Disclaimer: This review is from a review copy of the game that was provided by Restoration Games to Open Seat Gaming, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game.
Disclaimer 2: One of the designers that worked on this game has recently been uncovered as a serial abuser. He no longer works with Restoration Games, he does not get royalties from this or other titles, and we have decided to not list him as a designer. We unequivocally and strongly stand with any victims of abuse; whether by him or anyone else.
Game: Conspiracy: The Solomon Gambit
Publisher: Restoration Games
Design: Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson, Eric Solomon
Art: Matt Griffin, Jason Taylor
Mechanisms: Auction/Bidding, Pick up and deliver
Number of Players: 2 – 4
Game Time: 30 – 60 minutes
Description: Conspiracy: The Solomon Gambit sees players seeking to maneuver 6 shared agents and their special abilities in order to either acquire the all-important briefcase, or successfully pay off Dr. Solomon.
The board is placed into the middle of the table with the briefcase in the middle and the 6 agent figures randomly distributed onto the starting cities (indicated in the rules and by an icon next to those cities on the board). The Dr. Solomon die, which is used to track game turns, is placed on a track number based on the number of players. The start player is chosen randomly and the Dr. Solomon standee is placed to their right so that he always takes the last turn in a round.
Players each receive a tri-fold cardboard shield matching one of the 4 agencies in the corners of the board. This indicates which location that player needs to get the briefcase to in order to win, and also hides their payoff board and sovereigns (money). Each player then receives 30 sovereigns and a starting payoff token, which tells them which agent they begin the game with influence over. Players place 3 sovereigns on that agent, and 1 sovereign each on 2 other agents of their choice.
Each round consists of players taking a turn in order. Each turn, players must choose 1 of the following actions to perform:
- Make a Payoff- This action can be carried out in 2 ways:
- Pay off an Agent: Place any number of your remaining sovereigns (including 0 if you want to bluff) on any agent on your board.
- Pay off Dr. Solomon: Place exactly 1 sovereign on Dr. Solomon’s space on your board.
- Move an Agent- Choose an agent and a city connected to their current location that you want to move that agent to. This action can be challenged (see below). If not challenged, or you win the challenge, you then move the agent to the chosen city. You can then optionally carry out the agent’s special ability. Agents carrying the briefcase is the primary way to move it, and some agent special abilities let you move the briefcase in additional ways.
- Burn an Agent- Choose an agent to burn and an agent in the same city that will do the burning. You must have at least 5 sovereigns paid off to the agent doing the burning. This action can be challenged (see below). If not challenged, or you win the challenge, the burned agent is removed from the game and can no longer be used.
Moving and burning actions can be challenged by other players by levying the influence they have over the agent the turn player is trying to use for their action. The challenging player begins by declaring a number of sovereigns. The turn player then must declare a higher number, and this goes back and forth until one of the players passes. At no time can any player bid more than the number of sovereigns they have on the agent being challenged, and players must pass if their sovereign limit is reached (they can also pass early if they don’t want to give away exactly how much they have on an agent).
If the challenge succeeds, the turn player’s turn is ended without the action being performed. If the challenge fails, the challenging player gets a Restricted marker which means they can only make a payoff on their next turn. Other players can then challenge the action again, but if no challenge succeeds, or no challenges are made, the turn player completes their turn as declared. Sovereigns are never removed during challenges, they remain on agents for the entire game once placed.
After each player has taken a turn, Dr. Solomon then takes his turn. This consists of moving the Dr. Solomon die one space down the track. If the die is already on the last space of the track, instead roll it and if the Dr. Solomon side shows (a 1 in 6 chance) the game ends, otherwise play continues with a new round.
The game ends immediately if the briefcase enters a city associated with one of the agencies controlled by a player, in which case that player wins. If this has not happened by the time the Dr. Solomon side is rolled on his die then players reveal their payoff boards and the player with the most sovereigns paid off to Dr. Solomon is declared the winner.
Review: This is a really tricky game to get the hang of. There are 6 agents on the board that you can use for actions, but they are shared by everyone so it’s very much a tug of war throughout the game. The agent special abilities are different enough that each has at least a niche usefulness, though some seem better than others and you’ll likely fight over those with the other players, coming down to who paid each of them off more. The agent special abilities only take effect after you move with the agent, though, and I feel like some of them would be more useful if you could use the ability before OR after moving (such as the agent that lets you move the briefcase from an adjacent city to their city). Admittedly, we did play a limited number of games for this review, so it’s entirely possible that with more plays and experience the ones I consider “niche” may turn out to be more effective than first glance.
Given that it’s a hidden information game, there is a necessity for an amount of bluffing. Knowing when to challenge (or concede a challenge, even if you could continue) so as to give your opponents as little information about your payoffs as possible is important. So, some players may not enjoy that aspect of the game. It’s still possible to play the game while not being good at bluffing, but it’s likely going to affect your enjoyment, and possibly that of the other players as well.
It is entirely possible, by middle-late in the game, to have a game state where all players are even enough with their payoffs on the (remaining) agents that it’s just a stalemate until the Dr. Solomon die finally ends the game, and it can be frustrating (and boring) just sitting there not able to accomplish anything productive until the random time that the game finally ends (other than doing a single sovereign payoff to Solomon every turn, if you have any left). I get that it’s part of the game, and good play will minimize the occurrence of this situation. But, given not everyone playing this is going to be an expert at it, I think some players will end up not liking the game as much when the last several rounds nobody really did anything.
It may sound like I’m bashing the game, but I actually really like it. The shared agents are a really clever mechanic which requires interesting decision-making that I don’t think I’ve ever had from any other game I’ve played. The ability to burn agents that other players are using effectively, while hard to pull off sometimes, can help you block a player that launches ahead of everyone else, which can even the playing field. Losing a challenge, which causes a restriction on the actions you can take on your next turn, is also a really nice way to require people to really consider when they’re going to challenge.
There’s also a fun tension about the game, especially if you’ve got a plan in mind. Will the other players muck it up with other agents, or will they try to grab back control of an agent you’re relying on? Will a payoff war be necessary to keep control or can you steer an agent nobody has been paying attention to into a position that gives you an advantage? You never know what will happen!
The production quality of the game is very nice. I especially love the acrylic figures for the agents and briefcase. They’re weighty but still pretty thin so they don’t take up much room on the board, which is good since you’ll frequently have the briefcase and multiple agents in the same city/space on the board. The board is also laid out pretty well with a lot of space between the cities for such situations as I just mentioned, and there is some nice iconography that reminds you where the starting cities are for the briefcase and the randomly placed agents. The sovereigns are also plastic bits instead of cardboard, which is something I always like in games.
Try, Buy, Deny: If you or your gaming group like hidden information and bluffing style games, then I would recommend this to you as a buy. Otherwise, and my personal stance, is that you should try this game to see if you like it. It’s a solid game, but the theme and mechanics may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Scott – The Solitary Meeple