House of Borgia
- Designed by Scott Almes
- Artwork by Ian Rosenthaler and Benjamin Shuler
- Published by Talon Strikes Studios and Gamelyn Games
- Kickstarter Campaign is Live!!
It is 1492, and the pope is dead. As a cardinal who served under the late Pope Innocent the VIII you have always vied for the position, but you could never win the election yourself. The Conclave already knows of your “gray” methods of getting things done. However, some of the other Cardinals are less hardened than yourself. More malleable. If you could position yourself as their advisor and get them elected then it would be you pulling the strings.
Let’s go ahead and admit it, you’ve always wanted to pull the strings, you’ve always wanted to be the one who made sure that the right people, your right people are in charge, but you’ve never had that opportunity before. Well puppet master, now you do in the newest game from Scott Almes and Talon Strikes Games, House of Borgia.
If you’ve ever played Liar’s Dice or one of the other myriad of games using that same type of mechanic, you’ll take to House of Borgia really quickly, but even if you haven’t, like me, you’ll take to it with minimal effort. House of Borgia is quick to teach and learn, but hard to master as I’ll be the first to tell you. You gotta know when to make your move and you can’t be too obvious or you’ll be found out and never have the chance to exert your power.
A game of House of Borgia plays out like this. Shuffle up the Puppet cards and deal out one to each player, put the unused cards in the box, unseen by the players. Keep your card secret, this is the Cardinal that you are wanting to influence and manipulate to the top. Then you are going to shuffle up the Cardinal Cards and place them in a row in the middle of the table. Put your influence cubes nearby as you’ll be using them quite often during the game. Each Cardinal will start the game with 2 influence on them so go ahead and do that now. Each player is now going to receive a set number of dice based on the player count. Now put the rumor cards out on the table as well next to the Cardinals for use as the game progresses. Also, don’t forget the Anti-Pope marker, place it out there as well. Now, you’re ready to exert your influence.
The game is played in a series of rounds and ends when one player has no more dice remaining in their pool.
The round is played out as follows:
- Bidding and Action-At the beginning of a round the players will roll their dice and keep them behind their player screen, making sure no one can see them. All the dice have 5 symbols on them and one “Fate” symbol, which is a wild card, it counts as any other symbol as needed. To make a bid you choose one of the actions and bid on how many of those symbols you think are on the table behind all the player screens, so you could say “Three Judgment” if you think there are three total out there. The next person clockwise may then either call the bluff or they can let the active bidder perform the action that they bid on. After that action is taken, the next player in clockwise order gets to bid but they must increase the bid by at least one, so they could say “Four Bribe” and then it’s up to the next person to call or let it go. Now, what are those 5 actions?
- Bribe– the player moves one of the Cardinal Mats to the very top or to the very bottom of the ladder of Cardinals. One has to be moved
- Poison– the player removes two Influence Tokens from one of the Cardinal Mats, it can be two tokens from one or 1 token from two different Cardinals
- Judgement– the player moves two Influence Tokens between Cardinal Mats, once again it can be two from one Cardinal or 1 from two Cardinals, but you can’t just move influence back and forth amongst the same two Cardinals
- Accusation– This action allows the player to place the Antipope marker on one of the Cardinal Mats therefor this Cardinal cannot gain or lose Influence, but it can still be influenced by Bribe
- Rumor– the player throws a rumor card at another player, accusing them of being in control of that Cardinal. Rumors can only be removed if someone else starts a rumor about you. Then the rumor card in front of you is replaced by the new rumor.
- Calling a Bluff– If the next player in turn order calls the bluff of the current bidder, play is stopped to determine whether or not they have the proper amount of symbols to complete the action. All players reveal all their dice behind their screens and if the bid is the truth then the active player gets to take the action and the caller loses one of their die. If the active player was bluffing, then the active player loses a die and takes no action.
- Rallying Influence– In this phase the Cardinal Mats will game Influence Points based on their position in the Influence Ladder, with the top Cardinal gaining three, second Cardinal gaining two and the third Cardinal in line gaining one. If one of the Cardinal Mats has the Antipope Marker they do not gain any influence and the influence does not trickle down.
After that if all the players have at least one die left in their possession you set it up to play another round with the player who just lost their die starting everything out. If one player is without dice, the game ends and the Conclave is now ready to vote.
All players reveal their secret card and the Cardinal with the most influence, after everyone adds two Influence Points per die they have left in their possession to their Cardinal, is elected the next pope and the player that controls that pope wins the game. If there is a rumor card in front of you and that rumor is true, you cannot win no matter how much Influence you have.
So, do you think you have what it takes? I hope so, because I surely don’t. I love a good deduction/bluffing game and especially one that throws a unique theme and some fun mechanisms. I’m just not good at them. My wife, my daughter, my game group, heck my Mom will probably tell you the exact same thing. I don’t remember the last time I even won as a villager in One Night Ultimate Werewolf. But in spite of that track record with these kinds of games, I keep coming back and trying, and this one, will probably be a fixture for me in our collection.
The art, even in prototype form is absolutely spot on and amazing, Jason and Scott did a fantastic job in finding the right artist for this one. Rules wise this was a breeze to teach and it was a breeze to play and I am pretty sure the only thing that anyone disliked about playing it, was that they were playing it with me, the worst deduction/bluffing game player in existence.
I really like the dice rolling nature to this and the risk management that always gets a bit more tense as a round progresses. Someone is going to lose a die, it happens every round, but when it happens is the fun part. Knowing when to call and when to just let the action go through is really crucial, along with knowing when and how to manipulate your Cardinal so that others don’t catch on. Don’t do like I did one game and immediately move my Cardinal to the top via the Bribe Action in the first round, I thought for sure folks would think I was bluffing, but it didn’t work and almost immediately I had a rumor card on me and my Cardinal was dead in the water.
I have not gotten to play it at all player counts, only at 4, 5 and 6 players, but I think like most games of this nature, the more the merrier, although if I do get to play it at lower counts I will ammend the preview and let you all know what I think.
Be sure to check this one out on Kickstarter, it’s scheduled to launch on the 15th of February 2016.