Iello games recently won the Best Children's, Best Party, and Best Family game awards in the 2012 Golden Geek's for King of Tokyo, an extremely fun, colorful, and enjoyable game in all rights. They are known for producing games that have good quality components, colorful and vibrant artwork, and fun gameplay. It was with that knowledge that I was very excited to obtain a copy of Uchronia, designed by Carl Chudyk.
Along with Ed Carter, Carl designed another game called Glory to Rome, which found success on Kickstarter. Many people have compared Uchronia to Glory to Rome, some even calling it "Glory to Rome light". I do not own a copy, nor have played Glory to Rome, I feel it's best for me to present my opinions and findings on the game at hand, and let you, the viewers decide for yourself on similarities and differences.
At it's heart, Uchronia is resource management with the goal of achieving victory points before your opponents. It's unique style and theme, coupled with strategic gameplay hopes to make it a success... but does it?
Uchronia is a uniquely themed game, where you are the Patriarch of a noble house in the city of Uchronia, working to use your wealth and resources to enhance and enrich the city. Your goal is simple, reach a victory point threshold that scales based on the number of players in the game, before your opposition does. The city itself is nestled in a universe where dinosaurs never died off. According to the rules, man and dinosaurs must work together to build the city to greatness. However, after a few plays, you may be questioning if the dinosaurs ever existed in the game to begin with!
There are two ways to achieve victory points in Uchronia. The first is by constructing buildings that will provide you an in game benefit and victory points upon completion and the second is obtaining a monopoly on in game activities, that will grant you bonuses as well.
After reading the short rulebook, you may be left with a lot of questions. I know I was. There are several keywords and terms used in Uchronia, that make you scratch your head at times. The first thing to get use to is the small sized resource cards that make up the bulk of gameplay. You can effectively break the resource cards down into three "areas". The top 3rd represents the "activity" symbol, the middle 3rd represents the Order (or action you can take when playing it from your hand), and the lower 3rd represents the Resource the card generates if it is in your stock.
As you can see from the above comment, there are a lot of keywords. Each player is provided a player board, called a Domain, which has an abbreviated version of the rules on it, but no matter how much reading or re-reading you do, this is a game best learned by jumping in and playing.
After each player is given their Domain, they each draw 6 resource cards and choose one to discard to set up the "Forum". The Forum is a common stock of resource cards, that each player will interact with on their turns, either acquiring them as resources in their stock, activities for their bonuses, or sacrificing them for foundations for building construction. The Forum is probably one of the more fun mechanics. While many people may look at this game and at first glance think it's a "deck building" style of game where you select buildings to construct and gain benefits from, the game shines when you see the strategies come to mind for manipulating and controlling the Forum to best suit your plans.
Each turn, if you have a previously played Order on your Domain, you remove it and place it in the Forum. You then choose to Command or Plot. Commanding allows you to play an Order from your hand, and take the corresponding action. If you have matching activities in play, you can amplify your Orders as well. Additionally, you may choose to play two copies of any order and choose to execute any activity you want.
If you choose to Plot, you instead play no cards from your hand, have the option of copying another player's Order on their Domain (if you have a matching activity) and/or draw cards up to 5 (or 1 more if you have 5 in hand).
The five orders are Production, Draconian, Exploration, Construction, and Trade.
Essentially, it's a game of managing both the common Forum as a set of resources as well as the resources in your hand and in your play area, to best align to achieving victory point conditions. Each building you construct has a Victory Point amount on the top center. This counts as both the VPs provided when constructed as well as the amount of that type of resource needed to complete it. So a building with a two at the top takes two of it's matching color resources from your stock to complete it and scores you two VPs when complete.
The buildings do have a great amount of synergy, however, after seeing them in action, you can be left wanting more... a LOT more. There are two copies of every building in the game, so while some buildings cost more to construct (and give your more VPs), there is not a true sense of "rarity" nor is there a case where someone can achieve a valuable building that only they would or could have access to. If someone builds a building you had your heart set on, you are comforted by the fact there is a second copy in the deck somewhere.
The gameplay itself is actually very good. Once you are familiar with both the Orders and the associated Activity bonuses, you can move fairly quickly, but it will take several games to get comfortable with that level of knowledge. There is a good sense of accomplishment when your well laid plans come to fruition, and you can not only select the buildings you want or need, but have all the resources set in motion to complete them quickly and score them.
The Forum also is very dynamic, changing constantly. Even in small two player games, it can shift quite rapidly, providing for what I like to call "turn on turn" strategy. You can plan, but you must also adjust to the changes in common card availability based on your opponent's potential plays. This can be both fun and maniacally annoying at the same time, as when your opponent has a good turn, it can set you back as painfully as you hoped to set them back with your pending success!
Component wise, Uchronia's art is beautiful, but it is unfortunately plastered on terrible components. The Art has a "7 Wonders" feel to it, but the stock of the cards takes away from the beauty of the game's visuals. The building cards, which are square, are very flimsy card stock, almost rather "thicker paper" than card stock. The choice of square corners with this stock is even more confusing as the corners become damage easily and even shuffling lightly can bend and damage the cards.
The small size of the resource cards is also an odd choice. At any time while in play, you only use 1/3 of the card, so a full size card could have been used here. And again, they use the same type of stock, making them bend easily with light shuffling, however thankfully, they have rounded corners. The decision to make rounded corners on one type of card and not on the other is as confusing as the Dinosaur inclusion.
I say that because one major downfall with Uchronia is its lack of connection with the theme. In a world where Dinosaur and Man are supposed to be in symbiotic relationships, there is barely any notice of the dinosaurs at all! Aside from a few building names splattered with the thought of dinosaurs, they effectively have no connection to the game, nor impact. This was a big miss in my opinion as it's a unique idea to have both species alive and working together, but with no in game affects taking advantage of either, it leaves players of all kinds wanting more.
In the end, that is the ultimately feeling I had playing Uchronia. I enjoyed it a lot, once I got through the terminology and game play area understanding, but I was left wanting more. More complexity in the buildings, more options in the buildings, more connectivity to the theme, and more strategic decisions to be made with resource cards. The capability to play two of any order and make it execute any order of your choice both speeds the game along but also waters it down.
Uchronia is a fun game at it's core and many players will enjoy it, if they invest a bit in it to become comfortable. I feel many players will pass it over due to the theme or just play a handful of games and not see the fun in it. If you take your time though there is a fun game to play hidden in the box. Even with the lack of rampaging dinos Uchronia presents a challenging, ever changing, engaging game most players could enjoy. It's not quite Jurassic Park but it's not quite the Land Before Time either. Uchronia is rather lost in time, in the middle of the two. Perhaps future expansions could benefit the game, but only time will tell if it's destined to be a success or end up extinct.
Critical Score (Crit, Hit or Miss):
Crits Happen was supplied a copy of Uchronia to produce this review by our Friendly Local Game Store, Dragon's Lair! Check them out at http://www.dlair.net