Garphill games, first reaching a level of fame with their “North Sea” trilogy, they then moved onto their “West Kingdom” trilogy, it’s the 3rd entry into this trilogy we will be focusing on today.
It’s 980AD, the king has bankrupted the kingdom by desperately keeping peace, poverty spread..poverty breeds all sorts of insurgency and crime, this is where you come in.
You are a viscount in the west kingdom, you will travel the kingdom, building, creating manuscripts, acquiring land deeds and sending workers to the castle. Strive to cause either prosperity or poverty in the kingdom – whichever suits your schemes and strategy best!
So how does this translate to the gameplay?
You will travel the kingdom clockwise around a rondel – the outer track being used for building and buying/trading, the inner track being used for manuscripts and working the castle. Regardless of whether you are on the inner or outer track you will have the opportunity to improve your deck.
What does your deck do I hear you asking?
The deck is a genius little thing. You start of with the same 8 basic cards as everyone one else, and one additional card representing your character (you will choose this out of a few options at the beginning of the game, that will be paired with a starting location and various resources).
Each of these cards will have various icons on them effectively providing you with “free” resources for the time they remain in play (this will usually be 3 turns) aswell as many cards having abilities, some which trigger when played, some while in play, and some when leaving play.
In addition, the card you play for the turn also determines how many spaces you move on the board this turn.
So while you are traveling around partaking in this somewhat “point salad” of building, manuscripts and castle work. You will be triggering all sorts of bonuses from various spaces. Strengthing your deck to be more effective on your journeys around the board. Collecting resources to spend. And last but not least being aware of the see-saw that is your Virtue and Corruption.
This interesting track is one of the unique things in Viscounts, I would be doing a disservice not to mention it. The game end will trigger when poverty or prosperity is reached. What causes this to happens is a number of Deeds or Debts being gained between the players, now the main way this happens if from the Virture/Corruption track.
This track on your player board has two markers that start on opposing ends, and will trigger on the turn they meet. Virtuous actions move the right marker towards the left. Corrupt actions will move the left marker towards the right. The further left when a collision occurs, the more deeds you will gain, the further right, the more debts, but also silver you will gain.
Debts by default will lose you 2 VP at the end of the game, unless you manage to “flip” them, which gain you a resource of your choice.
Deeds on the other hand provide you 1 VP, or 3 if you manage to flip them.
So why would you ever want Debts? Well, many cards actually play quite well with Debts, and corrupt actions tend to be able to score you a few more points, or at the very least, provide more flexibility. And, more so. Remember how the end game is triggered by prosperity or poverty? Well, prosperity is triggered by using all the Deeds, but, will provide bonus VP to the player with the most flipped Debts, the reverse is true for poverty.
Like many “point-salad” games, focusing on one or two of the aspects is often a stronger and better strategy as points tends to snowball the more you focus on one category – however unlike many other games if this style, most focuses will trigger abilities to help other aspects of scoring, often making 2 focuses better than just one.
So…does it work?
So, despite all the different moving parts I can without hesitation say that Garphill Games have done an AMAZING job at making it all pull together seamlessly.
Something with this many moving parts can often feel like a disjointed amalgamation. However this comes together like a perfectly sewn fabric. Iconography connects things together, making it clear what flows and how the cards relate to the board and vise-versa.
Between the myriad of starting characters, and how these are combined with different resource cards, aswell as the simple abundance of cards that you can purchase for your deck – let’s not forget, even the board sections are in a randomized order every game, a small but noticeable difference.
This game doesn’t tire. I’ve played 16 games in a relatively short time period. And every game still feels fresh. No small feet for someone who enjoys variation as much as I do.
With “The Mico” providing his unique artwork, vibrant colors and a 3D castle in the centre of the board Viscounts is far from boring on the table.
I thought you said this was a solo review, why am I only hearing about solo now?
Don’t worry, I hear you. And trust me, I hate nothing more than reading a review and getting to this section simply to be told “Yeah sadly the solo let’s this one down, stick to multi-player” so don’t fret! The reason I’ve left it till the end, is simply because the solo mode really does play identically to the multi-player mode. The AI is simply masterful. Sure it plays by a different set of cards, it uses its own (but similar) board, well, one of four. Each with its own personality and focus. But, it still does everything you do. It collects resources, it spends them, it has a Virtue/Corruption track, there has to be space for it to build, it follows the rondel. It deck builds, albeit in a slightly more basic fashion. Very few games have captured this level of genuine realism in their solo bots.
Whether you’re an experienced Garphill pro, or a relative newbie (like me). If you’re a fan of either: juicy gameplay, deckbuilding, realistic AI, resource management or unique systems. Give this one a shot. Relatively inexpensive compared to many other games, and equally as crunchy and as gorgeous as the best of them. Viscounts deserves a place in most, if not all solo gamers reservoirs.
While this was my first Garphill purchase, it was not my last. This had me backing their solo-only kickstarter “Legacy of Yu” in a heartbeat, adding on Raiders of Scythia aswell, I’ve also recently added Circadians: First Light to my collection also. Viscounts impressed me that much.