When in Rome

When in Rome

If there’s a potential issue with any trivia game, it’s the possibility of seeing a question twice. The Internet is full of trivia. So running a trivia game through Amazon’s Alexa service has to be perfect, right?

Quoth the Internet: LOL

When In Rome is, if nothing else, a clever little idea. Once computer/phone apps started becoming integrated with board games, it was only a matter of time until online services were used to expand the possibility even further. When In Rome lays a map of the world in front of you; you pick a city in which to start, then answer a trivia question about that city to make a friend. If you make a friend, the other player can’t (two players or teams max), because apparently there are only twenty people in Alexa’s world. You can normally only travel to a city connected to the one you’re in, but having friends lets you chain moves together, because the world is a mosh pit and we’re all just crowd surfing on it.

In every city, you have a choice between an easier, three-point question of a random category, or a harder, five-point question in a different category. All questions are about the city you’re in. Between the points for answering questions correctly and for picking up special souvenirs that pop up from time to time for bonuses, you play through either nine rounds or when three souvenirs total are collected (the latter is much more likely). Highest score wins.

I’m not going to say you can’t have fun playing When In Rome. It’s possible. But that sentence alone should tell you where this review is going.

The tricky thing about a review is that I’m not sure if it’s trying to do too much or not enough. That shouldn’t generally be a point of confusion about anything. But this is a game where they hired twenty different voice actors to play the friends in each city and ask the questions related to that city. Considering this is the first real Alexa-based board game, nobody would have expected them to go so far in their efforts, so it was really an above-and-beyond decision. However, using voice actors dramatically limits the number of different questions that can be asked. This thing is connected to the Internet, but in the first two games I played, I got the same question both times I ended up in San Francisco. That’s beyond unacceptable for a trivia game, and the way the voice acting is used isn’t even that good (between the actors and Alexa, there’s often too much of a gap between questions).

Worse yet—and that first problem is pretty bad—they put all this time into the aesthetics but couldn’t even figure out a good way to make the souvenir system work. First, when a souvenir pops up, it’s in a randomly generated location. Fine. These locations seem to always be relatively equidistant between the two players. That’s reasonable; it would be pretty jacked up if one player could move one space to the souvenir city while the other had to move five, giving the first one several chances before their opponent had one. But the souvenir can pop IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROUND.

Here’s how a round works: a challenge for both players is put forth. Sometimes they need to come the closest to a percentage-based statistic (ie. guess what percentage out of 100, closest wins); sometimes the players alternate answering different questions until one of them gets one right. The winner of the challenge makes the first move that round. If there’s no souvenir and no reason to go any particular direction, then going first doesn’t matter.

The only real advantage to going first is if it gets you to a city with a souvenir sooner. Therefore, giving a potential disadvantage to someone for winning the right to go first (you don’t get a choice) is completely bonkers. The fact they didn’t realize this tells me we’re talking about a bunch of programmers who never made a game and thought they could do something cool with Alexa. They apparently nailed it with a game called Beasts of Balance a couple years ago; the ball got dropped in every conceivable way here.

It shows. Play this game if someone else has it or you find it in a thrift shop for a buck, just so you can see the problems and dream about what could have been if they hired anybody who knew what the hell they were doing with this, or even just some competent game testers. They’re in London, they should have asked Shut Up and Sit Down to do it.

(1.5 / 5)

Lords of Xidit

Lords of Xidit

The fantasy land of Xidit cries out for a champion, a leader that will save it from the terrible monsters which traverse the realm! Someone noble, someone grand of vision, someone who will conscript farmers to the cause before actual trained warriors!

 

In Lords of Xidit, you play the role of an army commander who is identical to all other commanders except for how sweet they look (hell yeah, ninja lady). It’s a programming game in the vein of Robo Rally; you select six actions, your commander does each of them in turn, and if someone ninjas in to take whatever you wanted to get, well, too bad. At least you can’t drop into a bottomless pit.

 

The possible actions are few, but they’re enough. Each location has three roads leading away from it: blue, red, and black. If you choose one of those roads as your action, you travel that road from whatever location you’re in, whether you want to anymore or not. You can conscript the lowest-level unit type available in the location, assuming it’s a city; once all the possible conscripts are gone, this action does nothing. You can also do battle with a monster in a location. Or pass the move, if you think a delay will get you what you want.

 

Each monster requires a specific set of unit types to defeat it. You cannot use higher-level unit types in place of whatever’s necessary. Beating monsters earns you two of three possible rewards: lyre points, towers, or gold. There’s a different balance of these rewards on each monster, such that most of them have a pretty obvious ‘two best’ rewards, but in some cases you can’t choose those (most likely because someone has a tower built in that location, forcing you to take the other two rewards). One curious mechanic is that tiles have a monster on one side and a city in the other, which means when a city runs out of conscripts, it flips into the monster pile, to be drawn when you run low on monsters, and so on forever. (There are titans you can fight in any location, with any set of troops, if no monsters are available to be drawn.)

 

That’s all of the mechanics. Your goal is to score the most points in… well… it changes. And it’s not exactly the most points.

 

The win condition is intriguing but takes a bit of getting used to. There are three ways of scoring, based on the aforementioned monster-smash rewards: lyre points (gained from having the most lyre tokens in a territory), the most levels of towers (height is irrelevant; nine one-story towers is better than two four-stories), and straight cash. These scoring methods are chosen randomly at the start of the game into the first, second, and third scoring slots.

 

Scoring for each of these is straightforward—count the appropriate item. How they apply to winning, however, is pretty different from most games. For the first scoring metric, being first does not matter; you only need to be in the top three. (In a three player game, an NPC gains points in each metric slowly as the game progresses so there’s someone to eliminate in the first round.) For the second metric, you need to be in the top two. Having the highest score only matters with regards to the final metric, and you only need to beat the other person who has made it that far.

 

Since gold is hidden, and lyre points in the center are as well (they go into a strongbox), each game plays different in part around how readily available information is on the first two metrics. A game that counts towers first, where all info is open, plays differently than one where gold is first and everyone’s just taking their best guess.

 

So, there are two main aspects to the game outside of the theme that will determine if you like it: the programming gameplay and the shifting win conditions. Programming requires some forethought, but if everyone is experienced, the “I know what you know, but you know that I know what you know” shenanigans can run deep. If you’re into that, it’s great. Likewise, some people are more comfortable going into a game knowing what their goal will be, and even those who are fine with a shifting win condition may struggle with some setups (ie. gold -> lyres -> towers) while excelling with others (towers -> gold -> lyres). It’s a real challenge to be good at the game no matter the set of win conditions.

 

Short version: Lords of Xidit a game that’s hard to broadly recommend, as there are a lot of speed bumps any given player may not like, but it’s very good for the people who would enjoy the game that it is.

 

(4 / 5)

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