Mary Dimercurio Prasad: Review of Rococo

Rococo (Rokoko)

  • Publisher: Eagle Games/EggertspieleRococo Cover
  • Designers: Matthias Cramer, Louis Malz, Stefan Malz
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 12+
  • Playing Time: 60-120min
  • MSRP $59.95
  • Release: 2013
  • Reviewed by: Mary Dimercurio Prasad
  • Game Played: Review Copy
  • Number of Plays: 2-3

Introduction

Welcome to the Rococo era. Louis XV rules in France and it is bon ton to hold lavish balls. Important personages wrap up in distinguished coats and dresses, anxious to outshine one another. The biggest event is coming up in just a few weeks, and everyone is turning to you with their requests: an elegant coat here, a stunning dress there, or even a donation to help fund the fireworks. Soon you realize that it’s not just about your dressmaking business anymore – it’s about managing the most prestigious ball of the era…

Object of the Game

In Rococo, you own a dressmaking business and try to gain as much Prestige as possible. Each turn you play an Employee card and have that Employee perform a task, for example: hire a new Employee, make a Dress, or fund a Decoration. However, not every Employee is up to every task, so you must choose and lead your Employees wisely. Especially since each grants a unique bonus. Some of the bonuses generate Prestige Points, which are awarded in the form of Prestige Point tokens. After 7 rounds the game ends with the ball and final scoring. Then you gain Prestige Points for certain Employee bonuses, for Dresses that you rented out to guests at the ball as well as for Decorations that you funded. Afterwards, all players count their Prestige Points and whoever has collected the most wins the game. (From the rulebook.)

Rules Summary

Rococo is an interesting mix of area control, deck building, resource management, and hand management. The goal of the game is to gain the most Prestige Points (PP). Each player will start with an employee deck of 5 cards, placed face-down below their player board as an employee supply. They also start with 16 property markers in their color, 15 Livre (money), 1 lace marker, and 1 thread marker.

Rococo Board

During the game, players may acquire new cards to add to their employee deck, allowing them to create a customized deck of employee cards. The cards may be chosen from a display of 4 cards each round (Hire Spaces, middle left side of board). This is associated with the “Hire a new employee” action. The new card goes into the player’s hand, allowing them to perform another action that round.

Players will select their hand cards, 3 each round, from their entire supply deck. When a card has been played, it is placed face-up in a discard pile, next to the player’s supply. If there are fewer than 3 cards in the supply when a player needs to fill her hand, she takes all the cards, then moves the discard pile to the supply and finishes filling her hand to 3.

L to R: Apprentice, Journeyman, Master

L to R: Apprentice, Journeyman, Master

Employee cards have one of three experience levels: Apprentice, Journeyman, or Master. The more experienced the employee is, the more he can do. Certain actions require a higher level of experience. Each card allows a main action; some cards have a bonus. The bottom of the card depicts a carriage and an amount in Livre you may receive if you take the “Depute your employee” (action). Deputing means removing the card from the game; you gain the money shown. Thematically, the employee is following a calling to work at the King’s court, for which you get paid according to the experience you are losing. This is one way to thin your deck (but never below 4 cards).

At the top left of the board is the Queen’s Favor space. Each round, one player may claim the card there. It immediately gives that player 5 Livre and he will become the start player for the next round. The person with the Favor card at the end of the game gets 3 PP.

At the bottom left of the game board is the Warehouse. It contains 3 segments, each with space for 3 resource tiles. Tiles have two parts, top and bottom. The top shows available bales of silk (I may refer to these simply as silk); the bottom shows available thread and/or lace. Not all tiles will have both top and bottom resources; one may be empty. Once acquired, a player must choose whether to use the top or the bottom of the tile. If using the top, he flips the tile over and places it his play area. If using the bottom, he takes the associated markers and discards the tile. Resources are used for making dresses. The Warehouse is associated with the “Acquire resources” action.

Along the bottom of the board is the Workshop made up of 9 window spaces, each with a cost at the top ranging from 0 to 8. There are two 0 cost spaces at the far right. These spaces will be filled with dress tiles. Dress tiles represent demand. Each tile has a cost in resources to make the dress shown – all dresses require silk, sometimes in mixed colors, and some require lace or thread. Dresses marked with a golden thimble may only be made by a Master employee. Once made, a dress may be either sold for Livre or rented. Rented dresses are worth PP at the end of the game. These spaces are associated with the “Make a dress” action.

Above the Workshop is a line of statues and a fountain. These are associated with the “Fund a decoration” action. All decorations are marked by a fancy circle around its cost. There are also Musician decoration spaces in the middle of the board, and Fireworks decorations at the top of the board. Players purchase decorations with Livre.

In the center of the board are the Halls. When players choose to rent dresses to ball attendee, they will be placed in the halls, using property markers to show dress ownership. The top hall, King’s Hall, is special. At the end of the game, these dresses will move to the Terrace (top of the board, above King’s Hall), but only for players who own both dresses in the King’s Hall and fireworks decorations; i.e. one is assigned to each according to ownership.

Employee cards: the Apprentice can never perform “Claim the Queen’s favor”, “Make a dress”, or “Hire a new employee” actions. The Journeyman can never perform “Hire a new employee” action. The Master may do all actions and is required when renting dresses to be placed on the main game board marked with a golden thimble.

