IDEOLOGY (Z-Man Games, 2 to 5 players, 1-2 hours, ages 12 and up; $24.95)
Armed forces clashing to control territory is a familiar theme used as the basis for many games. But the twist in Ideology, the new game designed by Andrew Parks, is that IDEAS are at war as powerful political philosophies of the 20th century compete for control and global influence.
Ideology comes small boxed with a host of components: a map of the world, 225 Influence cards, 85 Advancement cards, 43 Region cards, 5 Ideology cards, over 100 counters and 16 pages of rules.
Players represent five different 20th century ideologies: Capitalism, Communism, Fascism, Imperialism and Islamic Fundamentalism. The five cards matching each of these ideologies are shuffled and dealt, face up, to each player. The player then receives the matching Influence cards and markers as well as a card of the region that acts as his starting region. (For example, Capitalism begins in the United States.) Each starting region begins with 3 Military Influence cards, 3 Economic Influence Cards and 3 Cultural Influence cards bordering the starting region card. (A counter on the is placed on the corresponding region on the world map.) The remainder of the Influence cards are shuffled and placed face down beside his Ideology card. Now, the Region deck is shuffled and placed face down. The Advancement cards are separated into their seven different types with the various markers placed close at hand for use later on.
Each region in the game has a matching card. This large, square card states the name of the country (or region) as well as areas adjacent. Along the borders of the card, there is room for placing military, economic and cultural influence which brings us to the key concepts of the game: Controlled regions, Development level and Global Influence.
Basically, Controlled regions are areas on the board where ONE player has more influence cards on it than any other one player once all possible military, economic and cultural cards that can be played on that region have been placed. All regions begin with a Development level ranging from 1 to 3 but this can increase. The Development level of a Controlled region translates into Global Influence. As players' control more and more regions, their Global Influence grows. The first player to amass 12 Global Influence will win the game.
Eight phases comprise a game turn. To begin, all players simultaneously participate in the Resource Phase and draw (or discard) Influence cards so that hand strength equals a player's current "Global Influence". Global Influence is equal to the sum of the Development levels of a player's Controlled regions (+1 for each Weapons of Mass Destruction Advancement card).
The Trading phase now allows each player, in turn order, to trade in Influence cards on a one to one basis. Trades are limited and may not exceed the total number of regions influenced with that player's Ideology. Now, players enter phase 3: The Development Phase.
During Development, players, again in Turn order, play Influence cards fro their hands next to the appropriate sections of the Region card (e.g. Military Influence cards on the military side of the card). There is a card limit. No region can exceed double its starting Development level in any one area. It is also during this phase that Advancements may be bought.
Advancements enhance abilities in each of three areas of Influence: Military, Economic and Cultural and come in two varieties: Level One and Level Two. Level 1 Advancements (Tactics, Industry and Patriotism) cost two of a particular Influence card. Level 2 Advancements cost two different Level 1 Advancements (as specified). The Weapons of Mass Destruction Advancement, the seventh and most expensive (and powerful) Advancement, costs all three Level 2 Advancements.
Now, during the Foreign Phase, the top card of the Region deck is drawn, indicating the Independent region now "up for grabs".
In turn order, all players may take action. They may either place a card beside an Independent region or remove a card (from an Independent region or an area controlled by an opposing player). You may only play one card at a time. Should all other players play or pass and the turn comes back to you, you can play another card. This continues until all players pass.
You may play Cultural cards against a region's Cultural area, Military against Military, Economic against Economic. But, in keeping with geographical advantages, you have to pay a penalty if your Controlled regions are NOT adjacent to the region you are trying to influence. Generally, if you are NOT adjacent, you pay a second card of the same influence type as a penalty. Some Advancements, however, allow you to waive that penalty.
During the Conflict phase, players may play their Military, Economic and/or Cultural cards against the opposition. (Which cards may be played are determined by the Diplomatic stance of players towards one another. More on that later.) Basically, the attacker plays one type of Influence card against a card already placed by the enemy defender. If the attacker is not adjacent to the contested region, there is a distance penalty (requiring the play of another card of the same type). Should the defender have Advancements in the influence used, the attacker must either have the same level of Advancement or pay additional cards to neutralize the defender's advantage. Once an attacking card is played, the defender has a choice.
If the defender decides not to contest the attack, the attacker's card is placed in the region. Should the defender decide to repel the attack, he must play a card of the same type of influence. In that case, both the attacking and defending cards are discarded. The attacker may continue until he decides to stop or the defender has no more cards to play (or simply allows the attacker to win). Further attacks are possible but only after every other player has had a chance to attack. (Additional conflicts, however, still require payment of any distance or Advancement penalties.)
At this point, players may offer terms of peace, neutrality or war with each other. (All ideologies begin as neutral towards all.) Diplomacy status indicates what types of conflict are allowed. Cultural influence may be played against any ideology regardless of status. But Economic Conflict is only possible when nations are neutral or at war with each other and Military Conflict can only be used when nations are at war. (If players cannot agree on a diplomatic stance, the more aggressive stance is adopted.)
Finally, the Assessment Phase calculates each ideology's status. Controlled regions are assigned a Development level equal to the number of Influence cards in its WEAKEST area of influence. (For example, if there are 5 Military, 5 Economic and 4 Cultural Influence cards in play in a region, the Development level is 4.) Regions remain under control as long as one player has MORE influence cards in a region than any other one player. Independent regions become controlled once ALL areas of influence in the region are at maximum level and ONE player has more influence cards there than any other player. Development levels of all Controlled Regions equal a player's Global Influence. For the next turn, player order is based on Global Influence, with the player having the most going first.
The game continues until one player has a Global Influence of 12 or higher by the end of the Turn Order Phase.
Ideology has lots of nice things going for it. Each of the five ideologies come with both unique advantages and disadvantages. For example, Imperialism begins with one Patriotism Advancement but needs to pay one EXTRA Economic Influence card when buying an Industry Advancement. Developing Advancements is essential as they enable you to overcome distance penalties and strengthen your defenses against attack. The powerful Weapons of Mass Destruction card allows you to remove THREE cards from a region adjacent to one of your Controlled regions, potentially devastating to an opposing player on the verge of a win but an extremely costly card to buy.
Since the key to winning is controlling Independent regions, you may wish to leave further development of your home area to later turns and concentrate on making your presence felt elsewhere. It is also important to remove influence in areas where you have no chance at control. Although that card is lost, it can prevent your opposition from taking Control of an area since Control of an Independent region is only won when ALL areas (Military, Economic and Cultural) of a region are at maximum. By removing your card, you force your enemy to burn a card he may not have or cannot afford to lose right then. The multiple uses of the influence cards - to buy advancements or to spread influence or to use in combat - gives players lots of choices - and tough decisions - to make.
Although the rules run 16 pages and may seem a bit daunting at first glance, they are well organized and flow smoothly. Every question that came up during play was answered clearly within the rules. Also helpful was the listing of Phases on the map as well as on each player's Ideology card. The biggest knock on the game is physical. The counters used to denote Influence on the world map are pretty thin and the map itself, which is not mounted, does not stay perfectly flat. (A piece of plexiglass should fix that.) And make sure you have a big table. As regions become controlled and the respective region cards shift into your gaming area, your personal "space" tends to grow quite large.
Ideology offers a different perspective on world domination. Unlike your typical world conquest game where military and sometime, economic, dominance is the goal, here military, economic and even cultural influence are only the means to an end: spreading an ideology through the world. Gamers who enjoy political games with an aggressive attitude will find Ideology an idea to their liking. - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy
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