“One day all seven will die” – Prince
That song was stuck in my head, and now it will be stuck in yours.
GenCon planning is upon us. Jeebus. Time flies when you’re having fun, I suppose. Or even when you’re not.
Last year GenCon was the most fun I’d ever had in all of my yearly attendances. It was the first time I took PSS to the streets and we were received pretty warmly by the board game community despite our lack of affiliation/name recognition with entities I won’t name but who rhymes with Mice Power. I love board game people. We are the best the gamer culture has to offer. I talked with a number of indie publishers about their games, living the dream, and their thoughts and involvement in Kickstarter. Many of them gave us games to review.
And all of them have been exceedingly patient with my crazy life as it pertains to promises to give their game the kind of household name recognition power that you can only find with the support of a nerd blog with two whole readers.
So, now in addition to the Captain Hammer Project, my ongoing behind-the-scenes expansion plans for PSS, my endlessly escalating attempts to Stick It To The Man by Shamelessly Whoring Myself (TM) and that whole “regular life” thing, I have to really kick it in gear to play and review these games. BEFORE GenCon rolls around again. It’s just the right thing to do. Technically it was the right thing to do sooner than now, but it’s hard out here for a pimp. Or at least I assume it is. Ask a pimp, they’ll probably provide a more accurate assessment of the difficulties of their day-to-day existence.
Among my many stops in the vast dealer’s room of GenCon was that of Wishing Tree Games. I’d seen Seven Sisters on Kickstarter previously (it was actually the very first game I ever looked at on Kickstarter), and it looked interesting enough for me to try to help the cause on. The whole theme of GenCon 2012 as far as PSS was concerned was “Underdogs Stick Together”. The designer of the game was busy with a demo but I got to talk to Brent Cunningham for a bit about some of the things they were doing. They had some neat looking things going on, but clearly Seven Sisters was the darling of the booth.
Seven Sisters is a delightful hodge-podge of a bunch of euro-style themes including hand management, worker placement, resource management and area control. It’s the mark of an interesting game when I manage to play it incorrectly the first three times, enjoy the hell out of it, then play it again the right way and enjoy it even more.
The theme of the game provides a nice backdrop and enough of a clever hook to catch someone’s interest but once the hook catches, the theme keeps strictly to the scenery. The condensed version of the theme is that the players are wealthy aristocrats who seek to gain the king’s favor by means of winning the approval of his seven thoroughly demented daughters. Why you would want to win the favor of a man who names his children Wrath, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth, Pride and Envy is beyond my reasoning capability. For that matter, where the hell is the queen?
The game plays from start to finish in four reasonably quick rounds, and like the incredible Agricola, ends right when you finally feel you’re making some headway. It’s a exquisite sort of torture for us nerds who appreciate a dash of masochism in our games. It makes success at the game that much sweeter.
Each player has a very handy screen with useful rule references, and 30 cubes of their color. These cubes represent the servants who you employ to deliver the goods to the ladies. In my experience, avoiding women and using proxies for contact has always been a fantastic way to impress them. You start with 15 of these cubes in front of the screen and 15 behind the screen. This separates the reserve (tokens you can’t use) from the playable (tokens you can)
At the beginning of each round, each player is allowed to collect an assortment of gold and fruit, the use of which we will discuss shortly. Each player is also dealt 6 cards. Most of these cards feature two of the sisters, one in the foreground and one in the background. Some cards are Wild and feature all seven.
In each turn, you play a single card with a few options. You can
A) Place two servants on the primary sister.
A2) Pay 1 Fruit to place one servant on the secondary sister.
A3) Pay an additional Fruit to place a fourth servant on either of the two. What can I say? Ladies dig fruit.
B) Move two servants from the primary sister to the sister of your choice.
C) Play a card and place no servants but add three servants to your playable stock from your reserve.
D) If you play a Wild card, you can place two servants on the sister of your choice, but you do not have the option to extend further placement via fruit.
You’ll only be playing five of the six cards, so you need to carefully weigh which sisters’ favor you are going to fight for, how far you can stretch your fruit, and how many active servants you have to deliver said fruit. It sounds simpler than it is, which is a perk of the game.
Others will be doing the same, so you may invest heavily into a sister and not end up winning her favor that turn. However, unless it’s the end of the game, it does not strictly waste your investment.
After each player has played five cards, scoring for the round occurs. The player with the most servants on each servant collects a favor tile for that sister and a reward for courting that particular sister’s approval. Each sister has a unique reward for winning them, which adds a lot of depth of the game. The rewards are tied to the nature of the sister in question; for example, Greed gives you a gold reward, Gluttony gives you a fruit reward, and Wrath, the screaming primadonna that she is, commits mass murder of servants who are not paying attention to her. At that point, the winning player’s (and ONLY the winning player’s) tokens are removed from the sister and the player is given one opportunity to pay gold to return the servants to the playable area or else they are returned to the reserve.
Managing these three different currencies against one another while competing with the other players doing the same is really the essence of the game. It’s a pretty wonderful balance, and there has not been a point I’ve played yet where a move I took did not in some way have a meaningful impact. Given the constant shifting of the board state and hands, it rewards more tactical play than strategical play. I definitely get the feeling that this is the sort of game where repeated play will add a lot to your ability to adapt and even profit from difficult board states.
The favors of the sisters are each worth a point, and there are bonus point opportunities for unused gold, fruit and servants, and a two point bonus for each complete set of the sisters’ favors you collect. After the fourth round, whomever has the most points, shockingly, is the winner.
My solitary complaint about the game is that while skillful play is strongly rewarded, sometimes in the latter half of the game you get dealt a handful of cards that act as a speed bump to what you wanted to do which can cause a loss of momentum through no fault of the player. Though as I mentioned earlier, the ability to read the state of the board should go a long way in mitigating this. This isn’t a dealbreaker, every game needs some element of chance to keep fresh. You can get utterly hosed by the dice in Settlers of Catan and that does not take away from it being an amazing game.
Materials for the game are solid. The player shields deserve special praise as they provide pretty much all the pertinent information you’ll need once you learn the basics. The rulebook is well written, and the durability of all parts is strong.
I love it when a game comes together as simple to learn, but with great depth. Seven Sisters sets up quickly, and most decisions take a lot of thought but not so much that it induces analysis paralysis or a choppy game pace. Four rounds is a pretty perfect length for this game and clocks in at between 45-60 minutes. Seven Sisters comes enthusiastically recommended to fans of the aforementioned game elements, and earns every bit of praise it has received. Check it out and buy it here.
Pretty Sneaky, Sis would like to sincerely thank Brent Cunningham and Wishing Tree Games for their vote of confidence in our global domination plan by donating their awesome game to us and even more for their saintly patience for that vote’s justification.