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Hard to describe how amazing this game is
on January 16, 2012
No spoilers in this post, but I will be talking about the rules immediately out-of-the-box.
One of my friends gathered us together to play this game, explaining it's "like Risk" but with "permanent effects, so that the game changes forever every time you play". Succinct, yet accurate.
What this description doesn't capture (and what's impossible to understand until you actually play), is just *how* the board changes and how *mind-blowing* it is.
The default rules are very similar to vanilla Risk, with a few additions. The win conditions are relaxed (instead of capturing the entire board, you gather four red star tokens in various ways... games run 1-2 hours). In addition, there are five races to choose from with various perks (+1 to defense rolls, extra manueverability, etc).
To give an idea of how zany this game is: each race starts with two possible perks. You choose one for each race and literally throw the other in the trash. In the first five minutes you have made a permanent decision that permanently alters how your version of the game is played. Forever.
The key to the game's evolution is in two parts: game-to-game and via the envelopes. Every time a game ends, the winner and the hold-outs get to make a decision. The winner might name a continent, giving him a bonus when he controls it. He might found a major city, giving him recruitment bonuses in the territory. The hold-outs get to found minor cities, or make territories more valuable. This changes how diplomacy and expansion works in later games. There are also "scar cards", which players can use to permanently improve or weaken a territory, by placing a sticker on the board.
The second part is the sealed envelopes in the game box. Each has a condition, such as "Open when all nine major cities have been founded", or "Open when a player has won twice". Each envelope drastically, I mean *drastically*, evolves the game for future plays. These are where spoilers come in, and I won't detail any further. Let me just say that every time we've opened an envelope, there have been gasps and hysterical laughter at the realization of what they mean for the next game. I have been more impacted by some of the envelopes than I am by spoilers in some books/films I've read and seen.
Get a group of four friends, and make this a weekly ritual. The board is good for at least 15 evolutionary games before things stop changing, and this is something you just have to experience for yourself. Don't cheese games just to get to an envelope, either. The consequences are permanent and profound; play the game as you normally would and you'll appreciate the changes all the more.