opponents’ dice really goes a long way toward eliminating the luck factor invariably present in games of this type.  Being able to purchase modifications for your own dice is also very good, as is the way you can reserve positions on Activity cards early in the game.  This latter concept allows players to set up a strategy, which is very atypical for a dice game.  So there is no shortage of innovation.

However, while I quite like the game, there are other concurrent designs that I gravitate toward more.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that there may be a bit too much to think about during play for my tastes.  There are a lot of possibilities on your turn–almost too many–and at first I found this quite overwhelming.  I no longer feel that way, but I now deal with it by choosing a strategy and playing it for all its worth.  That’s fine, but the strategy space is such that I don’t feel like I’m optimizing anything, just going with a promising candidate and then trying to execute it as well as I can.  It would be more satisfying if I felt I had more of a grasp of the best ways to proceed.

The bland theme doesn’t help matters either.  I’m sorry, but yet another game about constructing nameless buildings in yet another obscure medieval town isn’t going to excite anyone who isn’t intimately familiar with that town and I have to think there are very few people outside of France who fit that description.  It’s not a huge deal, because for me, gameplay strongly trumps theme, but jeez, a lot of these recent themes are getting tiresome.  Unlike Lucas, I’m also not that big a fan of the artwork.  It’s distinctive and kind of cool in a weird way, but I would have been happier if there was less of it on the cards to make room for more descriptive iconography.  So the theme and artwork both push me away a little bit.

I suspect that if I played Troyes more often, I would gain more of an appreciation for it.  But that leads to a bit of a chicken and an egg thing, as fewer plays lead to less desire and there’s never any shortage of other games to play.  Maybe I should make an effort to get it to the table a few weeks in a row so that I can clarify the way I feel about it.  For now, though, it’s a good game that I enjoy, with the bonus of feeling different from any other game I know.  Not bad at all and I continue to be a strong admirer of co-designer Xavier Georges’ abilities.

Nate Beeler: (3 plays) Here I am again, the lone voice of dissent.  The first time I tried Troyes I thought it was great, a clear winner.  Yeah, some bad luck with the dice rolls and the card flips took some of the edge off.  But there was a lot going on here to get excited about.  There were new mechanisms, dice that you could control a bit, and a fair bit of look ahead.  Then I played again, and once again dice continued to foil my plans (not just my rolls, mind you, but everyone’s).  Bad event cards at bad times continued to plague me.  I could see quality in the game; there were many strategies and tactics to explore.  I wanted to like it.  With a bit more trepidation I played a third time, and it was more of the same: a lot of careful planning and (what felt like) clever play ruined by dice not being there or being taken away by cards when I needed them.  After that, I had seen all I needed to.  The game is probably as great as everyone says it is, but it’s not for me.

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: I was, like a lot of other gamers, someway hit by this title and by the hype around it. Anyway, otherwise from 7 Wonders, that showed to be a real hit and got my table several times, Troys don’t really have the number to break out from the big numbers of “good”titles. Probably there are other titles I prefer in the “dice manager” category and Troyes lack something special. In this years of really huge amount of games releases it seems that good mechanics, theme and graphics is not anymore enough … a game needs something more. Anyway a really good debut for Pearl Games and, of course, I’m really interested in looking for they next releases.

Patrick Korner: I like Troyes but it’s a tempered like. I still think there is a strong start player advantage, as not all dice are created equal and getting to choose first more than once is a big deal. Essentially, going last in a multiplayer game is a real disadvantage, and nothing I’ve seen in my 5 plays of the game has made me change my thinking. That out of the way, there is much to admire here. The way Troyes takes worker placement and adds dice on top is very cool, and I find myself enjoying the game quite a bit. I’m looking forward to seeing what Tournay brings to the table at Essen.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers for Troyes:

I love it! …………….Lucas Hedgren, Ted Alspach, Rick Thornquist
I like it ………………Dale Yu, Larry Levy, Patrick Korner, Brian Yu, John Palagyi, Doug Garrett, Jonathan Franklin, Brian Leet
Neutral ……………..Valerie Putman, Tom Rosen, Patrick Brennan, Mary Prasad, Mike Siggins, Andrea “Liga” Ligabue, Lorna
Not for me …………Nate Beeler

About Lucas Hedgren

Lucas Hedgren likes playing, designing, reading about, thinking about, and writing about games.
This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Now for Something Really Old: Troyes

  1. Ben (chally) says:

    Nice review, Lucas.

    I enjoyed Troyes a fair bit when it first came out. But, like Le Havre, I think it’s a game I admire more than I want to play. The use of dice is creative and is implemented in a way that more-than-offsets my normal dislike of the device. I also think that the combinatorial aspects of the game’s design were well-constrained and balanced with alternative points-generating routes, allowing for play that doesn’t involve perfectly optimizing the synergy of card powers (for this reason, I was a bit surprised by Larry’s description of the game’s strategy space as “overwhelming,” knowing his appreciation for much more open-ended optimization games, such as Ora et Labora). Perhaps most importantly, it is a beautiful example of thematic integration, a concept that too often gets short shrift in the Eurogame communities. Every action and interaction has both a thematic and mechanical purpose that blend seamlessly. The thematic narrative tells me both what to do and why to do it, without superfluous chrome, while the game’s design ensures that theme-driven gameplay choices are also the strategically sound ones.

    Troyes’s fatal flaw for me what that game lacks flow. The phase changes, which Lucas described quite well, felt dramatic and halting. Each turn, I wanted to just roll the dice and play, but the two ends are perpetually interrupted by flipping new events, rolling black dice, flipping activity cards, and paying income. While I suspect that most players won’t be bothered by this, I found the lack of fluidity offputting. If the designers had chosen to do a few small things differently, I think this would have jumped from “Like it” to “Love it” for me. As it stands, I see it as a game worth owning, but sadly one that never gets played.

  2. Matt J Carlson says:

    I enjoyed my play of Troyes, but the ending left me something to be desired. The last few turns I took, I could see there was a runaway leader (I was second I think), but due to my position in turn order there was no way I could hamper the leader’s continued success. (I couldn’t buy his dice before he used them, couldn’t block his dice use ahead of time, etc…) So I just felt that the last 2 or 3 turns were wasted waiting for things to end while the leader continued to pull away…. never a good feeling for a first play. Hopefully, further plays might help me plan ahead better to prevent such a thing, but we’ll have to see…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s