Four Royal Crowns
In this game, the world’s major powers have gotten together and decided that there are just too many people in the world. It would be a lot of hard work to slow population growth, but you know what would be easy? Unleashing an arsenal of biological weapons on unsuspecting civilians! Of course, there is some disagreement as to which nations should be subjected to these attacks…
Despite the dark subject matter, I had a blast playing this game; I hope I’ll get a chance to play again soon.
How it works:
The game is semi-cooperative; world population must be brought down to a certain level or all players lose. There is a winner if the population is brought down; players receive points for the remaining live people under their control (players can fight over neutral regions using armies), for the people they’ve killed with their biological attacks, and other things. Players have nuclear weapons, but their use actually sets back both cooperative and individual goals. As far as I can tell, the nukes are there as a kind of balancing tool; if everyone gangs up on one player, he might start lobbing nukes because he has nothing left to lose.
Biological weapons, the core of the game, are represented by cards in the players’ hands. Each weapon is different, causing a certain amount of damage in the territory where it is released, and spreading a different amount of damage to neighboring territories. So, each time you plan to release a pathogen, you must take into account its nature, which regions still have large populations, and how likely the owners of those regions are to retaliate against you.
The game is for 4-6 Players. The first 4 play USA, Russia, Europe, and China; India and a Caliphate are added for more players. The nations aren’t equal. The USA and Russia have larger conventional and nuclear arsenals. The USA has the Centers for Disease Control. Russia has vast frozen borders which pathogens don’t spread across. Caliphate terrorists can launch attacks which release the target nation’s own pathogens at home. I can’t remember all of the others. I would have guessed that play balancing such a game would be impossible, but I think the designers may have pulled it off. China did seem to receive an inordinate share of biological attacks during the game I played; perhaps it’s just too tempting a target, or maybe this was just something random about our playthrough.
My play experience:
I played as the USA (I didn’t hold my breath until the other players agreed to let me be the USA, instead I answered a trivia question included in the game). I moved quickly to secure Canada and Mexico with my ground forces; the CDC would then have a chance to prevent attacks on those countries from spreading into the United States. Some other players didn’t realize my commitment to this strategy; Canada was invaded three times by Europeans and/or Chinese, and at one point I pulled all my troops from Brazil (a much more valuable country) to re-secure my neighbor to the north.
These conventional wars, and some foreign intelligence activities, distracted me from the business of launching biological attacks, but I still managed to get a few in. I lost by a few points to Russia, primarily due to victory point cards the Russian player had accumulated. These cards are hidden until the end of the game, so you can’t determine who will be the winner in a close contest; this keeps you guessing who you should focus on.
I expect this game to be highly replayable. There are opportunities for players to choose alternate strategies, and each nation has unique special abilities. You’d have to be a really frequent gamer to get bored of “Tomorrow”.