Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
Thomas Edison is well-known by many as the “inventor” of the light bulb and the record player and is considered a local hero by many in my home state of New Jersey where he did much of his work. However, Nikola Tesla is widely regarded by the science cognoscenti as being the true innovator, with Edison being nothing more than a hack and a thief. If you get a group of science and history geeks and pose the question “Tesla or Edison?” to them, you will end up with polarized groups arguing their scientist’s superiority. It is this competition that Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents seeks to capture the spirit of. Does this game shine brightly, or does it burn out when powered up? Continue reading to find out!
Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents is the latest addition to Dirk Knemeyer’s portfolio of historically themed game designs (The New Science, Road to Enlightenment), putting you in the role of some of the major players in the electricity business in the late 1800s, including the eponymous Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Over the course of the game, you will hire luminaries who will assist in the development of new technologies, slander your enemies with false propaganda, and engage in stock trading in order to raise funds for your continued work. After 6 game turns, the player whose company has the highest stock value is declared the winner.
How to Play:
At the start of the game, each player drafts an inventor, who is affiliated with their own electricity company, and that player starts the game with preferred stock (worth 4 shares) in that company. Each inventor has ranks in invention, manufacturing, finance, and propaganda, as well as their own specific game play effects. While the companies function essentially the same way, the inventors provide each player with a variable set of powers and game play options.
The game spans three phases, each of which contains two turns. At the beginning of each phase, an auction is held for “luminaries,” historical figures who have powers and abilities that can be used to grow the values of the electric companies. Each luminary has ranks and powers similar to the inventors, and each luminary comes with a random share of stock from one of the companies in the game. Auctions are held until each player purchases a luminary at the beginning of the phase. The luminaries available for purchase varies from play to play, depending on player count.
After the auction at the beginning of the phase, the turn begins, with each player “exhausting” their inventors and luminaries in order to perform actions. Advancing in technology in AC or DC is done by exhausting luminaries with ratings equal to the invention and manufacturing ratings required for each tech level. Purchasing a patent can be done alongside technology advances, by exhausting luminaries with finance ranks, which provides bonuses to your company’s stock value.
Claiming a project requires certain levels of technology advancement as well as some monetary investment, with luminaries’ abilities, the location and type of project affecting the cost, with the reward being higher stock values for your company. Engaging in propaganda allows your company and chosen power system (AC or DC) of choice to rise in rank in the public esteem, while knocking your enemy’s reputation down in the fame ratings. Depending on where you end up on the fame tracks, you receive a bonus in increased stock values. Finally, you can work the stock market, selling and buying stocks of yours and other companies’ stock, which affects their stock market value.
At the end of each turn, you receive funds that represent the profit that your company makes, based on the value of the stock market. After six turns, the company whose stock is valued the highest is declared the winner!
Tesla vs. Edison presented as very straightforward game that has a good amount of depth to it, especially as the game progresses. Since your actions are limited to the number of luminaries you possess, action selection is limited at the beginning of the game, with an additional actions available during each phase. This makes choosing your actions extremely important and a bit nerve-wracking at points during the game, because there is quite a bit to do and not quite enough actions to do everything. Prioritizing and working towards your goals is quite important, and some players with analysis paralysis might get locked up.
The auction aspect works well with this game, forcing players to decide which luminary is most beneficial to their personal strategy moving forward. In addition, since each luminary also comes with a random stock certificate, there is some added strategy when determining values to auction. In addition, since the unpurchased luminaries carry over from phase to phase, there is another layer of planning added, as you have some knowledge of what will be available later in the game. I tend to be split on games with auction mechanics (most likely because I am not good at them), but Tesla vs. Edison’s implementation is solid.
The other game play mechanics were integrated well into Tesla vs. Edison. As in other games, positions on the various progress tracks (propaganda, AC/DC, stock value) directly impacted play, and it was quite the challenge to be able to identify where to focus a particular turn’s attention, based on your companies present and future needs.
Replay value is always an issue with games, but we found that since the available luminaries and propaganda cards changed from play to play, this provided a bit of variation to the game play. This was especially true in the early turns, where action selection is so limited.
While the game does have quite a bit to keep track of, the layout of the board and the information provided on it truly assists in making sure all players can get the information they need quickly and easily. At no points during our play did we find ourselves looking for external references or reaching for the rulebook (other than to check rules, of course).
In terms of theme, this game delivers in spades. As a fan of this era who has read extensively on the feud between Tesla and Edison, I found that the game play truly immersed you in the world that these men were living and working in. It was a cutthroat time, where agents of both AC and DC camps spread rumors and misinformation, damaged and attacked lab and manufacturing facilities (allegedly, of course). Tesla vs. Edison really makes you feel like you are working to improve your own company’s standing, while knocking down your enemies.
Player count is important, in our estimation of Tesla vs. Edison. With two players, we felt that game play was not as engaging, which was not a surprise to us since auction games do not always play well with two players. At the other end, 5 players was far too many, with too much downtime between player turns, especially when analysis paralysis reared its ugly head. We felt that three players was the sweet spot for this game, but that it played well with four as well.
Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents couples an immersive theme with a game that is easy to learn and yet surprisingly deep in terms of its strategy. Due to that depth, this is definitely a “gamer’s game,” good for your regular game group, but maybe not the best choice for gatherings with your non-gamer family and friends. There are quite a few moving parts, but we found that this game brings them all together into a quality experience.
If you’d like to become a backer, pledges start at $49 the full game and stretch goals. Tesla vs Edison is scheduled to be in backers hands in September of 2015 and you have until Thursday, April 2nd to become a backer. Head over today and check it out.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review.