Monday, August 1, 2016

Quick Review - The Lords of Rock - Kickstarter Preview

The Lords of Rock
Designers: Dave Killingsworth
Dave Ferguson
Publisher: SolarFlare Games
Quick Review - The Lords of Rock - Kickstarter Preview

In Neil Gaiman's novel, and the forthcoming TV show, American Gods, gods from ancient mythology are losing power because people no longer believe in them.  The old gods band together to battle the new gods (e.g. technology, media, etc.).  The book was fantastic and the TV show looks like it will be very interesting, however in Dave Killingsworth's game, The Lords of Rock, the ancient gods go about regaining their followers in similar way.  In The Lords of Rock the gods decide to have an epic battle... of the bands.  At stake are the souls of their mortal followers, winner take all.

The Lords of Rock is a casual, humorous card game for two to five players (although I've been told that the two player game is a little awkward).  The Kickstarter campaign begins on August 1, 2016 and runs through the end of the month.  You'll be able to grab yourself a copy for $20 including US shipping.

The first thing you'll notice about The Lords of Rock is the artwork.  The artwork is absolutely stellar.  There are four types of cards in The Lords of Rock - Gods, Venues, Set Lists, and Celestial Pantheon Powers.  I haven't seen the Celestial Pantheon Power cards (they weren't ready when the game was sent to me, but I've been sent their abilities to use), and the Set Lists cards are mostly symbology, but the Gods and Venues are stunning.  Each god card depicts a different god or goddess from ancient mythologies wielding their chosen instrument for rockin' the celestial plane.  The venues are grand, mythical locations like Atlantis, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, and the Rainbow Bridge and are depicted in artwork fit for their grand glory.
The rockin' gods are everything rock stars should be!  Glamorous, eccentric, powerful, and really, really awesome!
The venue art is absolutely stunning.  Full size prints would look great decorating the walls of your game room or music studio!
(Could that be add on or stretch goal material?)
 The second thing you'll notice is the humor.  What the Set List cards lack in fantastic artwork they make up for in the humor.  Most of the Set List cards have the names of classic rock songs on them, or rather deified parodies of classic rock songs.  What songs will your band perform?  Maybe "Stairway to Olympus"?  Or maybe everyone will raise their lighters (do people still do that?) for "Free Feathered Serpent".  It's not always obvious what song the titles reference (it took us a while to figure out "Prosperous Offspring"), but they are all awesome and hilarious once you make the connection.  My only issue?  "Foreverlong", a play on "Everlong" by the Foo Fighters, mixed in with a lot of classic rock songs from the '70s and '80s made me feel old.  I guess the song is 19 years old already, but did they really have to rub it in!  Might as well call Soundgarden classic rock (oh wait, I heard them on a classic rock station ten years ago - OK, I admit it, I'm getting old).
I would totally listen to a radio station that played these songs!
So the theme is awesome.  The artwork is stellar.  The humor is a laugh.  But how does the game play?

