The Gambler – Lords of Vegas review

I don’t get the fact that many gamers have an aversion to dice. To me, they’re the epitome of gaming, that element of chance that I crave when I play. I know that there are a huge amount of folks out there who have that Play To Win attitude (and I also know there’s a place for them in our hobby) but for me… well I don’t mind if I win or lose. Playing is important – the fun is in the journey, not finishing in first place (although on the rare occasions that happens, it’s obviously brilliant). To those who must win at all costs, the dice are a mortal enemy, a terrible and random beast that can foil their plans at any given moment. For me, any game that involves dice presents an ever-changing challenge that must be overcome and of course – through skilful play – anything can be mitigated. Perhaps.

Of course, one place where the dice truly rule are casinos, especially at their spiritual home – Las Vegas – and when Mayfair Games announced the release of Lords of Vegas last year I knew I wanted in. A game where you vie for control of fledgling gambling halls, where everything can turn on you on the roll of a dice? It demands that you embrace the ethos of the city and sometimes give everything up to chance… well, nearly everything. With a combination of skill and not a little luck you could end up a winner, even if poverty is a more likely option.

The premise is pretty basic – build a range of casinos in order to get as many points as possible through the game. The city of Las Vegas is divided up into blocks that you’ll get to develop your properties on – you’re randomly allocated two at the beginning of the game and claim a new site by placing a marker on the space stated on the card you flip at the start of your turn. This triggers the first of two phases – the payoff. Any site that is owned by a player nets them $1M, while any built casino the same colour as the card can provide those all important points as well as potentially getting them a lot more cash as well. Points are also allocated on this phase, with the casino’s boss getting one point for each tile that makes up the building.

OK, so if a brown card is pulled out, the red and yellow player both get $4M. Red is in control as they have the highest numbered dice in the casino, so they get three points.

After the money’s been paid out (and remember, everyone gets something as long as they own at least one empty lot), you move on to the Actions phase. This is only for the active player, and as long as you have the money to fund it you can do as much as you please. Building gets you a coloured tile of your choice and costs you the price marked on the space. Reorganizing lets you reroll all dice in a casino at the cost of $1M per pip (particularly useful if you’re not in control), and you could also Gamble at another player’s casino if you’re in the need of extra funds (or fancy giving them away)! There’s also extra options if you’re in control of a casino. You have the choice to Sprawl – aka: expanding into an unclaimed tile – but this is risky and expensive. It’ll cost you double the price stated on the board and the card for that site is pulled from the deck, you immediately forsake control to the current player. The final action choice is to Remodel, changing the colour of all tiles in a casino – very useful if a certain set of colour cards are appearing regularly and you want to switch stuff up a little.

So, enough of the how – why should you be playing Lords of Vegas? This is a criminally underrated game that seems to have slipped under the radar of many people in the gaming community. Put simply, it’s a game that reminds you of the joy that comes from play. The only way you’ll make your way to victory is by throwing yourself into the game wholeheartedly. Buy those casinos! Sprawl into unclaimed areas and hope to god that that you don’t end up having to hand over control because of an unlucky card draw! If you’re low on cash, gamble against an opponent, and if you’re desperate to control an area, pay up and roll those dice – you never know what may happen. The best moments I’ve had with this game have been those do or die dice rolls involving a huge casino where I maybe have a couple of low-value dice.

The view from above. Check out the score track - later jumps require you to run ever larger casinos to move further. This is NOT easy.

I remember handing over those millions to pay for the privilege of re-rolling. Picking up the dice one by one. Shaking them up in my cupped hands and dropping them to the table, they tumble and spin. A couple of fives, the only one still going is mine… and it lands on… a two. All that money down the pan. It could as easily have been a six, giving me full control of a lucrative casino but – in keeping with the theme – that’s Vegas, baby! In the last episode of the podcast where I spoke to Peter Olotka, something he said really resonated with me: “Fair isn’t fun”. Lords of Vegas could easily have been a deep strategy game where every single decision affected everything else, but would it have been fun? This game can kick you when you’re down, but there’s always something you can do that could possibly turn your fortunes around – and isn’t that what the fantasy of Vegas is all about?

James Ernest and Mike Selinker have come up with one of those rarities – an event game. These are the games that, more often that not, see your discussions begin with “Do you remember when…?” upon looking back at them. They’re the ones that saw the balance of power swing with the destruction of an alliance, the knife in a back of a friend or (in the case of Lords of Vegas) an incredible dice roll. You know the kind, the ones where someone has a fistful of dice in their hand, they get out of their seat and utter a silent prayer. Like the guy down to his last chip at the craps table who walks out an hour later with an immense pile of cash, it’s glorious when miracles actually happen. And in Vegas? Well, that happens every day, doesn’t it?

——————–

Lords of Vegas was published in 2010 by Mayfair Games. Designed by Mike Selinker and James Ernest, between two and four Lords (or Ladies) can vie to crush their opponents into penury. All this fun for under £30? Who can say no?!

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