One of the latest games that my gaming group has received from Kickstarter is Road to Enlightenment (BoardGameGeek link, not Amazon). Just as a forewarning, I am writing this review after not completing a full game. There are a few reasons for this: first, I do not intend to ever go back and play a full game (and, I feel like this game warrants a review). Second, my "Reviews Alphabetically" page is keyed off of the word "Review" being in the title. If you prefer to think of it as a "First Impression" (that won't get a second impression), that's fine with me. If you feel that I need to play a game more than part of one time before my thoughts on it are valid, that's fine - I understand your position. This is why I'm warning you up front - so you can skip the rest of this post.
In Road to Enlightenment, each player takes on the role of a monarch during the Age of Enlightenment. Each monarch has a different army strength, navy strength, monarch strength, weakness, and once per game effect. To start the game, you will also have 3 "favorite" luminaries and 10 luminaries that are selected blindly from the different luminary piles. Once all this is done, the game begins. Each round, every player will use the cards in their hand (generally 7 luminaries and your 3 "favorites") and set them up to perform 2 actions and collect taxes. When playing them as actions, you can play another card that allows you to "enhance" that action (and there are also luminaries that allow you to "respond" to an action). Once all of the actions are set, starting with the first player, each player will reveal their action and execute it. After both actions, players will do "Taxes and Trade". To do this, you reveal all of the cards that you have placed in the third pile and match up income and politics icons - then, take this total in coins and pay your upkeep cost. Play continues until the "Final Round" marker is encountered - allowing the game to be anywhere from 10-15 rounds long. The one other thing to mention is that there are "Cultural Census" rounds occasionally (set up randomly like the "Final Round" marker). During these rounds, players have the opportunity to participate in a "Cultural Census" instead of their second action. This census works similarly to the "Taxes and Trade" section, except that different icons are used. Whoever has the most icons gains 4 points on the corresponding track, and second place gains 2. Whoever has the most victory points from science, art, religious dogma, and taking over territories at the end of the game wins!
Yes, I did say from the outset that I didn't finish my only game of Road to Enlightenment. And, so, you're probably expecting that this will be a glaringly negative review. However, Road to Enlightenment really has some cool aspects to it. First off, I really liked the historical setting of the game. Not being much of a history scholar, I really wasn't expecting to recognize many of the people in the game. Yet, even with my one college class in Western Civilization, I was able to recognize many names like Pascal, Rembrandt, and Blackbeard. Plus, it really made sense that I was trying to gain more science and art, since those truly were some focuses of the time period.
The next thing that I found very interesting about Road to Enlightenment was how scoring worked on the science and art tracks. They had a "king of the hill" mechanic. So, if I gained science, and thus had as many points in science as someone else had previously, they would shift down one spot (and shift the next person down and so on until there is an empty scoring square). This mechanic was really neat. I still don't know if I "like" it, so much as thinking that it was innovative, but either way, I like that this gain Road to Enlightenment a unique twist.
However, there were also some things that I disliked about Road to Enlightenment. First off, I cannot get over the fact that you get punished for taking over other players' territories. If you successfully take over an opponent's territory, you gain one victory point, and they lose two (at the end of the game). However, you also have to pay an extra coin of upkeep every round that you own the territory. Plus, if you take over a heavily fortified city (like Paris), then they have the advantage when trying to take it back! The harder a territory was for you to take, the easier it is for you to lose it. Because of all of these factors, there is absolutely no strategic reason (that I see) for attacking early in the game. This really limits your strategic options, and it also encourages all of the players to do the same actions, which will cause more chaos on the "King of the Hill" tracks - potentially even causing you to lose points during rounds in which you actually perform those actions (by having players go after you and knock you down the track)!
Really, the ultimate reason that I will not go back to Road to Enlightenment is the time. One of the people playing the game had previously played, but had a few rules wrong the previous time. Because of this, he re-read through the rules and looked up some unclear situations on BoardGameGeek, and was teaching us how to play. With him teaching us, we got through the first 6 turns (of 15 - we looked and our "Final Round" was on the last possible space) in over 3.5 hours. Maybe that didn't quite sink in - after 3.5 hours, we weren't halfway through the game. The game has some really neat aspects to it, but it felt like it needed to get distilled more to it's essence so that it was playable in a reasonable amount of time. Now, yes, I know that wargamers are accustomed to games that take much longer than this, but I generally do not like to play games that take this long. And, in this case, I really didn't feel like there was enough going on in Road to Enlightenment to warrant this time. After all, essentially, you are taking 30 total actions in the game - two per round for 15 rounds. This has no business taking this long.
|Notice the order of the icons changes|
The last con that I will list is that the game has "deck building" concepts in it - you will be gaining and losing luminaries. But this aspect didn't seem to work well. First, there is no way of getting rid of bad luminaries - you always have to replace them. And, so, you are constantly watering down your deck. Plus, there are some luminaries that are just better than others (an action that gains two science is better than one that gains one). But, since the draw is blind, you have to get lucky to draw these, and they are generally removed from your deck as soon as they're played. Which then means that your deck is constantly getting worse. Add to all of this that we had one pile completely empty for most of our four player game. And the game goes up to seven players - with this many players, you will really be forced to take what is available instead of what you actually want. Furthermore, the cards you gain are put in your discard ("exhausted") pile and reshuffled every turn before drawing - so there is no guarantee that you will ever see any given card that you gain.
Overall, I give Road to Enlightenment a 4.0/10. I think that there are some neat concepts in this game, and that is really why it was disappointing. Ultimately, though, the cons outweigh the pros heavily enough that I won't want to play it again, and the longevity of the game makes it fall into my "broken" category (but just barely).
If you like historically based games, you might also want to check out Twilight Struggle, 1960: The Making of the President, and Axis and Allies: Pacific.