The World of Smog: On Her Majesty’s Service is the first game in a series from CMON. The series for both this game and The World of SMOG: Rise of Moloch, a Kickstarted project, takes place in a stylized, steampunk Victorian England, where you play as a gentleman who will fulfill quests for her majesty, Queen Victoria.
At a Glance
On Her Majesty’s Service is a tactical set collection game for two to four players, ages 14 and up. It plays in about an hour. The game has been out a while, and if you’d like to pick a copy up before exploring Rise of Moloch, the retail price is still $59.99.
What’s in the Box?
Like all CMON games, great attention is paid to the impressive and beautiful components. As you can imagine with a steampunk-themed game, there are intricate cogs, scrolls, and gears everywhere, from the rule book to the board to the cards and seemingly everything in between.
In the big box, you’ll find:
- 1 game board
- 4 player dashboards
- 12 location tiles
- 4 Gentleman figures
- 6 Agent figures
- 1 Shadow Master figure
- 1 First Player token
- 16 Ether counters (4 of each type)
- 30 coins
- 30 Hourglass tokens
- 6 Agent cards
- 16 Artefact cards (4 of each type)
- 24 Special Action cards
- 13 Secret Combination cards
- 8 Secret Gate cards
The artwork is spectacular throughout, with lavish attention to detail. For instance, the Ether counters are gears that have a space where a translucent, plastic jewel is popped in and, when light is reflected through, gives the counters a very magical quality.
You might expect a steampunk-themed game to have some clockworks in it, and with On Her Majesty’s Service, you’d be right. The location tiles are clocks that have foam discs centrally mounted on each of their backs. During setup, these discs are placed in cutouts across the board, allowing the tiles to be turned as part of gameplay.
Another unique aspect of the components are the figures. There are eleven in all, and they are, well, cool. It’s no secret that the CMON’s games always have cool miniatures, but rather than presenting fully posed characters, On Her Majesty’s Service presents the game’s characters as busts, mounted on telescoping pedestals. They aren’t Victorian cyborgs, though, in the rule book, there are illustrations of characters in their full arms, legs, and torsoed-glories. The bust minis are a unique approach to character presentation and, I think, help to augment the theme in a way that a conventional mini would not.
How to Play
You can download a complete copy of the rules here.
The board is setup by following a diagram in the rulebook, showing how location tiles are placed on the board. Artefact cards are placed and Agent cards shuffled and added to the board, along with their minis. Each player chooses a Gentleman and the corresponding dashboard and Ether token that matches that Gentleman’s expertise, which is dictated by which side of the board you are sitting on. Different Agents have different effects.
Additionally, each player takes a Secret Combination card, which is your personal combination of Ethers you must collect to enable your Gentleman to exit the Shadow Market. Each player also receives a Secret Gate card, which shows where your Gentleman must be on the board to exit the Shadow Market. Both of these cards should be kept secret. Each player gets 2 coins and 2 Hourglass tokens, which are placed, one at a time, on any Ether or Artefact spot on the board. Play is now ready to begin.
At the beginning of every round (except the first), each player receives one coin. Then, beginning with the player with the first player token, each player may take three actions from the following list. Unless indicated, the same action may be taken more than once.
- Move Your Gentleman: You may move to one Location tile, horizontally or vertically, never diagonally. If you cross a barrier (a thick fog that blocks your way on a tile), you must pay a coin or an Ether or you cannot move that direction.
- Rotate Your Tile: Rotate the tile your Gentleman sits on 90º clockwise.
- Buy One Ether: The location tiles are designed so there are colored, numbered icons located at north, south, east, and west to each player. The colors represent each of the four Ethers and the numbers are the coins required to purchase that Ether. A player desiring to buy an Ether looks at the Location tile where his Gentleman sits. The icon closest to him, at the south/six o’clock location, shows what he can buy and its cost. If there is an Hourglass token there (or fog), he cannot buy. If he does buy, he places an Hourglass token on that icon and rotates the tile 90º clockwise.
- Sell One Ether: Using the same rules as above, a Gentleman may sell one of her Ethers, again placing an Hourglass token and rotating the tile when done. Note: a player may not buy and sell on the same tile during the same turn.
- Buy One Artefact: Should your Gentleman find himself on one of the outer Location tiles, you may buy an Artefact card according to the value on the tile facing you. You may only purchase one of each Artefact and it should be placed face up in front of you. Again, place an Hourglass and rotate the tile after purchase.
- Remove One Hourglass: All these pesky Hourglass tokens! You can get rid of them by spending an action to remove a token from anywhere on the tile your Gentleman currently sits.
- Request Coins: Once per turn, if your Gentleman is at the Esplande, the central tile, and is the poorest in the game, you may request coins from the Queen. If you’re the poorest, you will receive two coins. If you’re tied for the honor, you get only one.
- Rotate Any Tile and Get Special Action: Again, if you are at the Esplande, once per turn you may rotate any tile on the board 90º in either direction. You also get a Special Action card to use later. These are described just below.
- Exit the Shadow Market: If your Gentleman is located on the Location tile of his Secret Gate, have all the Ethers dictated by your Secret Combination card, and have collected all 4 Artefact cards, you may present them all to the Queen and win the game.
Also, you may perform either of the following free actions:
- Activate a Special Action Card: As long as you possess the Ethers, at any point during your turn, you may activate a Special Action card. There is a dozen of them, with various powers, ranging from stealing an Ether from an opponent to stealing coins to rotating tiles or the board. Some are not really great, but some are pretty powerful, ending in a not entirely balanced game, depending on the number of players in the game.
- Pay the Shadow Master: You may pay as many coins to the Shadow Master as you wish during your turn. Once paid, the coins can’t be used for anything else. However, at the end of each round, the player with the highest score on the Shadow Master Counter earns the favor of the Shadow Master. They get the first player token and the Shadow Master figure.They remove coins from the Shadow Master Counter, remove the oldest Agent and replace with the next available Agent, and gains a 4th action on their turn. However, it doesn’t come without a cost. Dealing with Shadow Masters never does. They must place the first coin received each round on the Shadow Master Counter.
Play continues until a player has exited the Shadow Market, winning the game.
The World of Smog: On Her Majesty’s Service was designed by Yohan Lemonnier, who is probably better known for his part in designing last year’s very popular Captain Sonar. As I mentioned before, the game is absolutely beautiful, like most games under the CMON flag, but the gameplay on this one is a bit hit and miss.
With two players, there is little conflict and it becomes more of a race and, frankly, a somewhat forgettable gaming experience. But if you tack on one or two more players, it becomes much more enjoyable. When you are unable to accurately plan and strategize from turn to turn, The World of Smog: On Her Majesty’s Service becomes pretty chaotic and enjoyable. Only then do the Action Cards feel more balanced and the stealing of coins and rotation of elements really muck up the works for your opponents. Further, when you play with three and four, the games are usually pretty tight, with the outcome in doubt until the last few turns (most of the time).
The rulebook is thick and has lots of back story and information about the Agents and the Gentlemen in the game. It’s a lot of theme and, if you take the time to review it, pretty interesting and enjoyable. However, I’m not really sure many players will take the time since, when you play, the names and stories are a bit irrelevant. Still, I appreciate the effort and time it went into creating this new world, a universe that will be augmented when the recently Kickstarted The World of SMOG: Rise of Moloch makes its ways to shelves, sometime in the near future.
The World of SMOG: On Her Majesty’s Service is available now.
Disclosure: GeekDad was sent a copy of this game for review purposes.