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For Heroes: Mecanisburgo

"For Heroes" is our semi regular section on the more complicated (or, heavier) games in the world. These can offer great rewards to the brave gamer, but are challenging and sometimes mystifying to new players. Allow us to guide you through some of our favourites:"

Four games of Mecanisburgo in, I now feel able to write the old review for those who know nothing about it, perhaps, and for those who have heard only bad things about this one - to explain these in some detail and perhaps allay your fears.

So, lets put our opportunity cards on the table - I really like Mecanisburgo, a very early release from GenX Games, it hits a certain niche in my psyche.

=====What is it about?=====

Are you fed up with farming? Tired of trading? How about being the head of an amoral corporation intent on dominating a city and possibly the world? Sound a bit more exciting than harvesting corn? Thought so.

The core of Mecanisburgo is the acquisition and exploitation of opportunity cards, earned by controlling the city's major locations each turn (a new card appears in each every turn), as well as managing your income to keep your agents on the books.

As you discover various opportunities arising across the eponymous city for your company to exploit, ignore or defeat, you must also maximise your company's resources to complete major projects like New foodstuffs, a Space Elevator or even a Giant Robot who can assist you in future conflicts.

And don't mistake - there WILL be conflict.

All those lovely opportunities, be they new agents for your company, new properties to build and exploit or even a riot, rest assured the other players' companies will want to exploit them as well.

At the beginning of each turn the companies will, in turn order, place one agent on any free space of their choice - essentially identical to countless other "worker placement" games. Unlike many other examples of these games, one company's presence in an area does not block out all other players. In fact anyone can go there.

Of course, this begs the question -

=====How do you determine who controls the area?=====

To answer this question we have to look at agents and properties - two of the opportunity classes you'll be competing for.

All of these types of cards share a format.

And this is where things get tough - the cards show an absolutely incredible amount of information, most of which is in language free, symbolic formats.

In various ways the character cards tell you the individual's job, skills, statistics, wage cost, victory points value and crucial conflict statistics.

The player whose agent was placed first in an area chooses whether the conflicting corporations negotiate to establish control, or have a good old fight. The method for doing this is the same for both, the difference is that in negotiation, all involved parties can walk away afterwards. If you are unsuccessful in combat, one of your agents will be killed and lost for the rest of the game (they go in the box).

SO in detail, the method for conflicts for area control is that the negotiation or combat strength of your chosen "lead agent" is added to by support values of any other agents present, and bonuses from your properties, and any other bonuses that apply.

This gives you your strength in that area.

Each company has a standard set of cards that are added, in secret, to this strength to give you your final conflict value - they are numbered 1 to 6 (with two fours). The cool thing here, is that the higher valued cards are also your income for the turn (i.e. at the end of the turn you will only recieve income for unused cards).

After this is added, the company with the highest conflict total wins the area. Simple.

OK, well, it may sound simple, but in practice it's more time consuming than that sounds. The property bonuses and extra strength gained in certain areas makes for some involved totalling of strength.

To see just how complex a conflict can be, here's an example:

R.U.R.'s player has sent Flash Cannon (a human agent) and Nexus 7 (A Cyborg Agent) to Robotown to try and obtain a valuable resource property, Cavorite. His opponents have both sent one of their own agents, but since R.U.R. placed him first, he gets to decide the nature of the conflict - he decides on a negotiation, using Flash as his leader.

(Flash has a 0 strength in combat, so will usually negotiate if he can, where his strength is 5)

So Flash takes his base negotiation skill (5) and addsNexus 7's support value (2), giving a strength at this point of 7.

A blind bid of "peripherals" (bonus strength tokens) is made at this stage, and R.U.R. bid 2 of their possible 3, this conflict's success being a crucial part of the corporation's game plan. These 2 points are added to the corporation's strength giving a running total of 9.

The companies can now commit properties to this zone for the turn - their values apply for the whole turn. R.U.R. commits their Android "Magnus" to the fray, adding its support value (1) to the running total (now 10). The android is "tapped" (turned on its side) so cannot be used again this turn.

At this point, the player suddenly realises he forgot that both cyborgs and robots get a +1 bonus in Robotown (appropriately) so both Nexus 7 and the Android get an extra point of strength - so his running total is, in fact, now 12.

Looking at his opponents totals, he realises that they are way behind and that he can therefore afford to choose his weakest action card (value 1) to ensure he loses no income as a result of this conflict.

This means his final strength is 13. His opponents are easily defeated, and R.U.R. controls Robotown, receiving the Cavorite card they wanted, adding it to their hand.

I should also mention that a drawn conflict requires a second conflict; costing you another valuable action card. Heaven help us if you draw twice! Well, actually, you'll just have to fight again, but you'll be haemorrhaging income.

