First of all, I despise much about the city of Las Vegas, despite one of my oldest friends living in the city. I wrote about my take on the city once, to kind of vent publicly about a place that is so disgusting and lascivious that it even shocks my conscience, if you can believe that. That said, I love the idea of what it is, or maybe what it was back in the heyday with the Rat Pack and whatnot. Anyhow this is relevant because I was, several months back, perusing some of the Board Game Geek “Geekbay Auctions“, because while the ‘Geek and myself have had a strained history, there really isn’t a cheaper way to buy used games, especially ones that are older and less in-demand. I noticed that this old Avalon Hill game, Vegas Showdown, was sitting there for $12.00, and I thought, “how bad could it be?”, and bought it.
It would be hard for me to be more delighted with this purchase, because despite its truly abysmal components and its very ugly color scheme, beneath the CGA graphic design is a wonderful economic game with bidding as the engine that drives it. It’s certainly not a game that everyone will enjoy, as I found, but it most assuredly is one that many will. The pace is very brisk, and the rules are very simple, more or less, but it’s procedural kind of tempo keeps everything moving in an orderly fashion despite a lot of shit going on.
The concept of the game is sort of like a nerdy Trading Places, where you and your friends play the role of rich kids with too much time and money, set upon the idea that each will open a Vegas casino/hotel and attempt to create the most famous den of sin in town. This is accomplished by buying the best stuff, having the highest maximum occupancy, the highest daily income, and the most PR, for lack of a better word. To do this, you bid on varying types of room, abstracted as tiles, which are placed on your really shitty paper board which represents the open spaces in the casino and hotel areas. The trick to being a successful casino owner seems to be just as much in diversification as it is in trying to force your opponents to bid more for that which they want to buy. There’s some bluffing, for sure, but really, the bidding and management of your open areas is the key to playing well.
With regard to the room tiles, they’re all randomized, sort of, and there’s three colors in three sizes, which is all well and good, but there’s this sort of “tech tree” mechanic which only allows some kinds of buildings after you’ve already placed its predecessor in your hotel. Each provides you with a bonus in fame, income, or a boost to maximum occupancy, with all of the tiles having starting bids commensurate with their relative value. Now, the tricky part is that there’s only certain entrances printed on each room, and you have to be able to place tiles so that you can trace a path from the entrances of your casino to the new tile that’s placed, making planning crucial. I can’t tell you how many times I was all jazzed because I got a tile, only to have to waste a turn remodeling since I left no viable path to where I wanted to place it.
What makes this fun is that it’s such a dynamic experience. Your adrenaline does kick in a little bit when you realize that you’re bidding on something that someone else might want, and you can’t outbid them because you don’t have the money to beat them. It also kicks in when you realize that you’ve bid just the right amount to not overpay, but block them from being able to bid against you. It’s funny, but the feelings you experience are not unlike playing poker against someone when you’ve got a open ended straight and all you need is that one fucking card to win big. It’s just a really neat, solidly designed game that really has the potential to deliver a lot of fun.
Some people, however, will simply not like it because there’s times when you are stuck with not a lot of meaningful things to do, leaving you feeling like Lady Luck kicked you in the balls. There’s a mechanic that causes a card to come into play every turn, kind of “changing the rules” for the turn, and because of this, there might be one of the rarer room tiles available that you get screwed out of because you don’t get paid the usual income at the beginning of the turn, and you were counting on it. I saw it really sour my wife’s experience pretty heavily, and so she rates the game very poorly due to that one kind of shitty experience. I don’t think that’s really fair, but rules are rules, and so it stands.
Another thing which kind of sours the experience for some, even me to a small extent, is what I touched on earlier regarding the components. They are truly ugly. The color choices are nothing short of blindingly bad, and the components themselves are not only really poorly illustrated, but they are also on the cheap side. The best example of this is the player mat, which is nothing more than a piece of paper that never lays flat, and that is the equivalent of an Excel spreadsheet in game form. Even the chips, which are the most prolific components, are cheap, shitty plastic. They aren’t even stickered to indicate their value, which sucks. These are easily replaced, obviously, with nicer chips if you choose to, but the fact remains that this game retails for $40.00, and it’s really got about ten bucks of bits in it, and that’s being very, very generous. The high point are the nice, but few, plastic bits and the main board, which looks a bit like a craps table and has great functionality.
All in all, if you like bidding games, like an economic theme, and like the Vegas setting, this should interest you. If you can get it cheaply like I did, I would personally advise you to get it and give it a whirl, but some of the Circus Freaks have stated they weren’t keen on it, the Circus Queen being foremost in that category. In fact, after playing it twice she literally said she would not play it again. Also be advised that it is a three to five player game, with four or five being the sweet spots in my opinion, so you really must have four souls to play it to the fullest, although the three player game isn’t really bad, it’s just not quite as good.
Why, Sometimes, You Have To Roll The Hard Six :
– Fast play and relatively simple rules keep you interested the whole time
– It’s a very dynamic and interactive game, which rocks
– The design is very slick, with a lot of decisions that matter
– There’s enough luck to keep it random and fresh, but not too much
– There’s a lot of replay value in the box
Why This Game May Crap Out At Your Table:
– Quite simply, most of the component quality is, objectively, pure shit
– It’s as if HasbroWizHill ran out of illustrators for 20 years
– There may be just a hair to much luck for some, or too little
This is a great little game, and because it’s been around for so long, you can always find it pretty cheaply. I really like it quite a bit, and most of the players I’ve spent time playing this with liked or loved it too, but some people were tepid toward it, and as I noted above, my wife despised it. We have a diverse group, so take that for what it’s worth, it is what it is. While I recommend it strongly, the Circus as a whole is only slightly more mixed on it, as reflected in its aggregate score.
Learn more at the Wizards page here: