Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Thoughts on Prophecy

Jeff, Michael, and Rob were tremendous sports by agreeing to play the new board game Prophecy with me last night (see pre-game discussion a few posts down). Here are my post game thoughts on the game:

First the bad points:
  • Downtime and Length. The game is officially playable with 2-5 players. The designer himself on BGG posted that he recommends the game as best with 2-3 players. Throwing caution to the wind, we played with 4 players. With 4 players, I think downtime was a minor but measurable factor as the game went on. We kept the turn order moving well, so each player had maybe 5-10 minutes max between turns. Still though there was enough action on the board that I was pretty engaged in watching each player's turn, so downtime didn't bother me too much. However, with 4 players (and no expansion sets added in), we cycled all the decks several times, which became a tad repetitive towards the end. I'm sure 2 players would work well, but I think you might lose some of the theme where you're competing against a group of other adventurers rather than just going head-to-head. I think this may be the odd game where 3 players is actually the optimal number of players.
  • Endgame. The end game did seem a bit unnecessarily drawn out. Again the designer speaks to this issue on BGG. He recommends to cut the number of artifacts required to win down to 3 rather than 4, particularly with more than 3 players. I think this makes a lot of sense, as once one person has 3 of the 5 artifacts, a man-hunt essentially ensues where everyone else's optimal move is to run away from the angry juggernaut. Since this is a designer recommened approach, I'd consider it an official variant if not errata. Another thing that would improve the endgame would be more than five possible minor and major guardians. Return of the Heroes does this well (as does Arkham Horror) where you can get a different end-game boss (or bosses) to fight against each game. This would improve replayability quite a bit, and I suspect this point is addressed in the expansions.

Now the good points:

  • Theme. I think the game really did a good job of capturing the fantasy adventure and questing theme. The wide variety of encounters, monsters, weapons, and guilds really made the game interesting. The guilds you belonged to gave your character a unique feel, but I also liked how you could still Each character really can choose multiple paths to to develop into a superhero. You can go after gear (which I did); you can build abilities through training at a guild (which Michael seemed to do most); or you can chase adventures that will add to your mana and strength stone capacity (which Jeff did). Each was an interesting strategy, and I'm not sure that one was vastly superior to the other. But this leads to my next point...
  • Runaway Leadership. I think at various times we were all convinced that Jeff, Michael, or I were "running away with it." Both Michael and Rob seemed firmly locked in 3rd and 4th place most of the game, or so it seemed. But, then out of nowhere at the end Rob made a major rush to victory, slaughtering me while I was napping in the forest, then going to toe-to-toe with mega-paladin Jeff. Alas, my epic gear which included Thor's Hammer and a Mace of Death and Destruction didn't save me from being soundly zapped my the Holy Monk Rob. Michael jumped in after biding his time on the sidelines giving selective advice to Rob and began a colossal beatdown of epic proportions on both Jeff and Rob. We called the game due to time before the issue was finally decided, but I think there were many ways to win and lose the lead repeatedly throughout the game.

So, like the recent playing of Avalon Hill's Dune, I'd say there is a good game here if played with just a couple tweaks. Unlike Dune, I think we had all the rules correct and just hadn't implemented designer-recommended patches to how the game is played. I'd happily play this game again, and I look forward to playing Runebound for comparison.

PS to our Wargamers: We need to get it back together, guys! I'm offering Wilderness War lessons/refresher courses to anyone interested. With four games now under my belt, I'm feeling pretty good about how this game is played. I think my next game to tackle will either be BtB or PoG, since I've been begging off a lot of PBEM offers for both. Victoria Cross should be a good light snack as well. The new scenario book for C&C: Ancients looks very good, with some well-balanced Scipio scenarios being added to the mix.


At 1:52 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Re: Prophecy

Couldn't agree more with your "negatives". With the positives, I also agree EXCEPT the character differentiation. I didn't feel like I was playing a Monk. Characters are basically determined by their 2 stats: the monk and the Palladin have exactly the same stats! Sure, it is cheaper to get skills on different guilds, but still, they didn't feel that different from each other. Not game-killing, but something I REALLY enjoyed from WoW: ALL characters are different and play VERY differently. I guess this is achieved by the way skills/spells are earned in each game: in Wow, everyone has their personal skill/spell deck they earn cards from. In Prophecy, all skills can be bought by any character (with some discounts if you are from this or that guild), leading to poorly differentiated characters. After all, it was my SUPER strength, with my 2 super cool SWORDS with Edge weapon bonuses, and mountain attacking bonuses, that my MONK(!!) was able to dish out some pain.

Having said that, I wouldn't mind trying it again with 3 players, and with the variants.

Re: wargaming.
Jon and I are doing SS next Monday. Ted and I are doing Crusader Rex this Saturday at my place.

At 8:26 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Jeff said...

Sorry we dissed your shiny new game, Ben. :)

I agree with Rob about the characters being too similar. I'm sure adding a special power to each one would have increased the amount of playtesting required immensely, though.

My only real issue with the game was the endgame: it was more of a this-won't-ever-endgame. If things were tightened up such that the game ended 20-30 minutes after all five artifacts were collected, the game would be muchly improved.

At 8:44 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

I think the 3 of 5 rule fixes that, Jeff.

The publisher again has anticipated the character homogeneity issue. Atlas Games is about to post a free variant where each player picks a race for their character that gives them special characteristics and bonuses. Apparently this is included in the first expansion set, but they're releasing it for free now. I'm really impressed with how they're working hard to address any significant concerns with the game.

The name of the company representative from the Czech Republic who sent me some helpful information was Vlaad. I wanted to ask him if his last name was "the Impaler," but thought it might not translate well...

At 10:07 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

BEN: lol. I'm sure it's bad in any language.

I think, just handing out 1 free skill at the beginning of the game of one of the 2 guilds a character is a member in, would be cool. Playtesting I would agree, would be an issue. I guess, you could put a cap on the XP level of the card you are allowed to pick for free (3 or 4?).

At 10:48 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

The characters in Runebound and Descent are somewhat genericized as well, really. FFG expansded the game by adding a set of six class decks for players to customize their characters like crazy (including optional deck building rules). I'm hopeful we'll get to try this out on Friday.

One thing that I find interesting is how it seems impossible to make a fantasy RPG-themed board game that lasts less than three hours in length (I'm not counting Dungeon Twister). Both Descent and WoW weigh in around 5 hours. Runebound and Prophecy are safely around 3 hours (post tweaks). Game length is almost never a negative issue for me, though. I actually enjoy the epic feel of a long game, which is probably why I have all of these in my collection.

At 1:20 PM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

Dungeon Twister is to fantasy-RPG themed games as leather pants are to cream cheese.

At 2:06 PM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

That was the right answer? Guess I got that analogy wrong in my SAT's.

At 2:44 PM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

I think I put hamster to Plutonium myself...or was it puzzles to boardgames I penciled in?

At 9:51 AM, September 14, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

Check out the new Prophecy review at:


A pretty positive review. He recommends using the first to two artifacts be the victor, which I think is a bit extreme. I think 3 of 5 is better, because knowing you're going to have to survive that one final epic PvP will make your character development efforts more interesting that just having to beat the guardians.

At 6:40 PM, September 14, 2006, Blogger Rob said...


that was Ben who did that.

At 9:21 PM, September 14, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

Thus being the joke.


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