As a game Lords of Vegas is a study of perfect thematic design, bringing together several elements of Las Vegas into a single board game which will have players swearing, whooping and hollering like Americans and starting to question the game plan they’ve carefully been building for the past half an hour. But I’ll point this out early on – the box design is pretty rubbish, so try not to get caught out by that. If you ignore this based on what it looks like from the outside then you’ll be missing out on a great, intense experience.
The idea of Lords of Vegas is reasonably simple, and while there’s a lot going on throughout the game the rules aren’t overly difficult to learn. The basic premise is that you’re a casino developer, looking at this new shiny road in Las Vegas (soon to become the Vegas Strip) with the dollar signs rolling in your eyes like a fruit machine ready to take all your money. You’ll be developing casinos, battling other players to take over vital high paying spots on the Strip and throwing your money around like it’s going out of fashion, all while trying to become the boss of as many spots in Vegas and score more points than anyone else round the table.
On each turn you’ll be taking a card which dictates which plot on the Strip you’re taking ownership of. You don’t need to build on it just yet (and indeed someone else might’ve already tried to build on it) but you can at least plonk your coloured marker down so that it’s clear which plots belong to which player and to determine just how much cash you get on each round – even empty plots still earn you money, but it’s in the casino building where the big bucks start rolling in.
This comes in the 2nd phase of your turn, at which point you can choose to build a casino on one of your owned plots. Choosing the right place to build is pretty important here; if you have several casino tiles of the same colour next to each other they become larger, more powerful and lucrative casinos, but as with all things in Vegas if you want these bigger rewards you’re also met with a larger risk. See, several people can partly own a casino (as designated with the colour of the dice on each tile) but it’s only the developer whose dice value is the largest who is considered to be the boss, and the only one to be earning points when they’re awarded to that casino. But once per turn players can also visit another player’s casino and gamble anything up to $5m per tile, at which point they’re going up against that casino’s boss. If they win their bet, the boss is going to have to pay out the value of the bet or (in the event of a double 1 or double 6) double the amount. These moments can be game-changing, they can turn a struggling player into a financial powerhouse, send a comfortable boss into financial meltdown, and get fists pumping around the table.
And that’s not all that can go wrong as a boss. Moments after losing millions as a result of a high-rolling gambler paying a visit, another player might decide to reorganise a casino. Doing so forces you to reroll all of the dice in a casino, potentially shifting the balance of power dramatically to another player. If your luck is really out you might have “sprawled” your casino to expand it despite not owning the plot of land first; in the short term that’s not a bad idea as it’ll get a few more points and notes coming your way, but if someone else draws that plot from the deck on their turn they take it over, and if your luck is really out it’ll make them the boss of your finely crafted supercasino. Bummer.
But despite all this risk, being a boss is what it’s all about. You really need to be a boss to bring the points in, and as the winner is whoever has the most points when the game ends you don’t really have a choice. The bigger your casinos become, the more points you’re earning, and the more points you’re earning the more other players are looking your way in the hope of a hostile takeover somehow – will you hold your nerve or offer a trade to keep the pressure off? Either way winning is usually a hard-fought reward, and when an entire game comes down to a single roll of a pair of dice you’ll all feel the tension and share in the anguish or delight of those involved.
You wouldn’t think a board game could capture the excitement of Vegas, but while there aren’t the flashing lights, sounds of fruit machines or echoes of Elton John floating down the Strip on your table there’s plenty of excitement, plenty of gambling and plenty of risk and reward. It’s purely by chance that I ended up being able to review this, but it looks like Lady Luck was smiling – Lords of Vegas will sit near the top of my collection, ready to grab at a moment’s notice. Awesome fun.
Lords of Vegas
Available Now, RRP £46.99
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