Posted by: gschloesser | September 1, 2011

Vegas Showdown

Designer:  Henry Stern
Publisher:  Avalon Hill
3 – 5 Players, 1 – 1 ¼ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

 NOTE:  This review first appeared on the Boardgame News site

The new Avalon Hill has been on quite a roll lately.  If you exclude the abysmal Sword & Skull, the last several offerings have been quite good.  Risk Godstorm, Nexus Ops, Robo Rally … all have been welcome additions to the world of boardgames.  No, they don’t carry the heaviness that many titles in the old AH line boasted, but they still are quite fun and often challenging to play.  The company is certainly moving in the right direction.

Vegas Showdown continues this progression, and has a distinctive “European” game feel.  Players represent developers rich moguls embroiled in a contest to construct the most prestigious hotel-casino on theLas Vegas strip.  Resources, however, are limited, so fierce competition erupts over those resources, and players compete in tense bidding rounds.  Players place various features (tiles) into the tight confines of their building – restaurants, slots, lounges, etc. – with the aim of increasing their revenue, customer base, and fame.

Each player mat depicts an empty hotel-casino, which has a 7 x 5 grid superimposed upon it.  Onto these 35 squares will be placed the various tiles won during the auction rounds.  Part of the challenge of the game is arranging these pieces, which come in various shapes and sizes, so that they not only fit into the confined space of the building, but are also arranged to provide access to all rooms and yield bonus fame points at game’s end.  Revenue and population are also tracked on the mat with diminutive, yet functional, wooden markers.

Each turn, seven building features are available, including three which are stalwarts throughout the game:  slots, restaurants and lounges.  The other four buildings features, known as “premier” tiles, can vary from round to round, provided they are purchased.  Otherwise, they remain in place, but their price continues to drop until their low-cost appeal is too much to resist.

The game does follow a rigid and swift sequence of play, which can feel a bit repetitive.  Fortunately, the game play is enticing enough to overcome this repetitive feel.  The first order of business each turn is to drop prices, a phase we jokingly have labeled the “Wal-Mart” phase.  The prices for all special tiles that were not acquired on the previous turn are lowered one space, which has the effect of making them more enticing.  Eventually, they will reach a price wherein someone will be unable to resist the great deal.

When special tiles are acquired, they will be replaced by new ones drawn from face-down stacks.  The initial offering price of each building is indicated on the tile and marked on the corresponding bidding track.  The size of the tile is dictated by event cards, which also trigger special rules or situations which remain in effect throughout the current round.  These effects can grant extra or reduced income, prohibit bidding on certain features, lower or raise prices, or even grant fame points based on the features one has added to his building.  If more than one special tile needs to be placed, then multiple event cards are revealed, and all of their effects are relevant for the current round.

One would think that players earn income based on their revenue.  Well, maybe.  Income is actually earned based on the LOWER of a player’s revenue or population.  This forces players to balance these two, a factor that should be considered when obtaining building features.

No doubt, the most intriguing and interactive aspect of the game occurs during the auction round.  In a testament to its influences, the bidding mechanism is directly lifted from two other European-style games:  Amun-Re and Evo.  Each building tile has a corresponding bidding track, and players place their bidding token onto the track on the price they are willing to pay to obtain that tile.  If another player also desires that tile, he may bid more by placing his marker at a higher point along the track.  This bumps-off the previous player, who must bid again on his turn.  This process continues until all players are uncontested for the tile of their choice.  I’ve always enjoyed this bidding mechanism, and it fits well here.  I am surprised it isn’t utilized in more games.

If a player does not wish to bid on any tiles, he may instead opt to publicize his casino and earn one fame point.  This helps the player conserve limited funds for future turns.  Alternatively, a player may opt to renovate his building, which allows him to remove and place up to two buildings.  Buildings cannot simply be shifted inside the casino, however, and must be removed before being replaced.  This will take two turns, which can be quite costly in terms of opportunities lost.

Once a tile is acquired, the player must add it to his building, or set it aside for future use.  There are a few restrictions:

a)      Every tile must be able to trace a path to one of the two exits.  Each tile has one or more doors, and no tile can be completely isolated from the rest of the tiles.  This can be tricky.

b)      Casino tiles (yellow) must trace a path to the casino exit.

c)      Hotel tiles (blue) must trace a path to the hotel exit.

