Rokoko

Design by Matthias Cramer / Louis Malz / Stefan Malz
Published by Eggertspiele / Pegasus Spiele
2 – 5 Players, 1 1/2 – 2 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Rokoko

Interested in designing stunning dresses and sharply-fitted suits for the upcoming gala ball?  At the risk of sounding sexist, I’d venture to say that such a task is not appealing to most men, and perhaps most women.  Unless one is in the fashion industry, this type of venture does not offer great appeal.  Yet, for many centuries, the occupation of tailor–particularly for the royal courts–was a prestigious and demanding position.

Rokoko is set in the era of Louis XIV, when lavish court balls and festivals were all the rage.  Players assume the role of tailors and seamstresses, attempting to design the most fabulous dresses and suits for their demanding clients.  Soon, however, you must help decorate the ballroom and provide funds for the gala fireworks show that will end the evening.  However, you cannot afford to ignore the nuts and bolts of your  business, as dresses and suits must be sold in order to finance these elaborate projects.

Rokoko is driven by a card selection and execution mechanism.  Each player receives an identical deck of five employee cards.  Each turn, they will select three of these cards, leaving the remainder in the unused deck.  The following turn, they must choose cards from that unused deck, only recycling previously used cards when the deck expires.  New cards will likely be acquired during the course of the game.  Unlike many deck-building games, these cards go directly into a player’s hand, so they can be used during the current round.  Choosing which cards to use each round is at the heart of the game and can present some tough choices.

Rokoko boardThe large board primarily depicts the king’s palace, with five distinct halls, each containing space for 5 – 10 revelers.  Revelers will be placed in these halls when a player completes a dress or suit for a client.  Other areas include the terrace (where revelers will be moved to view the fireworks show at game’s end), the workshop (where dresses and suits are made), warehouse (where bolts of cloth are available) and areas wherein players can support statues, fountains and other decorations for the ball.

Each turn players will select three cards from their unused employee deck.  Cards depict three main types of characters:  master, journeyman and apprentice.  The master can perform all six possible actions, while the journeyman and apprentice are more limited.  Further, some of the cards–particularly those that may be acquired during the game–will have special actions that the player may perform in addition to the standard six actions.

The six standard actions are:

Claim the Queen’s Favor.  If this card is still available, the player claims it, gaining 5 Livre (money) and will become the start player for the next round.  At game’s end, possession of this card grants 3 victory points.

Acquire Resources.  The warehouse depicts three segments, each containing four cloth tiles.  Cloth tiles depict one, two or three bolts of cloth and/or possibly yarn and lace.  Cloth comes in four colors (yellow, blue, red and green) and is required for the manufacturing of dresses and suits.  The player may acquire one tile, the cost of which varies from zero-to-two Livre and is based on how many tiles are in that particular segment.

When a tile is acquired, the player may opt to keep it, using the cloth at a later time to manufacture a dress or suit, or surrender it immediately to take the number of yarn or lace markers depicted.  Many dresses require yarn or lace, so keeping a supply of these is handy.

Make a Dress.  Only the master and journeyman may perform this task.  The player may select one of the nine dresses / suits located in the workshop, surrender the appropriate colors of cloth, yarn and lace, and pay the indicated amount.  The cost varies from zero for the dresses in the first two slots to a hefty 8 Livre.  The dress / suit is removed from the workshop, and the player must make an immediate choice:  sell the dress for income (as listed on the tile) or rent the dress to a patron.

If the player opts to rent the dress / suit, it is placed onto a vacant space in one of the palace halls and is marked with the player’s token.  Some spaces grant immediate rewards (money, yarn, lace or a resource tile), while others require that the dress have been made by a master.  Another incentive when placing the dress / suit tile is that majority bonuses will be awarded to the player who has the most patrons in a hall.  Thus, players should try to obtain first or secondary positions in as many halls as possible.

Further, a bonus is available to the first three players who place a patron in all five halls.  This bonus ranges from 2 – 8 points and is worth achieving.

Hire a New Employee.  Each turn four new employees are available for acquisition.  These employees fall into the same three basic categories, but usually offer additional rewards and/or benefits.  The cost varies from 0 – 5 Livre and is based on the number that are remaining.  As mentioned, the card goes directly into a player’s hand, so it can be used during the same turn.

Acquiring new employees gives players more options, but as a player’s deck grows, it takes longer for a specific card to become available again.

Depute your Employee.  Confession:  I didn’t know the meaning of the word “depute”, so I had to consult a dictionary.  According to one dictionary, the word means to “assign or appoint as a substitute”, while another dictionary says it means to “dismiss.”  The latter definition seems applicable here, as a player may remove one of his employee cards from the game.  Not only does he trim his deck, he will also receive a financial rewards (4 – 10 Livre) as indicated on the card.

Fund a Decoration.  There are numerous decorations in the palace that can be funded.  Doing so will earn the player prestige points at game’s end.  The cost varies considerably, ranging from 6 -30 Livre.  It is very important to fund the fireworks decoration spaces on the balcony, as players will be able to move patrons to these locations and earn a considerable amount of prestige points.

A round ends with players collecting income, which has a base of five, but can increase by various acquisitions and achievements during the game.  Having a steady flow of income is necessary in order to accomplish the making of dresses, funding of decorations, and acquisition of resources and new employees.

