I tried. I really tried to like this game (The Road to Enlightenment). But, somewhere in the middle of Turn 2, I shook my head, put all the cards back in their decks and this puppy away. It wasn’t fun. Just wasn’t. And what’s the point of playing a game that you’re not enjoying? It’s like reading a book that bores you to tears.
Not that I found this game boring. Far from it. Playing a monarch doing everything you can to bring your people into the Enlightenment, what a great concept. The problem is, it’s unplayable as a solo game. You’ve got to have at least four people, and it’s better with six, IMHO. And they have to be six medieval history enthusiasts who speak Latin or Olde English at each other and can cite the various codexes of the Magna Carta from memory. Know people like that?
I don’t. I don’t even know people willing to play any kind of game. I am cursed (or blessed) with a circle of people who think Chutes and Ladders is the bees knees of board games. And it has its charms. But so does Panzer Leader and Spartacus and WarHammer and whole bunches of other Avalon Hill and GMT games that my circle doesn’t want to play. Monopoly they know, Midway they don’t. So I play a lot of my games (and I have a lot) solo, usually with little problem. Yes, I am that schizophrenic. Or, I want to enjoy the board game experience so much I am willing to set up the partitions between my internal opponents and play like I don’t know what my right hand is doing. And sometimes my right hand does surprise me, which is why I didn’t think I would have a problem with this. But it can’t be done. See, this is a deck building game that depends on the secrecy of your deck for strategic game play. Now that shouldn’t be an issue because I have other deck building games and play them with the mental partitions intact. These cards, though, are nigh on incomprehensible. Studying them is like preparing for the bar. The rules are nigh on incomprehensible. The whole blasted game is.
Now I am not completely stupid and can grasp a board game’s mechanics with a simple rules read-through and a couple of preliminary rounds, you know, the way most of the populace learns to play a board game. Not this one. I read through the rules and went, “Huh?” So, read through them again. “Huh?” Two more times, same reaction, oh, the heck with it, let’s start playing. I’ve already reported the results of that. Not that the rules aren’t laid out and clear. It’s that I had no idea what I was supposed to do: when do you play what card and how can you play this card and what does this card do and how am I holding these cards to begin with I mean shouldn’t French luminaries be with King Louis? What are they doing with the English? Did I do this wrong?
So, yes, when confronted with a problematic game like this you’re supposed to look at the Youtube videos and watch a few playthroughs and then go to Board Game Geek and read some reviews and clarifications…really, you’re supposed to? Gee, I wonder what we did before there was Youtube or BGG, read the rules and understand them or something? Yeah, yeah, old guy get off my lawn, but it is a measure of these mediocre times that no one knows how to write a set of rules anymore. The rules booklet in this game suffers from a case of “I understand it so everyone else does, too,” sort of like the instructions you get with a computer program.
Don’t get me wrong, I spend time watching games on Youtube, usually WarHammer matches or Wil Wheaton having it on with Felicia Day and those guys from Vancouver are hilarious. But that’s to (a) get a feel for a game I’m considering or (b) just the fun of it, not to figure out what I’m supposed to do. And, yes, admittedly, I once watched a Star Realms video to make sure I was doing it right, but I did so already with a good idea of how the game worked. When the rules leave you completely bewildered, though, there’s not enough video to cover that.
I got the feeling this whole game was inside baseball, that the designer and his friends are the aforementioned medieval history enthusiasts and they did this game to amuse themselves, seeking to render every obscure Enlightenment figure possible into some kind of playable character so they could one-up each other. “Aha, I see you’ve included Bartuch Spinoza but I don’t see Jean-Sylvain Bailly.” “Aha, my learned friend, you are correct, I have left him out in favor of Madame Blavatsky.” An all night session of “ah-hah!” In iambic pentameter.
And I’m not far off. The Designer Notes strongly indicate that the personalities were the most important part of the design. That’s great, but what are you supposed to DO with these personalities? Got lost in the admiration somewhere, I think.
And there is much to admire. It’s a very pretty game. The map is gorgeous. The cards are gorgeous. It looks great.
So does a Rembrandt but you’re not going to play with it.