Design by Rich Baker
Published by Sasquatch Game Studio
2 – 5 Players, 1 hour
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
My hesitancy, which often borders on outright disdain, for the Kickstarter process in regards to publishing boardgames is well known. While I readily admit that there are some fine games being published via this method, for each good game there seem to be a multitude of mediocre to poor ones. Slick videos narrated by James Earl Jones clones seem to be all that it takes to open the wallets of what appears to be a sea of gullible gamers.
That being said, every now and then I am pleasantly surprised. Ultimate Scheme by Rich Baker is one of those surprises. The game was sent to me for review—something I generally do not do with pre-publication Kickstarter designs—but the theme sounded interesting, so I overcame my usual avoidance. I was warned by the designer that the copy I was receiving would not be a finished copy, as final artwork had not yet been completed. However, it wasn’t the lack of artwork that frightened me; it was the reading of the rules. Oh, the rules were clear and easy to understand. The uneasy part was that the game sounded too simplistic; too, well, vanilla.
Once again my skepticism was unwarranted. There is more to the game than I surmised. No, it isn’t a deep strategic challenge, but it does present players with numerous choices and forces them to adjust their plans as the game progresses. But much more important than that, the game is simply fun to play…and you get to play the bad guy!
As a criminal mastermind your goal is, of course, to take over the world. In order to achieve your ultimate scheme, however, you must first accomplish a number of lesser schemes and meet the conditions required by the “X-Factor” card in play for the current game. Fortunately, you have minions to help you achieve your dastardly schemes.
The action occurs on a map of the world, which depicts only 18 locations divided into five main regions and Antarctica. Players each represent one evil faction and begin with two minions, six schemes (two each of three different types) and a private, secret Ultimate Scheme. The X-Factor card is revealed and the scheming begins.
A player’s turn consists of a few easy steps:
Draw a new Scheme card. There are three different decks of schemes: criminal, subversion and genius. Each deck has a unique mix and tendency, with the types of resources needed to complete those schemes being more prevalent in specific decks. For example, the criminal deck leans more towards finance and science schemes, while the subversion deck has more finance and occult schemes. Thus, players can somewhat tailor their hand by choosing cards from specific decks.
Move. Players get two moves and may move minions to adjacent locations. Initially players begin with only two minions, but may acquire more as the game progresses. The object is to move minions to the locations where they can collect the resources required by the scheme cards they possess. Further, in order to execute a scheme, the player must also have a minion present in the location listed on the card. Meeples from multiple players may occupy the same location, but turn order is vital when collecting resources. More on this in a bit.
It is important to note that a few locations on the board are “hidden” and must be unlocked before entering. Sites can be unlocked via action cards, completing certain schemes, or collecting resources in Doha. Hidden sites are dangerous, however, so any minions in these locations must return to their headquarters at the end of the turn.
Resources. In turn order, players collect resources from up to two cities where their minions are located. However, each player collects resources from one city in turn order, then repeats this process for a second city. A city will only yield resources once, so if Kevin and Andrew both have minions in Bogota and Kevin is before Andrew in turn order, Kevin will have the opportunity to collect the resources from Bogota. If he does so, Andrew will be unable to collect resources there. Thus, he would be wise to have his minions in other locations.
Each region produces resources of varying types, but each region lacks one specific resource. Thus, players will need to determine the types of resources they require to fulfill their schemes and move their minions to the appropriate locations. Of course, they will want to also avoid being in locations with their opponents, particularly if those players are earlier in the turn order.
Collected resources are maintained by the player until utilized to fulfill schemes.
Some schemes require possession of the sole Ninja, which can only be acquired in Okinawa or by the use of a special action card.
Execute. In turn order, each player may execute as many schemes as they can fulfill. Each scheme lists the quantity and type of resources needed, as well as the city where the player must have a minion present. Some schemes require the player to be in possession of the Ninja, while others require the Anarchy level to be at a certain mark. The Anarchy level is generally increased by executing certain schemes, although some Action cards will also cause an increase (or decrease) in the Anarchy level.
Each time a scheme is completed, the player scores Progress points, moving up on the track. The first player to reach specific spaces on this track will receive the indicated bonus, which can be resources, action cards or unlocking hidden locations. Thus, there is a bit of a race to be the first player to reach these spaces. Further, many schemes reward the player with bonuses (resources, cards, etc.) when successfully completed.
At the end of each turn, the start player rotates and the game continues as described above. When a player has fulfilled all of the requirements of his Ultimate Scheme and met the requirements of the X-Factor card, he announces that his victory is inevitable. If more than one player has met these requirements, the player with the most Progress points is victorious.
A typical game of Ultimate Scheme can be completed in an hour or so. Coupled with its light complexity, this makes it a fine choice for family gaming. In spite of playing evil factions, there is nothing too shocking about the schemes that might offend younger folk. Indeed, it is only flavor test (“Harness Pyramid Power”, “Raise the Titanic”, “Hijack Nuclear Submarine”) and I presume there will be inoffensive artwork on the cards. The Ultimate Scheme and Action cards are equally innocuous, but their titles do add appropriate atmosphere to the proceedings.
While the game is certainly on the lighter end of the scale, there are still decisions to be made and paths to pursue. Obviously resources must be collected and quickly, as speed counts. The action cards are essential, as they add needed flavor to the game and alter what otherwise might be too processional of a game. None are too devastating (although having one’s minions removed from an important hidden location can be painful!), but still can give players a helpful hand or throw an obstacle in the path of one’s opponents.
I think what helps make the game work is the theme, which is quirky and actually seems to be evoked by the mechanisms. This isn’t a deep, strategy affair wherein players must carefully manage all of the intricacies of a worldwide evil organization. Rather, it is a light-hearted romp in a quest to rule the world. Plus, you have minions! How fun is that!
The Kickstarter campaign for Ultimate Scheme has begun and can be viewed and/or backed at: