Design by Reiner Knizia & Sebastian Bleasdale
Published by Ystari Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 hour
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
With a name like “Prosperity”, you would think this game would be an economic game of high finance with the goal being to amass the largest personal fortunate as possible. Not exactly. Rather, players assume the roles of emerging nations who must invest in infrastructure and industry in order to pull their nation out of third world status and into the realm of economic giants. However, one must also be concerned about the environmental impact of such progress lest pollution create a hazardous atmosphere, making life there far from desirous.
For such an elaborate theme, the game is actually easy to learn, but quite challenging to play well. Each player receives a board that has space for up to eleven technology tiles. Several are pre-printed on the boards, so players do not begin from scratch. Players will place newly acquired technologies onto this board, sometimes covering existing technologies in their quest to move their nation forward. The boards are double-sided, offering different start-up options and difficulty levels. The board also provides charts wherein players track their energy, ecology and pollution levels, as well as helpful but cryptic charts listing the possible actions and final scoring sequence.
The central Research board serves to track players’ progress in both energy and ecology research, as well as their prosperity (victory) points. Technology tiles are set in rows beside both sides of the research tracks, and players must progress to the appropriate levels in order to purchase various tiles. Of course, tiles at the higher levels are more valuable, but can cost more and require players to make tremendous progress on the appropriate research tracks. The game begins with twelve tiles beside each track, two on each level.
Technology tiles are at the heart of the game, so they warrant some explanation. Tiles are divided into separate stacks by decade, ranging from 1970 – 2030. Each tile depicts a unique advancement–solar power station, internet data center, atmospheric filtration, etc.–but unfortunately this is not named on the tile. Rather, one must consult the rules appendix to discover the names of the tiles. This is disappointing, as few will take that step. Having the actual names on the tiles would have added greatly to the atmosphere of the game.
Tiles have a specific color (usually blue, pink, yellow or green) and when acquired, must be placed on the player’s board on a space of the matching color. Sometimes this may require covering a previously placed tile. There are a handful of special tiles which are not placed onto the player’s board, but simply discarded after reaping the instant benefits they provide.
Additionally, each tile will depict positive and/or negative energy and/or ecology symbols. When a player acquires a tile, he must adjust his markers on the energy and ecology tracks on his player board accordingly. For example, if a player acquires the wind farm technology, he increases his energy three spaces, but is forced to decrease his ecology one space. Why a wind farm decreases ecology is beyond me. Most tiles will also depict symbols for research, prosperity and/or capital, which will benefit the player during the course of the game. More on this later.
The game turn follows a set action sequence.
Technology Tile. The top technology tile is revealed and the scoring symbol (if any) on the tile is announced. There are five types of scoring symbols: energy, ecology, capital, research and prosperity. Each decade has the same number and type of scoring symbols, so players can make some planning and calculated risks. Each player will reap the rewards–or pay the penalties–of this symbol based on their status on the appropriate tracks or their collection of technology tiles.
For example, if the scoring symbol is energy, a player will gain 50€ for each positive level of energy they have, or lose 100€ for each negative level. The ecology scoring symbol allows the player to remove markers from their pollution track for each positive level of ecology they have. This is important as it increases a player’s prosperity points. If the player has completely emptied his track–an admirable feat–the player receives 50€ for each disk he would still need to remove if they were present. Failure to pay enough attention to ecology, however, will force the player to add a marker to their pollution track for each space below zero they are on their ecology track, usually resulting in lost prosperity points if the pollution level is too high. The capital scoring symbol rewards a player with money for each capital symbol they possess on their technology tiles, while the prosperity symbol rewards the player with a prosperity point for each prosperity symbol on their tiles. The research symbol allows the player to advance on the research tracks a number of spaces equal to the research symbols they have on their tiles. Advancing on the research track will allow the player to acquire more advanced technologies and at a cheaper cost. After resolving these adjustments, the tile is placed next to the research board on the appropriate side and level.
It is immediately evident that there are numerous factors a player must balance and attempt to optimize. Like all good games, however, it is nigh impossible to do them all, so decisions must be made.
Actions. Each player performs two actions.
Revenues. Take 100€ from the bank. Money can be tight, so this is occasionally a necessary action.
Cleanup. Remove the top marker from your pollution track. This is one method, albeit a slow one, to lower one’s adverse impact on the environment.
Research. Move forward one square on one of the research tracks. As mentioned, steady advancement allows a player to purchase technology tiles at a better price and ultimately acquire more advanced technologies.
Tile Purchase. The player may purchase a technology tile. The cost of the tile is dependent upon the level of the tile and how far a player has advanced on the appropriate track. For example, a tile at the same level as the player’s marker costs 100€, while a tile at a higher level costs an additional €100 per level. Tiles at a lower level cost only 50€. As mentioned, the higher level technologies tend to be more advantageous, so advancing up the research tracks is highly advantageous and financially wise.
A purchased tile, with the exception of the special tiles, is immediately placed on the player’s board. It must be placed on a space of the matching color and can, if necessary or desired, be placed over an existing tile. The player must make any adjustments to his energy and ecology tracks, including deducting those depicted on any covered tile.
Players continue following this sequence, moving into new decades of technology tiles as needed. This continues until there are no further technology tiles remaining in the stacks, after which a final scoring is conducted.