In general, costs go down as players purchase things. For example, if there are 4 employee cards for hire, the price to buy one = 5 Livre, 4 cards = 3 Livre, 2 cards = 1 Livre, and the last one is free.

The game is played over 7 rounds, each consisting of 4 phases:

  1.      Prepare for new round
    •   Player with Favor card becomes starting player (if Favor card not taken, starting player remains same)
    •   Remove any employee cards in display from last round; refill with 4 new employee cards
    •   Fill resource tiles in Warehouse
    •   Fill Dress tiles in Workshop (remove 0 value dresses, slide rest down, then fill)
  2.      Select hand cards
  3.      Take actions – beginning with starting player, each player may play 1 employee card from her hand, performing the main action (below) and possibly use a bonus, if indicated.
    •   Claim the Queen’s favor
    •   Acquire resources
    •   Make a dress
    •   Hire a new employee
    •   Depute your employee
  4.      Collect income – each player gets 5 Livre; players who own fountain decorations may earn more

The game ends after the last phase of the 7th round. Final scoring includes:

  •      1 PP for every 10 Livre
  •      Bonuses on employee cards (4 of the 8 employee cards that come out in the last two rounds are for final scoring)
  •      Player with Queen’s favor card gains 3 PP
  •      Majorities in the 5 halls (first and second place)
  •      Majority in fireworks decorations (first and second place)
  •      (Move dresses from King’s Hall to Terrace)
  •      Statues – each statue allows a player to receive PP for each set of different dress colors (4 max) she has on the board.
  •      Property markers – PP awarded for dresses, decoration spaces, and “All halls” bonus (i.e. if a player has a dress in each hall)

The player with the most PP wins the game. Full rules are available at the EGG Rules website.

Thoughts

I typically don’t like area control games – the constant fighting over areas to get a majority… blah – but the rest of the game is so engaging that it makes up for the part I don’t like. I love the deck building, choices of which actions to play and in what order, and the timing aspects – getting resources, hiring employees (i.e. getting cards), making dresses, etc. – which is a big part of the game.

There are many decisions in Rococo. You have to decide on what is important to you. Do you want first choice of employee cards? You may lose the resources you had an eye on. Do you want to build a particular dress? You may have to sacrifice that last fountain piece if another player beats you to it. And so on. The nice thing is, there are many choices as well as different ways to score. Most scoring does center around building dresses but there 9 to choose from each round (granted some may be quite pricey to make).

The deck building aspect can really drive your game. I especially love the fact that you get to choose your cards from your entire supply deck each round. The cards don’t recycle until they have all been used so there is a bit of timing to think about. The starting cards are not nearly as nice as the cards that come out during the rounds, which get progressively better as the game goes on. You may want to “depute” the early cards to slim down your deck once you have acquired some of the better cards. Just be sure you keep some Masters around – the Apprentices and Journeymen can’t do certain actions.

There are some nice balances in the game, such as the costs to hire employees or acquire resources at the Warehouse. Costs go down as the number of choices diminishes. Hiring an employee allows you to take another action that round (yay!), since the card will go into your hand. You have to weigh this against having another card in your deck, causing you to take longer to cycle through it.

Rococo is quite thematic, although it may turn off some people. I say, get over it! This is a very gamery game – with much depth and strategy. Totally worth trying (and probably buying!). Hopefully people will give it a chance rather than judging it by its theme!

The artwork is pretty nice – very Loius XV; the board maybe a slight bit on the dark and busy side, but you can usually figure out what your are looking for/at. Most of the components are high quality: wooden pieces, thick cardboard tiles, linen finish. The exception is the cards. They do not pass the bend test (end to end – the card will fold and crease) and the finish is fairly thin. You may want to use card sleeves. The box is a bit too large but it’s a standard square game size.

I haven’t played the game with 2 players yet – my games have been 4 and 5 players. I’m interested to see how the game works with 2 or 3.

Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers:

Dan Blum (2 plays): It’s not bad, but decidedly not great. There are some aspects I definitely like, such as the way you manage your cards. However, I don’t care for the limited number of cards available each round. You know what will come out when, which is fine, but the fourth player in a round may have no choice about what card to get, and if playing with five (which I have not done and don’t plan to) the fifth player might not get one at all. Granted, you don’t have to get a card every round, but getting screwed on this too often will definitely hurt your game and is just not fun.

I also think there are too many ways to score. Even not trying to optimize everything it takes too long to figure out what to do. I wouldn’t play this with people who feel compelled to optimize their turns.

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. 

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: Caterina and I played it in Essen and we found it quite interesting. It is, obviously, a quite abstract “euro” but the theme fits well and the nice illustrations really improve the play experience. Unluckily, for us at least, it is not enough to climb up the hill of the great group of average games and win against the new releases. Concerning the mechanic we found it nice and we got the feeling of many important decisions to make.

Greg S:  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 covetted 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 Jahres, as it truly is one of the best games of the previous 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.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers:

  • I love it! Mary Prasad, Greg Schloesser
  • I like it: Patrick Brennan, Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
  • Neutral: Dan Blum
  • Not for me…
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About Mary Prasad

More about me at: http://artbymdp.blogspot.com
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