Rio Grande Games, 2008, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up. This game is an awful lot of fun, and in many ways it reminds me of one of my all-time favorites - Magic: The Gathering. The rules are simple and short, so diving right in and playing is painless. Better still, games go pretty quickly (but not too quickly) - just under an hour once everyone's figured out the basics.

Each player starts out with 10 cards (7 coin cards and 3 victory point cards), with the goal being to acquire the most victory points. Each player shuffles their deck and draws 5 cards to start with. Turns consist of an "action" phase, a "buy" phase and a "draw" phase. In the "action" phase, a player plays a card that has some sort of one-time affect (gives them additional actions, gives them some extra money to spend in the buy phase, allows them to draw additional cards, causes other players to discard cards, turns one card into a different card, etc, etc). In the "buy" phase, players spend money (coin cards) to purchase a new card from the stock. These can be action cards (10 different), coin cards (3 different) or victory point cards (also 3 different). Newly purchased cards (along with any unplayed cards from the player's hand) are then placed in the player's discard pile and 5 new cards are drawn. Whenever a player exhausts his draw deck, he reshuffles his discard stack and starts a new draw deck. The game ends when 1 of the 3 victory point stacks is exhausted, or when 3 of the 10 action card stacks are exhausted. Victory points are then totalled and a winner is declared.

The entire deck-building mechanic is extremely interesting, as you're basically building a strategy deck "on the fly" (and cycling through it rapidly and randomly). Things start to get very "Magic-like" insofar as you're trying to build combinations of cards that work together such that their synergestic effect is greater than the sum of the individual parts. But hold on, it's not as easy as all that! Why? Well, because you're also diluting your deck with victory point cards (which ultimately determine the winner of the game, but are completely useless when in your hand). You also need to worry about making sure you're adding enough coin cards (dilute your deck with too many action and victory cards, and suddenly you can't buy the new cards you want).

And as interesting as all that becomes, just wait until the next game! The base set comes with 25 different action (aka "Kingdom") cards, 10 of which are used in any one game. The upshot of which is that every game plays completely differently (based on which 10 cards you decide to go with). And as one might suspect, there are numerous expansions for the game, providing dozens of new action cards that can be added to the mix. Yeah, shades of the darker side of MTG - but since decks are built while playing the game and everybody has access to the same cards, nobody needs to go broke buying cards on the side in a vain attempt to keep up with the Joneses. All in all, a really nicely designed game, and one I suspect that we'll be playing for years to come.

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