There are certain themes and locations that naturally lend themselves to particular selections of mechanics and luck. Because of these “natural mechanics,” players are fairly awash in the appropriate theme. Anytime the words “Las Vegas” are mumbled, peoples’ imaginations are overrun with the (now fake) sound of coins cascading triumphantly into metal slot machine trays, an overwhelming visual spectacle in neon lights, card tables that stretch to the end of the world, and lots and lots of faces hoping for a glance of Lady Luck.
Even though the setting of the game Lords of Vegas, predates the enchanting glam that the modern Sin City represents, designers Mike Selinker and James Ernest manage to capture the emotional rollercoaster and tension of luck that the city of Vegas is currently known for without sacrificing strategy or fun.
In Lords of Vegas what will become the Strip is only a desert road with desolate empty lots. The players are casino investors eyeing the potential these dusty lots have to offer. The luck that is inherent in the game help emulate the emotional side of the Vegas Strip while mitigating mechanics are sprinkled throughout the game to help players that are beset by bad dice rolls and card draws. These mitigating mechanics also help players keep strategy close in mind and at the same time serve as a catch up mechanic.
Each player’s turn starts out with a card draw from the Property Card deck. The Property Cards have a twofold affect: They first determine what empty lot the active player will receive, and then say which developing company will pay out money and points. To help mitigate such a luck-heavy mechanic, haggling and trading are allowed (and based on my plays of the game, pretty much required). Players are allowed to trade any combination of money, lots, dice in casinos, and actions (no future or promissory actions are allowed for trade.) Not only does this help mitigate the luck aspect of the card draw, it also creates interaction and involvement for players even when it’s not their turns.
Once a player has an empty lot, he or she can start to build a casino. The cost will depend on the location of the lot and the result rolled on the six-sided influence die (naturally, the lots on the strip with a value of six pips will cost the most). After the cost is paid, the player will have to choose which one of the five developing companies to hire to build on the empty lot. A company tile and one of the player’s dice are placed in the center of the lot—the die representing how much influence the player has in that casino.
At the beginning of the game, it is blind luck whether the color of your casino is drawn for a payout, but as the game hits its stride in the middle of the game, you can start hedging your bets based on what property cards have been revealed. If a lot of the aqua and purple colored cards have already been drawn and paid out, you may want to start diversifying into one of the colors that hasn’t seen as many flops if you can. Just hope that other players haven’t already scooped them up for their own casinos, because there is only a limited number of tiles for each development company (that number being nine).
There are other things players can do to help themselves gain victory points. If two players’ different colored casinos are touching, one player can remodel his or her casino to match the opponent’s. Now two separate casinos have become one large casino, making it more valuable for payout and points. Alternatively, a player can reorganize. Reorganizing allows a player to pay a sum of money to reroll their and their opponent’s dice in a casino. The player with the most total pips showing on their dice is now the boss of the casino and will receive the payout and points. If players are feeling extra lucky, they can also gamble at other player’s casinos, or sprawl their casino into unowned empty lots and hope that particular card doesn’t appear on the flop later on, which would give another player a free casino instead of an empty lot.
Just like gambling in Las Vegas, the tension of hitting it big is strong in this game. The theme shines through with its luck based mechanics, but the luck never grows too long and is tailored perfectly. You can play the odds, hoping for a smaller but more likely pay out, or you can play against the odds in a Hail Mary bet, hoping to get that extra couple of grand you need to reinvest in your own plots of land. If you want the thrill of gambling and push your luck, but a little bit of a brain tickler as you haggle and gamble your way to victory, then the dice and cards of Lords of Vegas is calling your name.
Written by Jason Hancock