LORDS OF VEGAS
Design by: James Ernest and Mike Selinker
Published by: Mayfair Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 – 1 1/2 hours
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
NOTE: I originally reviewed Lords of Vegas when it was first published many years ago. That review is below. The new “Up!” expansion prompted me to revisit the game. My original review appears first, followed by my description and analysis of the “Up!” expansion.
Today, Las Vegas is considered a glitzy Mecca for lovers of gambling, night-life, entertainment and sin of all types. Is it any wonder that organized crime had (and apparently still does) have its tentacles intertwined throughout the fabric of the city? Gambling and Vegas are synonymous, so I figured a game entitled “Lords of Vegas” would incorporate aspects of all of Vegas’ sins and seedy sides. However, most of these aspects are absent. Instead, we have a game loosely concentrating on the founding of casinos, with a huge dose of luck that pays tribute to the “make or break” lifestyle of Sin City.
Designers James Ernest and Mike Selinker have teamed to produce Lords of Vegas. Set at the birth of Vegas when the area to be occupied by the neon city was still barren desert, the game casts players as visionaries determined to create a city founded on the bedrock of gambling and entertainment. Players will build and improve casinos, attempting to take over their rivals’ casinos in order to control the Strip and emerge as the kingpin of Las Vegas.
The board depicts the center of the emerging Strip of Vegas, divided into six distinct blocks. Six-to-nine casinos can be constructed in each block, but it is possible for a block to be dominated by just a few casinos, or perhaps even just one. Each casino space in a block depicts the price to construct a casino at that location, as well as a number, which is the starting level of a player’s boss once he constructs a casino there. Players begin the game armed with a multitude of small chips, which will be placed on plots to indicate ownership. In addition, each player has twelve dice, each of which will represent ownership and the expertise of one’s boss in a casino. Players will begin the game owning two plots, and have financial coffers of $4 – $7 million. How can any self-respecting developer survive on such a paltry sum?
Each turn, a player will reveal a plot card, placing one of his chips at that location to indicate ownership. The location card also depicts one of the five casinos or the Strip. Payments are made to each player who has dice located in matching casinos. In the case of the Strip, all players who have casinos bordering the Strip will be paid. Players receive $1 per pip showing on all of their dice located in the depicted casino. Further, the boss of each of these casinos earns one victory point per tile in that casino. There can be multiple casinos of the same type, and each one pays accordingly. Further, all players receive $1 for each vacant lot they own.The active player then performs as many actions as he desires or can afford. These actions include:
Build. The player may construct a casino on a lot he owns. He pays the indicated price and places a casino tile of the type he desires onto the lot. Once all tiles of a particular casino are constructed, no further of that type may be built until more become available, which can occur when a player remodels a casino. The player places one of his dice onto the tile with the face-up number matching that depicted on the board. A player controls a casino by having the die with the highest value in that casino.
If a casino tile is constructed next to an existing casino of the same type, it becomes part of that existing casino. If more than one dice in that casino are tied for the high number, a power struggle occurs and those dice are rolled. More on this in a bit.
Sprawl. A player may construct a casino tile on an un-owned plot next to a casino he controls by paying twice the indicated value. The danger is that if that plot’s card is subsequently drawn from the deck (not all cards will come into play) the player drawing that card immediately takes over that tile. This is a risky maneuver, but since not all cards will come into play during the course of a game, the risk may be worth it.
Remodel. A player can change all of the tiles in a casino he owns into a different casino, provided there are enough tiles of the new casino available. A player will want to do this to increase the odds of that casino paying-out. For example, if a player own a Vega casino that has paid out numerous times, whereas the Sphinx chain has not paid out often, he may want to convert his Vega casino into Sphinx to increase the odds of it paying out on future turns.
Another reason to remodel is to merge with an adjacent casino. If the player now has the highest valued die in that new, larger casino, he immediately takes control. If he is tied for the highest die, a power struggle ensues, giving the player the chance to assume control. This is an effective, yet often nasty maneuver.
Reorganize. If a player has at least one die in a casino, he can call for a reorganization, forcing ALL players who have dice in that casino to re-roll those dice. This can dramatically change the ownership position of that casino. However, there is a cost, which is often significant. The player must pay $1 per pip showing on each die in the casino. The more dice the active player has in that casino, the greater the chances of him emerging as the new controller. But, this is a dice game, so the end result is a matter of luck.
Of course, a player can choose this action even if he is the only player with dice in a casino. A player might do this in an attempt to improve the strength of his die, thereby solidifying his ownership in that casino. This could also be a prelude to a takeover attempt of a neighboring casino. Of course, it is also possible he will roll a lower number, thereby weakening his position and making that casino an attractive takeover target. It is important to note that a player may only roll each die once per turn. This prevents a player from repeatedly re-rolling his dice in an effort to get the numbers he desires.
Gamble. What would a game set in Las Vegas be without gambling? If a player is strapped for cash — or simply wants to increase his stash — he can gamble at an opponent’s casino, but only once per turn. The player may bet up to $5 per tile present in that casino. Rolls of 3, 4, 9, 10 or 11 result in a win, with the opponent being forced to pay the player an amount equal to his bet. A 2 or 11 roll doubles the player’s bet. Any other number is a loss, which is paid directly to the casino’s owner. Before dice are rolled the owner of the casino can “lay off” one-half of the bet to the bank. Any losses or winnings the casino experiences would be halved.