In The Lords of Rock each player will choose one pantheon of ancient gods: Aztec, Egyptian, Greek, and Norse.  (Other pantheons, like the Lovecraftian Elder Gods will be stretch goals.)  Each pantheon consists of two band leaders and ten band members.  From these twelve choices players will form a band of four rockin' gods.  Each god has a primary and secondary skill of various levels: guitar, vocals, bass, or drums.  Your band must contain one member with each primary skill, but the secondary skills can be mixed.  So your band may be really strong in one skill, like drums, or maybe more balanced between the four skills.
Greek, Aztec, Egyptian, and Norse gods will battle it out for control of the celestial plane!
Each player also receives four Venues where they'll choose to play their concerts.  Each venue will require one to four of the skills in order to please the audience.  Venues can either be handed out randomly or drafted depending on your play preference.  It's important to note that you get your venues between choosing your pantheon and selecting your band members.  This allows you to customize your band somewhat to the venues you may be playing.  When your band plays at a venue any band members' primary skills that match the venue requirements will be used, as well as secondary skills that match the venue, as long as that member's primary skill wasn't already used.  So if you have a few venues that require vocals and bass you might want to build a band that is really strong in vocals, good in bass, but weak in percussion you'll want to and guitar.  Or maybe you'll want to balance your band so that you have a better chance at competing at venues your opponents pick out.
Venues played are classics of mythology and history, ranging in size from small to extra large.
Each player also begins the game with seven Set List cards.  Most of the Set List cards give you a one or two point bonus for specific skills.  Some apply to only one skill, some to multiple skills, and some give you a bigger bonus in different sized venues.  Each of the positive Set List cards have a song name on them, and reading the song names is almost as much fun as the rest of the game!  There are also negative Set List cards.  These are things that can go wrong during a concert, like blowing a fuse, breaking a string, etc.  They'll deduct one or two points from specific skills and you'll play those on your opponents.  There are also roadie cards that let you cancel the effects of a negative card.  Finally, each pantheon has a one-time use Celestial Pantheon Power card that gives the band a special ability that they can use once per game. 
Positive Set List cards boost your skills and give you extra souls, negative cards detract from your opponents' skills or souls,
 and Roadies help you when things go wrong.  An opponent causes you to blow an amp?
No problem if there's a Roadie there to fix it!
So, now that you know what the different cards are, how do you actually play?  Well, that's simple.  The Lords of Rock isn't very challenging mechanically, and it does have a fair amount of luck, but it plays quickly and there's a bit of strategy involved.

One player will start by playing a Venue from their collection of Venues.  Then starting with the next player, each player will have an opportunity to either play a Set List card from their hand or pass their turn.  This repeats until each player has passed.  Positive Set List cards are played face-down in front of you and negative Set List cards are played face-up in front of opponents.  A player can't have more than two negative cards played on them for a single venue.  And if a player has passed they can't play any more cards unless someone plays a negative card on them, then they can immediately play one positive card.
It's time to rock!
After all players have passed all Set List cards are revealed and each band's total skill for the venue is tallied.  The winner gets the number of souls indicated on the Venue card and possibly a special ability for the next round if the Venue grants one.  Each other player gets the number of souls listed on the Venue card for the place they came in.  And then the played Set List cards are cleared, each player draws three new Set List cards, and the next player chooses a Venue.  Easy peasy...
Reveal your Set List cards and add up all your skills and bonuses to see who won the battle at the current venue.
Tallying skill points for a Venue is a little challenging, but once you've done it a time or two it gets easier.  Each band member will contribute a value to the concert based on their primary skill, if it matches the Venue's requirements.  If they can't contribute with their primary skill they'll contribute with their secondary skill (but never primary and secondary skill).  If neither skill matches they don't contribute any value to the concert.  That total can be determined as soon as the Venue is played and we found it's easiest for everyone to announce what their base score for a Venue is before anyone starts playing Set List cards.  In addition to the band member skill values, values from the Set List cards played are added up, including any negative cards.  The winner is the player with the highest total skill for the Venue.  Souls earned at each Venue are tracked using gems (not sure if they'll still be gems in the final version though).
Skills required at each venue are highlighted in gold and the size is determined by how many skills are required.
The winner of this venue would get 3 million souls (3 gems), second place would get 2, third gets 1, and everyone else gets 0.
After each full round players are supposed to discard all their Venue cards and draw (or draft) four new Venues.  However I've been in discussion with the designer and this may change slightly.  My friends and I really liked the idea of keeping your Venue cards after the first round because that lets you strategically build a hand over the course of the game so you can try to come out big in the venue you select for the second round.  So the designer is considering a few options for the Venues at the end of the first round, including ust drawing back up to four, or drawing more Venues to add to the three remaining you have from the first round and then discarding down to four.  Either way I think will eliminate the randomness of the second round, allow for a full-game strategy to develop, and allow a player to refresh a bad hand of Venues if the original strategy isn't panning out.