Also note that in these conflicts there is no random element, and only two hidden elements (your bid of peripherals and your action card) the first of which is revealed before selecting the second.

This is, actually, a fairly common example - that is to say this is no more complicated than you will usually see. If at this point the game sounds hideous, it's important to address your concern now.

=====How will I ever learn all these icons?=====

This need to look up the cards specifics for each new opportunity is one of the major complaints I have heard about this game, and to an extent I can sympathise. However, for myself, after two or three conflicts it became pretty much second nature.

You are provided with extremely comprehensive player aids which will assist you no end in your first few turns, explaining each skill and job individually.

The symbology, while intimidating, is now committed to my memory and I have no trouble recalling, for example, that a steering wheel represents a Racing Driver, A star represents a media star (celebrities, if you will) and beakers of various sizes show scientists.

The logos are actually fairly easy to recognise as the symbol of the job - with only the really esoteric examples (Mystechs, Dopplegangers) taking real thought to recognise because they are so rare.

What is harder to remember mid-conflict is the more passive abilities of skills - e.g. each robot in an area or committed to an area as property adds one to the strength of any agent who works as a mechanic.

This is harder to excuse, and a tasteful use of some "+1" imagery would be helpful on the property cards in particular since they rarely work on their own in conflict situations.

Now, for some a learning curve is something they want to avoid, but I see no greater difficulty here with the symbols than with, off the top of my head, the various abilities of monsters in Descent, or weapons in Tannhauser. I just don't find it that much of a problem. I don't think you will, either, after your first two turns.

=====How easy is it to learn?=====

Those folks who read my review of Supernova (another fine, oft-overlooked game) know if there's one thing guaranteed to annoy me, it's a poorly organised rulebook.

Unfortunately Mecanisburgo has a similar problem - while all the information you require to play the game is there somewhere, the effort required to find it amongst all the randomly placed examples and extraneous detail will be the first obstacle to overcome.

It results that there is no conceivable way to understand the game as a whole by reading the confusing rulebook - you must learn by actually either playing it yourself, or talking to someone who has.

=====So how do you win?=====

Well, this is a points game, with points supposedly representing the influence and power of the corporations at game end.

Every card in the game has a points value, with individual properties and agents being worth low amounts, but the real values are found in defeating threats (essentially combats against an NPC) and completing major projects - completion of these is down to your agents totals in two statistics and paying some money. You have this opportunity every turn, and to have the best chance of winning you need to be trying to buy one every turn. This may mean you need to cut down your wages bill to afford that Mars Base you want.

There are also several "instant win" conditions in the game, usually involving the collection of a number of the same types of characters (4 politicians, including one elite, for example).

While on the face of it is hard to win this way (other players will be doing their best to block you!) it is actually possible to win immediately upon setting up the game, or at least halfway through round one.

Now, for some folk this may be OK, but I personally am tending towards the variant whereby achievement of these conditions can only come at the end of a turn, and only be worth points (the suggested value is 25) and you have to given up the involved cards.

=====In Conclusion=====

In conclusion, despite the iconography and the rulebook, I believe that this game has a place in your collections.

Firstly, the world is full of more balanced, mathematical and certainly more simple games - but this means that there is more than enough room for something like Mecanisburgo on the market, where there's a lot of hidden information, backstabbing, surprises and mistakes can happen frequently. It really feels like you are marshalling your men, assigning resources with a view to maximising income (the more powerful action cards doubling as income is a nice touch).

You can choose your battles carefully, plan for situations that may arise, but even though people's employees and properties are public information you can never be sure just who your rivals have sent to the zone in question.

I find the decisions interesting, the conflicts surprisingly tight every time, and enough options, certainly on turn 2, to customise your own style of corporation.

And I haven't even touched on the little flourishes that are the zone abilities - for example in the Palace Of Justice you can try and send one of your opponents' "criminal" agents to prison so long as your agent has the "Lawyer" job. An Assassin can kill a chosen agent in crowded locations, the racing drivers can face off at the Anficirco, you can gamble at the Casino etc etc. In these "mini conflicts" a random element is added, provided by a random number value on the opportunity cards' bottom right hand corner, but they also involve less adding, only using a base strength of 0 (or 1 if elite) and adding an action card followed by the random number.

I really like Mecanisburgo. There's a lot to learn, and oodles to do. Each corporation is different from the start, and have their own flavours. I'm impressed that so much value is included and look forward to playing again.

I can highly recommend this game to anyone looking for something a little different. Sure, it requires a little more work to learn than the cookie cutter offerings of most publishers, but I reckon it's much more rewarding.


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