Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Succession: Intrigue in the Royal Court

Designers:  Robert Dougherty and Chad Ellis
Publisher:  Your Move Games
3 – 5 Players, 1 – 2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

I frankly don’t know much about Your Move Games, but was happy to have the opportunity to play and review a couple of their games. The two that I received – Succession and Space Station Assault – both appeared intriguing, and I was immediately impressed by their professional appearance and components. That is a good start!

Succession follows a similar storyline as King Me, a Mayfair / DaVinci games title. The aging king realizes that his time on this earth is approaching its end, so he is seeking a successor. Five major candidates are in contention for the throne, and it is the player’s job to make sure they have the most influence over the candidate who ultimately rises to the throne.

Each player assumes the role of a character in the fantasy kingdom, each of whom has a special power which can assist him in his quest to be the “power behind the throne”. This power is depicted on an extremely large player mat, which also depicts a drawing of the character and five tracks which record the influence the player has in each of the five candidates.

The center candidate board depicts tracks for the five candidates, each numbered 1 – 10. If any of the candidates reaches the goal of “10”, he/she ascends to the throne and the player with the most influence on that candidate emerges victorious. Candidates each begin at a specified location on their respective track, with some being closer to the throne than others. However, each candidate also has a special characteristic that can affect his progress towards becoming king. For example, Ulysses – the king’s son – begins at level “7” on his track, just three short spaces away from the throne. However, his nickname is “useless”, and he loses two steps on the intrigue track each time he drops a space. So, he can plummet fast. Arianna, on the other hand, is the king’s daughter, and as such, can generally do no wrong in his eyes. Whenever she gains in standing, she increases by two levels. Further, she can never drop more than one level as the result of an intrigue. Her drawback? She begins at the lowest possible level – the “1” space – on the ascension track.  It seems the king has a difficult time envisioning his little girl as leader of the kingdom!

The driving force of the game is card play. The deck consists of three main types of cards: events, influence and intrigue.

Event cards:  These are used to enact the specified action listed on the card. A player may play as many of these as he desired on his turn.

Influence cards:  These depict a numerical value ranging from 4 – 9 and are used when casting a vote during an intrigue.

Intrigue cards:  These cards represent “rumors, scandals, and good reports”, and are used to call a vote which will affect one or more candidates either favorably or unfavorably. In addition to flavor text, each card will also list the card’s effects, provided it is approved by the players. Generally, this has the effect of increasing or decreasing one more candidates standing on the Ascension track. Each intrigue card also has an influence value, so it can be used in the course of a vote instead of being played as an intrigue card. Further, some intrigue cards indicate that money cannot be used during the subsequent vote, while others double the value of money used as votes.

Whereas money management is critical in many games, card management is essential here. Players begin the game with four cards, but usually only draw one new card each turn. Thus, if a player expends numerous cards during the course of his own turn and during the cycle of elections, he will soon find himself depleted of cards. Conservation is a key concept, and deciding when to play the cards and which elections to influence are critical decisions.

While card play is the driving force, negotiation and deal-making is the game’s heart and spirit. A flurry of offers and deals are discussed during the prior to and immediately after the intrigue votes. Players will attempt to make deals when a vote is pending, hoping to buy or sell their votes for various considerations. After the vote players will again attempt to make deals to convince the player who has the privilege of assigning credit or blame to assist or hinder certain characters. Money, cards, future considerations – all are currency in the negotiation process. While the negotiation process is very open-ended and fluid, it can also be time consuming and cause the game to bog down.  Indeed, this is the game’s biggest stumbling block, as the constant series of negotiations grow wearisome.

On a player’s turn, he follows the following sequence of play:

Draw.  The player may either draw one card and continue his turn, or discard his entire hand of cards and draw four new cards. If he chooses the latter option, his turn ends immediately after drawing his four new cards and he takes no further actions. This is harsh, but is sometimes necessary if a player has only one or two cards – or none at all – or if the cards he does possess are not advantageous.

Patronage.   Each player collects income based on their influence in the various candidates. This amount increases as their influence with the various candidates increases, and is clearly listed on their player mats.

Main.  Card play. Players may play, in any order, as many event cards as they desire, and one intrigue card. Event cards may be played both before and after an intrigue card is played, but generally not during. Some cards require the expenditure of money in order to be played.

