QUEEN'S NECKLACE (Days of Wonder, 2-4 players, 30-45 minutes; $24.95)
Royalty has long been the source for game themes. But rarely have the jewelers of the royal court served as the main characters in a game. That "oversight" has been corrected in Queen's Necklace, designed by Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti, as players become jewel merchants trying their best to be the richest royal jeweler of them all!
Queen's Necklace comes in a small but deep box to hold its quality components. There is a deck of cards consisting of 33 "Character" cards, 39 "Gem" cards, 7 "Ring" cards, 3 Merchant cards, 4 summary cards (extremely useful in getting a handle on all the characters that populate the game), 3 blank cards to create your own characters or gems), rings (used to chart the value of the jewels at market), fashion tiles, rarity tiles, clear and concise rules and, of course, the Queen's necklace itself!
The four red fashion tiles are placed in the center of the playing area, +30 next to +20, next to +10, next to +0. The four gem tiles (representing diamonds, emeralds, rubies and amber) are shuffled and randomly placed, face up, below each fashion tile. The 3 Merchant cards are removed from the deck. Then, the deck is shuffled and each player gets a starting hand of four cards. (Should a player get the "Astrologer", that card is discarded and another card is drawn as a replacement.) The 3 Merchant cards are inserted back into the deck, the first in approximately a third of the deck, the second at the two-thirds level and the last mixed in with the bottom five cards. Five cards are drawn from the top of the deck and placed in the center of the play area. A golden ring is placed on the top number of each card to indicate its present cost. Now, the game begins.
There are three parts to a player turn: influence, card purchase, and devaluation.
In addition to the jewels themselves, the deck of cards is loaded with royals and hangers-on who can impact on game play. For example, the "Confessor" allows you to look at an opponent's hand, the "Alchemist" allows you to change a jewel of a type you hold into another type altogether! "Forgers" force a competitor to discard a jewel while "Thieves" allow you to randomly steal a card from another player's hand. Fortunately, "Musketeers" thwart the evil intentions of Forgers and, if chosen randomly by a Thief, not only prevents the Thief from taking a card from your hand but allows YOU to pull one (randomly) from your opponent. During the influence phase, Character cards are played and their effects take place at once. This is followed by card purchase.
Each player has 10 ducats to spend each turn to buy the cards on the table. He may buy jewel cards or Character cards. There are 14 cards each for rubies, diamonds and emeralds (with 2 cards displaying 3 gems, 5 displaying 2 and 7 displaying 1 gem). Amber is represented by 17 cards, all displaying a single stone. Character cards on display are also available for purchase.
A player MUST buy at least one card but can buy more if he has enough money. How much each card costs is determined by the row of numbers found on the right hand side of the card. Costs can be as high as 13 ducats (a purchase made possible with the use of a Courtier Character card) but, if not purchased, the price of the card decreases indicated by sliding the ring down one number. Bought cards are taken by the buying player and a new card (or cards) drawn to replace them. Should a card not be bought and the ring slides down to the lowest position on the card, that card is simply discarded. When a Merchant card appears, a Jewel Sale happens immediately!
Three Jewel Sales occur in the game. That is when players display the jewels they have to earn the biggest profits. But only the jeweler with the MOST jewels of each type will score!
During a sale, each player secretly chooses which jewels he will display. Players may display all, some or none of their jewel cards. (They may also play other cards - such as the Banker or Ring cards - to enhance the potential value of their display.) Players reveal their cards simultaneously and now the sales are determined.
The totals of each type of jewel displayed are calculated. The gem type that has the lowest total gets the +30 rarity tile placed under its matching gem tile. The second lowest total gem gets the +20 rarity tile and so on. Now, the player with the most gems of each type - and only THAT player - gets to complete the sale for that type. The selling price for each jewel will range from 0 to 60 "pounds" as the rarity value AND the fashion value are combined. Scores are written down. (If you can't find paper, you can download a score sheet at www.queens-necklace.com). After the sale is finished, all displayed cards are discarded and the rarity tiles are removed until the next sale. (Fashion tiles stay where they are but their respective positions can be changed with the play of the three Favorite cards which shift gem positions.)
The player with the most "pounds" (let's call them Victory Points) after the third and final sale is the royal favorite and wins the game! (As an extra bonus, the game includes a "Days of Wonder Web Card" so you can sign up to play the game online!)
Queen's Necklace owes a debt to several sources. The idea of devaluing the cards is reminiscent to that found in Showmanager (Winter 1999 GA REPORT) where cards cost less when passed by other players. But here, the concept is used a little differently and to good effect. And, unmistakably, there is a bit of the chaos found in Castle, an earlier Bruno Faidutti (and Serge Laget) design (Summer 2000 GA REPORT), as Character cards allow players to bend the rules to their advantage and to the detriment of their competitors. Some of them can be brutal.
The King (and there are THREE of these cards in the deck), for example, when played with a jewel card during a sale cancels the sale of that specific type of jewel. (Only one King may be played by a player during a given sale.) The Queen's Necklace card (only 1 of these) gives possession of the Queen's Necklace to the owning player. The owner of the Queen's Necklace card takes control of the necklace in the game and proudly displays it, thereby "activating" the card's power. This card, when played with a jewel card, cancels the power of the King card and forces the player who used the King card to pay the holder of the Queen's Necklace card 50 pounds! This powerful card can create a tremendous swing in the score. It also adds to the bluff/counter-bluff and "guessing" aspects of the game. But players are not totally defenseless. Should a player manage to play three Musketeers together (but there only four of these cards in the deck), he can pry the Queen's Necklace card from the current holder and take possession of it for himself!
The game is not without potential problems. The designer prefers beginning the game with each player being dealt four cards so that cards in play, held by other players, are not known. This will thwart the card counters and those with photographic memories among us. That does, however, open up the possibility of starting play with a hand of unusable cards. A variant that has been suggested to provide a bit more control and short-circuit that potential problem is to eliminate the starting hand entirely. Instead, players could commence the game with the standard draft as per normal play. Also, Musketeers seem to be weaker than they should. They work to good advantage in countering a Forger but only work against a Thief when the Musketeer is drawn randomly from the defender's hand, a very uncommon occurrence. To restore balance, we suggest allowing a Musketeer card to function as it does against a Forger: simply play a Musketeer from your hand to cancel a Thief. Still, the biggest knock on the game is the chaos that ensues when the basic design is skewed by play of the Character cards. Long range planning is certainly difficult if not impossible. It really boils down to a matter of taste and, frankly, I didn't find this a problem.
Bottom line: if you are looking for a game with solid production values, a clever design and exciting changes at the drop of a card, then you will find Queen's Necklace a royal treat. - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy
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