Road to Enlightenment Review

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.

My third pro is that I really liked some of the concepts of Road to Enlightenment.  For example, this was a time of religious turmoil in Europe, and this is represented by some monarchs being Catholic and some being "Anti-Catholic".  This grouped players into teams that scored points together if the religious track was in alignment with their dogma.  The uneven starting positions were also nice, and I also liked how the "favorite" luminaries worked (three cards not discarded and available to you each turn).  Many of the other aspects of the game like stacking actions with enhancements, and how attacks are resolved (and how your allies can help) were also interesting.

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
So, what made it take so long?  I've been kicking this around in my head.  First, I think that the rules are very confusing, causing it to take quite a while to learn.  Again, I believe that we were playing this correctly, as the person that was teaching us had done his due diligence to look up all of the rule ambiguities prior to the game.  Next, I think that the game suffers horribly from poor graphic design, and players have to regularly compensate for this (which takes time).  One example of this is that every luminary has text explaining what they can do instead of using iconography.  Yes, I realize that heavy iconography (like in Race for the Galaxy) can make the learning curve a bit steeper on games.  Yet, having things like "advance 1 on the culture (symbol) track" simplified by +1 (symbol) would greatly simplify things when looking to see what your options are.  Here's the worst part of the graphic design that I noticed - there are (I think) 6 symbols that can appear in the top left corner of your luminary cards.  But, they aren't always in the same order or location on the card!  So, if I'm looking to see how much money I can make for taxes, I have to look for the income icon and the politics icon.  But, I can't just line up my cards and see which have each icon, because I have to look at all of the icons on each card to see if one of them might be in a different location!  And then, add to this the (very thematic but) fiddly rule that if your monarch is Catholic, he cannot use politics from a luminary with Anti-Catholicism (and vice versa) and suddenly I have to look for a third icon on all of my cards.  Again, without it being in the same spot on the card each time!

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.


  1. Wow, now I'm really glad that I passed on the Kickstarter for this. Sounds like it's another case of a KS game with inadequate development, then.

  2. That's disappointing; this game sounded really intereting.

  3. It's amazing how a game with such a good description can be so atrocious. I really wanted to like this, but this was definitely a disappointment of epic proportions. A lot of the ideas sound great in theory, but in practice, none of it works.

  4. Well, a counterpoint to the current vibe, I Kickstarted the game and have played 2 games with my local group. The first game was somewhat of a slog (6 players) because none of us knew what we were doing and the rulebook is pretty weak. Plus there are so many cards that we felt a little overwhelmed. It took around 6 hours which is way to long, so in that since I agree with the review.

    However, we all liked what the game was trying to do and we played again a few nights later and when you get down to it the mechanics are really pretty easy. It's just that the cards slow you down until you get a feel for them.

    Our 2nd game was a lot of fun, took about 3 hrs start to finish, and there was a lot of laughter and angst at the table, which is why I think you play a balance of power game like this to begin with.

    Anyway, different strokes for different folks I guess. But I would certainly not call this game "atrocious" and in fact we plan on playing a game Saturday with a 7th player for the full 7 player experience. Our group loves to make deals and table talk a lot and I think that feels like almost a requirement for this game. Allies, backstabs, that's how we played anyway.

    There are some rough edges and you can sort of tell that this is a first design.

    The manual IS bad. There's some helpful articles posted on BGG which help. need to like dice. It's not uncommon to roll 20D6. Although that sounds crazy you're looking only for 6s so we had a lot of laughs when people rolled so many dice and crapped out. But I think there's a better way to do combat ..but in the end we had fun with it.

    Some of the mechanics feel underdeveloped like the Religion slider. I wish that played more of a factor while you played other than a current state of things.

    Overall though we really liked this one.

    Anyway, I read another "first run" review at a videogame blog that sums up my own thoughts on it.

    I'd give that a read if you are looking for a different opinion.

    Hope you give it another shot Josh. There's a fun game here after you get past the initial curve and that awful manual.


  5. Thanks for your thoughts, Pete - I'm glad that you disagreed, as I definitely wanted to like this game. Unfortunately, I probably won't give it another shot, simply because this wasn't my game - it was my friend's game, and it was his second play (he was trying it again, because he wanted to like it). He didn't, and he's planning on getting rid of it, and I probably won't seek out an opportunity to try again.

  6. And, unfortunately, I feel like I need to make two comments here:

    1) Please be polite. If you post inflammatory comments on my blog, I will delete them.

    2) I have received several (inflammatory, hence not posted) comments that do not understand how "it's too long" is a legitimate con. That's fair, and it's possible that I wasn't very clear in my review. The issue wasn't specifically with the length, it was that it wasn't worth our investment. We were not enjoying the game enough to want to continue playing it. We kept going after the first hour or two assuming that the game would pick up and be more enjoyable, but, unfortunately, we never really began to enjoy the game, so we decided to pack it away.