Cthulhu, Neil Gaimen, Martin Wallace, Sherlock Holmes. The blessed trilogy in four parts. When I heard about a study in Emerald some years back I did something I rarely do. I pre ordered it. Shock! It was well worth it. I still have it, it’s a great game and it appears on the table every so often. So why you might ask did I go and buy second ed which from all reports is a cut down not as good version? I was curious.
I’m here to tell you that second ed of a Study in Emerald is as good if not better than the original. Well not better. Maybe different but a really good game all the same. It’s also a hell of a lot cheaper. Best of luck getting a first ed copy (yes yes I know I was selling my copy at once stage but that was a long time back and Quick look over there!)
ASiE was ahead of its time. A map based conquest game with a card drafting driving mechanism. All it was short of was sculpted minis. Actually… there’s an idea! Maybe the ones from mansions of madness! Being ahead of it’s time does not make it old btw. It’s a damn fine game. Anyhoe
Briefly the game is set in the nineteen hundreds. The great old ones (the plucky rascals) have appeared and taken over the Victorian world. In fact they’ve been in Situ for a number of decades and apart from the enslavement and endless misery it’s worked out pretty well for everyone and by everyone I mean the great old ones. The players take the hidden roles of either loyalists who think everything’s grand, lets not rock the boat or restorationists who want to bump off all the old ones and return the earth to the earthlings. The game plays out on a board with a dozen cities like London, Paris and Madrid as well as more exotic (and potentially dangerous) spots like Constantinople. Each city has a stack of face down one face up card which you want to take to add to your deck. (This is the drafting part). You do this by putting influence cubes and agents (more than your opponent’s) on a city and then grabbing the card in the following round. It’s a kind of bidding mechanism with ample opportunity for cock blockery. Cards in turn grant resources and powers, assignation being a key one for bumping off old ones and enemy agents.
Certain actions such as killing old ones are SOO restorationist. Likewise killing agents is so the kind of thing a loyalist would do. Of course this could be a ruse to trick people into thinking you’re something you’re not. Easy how you go though. At the end of the game you lose any score that wasn’t specific to your alignment.
The game has a number of mechanics running at once all of which meld together nicely. The hidden alignment is key. Really you want to Identify who’s who and either aid or hinder them. Now even though you want your team to win (go local sports team!) you just want to use them to be number one and losing five points at the end because one of your team mates came last is not part of the plan.
The real question here is how does it compare to
to the first edition. I have to say before I’d gotten it I had heard a lot of negatives about the new edition and I’m glad to say they’re not true. First the negatives. The map is not as nice as the original it’s now a fairly compact map with cities lined up on a grid. The cards aren’t as pretty as the original. The art work has changed for them. I preferred the old illustrations… that’s about it. Everything else checks out.
In first ed the game had a touch of unfinished about it. Now don’t get me wrong first ed is one of my favorites games. Second ed is much tighter. Gone are some of the superfluous bits like double agent tokens (which rarely ever happened). Insanity is simpler. Everyone starts with three Wooden disks on their alignment cards and roll on the insanity dice when required. There aren’t as many wooden pieces knocking about. Setting up is quicker. It take a bit less table space this time around.
City ownership no longer changes hands. Once you claim a city card it’s yours. The scrabble for ownership late in the game that slowed down first ed. is gone. Old ones are mixed in with the drawn cards (as are the city cards) and are only attackable when their cards appear. Now certain cities become more important for a period rather than all of them being important all of the time. It makes for a much more focused contest. Most of the mechanics that made first edition special are still in place albeit in a simplified way. It only improves the game.
From a lot of the negative reviews I’d read I’d expected a very weak game indeed. I was very pleasantly surprised. The game is improved. People who loved the first one (I loved it) may feel like a step down. It doesn’t have the same rich deluxe feel as first ed. That’s ok. I can live with that, it’s the game play I’m interested in.
Second ed is definitely worth having a look at. First ed was amazing and this is a fine revision