More than 3 years ago (in Oct. 2016), I Kickstarted Victoriana: A Cooperative Game of Intrigue and Investigation. It was originally slated to deliver in August 2017. It is now November 2019 and it just delivered to all the backers. It took three years to deliver and was over two years late. Was it worth the wait?
Upon opening the box, you see some extra content I paid for and some stretch goals. The Ripper deck was part of the upper echelon tier, as the Time Traveller deck. Plus, I think Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde was a Kickstarter stretch goal?
The first thing you see upon opening is the rulebook. I spent a lot of time with my nose in this rulebook over the course of unboxing, unpunching, and first play. It’s a good rulebook: it describes everything well, it has lots of visuals and explanations for rules, it has a good components page, a good set-up (well, ok set-up page) and in general was quite readable and intuitive.
The components page was great, describing the components. And it was necessary: there are a LOT of components!
The Set-Up page was pretty good. In the first few steps, there was some major confusion with one of the decks. I’m still not convinced I got it right. Crazily, everything after that was fine, but that very first deck as very confusing and sort of put me off a little bit.
Like I said, the rulebook does a good job of explaining and showing pictures of various parts of the game. For example, the “Investigating Leads” section (see above) has a little sidebar explaining that rule with an example.
My only other (very minor) nitpick was that I didn’t know how to win the game until I got pretty deep into the rulebook. How do I win? What I am I supposed to do? I feel like this should be explained RIGHT UP FRONT to help motivate/guide you through the rulebook.
In general, though, the rulebook was good.
There are a LOT of cardboard pieces. They all punched out pretty easily. I wish the graphic design were slightly better. Some of the tokens felt very generic, and some very easily evoked the Victorian theme of the game. To be fair, the components were very clear and readable.
This is probably (besides the rulebook) my favorite component in the game. The board screams Victorian flavor: the color choices, the pictures, the Big Ben on the side. This board really helped immerse me into the game.
My only complaint: I wish it were bigger. Partly because it’s so cool looking, and partly because the board got cluttered as the game progressed. The status tokens take up a lot of room, as do leads and other tokens. At one point, I thought the game had a typo/misprint: “Where’s GREEN 10?? The board is messed up? Is this a misprint??” After furtively looking for almost 3 minutes, it turned out the green 10 was hidden under a lead token. My fault of course, but the board could be bigger.
The game has character tokens with Standees. They work fine. They are visually distinct enough to see the different ones. Some people might complain that there aren’t minis. Nah, I don’t care about that.
What I DO care about is that there aren’t extra standees. There’s just enough for the characters and then some Agents. Every time you play the game anew, you have to (potentially) take the plastic standee bases off and put them on other cardboard standees. My experience with Gloomhaven has me occasionally TEARING/BENDING the cardboard as I moved the plastic bases around. This hasn’t happened YET to me (I’ve only played once), but I am quite worried the cardboard standees won’t do well in the future. Caveat Emptor and be careful with your cardboard characters/standees.
The good news is that there is a lot of variety for characters (12 with extra).
There are a lot of cardboard punchouts and a lot of cards. The cards, in general, look good and are very functional and readable. The Henchmen, Masterminds, and Advantage cards are very evocative of the theme and easy to read.
The Plot cards are pretty awesome: I love how they look like headlines! Also very evocative of the theme!
The Lead cards are very easy to read/understand, if not super evocative of the theme. But, the text is very evocative of the theme, and the cards are easy to read.
The Dice are used to put things on the board (agents, leads, etc). The Clock die is for “what time” a Lead comes into play. The dice are nice and easy to read. The only weird thing is that the occult sign, which is purple EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE GAME, looks black on the colored die. It’s not a big deal, but inconsistent.
First Play/Solo Play
Above is a set-up of a solo game. Luckily, the rulebook has a solo mode (adhering to Saunders’ Law): the solo player plays two characters in the game. I am normally worried that having two characters will be too much for a first play, but it seemed to go fine for me. I had the rulebook open a lot.
The game has an interesting way to achieve balance: only two players play per round, then the “bad News Advances”. I don’t think I’ve seen this way to balance a co-op before.
How To Win and Lose
To win, you have to foil the conspiracy! To do this, you need these things revealed:
- Find the point of conspiracy (one of 30 Locations on the board). Basically, you explore the board and everytime you end on a Location, you can flip it to see if it is the conspiracy point (place where the conspiracy happens )
- Find the evil plot (race through a deck of plots to find the one in use). This involves culling a plot deck to get to the bottom.
- Reveal the Mastermind after defeating his Henchmen
Once you have all those revealed, you must discard the proper resources:
These must be discarded at the point of conspiracy:
Once you do that, you win!
But of course, there are many ways to lose:
- All characters reduced to 0 Life
- Time runs out (21 rounds have passed)
Gameplay is pretty straight forward: you explore London looking for (a) Leads or (b) Special Locations. The Special Locations, in general, get you resources (occult, Science, Politics or Underground) which you need to follow leads. If you try to follow a lead, and you don’t have the appropriate resources, the Lead goes cold.
After two players move/explore/follow leads, the timer counts down (the timer is Big Ben of course). Then the next two players play. The game continues until players win or lose!
Leads are placed on the board and slowly expire by rotating 90 degrees at the end of the turn. If a lead rotates all the way around, the lead goes cold (you waited too long to follow it) and then players suffer a penalty (1 hit point).
If you DO get to a Location with a Lead before it goes cold, you have to spend some resources (see picture above for sample Lead cards).
Overall, I like this game. The art is thematic and evocative. All the cards, and tokens and easy to read (although I do wish the board were bigger). I enjoyed exploring London and following Leads and trying to foil the conspiracy. It worked as a solo game and I want to play it again.
There were a lot of rules I didn’t cover: this is NOT an easy game. I am sure I got some rules wrong in playing, but the rulebook was not problematic. You probably want to play a solo game first before you try to teach others.
My main complaint is just a lot of little inconsistencies. For a game that took 3 years to get to me, I expected slightly more polish. The resource tokens seem like they should be more Victorian, the Occult symbol on the die should be purple, the game doesn’t fit together very well after you unbox it (see below), the board should be bigger, and a few things like that seemed out of place in this good game.
This is a good game. Currently, I am going to give it a 7/10. We’ll see how it works with my game group.
Appendix: Game Doesn’t Rebox Well?