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June 17, 2003

Favorite Games X

Here's two games of backstabbing and treachery (a popular theme), one an absolute classic and the other an odd European game (to which I gave done more than a little surgery in the past)...

Family Business is a card game of good old fashioned gang warfare. Line your pal's men up against the wall and mow 'em down in a new St. Valentine's Day Massacre! Each player has a cast of famous gangsters to try to defend (though identity is irrelevant) and a hand full of contracts, hits, and various other cards. Play moves around the table (mostly), slowly building up a list of at-risk gangsters, until the list gets long enough that one starts dying each turn (cards can start this war early, call it off for a moment... or accelerate it to double speed!). The right cards defend you from Contracts (and can swipe turns from other players, too), a few others can pull you out of danger, or just re-arrange it so others go to their maker before you. The last man standing takes the prize. A quick, fun game with lots of options and chances to backstab right at the best time. Occasionally you can get a stinker hand and just suffer for the whole game (and, once people realize you're weak, a feeding frenzy is likely to follow, taking you out of the game rapidly)... But when that happens, it's time to shuffle and play another round. Newer printings include rule cues on the cards that help to reduce the need to refer back to summary cards (or the rulebook) for clarification (though you'll memorize the card effects quickly enough).

Courtisans of Versailles is a game I've barely played... and yet have played many times. Why do I say this? I'll get to that later... Players here take the roles of the heads of powerful families in the French Court, maneuvering for positions, undercutting one another with the king and queen, going off to war, or being sent to the Bastille. The board is just a record-keeper, showing where each player's fortunes stand with the royals, most of play happens with a thick deck of cards. Cards are used to attempt to get a title, to trap another player in a duel, to slip poison into an unwatched drink... All in an attempt to gather as much value into your family's coffers. Some cards require influence (including most of the good ones), some suddenly lead to death... even of the king or queen (which can really help if you're deep in the doghouse with the potential target). Clever play can get you to the throne (though it isn't easy), or at least to a time as the King's mistress or the Queen's favorite, which gives you almost unlimited influence... until you get found out. Choices are a bit short of players who end up low on influence with both King and Queen, but it's always possible to bribe another player to talk you up (or get yourself killed... you come back in a turn playing a relative, and get to randomly generate starting influence). Fun will be had, and at least a bit (likely a lot) of genteel backstabbing will occur. Rules are provided in English, but there are a few bits where the translation is a little unclear... You'll manage to figure out what they mean with minimal puzzling, I'm sure.

Now, why do I say I have barely played this game and yet have played it many times? Well, this game underwent a bit of re-working (mostly filing off names and replacing them, though I've added a few custom cards each time we've played it) to become Courtiers of Kolvir, a game I've presented to great results at AmberCon North and The Black Road. Anyone who doesn't think Oberon's court in the days long before Zelazny's Amber novels was just as outrageous as the Sun King's wasn't reading the same books I was.

Funagain Purchase Links
Family Business
Courtisans of Versailles

Posted by ghoul at June 17, 2003 06:04 AM

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Again, two fun games. There's a game whose name I'm blanking on, currently, about the French Revolution. Folks have white, red and blue markers to control the various provinces, each representing different political groups in France. The couple of times I played it, it was a blast. Very deep, yet not hard to learn.

Posted by: Scott at June 17, 2003 07:16 AM

Played Jack's version of this at ACN. Was quite fun... even to going from dungeon to influence in one turn, as I recall.

Posted by: Arref at June 17, 2003 08:48 AM

That's quite a hefty price for Courtisans of Versailles... have you really gotten your money's worth? (I was interested in actually buying it from the review, but then I had to look again...)

Posted by: MT Fierce at June 17, 2003 11:25 AM

I can understand the concern on price... Courtisans (and most other games from Tilset Editions) are somewhat pricey, I expect because they don't really have good US distribution (so importation cost is significant). This particular game has only a couple fancy bits (small resin busts of the king and queen), the rest being nice quality but unremarkable (stand-ups for the players... 4 each so you can mark both your King and Queen position for both a male or female courtier, as you will switch during play; many cards with nice art; a board on good stock; a couple d10). If domestically produced, I'd expect $5-$10 to vanish from the list price to bring it in line with the quality/price range it tends toward. It isn't nearly as highly produced as, say, the Hasbro Avalon Hill line, which is where its price point falls.

If you find the game matches the sort you and yours like to play (and it does take 4-6 players to make it interesting), it'll be worth the price, but it is a moderately high buy-in in case it doesn't work for you.

For me, money's worth for CoV is a certainty... it inspired a fun Amber cross-over, which I've been able to share at ACN/TBR to good results. But since I buy LOTS of games (some of which never get more than read and put away...), my "break even" point is low. To me, just having a new and clever game doing something different has significant value.

Posted by: Ghoul at June 17, 2003 12:58 PM

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