Overview: Before Las Vegas became a world-famous destination, it was just a bunch of desert. In Lords of Vegas, you play as developers and casino bosses, building up the Las Vegas Strip. Will you strike it rich or lose your shirt? It takes some careful planning, strong-arm tactics, and — of course — lots of luck.
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 60 to 90 minutes
Rating: It’s a gamble: fun to play, but can also be brutal when you’re behind.
Who Will Like It? Gamers (and gamblers) who like to press their luck and make risky moves that might pay off big — but you have to be okay with losing, too.
The world of Las Vegas is, of course, full of glitz and glamor, but there are also shakeups and corporate takeovers. As casinos are built, they can merge with each other or be remodeled, and quite often management will change hands. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of luck involved in the game — which casinos get paid and which score points, as well as actual mini-gambling during your turn to win money from another player.
Not all of the mechanics fit thematically — you get lots at random (for free), and only some of the casinos make money and gain points each turn, which is not how Vegas actually works, as far as I can tell. But you won’t really mind, because you’re too busy trying to plot your next takeover.
- 1 game board
- 45 casino tiles (9 each in 5 colors)
- 48 dice (12 each in 4 player colors)
- 40 player markers (10 each in 4 player colors)
- 4 scoring chips (1 each in 4 player colors)
- paper money ($1M, $5M, $10M denominations)
- 49 property cards (including one Game Over card)
- 1 “Player” card
- 1 House card
- 4 summary cards
The game board is a nice top-down representation of The Strip, with square lots arranged in blocks of various sizes. There’s a lot of little detail on the board but not so much it distracts from the information — the die faces and lot values. The scoring track wraps around three edges of the board, discard spaces go on the fourth edge, and a wagering space is at one corner.
The casino tiles are nice: they’re sized to fit the block, with a square hole in the center that holds a die. The player markers are small translucent plastic chips — they work well for the most part, but the yellow ones can be hard to see at a glance. The paper money is serviceable, but I realized that it’s been a while since I played a game with paper money and it’s kind of a pain, particularly these extra-thin, small bills. Expect these to get pretty crinkled and beaten up after a few plays.
The property cards are fine and pretty easy to read, considering each card serves a couple purposes. The “Player” card is simply a red card that reads “Player — License to Wager” and is passed around to mark whose turn it is, which seems pretty unnecessary. The House card, used for gambling, is also unnecessary because the same info is printed on the corner of the board in the wagering space. The most annoying factor about these extra cards is that the backs match the rest of the deck — so if you accidentally shuffle them all together, you’ll have to search through the deck for the Player, House, and summary cards.
The box isn’t one of those ridiculously oversized ones, but the plastic insert is very odd. It’s not really clear how you’re supposed to arrange things — there are several specialized wells but there aren’t the right number and shapes to divide up, say, the casino tiles or the cards, and the paper money just slides around in an oversized bin. It looks like a very nice insert made for some other game.
The goal of the game is to have the most points by the time the “Game Over” card is drawn (about 3/4 of the way through the deck). You get points by owning the right casinos when cards are drawn — the bigger the casino, the more points you get.
Setup: At the beginning of the game, each player takes all of their dice and markers and two cards from the deck. The two cards indicate your starting lots (“A2” is the second lot in block A) as well as your starting cash. (This is the only time the “Start” value on the card is used in the game.) You place markers on the lots you own, and discard your cards in the appropriate areas of the board. Roll off to see who is starting player. The deck is shuffled, divided into fourths, and the “Game Over” card is placed on top of the last fourth, and then the deck is reassembled.
If your marker is on a lot, then you own that lot. When you build on a lot, then you put a casino tile and one of your dice (turned to match the printed die on the board). Casinos of the same color that are adjacent to each other (orthogonally only) are all a single casino, and whoever has the highest-numbered die in that casino is the casino boss.
On each turn, there are two main phases: Draw and Play.
The Draw phase is when you draw a card and players earn money and points. First, you flip over the top card of the deck. You take over the lot marked on the card by placing your marker there. If there’s already a casino tile built on the lot and it doesn’t belong to you, then you take over it by removing the die and replacing it with one of your own (showing the same number as the existing die). If there’s a tile but no die, then you place a die there, matching the pre-printed die on the board.
Every player collects $1M from the bank for each unbuilt lot that they own. The color of the card also indicates which casinos will earn money and points this turn. If you have dice in casinos that match the color drawn, then you get paid $1M per pip on the dice in those casinos. If you’re the boss of a casino of that color, you also get points — one point per tile in the casino. Finally, if the card is “The Strip” (there are four of these in the deck, counting the Game Over card), then any casinos that border The Strip (the main drag down the middle of the board) get money and points.
One thing to note about the scoring track: at the beginning, the spaces are in one-point increments, but this increases as you get higher on the track. So when you’re at 26 points, for instance, you’ll need enough points from a single casino to get you to 29 — or else you don’t move at all.
