Review – Edo

                Edo is an economic game set in Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate. Each player is the daimyo of a noble family, developing a powerbase around the new capital (historically, Edo eventually becomes Tokyo). This is accomplished through programmed action selection, harvesting resources, and building/trading. Designed by Louis and Stefan Malz, Edo is published by Queen Games, supports 2-4 players, and retails for around $60.

Note: This review is based on only one play of Edo. As a rule I don’t write reviews based on only one play, but Edo is a new game, I don’t see a lot of reviews of it around, and I don’t think I’ll have the chance to play it again for a couple of months. So it seemed worthwhile to make an exception. I’m not going to throw provisos around about every single opinion expressed later in this review, but you may want to keep this in mind.

The Quick Take: A fun economic game with a unique mix of action types. The use of programmed actions and multi-action tiles to limit flexibility kept the game interesting and made for a more distinctive experience (as MaRo is fond of saying, “restrictions breed creativity”). After one play, definitely something I’d look forward to exploring again. Skip down to the “Opinions” section if you don’t want to read about the mechanics of the game.

Basic Gameplay

The big decision to be made every turn in Edo is secret programmed action selection. You get to take three different actions each turn. At the start of the game, each player has 12 actions available (some of the actions variations on each other) on three different action tiles – you choose three actions, but you can only use each action for one tile.

You only perform up to three actions, but how many total actions you get to take depends on how many officials are assigned to perform those actions (you start with five, can acquire more, and need to transfer some onto the game board). Each action tile tells you how many officials can be assigned to perform that action in a given turn (most commonly four, and as few as one; although you won’t often assign more than two officials to the same action).

Actions are selected by placing the three tiles vertically in a provided stand, and then placing your officials hidden behind the tile for the action that official is performing. Some actions also require having shifted officials onto the board, where they are called samurai. Actions include generating different resources (wood, stone, rice, ryo/money), getting more officials, sending officials onto the board (or recalling them), constructing buildings on the board, and visiting a merchant.

After the actions are programmed, players take turns revealing their first action tile, and then executing the actions of each official assigned (including paying ryo to move samurai around on the board as necessary). After each player has fully executed the first tile, everyone executes his/her second tile, and then third.

After all actions are done, players collect ryo based on the arrangement of their buildings, and then decide whether to pay one rice per samurai to keep them on the board, or recall them back off the board.

Winning

The last (meaningful) step on each turn is to check and see if the game is over. The game ends at the end of a turn if any player has at least 12 victory points (aka “power points”), or after ten turns regardless (we were able to accrue 12 VP much faster than the 10-turn clock). Power points are acquired during the game from constructing buildings (1 per house, 2 per trading post, and 3 per fortress) and from selling resources to the merchant. After it has been determined that the game is over, each player also adds 1VP for every 50 ryo on hand, and 1VP for each samurai on the board. Additionally, a player cannot win (regardless of VP) unless he/she has built a house in the capital city of Edo (the Shogun has mandated that every family daimyo take up residence in Edo so he can keep an eye on them).

Set-Up

Edo has a double-sided board, one side for 2-3 players and one for four players. The board features three types of space – cities (Edo and random other places), resources, and blank spots (well, technically there’s some distinction in there, but let’s not go into too much detail). These spots are laid out in a web around the board. In a three player game, the whole board is used. In two or four player games, one of the non-Edo cities and one of each of the resource spaces are turned blank (the full uncovered four-player side will be used with a planned fifth-player expansion).

Each city receives a random profit tile from those applicable to the number of players (Edo receives a random one as well, but it draws from its own higher-value stack). The profit tile determines how many ryo in income players can draw from that city. Each profit tile has several entries, defining the cash split based on how many players have influence (from buildings) in that city. Some are relatively even-handed, and some are heavily tilted towards the player with the most influence. Each city has ten spots for buildings (houses, trading posts, and fortresses). Each player gets one influence per house and two per trading post (tiebreaker is which player built something in the city first, so grabbing the first spot in each city can be really important).

Each player starts with the five officials, 7 houses, 1 trading post, 3 rice and 20 ryo (these buildings represent the total stock of a player’s houses/trading post; you cannot build more than 7/1). A starting player is randomly chosen. Starting to the right of the starting player, players then take turns either (1) placing a house and official in a non-Edo city or (2) drafting one of five different resource packages. Selections go around twice; each player must select the house option once and the resource option once (extra resource packages are returned to the supply). The starting player puts the merchant meeple on one of the board spots next to Edo.

The Actions

These are the standard actions available in Edo, and define your strategic options:

–          Travel: This action is really two, and you get to choose one. The most important is that you can take the official performing the action and place him on the board as a samurai. Alternatively, you can move any two of your samurai currently on the board to somewhere else on the board.

–          Get another official: In addition to the colored player-specific officials, there is a stock of unpainted officials that can be grabbed for an action. These officials cannot be transferred to the board as samurai. It is important to use this action early.

–          Official-only Resource Acquisition: Using only an official, a player can acquire a single rice or five ryo.

–          Standard Resource Acquisition: Normal resource acquisition requires the use of an official to perform the action and a samurai on the board (there are four of these spots, as the rice action appears twice on the action tiles). The samurai on the board must be at an appropriate resource space – if he isn’t there yet, then it costs 1 ryo per space he has to move to get there (this 1 ryo per space to move can be used with all of the samurai-requiring actions). Note that this movement has to occur before the actions start resolving – samurai can fly around the board like crazy to help with different actions on the same turn, but not two instances of the same action from the same tile. How many of the resource are collected depends on how many total samurai are on that spot – you get four if the samurai is alone, but it can drop down to one. A player can never have more than 10 of a particular resource (not counting money).

