The art and name owe much to game publisher Granna’s previous release CV, but the game itself is a very different animal (although it will also set you back around £20).
There is also a thematic resemblance, but here you’re showing the history of your civilisation rather than your personal career development.
In the hugely oversized box (it’s the same as the equally oversized CV box) you’ll find a small game board, around 100 cards and 100 or so wooden and cardboard tokens – again closely mimicking CV (it even has the same insert, although there’s no pencil and score pad). The component quality is high throughout and artist Piotr Socha’s illustrations are once again fantastic. But here the CV comparisons stop.
The basic concepts of CVlizations are very simple and easily explained to any group. And while players play their cards face down each turn everyone has the same cards, and are playing for open rewards, so it’s easy to repeat rules as you go.
The game is played over nine turns, split into three ‘ages’ of three. In each turn players will play two cards, so over the course of the game you’ll play a total of 18 actions. At the end of the game, the player with the most (surprise surprise) victory points (happiness) is the winner.
Each player starts the game with an identical set of eight cards. Each turn they choose two of these to play and then discard, meaning six of their eight cards are played in each era. At the end of an era you get those six cards back (then rinse and repeat).
Each card lets you do a different (fairly standard) action: three let you take one of the three types of resource (food, wood, stone); three let you trade, take or steal resources; while one gives straight VPs. The last lets you double up whichever action you chose with your other card in that turn. The actions are done in order, with each action having a number on the card (so for example taking a log is a number two – no sniggering at the back!)
The trick is players play one action face up and the other face down – and the amount of people that play each determines how well it work for each player that chose it. Most work OK with one, best with two, and either poorly or not at all with three or more players choosing it at once – so there is lots of second-guessing going on.
Finally in each round, players have the opportunity to buy ‘ideas’. There are four available per round, each costing a varying number of resources and giving either victory points, a special ability or both. Abilities are standard fayre: giving bonus victory points for doing certain actions; discounts on later ideas; and generally bending the rules a little.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: I’m really not keen on games with a large memory element, and CVlizations falls into this category if you’re actually trying to win. You’re desperately trying to remember who has played what so you know the chances of doing something well that round – but I guess that’s me, not the fault of the game. We did try playing with face-up discards, but that just makes the dreaded ‘analysis paralysis’ monster rear its ugly head. It’s a game you probably need to play more lightly – but at the same time, it doesn’t really feel like that sort of game.
- The thinker: This is not really a game for thinkers, although at first I thought it might be. A clever player can fairly predict the kind of actions others should take, but that only gets you so far – and unfortunately there isn’t enough difference in the amounts taken to make the decisions that meaningful anyway (even if you could accurately predict them). And unless you’re start player that turn, who knows what might be available to buy anyway? An exercise in frustration, unfortunately.
- The trasher: CVlizations has the potential to be a real screw-your-neighbour type game, but instead they’ve decided to keep it family friendly. Even when the steal action lets you take more than one item from opponents you have to take it from different ones – annoying if you have a clear leader. both the actions and idea cards lack a little in imagination too, bending rules a little rather than a lot: they could have made it much more swingy and fun, or put in some alternative cards for those who wanted a less friendly match.
- The dabbler: I enjoyed this one quite a lot. It is fairly easy to pick up, fast playing and it looks great, the funny illustrations really adding to the experience. You can’t plan much so you chat while you play, and there’s enough randomness to know that over-thinking your moves is a waste of time – it’s more fun to just go with the flow and see what happens. But I don’t enjoy it as much as CV, because it doesn’t quite pull off the narrative arc as well. At the end of CV I can really see the life my character had – I don’t look at my ideas here and see how my civilisation evolved.
You never really know what resources you’ll end up with, which is kind of OK, but then unless you’re first player you don’t really know what will be available to buy either – making planning pretty impossible.
What ends up happening is everyone tries to get a good spread of goods to give themselves the best opportunity to get something/anything useful – which is where the next problem rears its head: what promises to be a bit of an engine builder usually turns into ‘buy what I can afford and hope the best’.
The problem is that each card is going to be worth at least one point, and you’re only going to get the chance to buy nine at best. Missing out feels like a lost opportunity, while holding out for something better next round could just as easily turn out to be an exercise in futility. All the while your neighbour is watching their accident engine fall perfectly into place…
CVlizations seems best at three players and OK at four – but not great at two or five. With two you have the dreaded ‘dummy player’ – or a tedious ‘advanced’ version that sees both players also playing dummy hands; while at five it has downtime issues – and some of the idea cards start to swing a long way to either being super useful or super useless, as the chance of three players choosing the same action increases.
I saw a lot of families playing and enjoying this at UK Games Expo and it has a Board Game Geek rating well over 6.5, which is pretty strong for a lighter weight family game.
But this kind of gateway level game is usually right in my wheel house. I’m always happy to play the likes of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and the rest, but something about this one just doesn’t sit right. For me it doesn’t get the mix of randomness and skill quite right – while it also fails to capitalise on the theme, where CV really nailed it.
But don’t get me wrong: this is a solid game with great art and components. Unfortunately it just isn’t for me, as I’ve seen too many examples of poor luck meaning a player simply isn’t able to compete – not a big deal for many at this price point and game length, but it just sticks in my craw a little too much to stick with it.
* I would like to thank Coiledspring Games for providing a copy of the game for review.