Back in March, I wrote an article about the Kickstarter for Tesla vs. Edison – The War of the Currents, or How the Battle of the Notorious DC Current and the Mighty AC Current Should Shape the History of Mankind. I was incredibly excited for this project, as I’m a bit of a Nikola Tesla nerd and a big fan for this era in history in general. The game approached the battle of Alternating Current versus Direct Current on the realm of technology, propaganda, the stock market, and projects for illuminating the United States. It sounded like an interconnected strategy game designed around an engaging theme; I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it!
Fortunately, their Kickstarter funded but I was at a place in my life where I couldn’t financially back it. The game gods were on my side, however, as Artana Games reached out to GeekDad for a review. As the dad who wrote the Kickstarter article, I was given the opportunity to get a review copy. I gladly accepted!
How To Play
At first glance, this is a very intimidating game. As I mentioned, there are four primary fields of battle: technology, propaganda, stocks, and projects. They are interconnected in some subtle and some overt ways, so it takes a bit to wrap your head around the whole field.
You begin by choosing which of the five companies you want to represent: Maxim, Brush, Thomson, Edison, or Tesla. While you probably have heard of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, you may have missed Sir Hiram Maxim, Elihu Thomson, and Charles F. Brush in your history class. They definitely weren’t on the same level as Edison and Tesla when it came to the war for electrifying the nation, but they had the potential. In the game, you can play as them and get the chance to change history.
Once your company has been chosen, you draft luminaries. Luminaries are pooled from engineers, inventors, propaganda orchestrators, and financiers that also contributed to the war of the currents, so you’ll see people like George Westinghouse, Tesla’s financier and longtime ally against Edison; Charles Batchelor, Edison’s right hand man; or even the notorious captain of industry, J. P. Morgan. Alongside your company head, your luminaries will be the resources you use to take turns.
The game is broken into three phases with two turns each, for a total of six turns. At the beginning of each phase, you’ll recruit a new luminary to help your company’s cause, allowing you more strategic options. During your turn, your luminaries and company head will be able to do one of four things:
- Play the Stock Market
- Engage in Propaganda
- Invent new Technology (and potentially purchase Patents)
- Build a Project to power the nation
When you play the Stock Market, you can either buy or sell. Buying stock only helps a little bit on the market, but selling it hurts a lot. You’re able to buy any available stock, so there’s strategy to buying opposing stock early and selling it late in the game.
Propaganda was the name of the game in the War of the Currents: the term of being westinghoused still lingers after Edison coined the word to demonstrate the “dangers” of alternating current by using it to electrocute animals. You have the ability to either improve your company’s fame (giving you an edge in turn order and in the stock market) as well as the popularity of AC over DC or vice versa. There are ripple effects with public opinion: if the populace loves Direct Current, but you own the patents in Alternating Current technology, that could lower the return on projects as well as hurting your stocks.
With building technology, there are three realms to combat over: Alternating Current, Direct Current, and Bulb technology. While AC and Bulbs go as high as Level 5, the weaker DC only goes up to Level 4. As larger Projects require higher tech levels in Bulb technology as well as your choice of AC or DC, it’s important to develop quickly to open up more opportunities. You also have the option to purchase patents. Doing so will force other inventors to pay royalties, giving you a steady income.
Finally, your luminaries can build Projects, stretching your influence across the map of the northern portion of the United States. There are smaller projects to start off with and larger ones with much higher returns as you have the technology to back them.
You cycle through each of your luminaries and choose one of these options to expand your empire. Each turn is more of the same, with recruiting more luminaries at the launch of every new phase. I know, it’s a bit much to absorb. Fortunately, Artana made the instruction manual publicly available so you can really dig in if you want the nitty gritty I left out.
How To Win
At the end of the game, the winner is chosen by whoever has the highest stock portfolio. Each player starts with four non-sellable stocks in their own company, so there’s an advantage to having the company with the highest stock. However, if others have enough stock in your company and are close behind you, they could steal the win from you. Placement in the stock wavers throughout the game, rising for success in projects and dropping from losing the propaganda war.
In my test play, I played with four other people, with one young teenage player and other players well into our thirties. While everyone varied in their knowledge of the era from completely ignorant to borderline obnoxious (that’d be me), my obsession with the theme didn’t give me a crucial or strategic advantage over the other players. I actually got last place, but had a blast nonetheless.
As I originally stated, Tesla vs. Edison was intimidating at first: the many interconnected elements took a few turns to fully understand and could even be described as daunting. The many options for a given luminary sometimes caused some choice paralysis, so the game was slow going to begin. By the third turn, we were acclimated and everyone was invested in the game. The game sped up as everyone began to understand the repercussions for a given decision. All players agreed that we looked forward to a future play through. The game was very mentally taxing, though, so we all called it a night after the one game. This is not a critique – the amount of strategy necessary for every move was thrilling and I highly recommend this game to everyone.
You can pick up a copy for yourself over at Artana Games’ website for $60. Every detail of the game is high quality – the money, for example, is made of card stock, not paper, so it has a nice solid feel to it without being too bulky. With a whole lot of replayability and several unique mechanics that are married well together on top of a gorgeously designed game where every piece was impressive, this is well worth the price tag.