The game concludes after the 7th round after which a final scoring is conducted.  Points are scored in a variety of fashions, including money and certain employee cards.  The bulk of the points will be derived from majorities in the halls, decorations, patrons and having patrons on the terrace.  Patrons are moved to the terrace if a player has sponsored fireworks decorations.  The more expensive decorations yield more points, serving as a greater multiplier of the dress’ value.  The calculation of prestige points is a bit time consuming and somewhat confusing, and the fact that all points are earned at game’s end makes it difficult to ascertain who is winning during the course of the game.

I admit that I have bemoaned designers’ repeated use of the same, tired themes.  I’ve had enough of medieval merchants, castle and city building, dragons and dwarves.  I certainly cannot level that complaint against Rokoko, as the theme is quite unique, albeit perhaps a bit off-putting for he-men macho gamers (are there many of those?).  My advice is to get past any initial hesitation due to theme, as the game itself is outstanding.

I adore games that present players with an abundance of choices, and Rokoko excels in this department.  There are tough choices involved in nearly every facet of the game:  card and action selections, resources, dresses / suits, decorations, new employees, etc.  Timing also plays a critical role, as dastardly opponents can often scoop the dress / suit you coveted or beat you to a desired hall location to capture a bonus or majority status.  Grabbing the Queen’s Favor card in order to go first in a round is often a wise move.

Rokoko was deservedly named as a finalist for the Spiel des Jahre, as it truly is one of the best games of the year.  Tough decisions abound, and there appear to be numerous paths to victory.  It combines deck-building, resource and hand management, proper timing and clever decisions into a tightly knit game that is fit for a king.

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:

Patrick Brennan: A standard gather resources and build VP earning stuff with it type game, but it’s nicely put together. 7 rounds. 3 actions per turn, plus another for card you buy that round. It’s a first in-first served game, so the pressure is on to notice what other people are collecting, and either get to the dresses you want first or go for something else. Dresses are a means of you putting your pawns out into an area majority process for end-game scoring, which will serve as the basis for most points. There’s a bunch of other ways to score points to give it a bit of smorgasbord feel, either via card powers or on “decorative” spots where you can just put out a pawn in a straight money for points way. Scores will inevitably be close as a result. The 7 rounds are just a means of re-setting the things you can buy, as your area-majority board presence keeps building and you can carry over resources between rounds. The basis of taking actions is using your hand of employees, who start out pretty basic. Each turn a new set of employee cards are available for purchase which will give you a souped up power each time you play it. The further you get into the game, the more souped up they are, but of course you haven’t as many turns to play them. Another action is to trash your more basic employee cards to earn money and thin your deck, allowing you to get thru your hand quicker and get to do your more powerful cards again. What I really liked about this mechanism is that the cards with the great powers can only do the more basic actions (collect resources, build basic dresses, convert money directly into points). Cards with no, or more basic, powers need to be kept to allow you to do the powerful actions (get more employees, build the better dresses and the like). Very neat, and interesting decisions all through the game on how to choose your hand each turn (for the powers or for the more powerful actions) and how and when and if to acquire more. Because those actions to improve your deck are at the cost of actually doing the actions that get you points … collecting the resources to build the dresses on offer and building them. Stuff to explore there. It’s a game of being mindful what others are doing, with interesting decisions along the way on how to earn your VPs most efficiently in such a way that you will be least impacted by other players. A game of quiet observation, but an efficiency game none-the-less, which is not for all. But it’s very tidily done.

Jonathan Degann:  I agree with Patrick that the core mechanism of collecting resources to spend on VP’s is tired, and yet the game comes together very well.  There are enough other things going on – both in the resource collection, and the choice of what to spend them on, that the game keeps you on your tippy toes.  Cards that you’d want to add to your deck might offer lots of choices, but weaker ones will give you very nice bonuses.  Now that you’ve chosen the “weaker” card, you have to time the use of your more powerful ones carefully.  Once you build a dress, there are conflicting considerations on where to place it (or whether to sell it for cash) as you’ll now get into various “area control” battles.  It’s not blazingly fresh, but I’ve enjoyed every game of it I’ve played.

Larry (3 plays):  While there isn’t anything very innovative about Rococo, it’s quite an enjoyable game.  There’s a little bit of deckbuilding involved, but it doesn’t dominate and I find it’s easier to predict the effect of it than in something like Dominion.  There’s a lot of other design elements and they all fit together very well.  I have yet to play a Matthias Cramer game that I don’t like, which is quite an enviable record.

Mary Prasad (1 play): I’ve been meaning to play this again (and write a review, but Greg beat me to it!). I enjoyed the first play very much. I usually don’t like area control games but the cards choices and other game mechanisms keep it interesting. I’ll have to see if I like it as much with repeated plays. I think it has a nice blend of mechanisms that will probably make repeated play interesting. The game is really beautiful and the bits are high quality.

Ratings:

4 (Love it!):  Greg J. Schloesser, Mary Prasad
3 (Like it): Doug Garrett, Patrick Brennan, Jonathan Degann, Larry Levy
2 (Neutral): Mark Jackson
1 (Not for me): Joe Huber

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About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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