Generally, I don’t want a whole lot of luck in my boardgames. A little bit of it is alright but too much makes a game feel too close to Snakes and Ladders for my liking. That is unless that game makes the luck factor a specific and deliberate part of the game. In my opinion, no game does this better than Lords of Vegas.
This is a game that forces you to gamble and risk everything on the roll of a die. Playing safe is not really an option here, because this is Vegas, baby.
Lords of Vegas is a two to four player game by James Ernest and Mike Selinker. A testament to its design is the fact that it plays just as well with all numbers of players. I personally prefer four but it is still very enjoyable with only two.
Anyway, on to the game itself. Like in Chinatown, the board is a map of Las Vegas, divided into different city blocks which are in turn divided into individual lots. Players randomly draw lots and have the option of building casinos on them. Each casino is marked with a six-sided die, higher numbers being better. Higher dice values earn you more money and larger casinos earn you more points.
Each turn a player will draw a card which gives them a free lot and tells them which coloured casinos pay out. There are nine cards of each colour in the deck so players will be able to see which colours are likely to appear (although this is hindered by the use of a ‘cut card’ signifying the end of the game. If you don’t know what that is, look it up).
Here’s an example:
This is a four player game in progress. Blue is the boss of the gold casino because he controls the highest valued die. If a gold card is drawn, blue will receive 12 million dollars (for the values of the dice) and 4 points (size of the casino). Red will receive a lousy 1 million. If silver is drawn, blue earns 6 million and 4 points. Green nets 5 mil and red suffers again with only 2 million. The yellow player owns the C5 lot and can build a casino of any colour on it for 8 million.
Players can do sneaky things like reroll all of the dice in a casino, change the colour of a casino to merge into another player’s and hopefully take it over, take a risk and sprawl into an unowned lot or of course, gamble. Sometimes you’ll be just a few million short of enacting a grand plan and your only option will be to put down some cash in another player’s casino…
There’s a lot of luck but it’s calculated luck. You always know what the odds are and can make educated decisions based on risk versus reward.
The most inspired part of this game is the scoring method. I mentioned that you score points by owning large casinos, but what makes this so brilliant is that after a certain point your smaller casinos start becoming worthless. As you can see in the picture, to get from 23 to 26 points, you need at least 3 points in a single hit. A two-tile casino will get you nothing at this stage. This mechanic really forces you to fight to land control. You’ll have to get a little bit nasty to win.
Seriously, great game. Lots of interaction, lots of fun, lots (and lots) of frustration and cursing at dice. Grab a copy, invite some friends around and see if you still like them afterwards.
Order Lords of Vegas here: MilSims Games.
This is the second post in a series of three, all about boardgames with a similar layout. Read part one: Chinatown: Yelling at its best.