After two full rounds the game ends and the player with the most souls wins.  If there's a tie, the tied players battle over a randomly drawn Venue (repeat if necessary until there is one winner).
My Aztec band is ready to sacrifice some mean riffs.
Final Thoughts:
I'll say it again.  The theme and artwork in The Lords of Rock are amazing.  But amazing theme and artwork doesn't necessarily make a good game.  Fortunately The Lords of Rock brings a solid game along with it's totally tubular theme.  It's not very deep or strategic, so it probably won't fill up your game night, but it is a fast, fun filler game.  It's quick to set up (just shuffle a few decks) and only takes about 30 minutes to play, give or take a bit, so you'll be able to get a game in whenever you have a bit of time.  
Each pantheon includes 12 incredibly rendered gods! 
I do think that the novelty of the humor will wear off after you've gone through all the Set List cards once or maybe twice, though.   The game, while fun, doesn't really offer the depth that will keep me coming back, nor does it offer the social interaction that will keep it entertaining for very casual gamers once the song names have all been read.  All the numbers are also a bit fiddly to add up and keep track of, so it's not the type of game you can play without thinking about either.  I really see this as a game that will be most at home as an introductory game.  It's something you'll introduce to new players once, play a few times, and then it'll go back to the shelf.  A few months later you'll have someone new in the group and you'll say "Hey, you gotta check out The Lords of Rock.  The cards are hilarious and the art and theme are great."  Then you'll play it with the new person a time or two until the novelty wears off again.  I don't see the game having a lot of staying replay value, at least not for my group of gaming friends, but then again, $20 isn't too bad for a solid game that'll generate some good laughs a few times a year.
Any time you play you won't be disappointed in how the game looks.
Also, while the artwork is incredible, the graphic design could use a few small tweaks.  All the symbology is gold and black and circular.  This makes it difficult to tell at a glance which Set List cards are positive and which are negative.  The cards do have a + or - on them, but that still gets lost.  Simply changing the color of the negative card graphics to red and maybe putting the symbols in a square or triangle outline would make it a whole lot easier to tell at a glance which cards are what.
If those negative symbols had a different colored background, and maybe a different shaped frame,
they'd be a lot easier to differentiate at a glance.
One final criticism, and whether it's good or bad probably depends on your play preference, is that all the pantheons have pretty much the exact same skill sets.  The exception is the Band Leaders, but, while they each have a different combination of skills, they're still balanced.  Because of this each pantheon feels pretty much the same, except for the artwork.  There are the Celestial Pantheon Power cards that give each pantheon a one-time unique ability, but even these are fairly well balanced.  Playing a Celestial Pantheon Power card is more about the timing of playing it than it is about building a strategy around the card.  These abilities really aren't enough to make you feel like you're playing a different pantheon with different abilities.  Instead players make their own strengths and weaknesses by which gods they select to perform in their bands.  Personally, I'd have liked to see each pantheon have an inherent performance strength that could be tweaked or adjusted a bit based on which specific gods were selected.  This would give each pantheon more of an identity and give multiple plays more variety.  Aztecs could be vicious drummers.  Or how about those Greek vocals, and the screaming Norse guitars?  Egyptians could have balanced skills and the Elder Gods stretch goal pantheon would play a mean bass.  But, if you like the idea of customizing your band starting from balanced choices, The Lords of Rock offers that.
Are you ready to rock?  I'll see you at the World Tree!
That said, if this is the type of game you enjoy, I don't have any issues at all with the mechanics.  The game was fun, easy to play, and it looks great.  It's similar in mechanics to games like Smash Up or Gloom, but with it's own flair and a really bodacious theme.  So if any of this sounds like your type of game, be sure to check out The Lords of Rock on Kickstarter, beginning Monday, August 1, 2016.  $20 will get you a radical game dude!  Guitar!

Preliminary Rating: 6.5/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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