Gambling can be fun, but like most aspects of the game, the results are a matter of luck. This is certainly representative of Vegas, but for my tastes, it is far too dominant.
After each action, all casinos must be checked to see if two or more players have dice in that casino that are tied for the largest value. There can be only one owner, so if there is a tie, all tied dice are re-rolled. This may cause a new owner to emerge, even a player who wasn’t initially tied for ownership!
In keeping with the “wheeling-and-dealing” reputation of Vegas, players are free to trade money, plots, dice and actions. How much this occurs is dependent upon the players. A wise trade can often dramatically improve a player’s position.
Players earn victory points for owning casinos, but only when matching cards are drawn. Of course, this is a matter of luck, although players can play the odds by keeping a careful eye on which cards have already been revealed. Executed at the proper time, converting an existing casino to a new franchise can increase a player’s chances of earning income and victory points. Victory points are tallied on a score track that rings the board. It is important to note that as a player progresses on the track, multiple victory points must be earned in order to progress to the next space. This increases the importance of owning larger casinos, as this “jump” must be achieved via points earned from one casino.
Several times during the game, a card may surface that will pay out to all casinos located on the Strip. Any casino that borders the main street will earn income and victory points. This will also occur at the end of the game. Thus, it is wise to own multiple casinos that border the strip. Of course, these tend to be more expensive.The game concludes when the “game end” card is revealed. This card is located 3/4 of the way in the deck. So, one-quarter of the cards will never enter play. Which cards ultimately do not surface is based on — you guessed it — luck. It is this uncertainty that makes the Sprawl action worth considering. After the final “strip” payout, the player with the most victory points wins the game and rules Las Vegas. Incredibly, cash on hand is NOT converted to victory points. Rather, it serves only as a tie-breaker. That seems strange in a city where money rules.
Games in which chance rules tend not to be personal favorites. I generally don’t mind games dominated by luck provided the game is a short filler. In longer games, however, I want strategy and/or tactics to be the predominant feature, with luck playing only a minor, if any role. Games of Lords of Vegas have taken 1 ½ hours to complete, and there is simply too much luck present for a game of that duration.
There are some fun aspects to the game. Gambling is fun, albeit risky, and there are some clever steps a player can take in an attempt to grab ownership of an opponent’s casino. The result, however, is not guaranteed, so a player’s careful plans are usually dependent upon the roll of the dice or the turn of a card. I’m not happy with that. So, while I find the theme appealing and applaud the effort to construct an appropriate atmosphere, there i simply too much luck present for my tastes.
Anyone who has been to Las Vegas will appreciate the unusual setting, as the city is an oasis of glitz and skyscrapers surrounded by arid desert. Turning this barren landscape into land that can sustain a burgeoning city and population is undoubtedly an extremely difficult and expensive task. Land, therefore, is at a premium, so when it becomes prohibitively expensive or difficult to expand outward, there is only one choice: build up.
This is exactly the premise of Up!, the expansion for James Ernest and Mike Selinker’s Lords of Vegas. This new expansion allows players to add floors to their casinos, thereby erecting towering skyscrapers (that is, if five tiles can be considered “towering”!). The expansion also provides the necessary dice and markers to increase the number of players to five or six. This certainly makes for a much more crowded board, which has the effect of forcing players to build those skyscrapers. In this sense, it helps recreate the “land is scarce” situation in Las Vegas.
In addition to the additional components to accommodate more players, the only other components in the expansion are 48 “riser” tiles. Once constructed, these tiles are simply placed beneath an existing casino tile, thereby elevating it. These new “floors” add to the number of tiles in a casino, thereby increasing the victory points earned when the matching casino cards are drawn. They also allow a player to make larger bets when gambling.
Adding floors to a casino is not cheap, as each riser costs a staggering $15 million. Furthermore, if a player is elevating a multi-tiled casino or sprawling, he must make sure he elevates each tile in the casino to the same level. Thus, it can be extremely expensive to elevate a casino that covers several spaces. This does become a bit more affordable in the later stages of the game when money is usually more plentiful.
Elevating a casino has other advantages. It does make it more difficult for a neighboring casino to absorb it, as the encroaching player must pay to elevate every tile in the newly expanded casino to the same level. This exorbitant cost is often enough to deter such a hostile takeover. Further, it is often wise to elevate an isolated, one-tile casino, as the points earned when the matching casino cards are drawn may then be enough to get a player past those pesky score track requirements. So, this new expansion certainly adds numerous beneficial options that can be not only reap monetary and point rewards, but also deter aggressive opponents.
I do have one complaint: there were no new player aid tiles listing this additional “raise” action included in the game. Rather, it is printed on the back of the rules, forcing one to make numerous copies and paste them on the original tiles. It would have been far more convenient and thoughtful to include new tiles.
Aside from this one omission, I do feel that the Up! expansion improves the base game. It gives players more options and strategic choices. While playing with 5 or 6 players does add a bit of time to the game, the “raise” features can be used when playing with less players. This is one of those extremely rare cases where an expansion actually improves the original game.