The next time you have a couples gaming night I recommend taking a trip to Vegas. Not as patrons of the casino scene, but rather as purveyors of the night life as you gamble over property and power against your fellow entrepreneurs of sin city. Lords of Vegas is a fantastic “take-that” game where the house always wins, but not every house is created equal.

Designers: James Ernest | Mike Selinker


Players: 2-4


Playtime: 90 min

PRESENTATION

Laying out the board, the players will get their first impression with the upcoming Vegas experience and I’ll say it’s both beautifully rendered and easy to follow. Lately, I’ve noticed that beautiful boards tend to look busy at the risk of intimidating the uninitiated for its game. The Lords of Vegas board doesn’t sacrifice its functional structure for ascetics and it still comes off as an immersive playground. The cards, dice, score chips, and property tiles follow the “pretty-and-functional” model. While the little plastic “parking lot” chits came out of the middle-school math department’s counter supply, they really work and I wouldn’t change them for anything overly produced.

Then there’s the paper money… I don’t like paper money. Not sure if that’s a reaction to growing up with paper money games and flashbacks of messy boxes and crumpled components, but it is the most fiddly part of play as money is constantly moving in this game. If a fancy edition comes out one day the paper money has got to go. In the meantime, I’ve personally upgraded my money to some clay poker chips to use in place of the cash and have found that this greatly improves the thematics and playability of the game.

MECHANISMS

So how do all these pieces bring us to vegas? As I mentioned before, we’re not playing a game of slots, craps, or blackjack, but about owning casinos. It’s an area control game, but instead of controlling land with troops you’re buying property and controlling your neighbors’ investments with your influence and power. And it’s all done in Vegas style.

Players with the highest score wins and scoring is based on size and ownership of casinos. While multiple players can have a stake in a casino and make money as part-owners, only the boss of the casino scores the points. Eventually, players will get to a point where their smaller casinos no longer advance them along the score track. This little inclusion to the design forces players to be more strategic about their decisions and limits runaway scoring for a single lucky draw. It also helps advance the game through an arc, avoiding the samey feeling one might get if there was no climactic tension.

It’s an area control game… controlling your neighbors’ investments with your influence and power.

Each round a card is drawn from the property deck and the current player is awarded that space (this is the primary way of acquiring new properties). Each of these cards also represents 1 of the 5 casino franchises being built on the strip and triggers a “payout” for the matching casinos on the board. As players decide which casinos to invest in, they’re always looking at how many have already been revealed versus how many are left in the deck. There are only 9 of each color in the deck (plus the bonus strip payouts), so it’s always good to have an eye on the future.

Then, the current player gets to start spending money on as many actions as they want. These actions include:

Build – Pay the required amount to place a casino tile of any available color on a lot you own and mark it with one of your dice in the middle matching the pips with the graphic on the board.

Sprawl – Pay double the required amount to place a casino tile adjacent to an owned casino on a lot no one currently owns. Mark it with your dice but be warned, if a player draws that lot card later, they will take ownership of the casino tile you’ve bought.

Remodel – Pay $5M for each tile in a casino to change all the tiles to a different color (good for future payouts or merging into an adjacent casino of that color).

Reorganize – Pay $1M for every pip in a casino you have some stake in to have all players re-roll those dice. Remember, players get paid per pip in a casino and the boss is the player with the highest single-valued dice. So this gamble can change everything… or not.

Gamble – Need some quick cash? Go to an opponent’s casino and play against their bankroll. There are some limits to gambling and it doesn’t always play in your favor but hey, that’s Vegas baby!

In addition to these actions, players can also make deals on certain things (even off-turn), trading money, lots, dice, and in-turn actions. The use of trades largely depends on the group at play but can be a vital piece to winning for the shrewd entrepreneur.

THEME

At this point, I hope you can see how thematic Lords of Vegas is to the entire casino experience. With every decision, players are playing the odds and money is just a means to an end. I don’t feel like I need to say much more on how true-to-theme this game is.

RATING:

Try this game if you like:

  • Alhambra
  • New York 1901
  • Suburbia
  • Food Chain Magnate
  • (Monopoly Alternative)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m not usually inclined to go after a game of economics or property themes; I don’t like games of life and mundania. Lords of Vegas is an exception to my buying habits. New players pick up on the game fairly quickly and experienced players still have room to appreciate the nuances that come with repeated plays. I typically teach the game to new players during my first turn as the list of possible actions are a bit of a rule-dump on them. But here are the overall elements that make for a great night of Vegas:

Area Control – this is a game where a physical area of influence is present on the board at all times and the advantage definitely goes to the player in the best position. Vying for that position is the main goal of every participant. It’s easy to see that advantage at all times, though it doesn’t always play out the way you expect.

Push Your Luck – unlike many of the military area control mechanics, there’s always the possibility that an underdog can oust a kingpin if the dice and cards fall just right. It’s a game for the gambler’s vice and knowing when to quit is just as vital as knowing when to press.

Take That – this is a game with take-that on a Las Vegas scale. I like a good game of take that when strategy is part of the formula. While I can’t say this game is purely strategic due to its random elements, the game certainly gives the feel for a “strategy of odds.” It’s super fun to win as well as lose at the high stakes (if you like that kind of thing).

I just don’t get Lords of Vegas to the table enough. I enjoy it okay as a 3-player game, but you really need 4 players to bring out the full tension the game offers. It’s a great addition to any collection and a fantastic alternative to other property buying games (that we don’t like to mention).

THOUGHTS FROM THE PUB

BRIAN

Ask the average person to name off a board game. A large percentage will say Monopoly and for good reason. It has been around a long time. This puts Lords of Vegas in an interesting place – it is just about the perfect step from Monopoly into the hobby. It has property buying and selling, dice rolling, and even the paper money will be something comfortable to a Monopoly player. But all of this comes together much better in Lords of Vegas than Monopoly.

I love games that keep players engaged. Lords of Vegas does such a good job of keeping everyone in the game using the card draws that everyone must pay attention to and inter-player dealing. As much as I like the take-that aspect to the game it may turn some people off. But not me. I have no idea why this game isn’t on my shelf it. I plan on changing that.