There are other considerations, too.  There is a “Building Prerequisites” tree, wherein some tiles require the player to own other tiles before they can be placed inside one’s building.  For example, a player cannot place a theater without having previously acquired a fancy lounge, which requires the previous acquisition of a regular lounge.  Players can acquire tiles without first owning the prerequisite tile(s), but they cannot place them in their building just yet.  They must acquire and place the prerequisites at some point before they can place the others.

Further, some buildings have a small red triangle symbols on their corners.  If a player can arrange tiles to form full or ¾ squares with these triangles, bonus fame points will be earned at game’s end.  This isn’t easy to do, but if accomplished, the resulting points can be significant.

Each tile obtained grants increased revenue, population, and/or fame.  The more expensive tiles tend to grant greater amounts, while the cheaper and readily-available slots and lounges are miserly in their rewards.  These rewards are a major factor when deciding which tiles to acquire.

This process is repeated until either one player completely fills his building with tiles – not a common occurrence – or until an event card calls for a specific special tile to be placed that is no longer available.  At this point, players earn bonus fame points in a variety of categories:

  • Filled Casino Section
  • Filled Hotel Section
  • Connected Hotel & Casino
  • Highest Revenue
  • Highest Population
  • Each $10 of cash
  • Each ¾ and Full square formed with tile triangles

The player with the greatest fame wins the contest, becomes a legend on the Vegas Strip, and gets free tickets to the Siegfried and Roy magic show.  Well, maybe they just win the game.

Vegas Showdown has little startlingly new.  Rather, it combines familiar mechanisms into a fun, easy-to-learn, yet challenging game.  After numerous plays, I have not discovered a sure-fire path to victory.  There seems to be numerous strategic options, and a fairly wide berth in terms of choices.  This is a game that is easy enough to not deter casual gamers or family members, but deep enough to hold the interest of gamers.  Hasbro has had some success of late marketing some games in the Avalon Hill line in mainstream game and toy stores.  Let’s hope that they include Vegas Showdown in this marketing push, as it could easily be a breakthrough and crossover game.


  1. Vegas Showdown earns its place as an auction crowd-pleaser. Compared to most auction titles, it’s easier to teach and the valuations are simpler to calculate. However, Vegas Showdown is slow and the presentation is dreary. If you like pawn-based auctions, consider Nefertiti for a faster experience or Amun-Re for a deeper one. (5/10)

  2. I was at WBC this year and just the name Vegas Showdown caught my eye. Sadly I did not get to see a demo of it, so I’m glad for the review here.

    If its a european-feel auction game, how does it match up to Medici? I expect Vegas is more complex and slower, as tripgodel said.

    Actually if it really is slower and dreary, that is 180% from what people expect from the name. This one is definitely in the play-before-I-buy category.

  3. Gamer Dave,

    A lot has to do with who published this game and when it was published. Avalon Hill games have traditionally been big on ideas and light on artwork, and games in 2005 had not yet graduated to dazzling componentry. So what you’ve got is a bland presentation of a glittering concept: the bustling Vegas casino.

    These auctions were probably sparkling by Avalon Hill standards, but compared to modern auction games, they are slow and thoughtful. Placing one’s pawn on a blandly marked bid space is not very evocative to me. The monochromatic casino titles don’t draw me in, either. I just don’t feel like I’m anywhere near Vegas.

    A more recent casino title, Lords of Vegas, errs in the opposite direction: even with monochromatic tiles, the main board is so busy that it’s difficult to read the dice and assess one’s position. But it shows how artwork can nudge a game’s theme.

    I’ve discovered a trend among those who really like this game (both in reviews and in-person) and they tend to be elder folks that are new to gaming. I think the Vegas theme is more engaging to them, and the game gives them plenty of time to think through the options.

    So, don’t let me sour you on Vegas Showdown. As I said in my comment, it EARNS its place as an auction title and it IS a crowd-pleaser. But if you’re a gamer, I’d play before I buy and I’d also consider some other pawn-based auction titles.

    As far as Medici goes, I’ve only played the iPad version, which I did not like because I couldn’t study the board while other people were holding it! My perception matches your assessment: Medici is simpler, cleaner, and faster.


  4. Has a buy now or wait for the price to go down element. Has tile laying in it. Set collecting. A very good economic game. Get this one. 7/10

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