Once an intrigue card is played, players will then vote on whether the effects of the intrigue card should take effect. Prior to actually recording their votes, however, players are free to negotiate and make deals in order to swing the vote in the direction they desire, and target the candidates who will be affected by the card’s effects. At some point, players will actually vote. This is done by each player recording on paper whether they are in favor or opposed to the motion, as well as how many votes they are casting. Influence cards, intrigue cards and money can be used for votes, but since there can be as many as five votes per round, players must expend these resources wisely.

If an intrigue vote results in its passage, the effects are enacted.  Usually, this means the player who initiated the vote gets to increase or decrease the standing of one or more candidates.  The candidates who are affected must be determined prior to the actual voting.

Once the appropriate candidates standing on the Ascension chart are adjusted, those candidates who were affected are going to give credit – or blame – to someone!  For each candidate affected, the player who cast the most votes in the election gets to decide which character will gain or lose standing in that candidate’s eyes.  This will generally result in yet another round of negotiating and offers, as players attempt to gain credit and/or avoid blame.  After offers are accepted, the controlling player then assigns credit and/or blame to the players whose offers he accepted.

An example is in order. Let’s say the “You’re my Hero!” intrigue has been played and the subsequent vote has resulted in its passage.  The player who played the card will then get to increase one candidate’s standing by two levels, and decrease another candidate’s standing by one level.  Which candidates are affected will have been determined prior to the actual vote, and, of course, would have resulted in intense negotiations and usually the exchange of considerable wealth and perhaps cards.

Continuing our example, let’s say that Archie the Bishop increased in standing by two levels, while Galahad the Worthy Knight decreased by two levels.  The player who cast the most votes – whether or not he was on the “winning” side – will get to assign credit for Archie, and blame for Galahad.  This, of course, will generally result in that player being able to extort handsome offers from the other players, who are eager to gain influence in Archie, and hopeful to avoid a decrease of influence in Galahad.  The offers and counter-offers are made, until the controlling player accepts the ones he desires.  At this point, one player is allowed to increase one level of standing on the Archie track on his player mat.  A less fortunate player loses one level on the Galahad track on his player mat.

Once a player has played all of the event cards and/or one intrigue card he desires, play then passes to the player on his left, who repeats the same turn sequence.  This cycle continues over and over again until one candidate reaches the “10” space on the Ascension track, or until the deck of card is depleted.

If the game ends with a candidate reaching the “10” space, the player who has the most influence in that candidate is victorious. Ties are broken in favor of the player who has the most voting power remaining (influence, influence and money).

If the game ends with the card deck depleting, than the candidate who is closest to the throne is named king. The winner, as above, is the player who has the most influence in that candidate.

It is fairly well known that I tend to enjoy deal-making and negotiation games.  As such, I am pre-disposed to enjoy Succession. And, to a degree, I do.  The relatively open-ended nature of the negotiations provides room for clever negotiation tactics and creative offers.
This deal-making process is intriguing and fun – up to a point.  The problem is that it is SO open-ended that they can go on and on and on.  I could not locate a target time listed on the game box, but the games in which I have been involved have all lasted 2 hours or more, which is FAR too long.  The “twice-per-player turn” negotiation process grows tiresome, and most folks are ready to abandon the game at about the 1 ½ hour point. It is the same feeling I get whenever I play Traders of Genoa.  It simply contains too many negotiations.

Fortunately, the designer, Chad Ellis, has recognized that this could be problematic, so the first variant suggests using a timer for negotiations.  Although I generally do not enjoy using timers in a game as I feel they give the process a “rushed” feeling, there are a few games in which they are useful and appropriate.  Diplomacy, Machiavelli and Advanced Civilization are three such games.  Perhaps this is another one.

The concepts here are interesting, and the free-wheeling negotiations can be amusing.  In addition to the negotiations and deal making, there are many decisions to be made in terms of candidates to back, cards to play, money management, and more. There is also opportunity for clever plays and maneuvers by properly timing the use of the cards you possess.  Sadly, this all comes crumbling down due to the sameness of each turn, and the constant repetitiveness of the negotiations and deal-making.  It is simply TOO much of a good thing.   If the negotiations could be controlled with a time limit without adding too much of a “rushed” atmosphere, the overall experience will likely be far greater.  I am just not willing to give the game any further play time.


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