–          Building: Like resource gathering, building requires a samurai as well as the performing official – the samurai must be located in the city you want to build in (there are two different build actions on the starting tiles, one which requires two officials and the one samurai). The various structures require some amount of wood, stone, and cash. Houses can be built pretty much wherever. Trading posts can’t be built in Edo, and there can only be one per city. Fortresses are basically just big VP chunks, and are more restricted – there can’t be more than one fortress per two houses in a city, and you can’t build a fortress in a city where you don’t have a house.

–          Trading: This one action brings a lot of options from turn to turn. In addition to the setup above, there’s a stack of ten merchant tiles. A new merchant tile is flipped up each turn. Each merchant tile has two trade options, one that’s buying a resource and one that’s trading resources/cash in for VP. When you move your samurai to the merchant token on the board, you get to use one of these trading options. Alternatively, you can bring the merchant and your samurai to a city where you have a trading post, and then you can use both of those trade options for your one action.

–          Acquire Special Authorizations: In addition to the three starting action tiles, there is a pool of special action tiles that can be bought during the game (5 random ones available for purchase at any given point in time). The special authorization tiles only have to actions on each tile, but at least one of those actions will be superior to the normal version of the action (both may be, but the second action may just be a repeat of the normal one; this is still handy as it gives you more ways to construct your turn). For example, a special authorization tile might let you collect 10 ryo for an action instead of 5, or might let you perform a standard resource harvest but get one extra resource per official. Regardless, you still only select three different actions per round – more tiles give you more options, but not more total actions.

Components

Wood, stone, rice, samurai/officials, house, fortresses, trading posts, the merchant and the start player marker are all wood of appropriate colors (there are also bitty chits for 5x resource markers). The special authorization tiles, normal action tiles, merchant cards, profit tiles, cover tiles, a game summary, and the cut-out were of really thick and solid stock. The double-sided board was well-constructed too. Everything seemed high quality, and I had no complaints about the components.

Opinions

We played with four players, so my opinions are based on that. The game with 2 players would be a bit more strategic (less randomly having your resource production or tile-buying messed with), but seems like it wouldn’t be quite as fun.

Play time is supposed to be 60 minutes, but I’m not so sure about that. We took longer than 60 minutes, of course, since most of the table was playing it for the first time, but even setting that aside 60 seems more like a minimum than a norm.

The theme of the game wasn’t really of any importance to the gameplay – any economic game could have wood and stone, and rice would just be swapped for grain. The requirement to have a house in Edo does appear to be a thematic one, but this doesn’t really contribute much in terms of how the game feels. I did like the giant wooden cylinders for rice though – even if they could have mechanically just been any random foodstuff, having these big white chunks on the table made it feel more distinctive.

I kind of internally want to label this a medium-weight game, but I’m pretty sure that’s just because my calibration is off a bit, and this would fall into the realm of medium-heavy. The initial setup takes a little bit, even with the game’s owner having pre-bagged each player’s starting material, and there’s an initial complexity hump to learn what all the symbology on the action tiles means. However, once they’ve been explained the symbols are pretty self-evident and easy to remember, and the components never seem overly complex once you get the game going.

I liked the variety of mechanics used in this game – the draft of that initial resource batch, programmed actions, having to figure out which side of each action tile to use (oh, how many times I had to use the sub-optimal building action because I needed a different side of the tile that had the good building action on it!), the balance between keeping samurai in the field v. having enough officials back at home to power them, and placement of buildings to take best advantage of the profit tiles. When you add that together with the more standard elements (what resources to generate and how to spend those resources), it might seem like there’s too much going on – if you just rattled that list of mechanics off to me, my first question might be whether there was too much thrown in and the game might benefit from something being cut (the merchant, in particular, is a lot of complexity for that one action). But when we actually played it, none of it seemed superfluous and none of it seemed like some random thing that was tacked on or just there as a proof of concept. It all worked well together as part of the game’s strategic whole.

I’d lump strategic options into two broad categories, and then one level of tactical consideration. First, an overall strategy is necessary for how the broad scope of your gameplan, which most directly affects the first couple of turns – how many additional officials to invest in (I don’t really think it’s a question of whether to invest in them, as it’s too important to get at least one), whether additional action tiles are worth it, and whether money is going to play a big role in your game. Second, strategic adjustments during the course of the game – what parts of the strategy need to come together this turn, is there a good opportunity for a building (or two) to maximize benefits from profit tiles (swinging a tile from 11-0 for another player to 8-3 in your favor is a lot of cash difference), or whether some newly-available special authorization tile can juice your engine enough to make it worth grabbing.

Then there are tactical considerations – knowing what actions you want to take this turn, what order should they be in to try and maximize resource production (hoping to have your samurai harvesting when other player’s samurai aren’t around), and whether there’s a potential issue with getting cut off of building placement (either losing a tiebreaker edge on house placement or no longer having an available building spot for a fortress).

There’s also the dynamic at the end of the game, which may or may not end up as one last turn where you throw everything to the wind in order to dump a fortress and/or a bunch of samurai into play. You want to do those things right at the end of the game, of course, but you may or may not be able to correctly identify that this is going to be that last turn. Being able to figure out that you’re going to cross during a particular turn, but not letting on to anyone else that you’re going to be able to, seems like it could be a huge boost (in our game it was very obvious at the start of the turn that this turn was going to be the last one; and no one misjudged and aimed for the prior turn to start dumping samurai into play).

It may be worth noting that assembling the various possible action options from the different tiles was not a big analysis paralysis inducer, which I could see somebody worrying about after reading a description.

Everyone at the table seemed to enjoy playing Edo; I know I enjoyed it, and would happily play again. If you’re the sort who likes economic games with virtually no luck factor, I’d recommend trying it out.

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