Welcome to Vegas, before it was the Vegas we know now, to the parking lots and buildings that will one day be occupied by some of the brightest neon and gaudiest hotels to ever grace the planet. Where people will gamble, marry and attend shows. As the film says- if you build it they will come – and it’s up to you to lay the foundations.
Opening up Lords of Vegas the first thing that greets you is a lovely clearly written rulebook with lots of great examples followed by a nice big board depicting the Las Vegas strip. Underneath this are bags of dice, plastic transparent tokens and casino tiles which will soon litter the board as rival moguls fight for the space they need to expand. The best component of all though is the paper money, which feels oddly nostalgic as you riffle it and look out over Vegas plotting your next move.
The last component is a set of cards depicting the various lots available in the game, a number of ‘The Strip’ cards and one game over card. Removing the game over card for a moment and giving the deck a shuffle like an overly enthusiastic blackjack dealer, you deal out a couple of lots to each player. This gives them a couple of things: a bunch of the lovely paper money, and ownership of two lots on the board. These cards are then placed at the side of the board as not only do they have lots on them, but the background colour shows the same colours as the casino tiles. Will come back to why shortly.
Once money has been handed out, alongside a handy little action summary card, the final bit of setup is to get the rest of the cards that really drive the game sorted out. You divide the remainder of the deck up into 4 roughly equal piles, put the ‘Game Over’ card on top of one stack then put the other three on top of it. I really like this setup because it means everyone has a rough idea of where the game will draw to it’s conclusion, but is always uncertain of the probability of a given colour of casino popping up.
The Down Low
Starting with your couple of empty lots and stroking your paper money (ok maybe that is just me) you’ll survey your burgeoning kingdom. Before you will lie an empty Vegas boulevard, bereft of the casinos that will eventually make it’s name: but not for long. Eyeing up the ever elusive victory points, you’ll start throwing your money down and pushing your luck.
Maybe you’ll start by converting an empty lot into a bright shiny casino: taking one of your dice and replacing a token on an empty lot you own and then choosing to erect a cowboy, space, egyptian, roman or medieval themed casino. How do you know which one to build though Boss? Well let’s come back to those cards we laid aside earlier.
We’ve already covered that the colours match but at the start of each player’s turn a new card will be added to this pile. This card will give the player a new empty lot, but also make any casino matching the background colour pay out. The card is then laid out beside the board with all the previous ones, allowing you to approximately guess the probability of a particular colour, and the money and Victory Points that come with it, paying out on future turns. Should you invest in one colour mainly and hope for the big payouts, or should you diversify your portfolio? You take a chance either way.
Now you’ve built a casino you might look at the lot next door to your new aquisition and think about expanding into it- hey you don’t own it and surely no one will snatch it out from under you later in the game, but what if they do? You’ve got a little money left over now so why not go gambling at a rival’s casinos- maybe you’ll get lucky, giving yourself a boost for your next turn, but what if you hand them the cash they need to make a play against you?
This calculation of the odds, runs through the heart of all of ‘Lords of Vegas’ mechanics and just like in a real casino you will be seeing exactly how far you can make your money go on each throw of the dice. There is always a risk to your plays in Vegas and mitigating or embracing it is how you make the big bucks.
The VP track starts out easy requiring you to just have little casinos to climb the ladder but soon you will hit that ceiling and have to grow your casinos to get any further, a clever mechanic that forces you to expand. With expansion comes rivals for your space, and an insatiable need for money to fuel that expansion. To make money means taking risk- outrageous risks that will have the table cheering in elation or groaning in defeat as the dice fall in their favour or they stare snake eyes in the face.
Despite the strong random elements present in Lords of Vegas you never feel out of control and the game is always urging you to press your luck just one more time. Can you get control of that casino, can you gamble and win money at a rivals establishment, can you remodel to get even more money every time it pays out? Roll the bones and find out.
Building Up and Out
Although the core game only supports 4 players an expansion came around called ‘Up!’ that both upped (see what I did there?) the player count but also allowed you to literally build up the way. A bunch of new casino tiles that are used to raise your casino come with the expansion, and a new action allowing you to do just that. This cleverly gets round the slightly more crowded board that you get with 5-6 players, though I have to say not a lot of my plays have seen any giant towering casinos. Yet.
Lords of Vegas is a fantastic, colourful, brash piece of design that absolutely embraces the casino theme with a set of beautifully integrated push your luck mechanics that will have your table shouting with delight and despair in equal measure. The components are great, and the feel of throwing down paper money as you grab a casino out from underneath someone has yet to be beaten.
Take a chance on it, go on. Just one more throw of the dice. Maybe you’ll get lucky?