The Play phase is when the current player can expand by building casinos and sprawling, or change things up through remodeling and reorganizing — these actions can be taken multiple times per turn. To build a casino, you must own the lot — pay the amount shown on the board, place a casino tile of your choice, and then put one of your dice on it, matching the die printed on the board. If you’re the boss of a casino, you can also “sprawl” into an adjacent unowned lot by paying double the lot price — the new casino tile must be the same color as the one you’re sprawling from.
You can remodel any casino where you’re the boss: pay $5 per tile in the casino, and then you swap all of the tiles in the casino to a different color. (Note that there must be enough tiles left of the new color to change everything over.) Reorganizing is a good way to attempt a takeover in any casino where you have at least one die. Pay $1 for each pip in the entire casino, and then everyone has to re-roll their dice and replace them. Depending on the values and number of dice in the casino, this can be a very pricey move, but it can also pay off in a big way. Each die can only be re-rolled once per turn, so after one reorganization then those particular dice are safe.
Finally, on your turn you can gamble once at any point. Pick a casino where another player is the boss. You can wager up to $5 per tile in the casino (up to the amount you can pay), and then roll two dice. On a 3, 4, 9, 10, or 11, that player pays you the amount you wagered. On a 2 or 12, they pay you double your wager. Any other number, and you pay them your wager. The casino boss may also “lay off” half of the wager to the bank before you roll — the bank covers half the proceeds if you win, but takes half the proceeds if you lose.
The game ends at the end of the turn when the “Game Over” card is flipped over. All of the casinos on The Strip earn points and money one last time, and then whoever has the highest score wins. (The game also ends if somebody reaches the “Instant Win” 90-point spot on the scoring track, but the rules make it clear that this is pretty unlikely.)
Lords of Vegas isn’t a new one — I’ve had it for a while — but I happened to get a review copy shortly before the huge flurry of Kickstarter board games and it got lost in the shuffle. I’ve finally tried it out, and I like it quite a bit, but with some caveats.
Obviously, the game involves a lot of luck, which makes sense for a game about casinos, but even with all those dice it it’s not as random as it might appear. The biggest random factor is in the lots you get, indicated on the card you flip at the beginning of your turn. Some lots are better than others, particularly once casinos start getting built out. The lots with higher die faces are more expensive to build, so that balances a little, but there’s also the difference between getting a property on The Strip versus one off the main drag.
Choosing the right color tiles for your casinos is crucial to getting money and points, but again there’s luck involved. Building several different colors means that you’ll get paid (and possibly get points) more often — but then once you’re at the point on the score track where you need multiple points to advance, you’re at a disadvantage because you don’t have one big block of tiles to earn those points. Since the discard piles are all open, you can try building the color with the fewest cards in the discard: that color is most likely to be drawn. However, in one game I played, this backfired, as the gold (which had the most cards already out) kept getting drawn several times in a row.
The remodeling and reorganization also offer some great strategic moves, if your luck holds up. For instance, building on a lot with a low die number is cheap; so is paying to re-roll that die. It’s possible to build cheap, re-roll the die and get a higher number, and then pay to change the color to match the large casino next door … making you the boss. These sorts of power plays are extremely satisfying when they pay off, but they’re basically throwing away money if you don’t get a good roll.
Reorganizing a large casino to try to take over is also costly, but becomes especially necessary in the latter part of the game, when everyone is trying to get several points at a time to make it to the next space on the scoring track. The casinos tend to get larger and larger, which means fewer and fewer players are bosses. The build/reorganize/remodel trick becomes harder, too, because at some point you run out of tiles that match the color you want, and you’re left building something that may not earn money again.
I really like the scoring track — it reminds me a little bit of Sunrise City, in that it’s not just the total number of points you earn, but the specific jumps your score makes as it goes up. It means that the person in first place has to earn more points at a time to keep moving forward, but the person in last can try to score with small casinos. It helps balance the game a little.
The unbalanced part comes in the fact that casino bosses are the ones who earn points and are likely to get the most money (since they have the highest-valued die). So the player who’s ahead gets further ahead. This is where gambling comes in. It’s a chance both to earn a little more cash on your turn, but can also be used to take money away from somebody who’s been accumulating cash. However, it’s very luck-dependent, and sometimes wagering everything you have (in order to rob the other player) may just end up giving them all your cash.
Lords of Vegas is definitely a game for gamblers. You have to enjoy making the double-or-nothing moves and going all in. That strategy isn’t guaranteed to win, of course, but trying to play it safe won’t earn you enough to win. If you like to press your luck, Lords of Vegas is a cool spin on territory control. If you’d rather play something a little less unpredictable, then don’t go to Vegas.
Wired: Good mix of luck and planning; cards and board are easily to interpret.
Tired: Not everyone likes luck-based games; game can have a runaway leader.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.