Money is earned and tallied first. Both energy and ecology levels are tallied twice, as described above. Capital is tallied once, and players then receive one prosperity point for every 300€ they have amassed. Players then move forward on each research track a number of spaces equal to the number of research symbols on their technology tiles. The players furthest along on each track receive three prosperity points, while the players in second on each track receive one point. Finally, players earn points for the prosperity symbols on their tiles and pollution track. The player with the most prosperity points is victorious, with his city winning acclaim as the new utopia.
Prosperity is a juggling act, with players constantly forced to balance numerous factors. There is a constant need and desire for high energy production, but usually that results in an adverse ecological impact. Poor ecology translates into high pollution, which can be costly in terms of prosperity points. Conversely, boosting one’s ecology level and reducing pollution is important, but usually results in lowering one’s energy output. It is the classic “Catch 22”. Likewise, players are constantly striving to increase their research, prosperity and capital levels, but acquiring tiles that allow the advancement in one of these categories often results in the covering of a previous tile, which can force a decrease in other areas. These dilemmas often result in tough choices.
Choosing which technology tile(s) to purchase can also be tough. In addition to the symbol dilemma mentioned above, players must also factor in the cost of the tiles as well as placement issues. The board has some spaces that only become available when an adjoining space is occupied, so it is usually a priority to get those spaces filled. More advanced technologies are always attractive and beneficial, but generally cost more until a player makes marked progress on the research tracks. Money is tight, so spending too freely will quickly deplete one’s capital.
Prosperity is an engaging game, and quite difficult to play well. I enjoy the challenge of trying to balance all of the various factors, even though this sometimes can be frustrating. For me, however, it is not a terribly exciting game to play. There are dozens of turns in the game, most of which occur quickly, but each feels very similar to the previous turns. There is not much variety as the game progresses. There is no changing of gears or focus. As a result, there is a sense of sameness that develops. Further, there is a lot of record keeping and chart adjustments, which can grow a bit fiddly and tedious.
Fortunately, the game plays fairly quickly, playing to completion in an hour or so. There are important decisions to be made throughout, and a player’s ultimate fate is predominantly determined by his own actions. Luck, which is only present in the order the technology tiles appear, plays only a minor role. The theme is certainly of current relevance and should appeal to many folks. Prosperity is certainly a fine game, one that I would be happy to occasionally play. It doesn’t send my gaming juices flowing, but it is still a pleasant way to spend time at the gaming table.
Prosperity is designed by Reiner Knizia and Sebastian Bleasdale, and published by Ystari Games.
Special thanks to Lacxox for the excellent photos of the game, as well as his permission to use them in this review.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Patrick Brennan: Basically a tile drafting game, but where you’ll often want to take actions other than taking tiles to accumulate money or research in order to get to the better tiles in the draft. The tiles are added to your tableau, and your energy and eco go up/down depending on the icons on the tiles you buy. Having everything up is good. Sadly the tiles don’t make that easy, as there’s lots of combinations where something goes up at the expense of the other going down. And anytime you want to buy a tile which awards bonus money, bonus research or bonus VPs, it’s usually at a cost of your energy and eco going down as well. So the game is a balancing act. But it’s a tactical balancing affair … you’re taking from the tiles that are left you and that’s that. There’s no sense of I’ll leave that tile until next time because no one else will want it until then. With 20+ tiles to choose from, it’s hard to get any sense of what other people might take or want, so just take what’s best for you at a reasonable price for the moment. You can try different strategies like money rich or research rich, but other than that there’s a sense of sandbox play, just doing the best you can as best you can. It’s pretty light and ticks along nicely, being at the lighter end of the Euro spectrum. Not sure how much replay there is though given that the same tiles come out in much the same order each game. Summary: Pleasant game fodder.
Larry (1 play): Prosperity, which debuted last Essen, is a bare bones design based on balancing multiple objectives. I like the way that most of the tiles that advance you in one area reduce you in another. It feels very Knizia to me and is an interesting intellectual challenge, without being all that heavy. It also plays pretty fast. On the down side, there’s almost no player interaction. There is a theme, but because they didn’t label the tiles to show what they represent, it comes off as very abstract. This felt like a missed opportunity to me; blame the scourge of Language Independent Components. The scoring track is a mess and I’m very disappointed that they didn’t give the players a simple way of showing what tiles have come out each round. There’s also a reasonably high luck factor, although I suspect skill will win out most times. Overall, I liked the game, but if you were hoping this represented a return to greatness by Knizia, you will be disappointed; instead, just set your expectations for a good solid game.
Mitchell Thomashow (5 plays) I was very excited to learn about this game as it seemed to appeal to many of my interests (environmental semi-abstract theme, relatively short playing time) and I was equally excited to see what a Knizia/Bleasdale collaboration might yield. However, I found the game surprisingly dull and repetitive. It’s by no means a bad game and it has an understated elegance, but it’s lack of variety is disappointing and it’s not particularly original. If someone had showed me this game twenty years ago it might have grabbed me, as game design has dramatically improved over the past few decades. But then again a good game is a good game whenever it’s invented and Knizia’s classics hold up incredibly well. This game would not have had staying power even then.
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it): Greg J. Schloesser, Mark Jackson, Patrick Brennan, Larry
2 (Neutral): Mitchell Thomashow
1 (Not for me):