Game Review by Steve Riola

Copycat is the “new” game from Freidemann Friese.  I’m sure we’re all aware of Freidemann, the creator of Power Grid, Friday and Fearsome Floors (just to name a few), the master of alliteration and lover of all things green.  Friedemann borrowed well known mechanics to stitch up a game of his own, the result was Copycat, a loveable mash of mechanics that we’ve grown to love or hate.

Game Overview:
In Copycat, you’ll fight for turn order, place some meeples, and build your deck of cards.  The very loose theme is that you’re trying to put yourself into the shoes of a politician and start your political campaign.  Essentially, you’re collecting victory point to earn the office, how you do so is entirely up to you.

Game Setup:
Place the large board in the center of the table and give each player one of the starting decks which are labeled A-D.

Form the supply of action cards.  Assemble the cards by Section together, placing a number of Doctorate cards at the bottom of the stack equaling the number of players.  Then shuffle and place all of the Section IV cards on top of the doctorate, then do the same with Sections III through I.  Then place that stack next to the board.  Place all of the Section I cards on the street spaces located at the bottom of the board.

If it’s a 3 or 4 player game, you’ll add additional offices to the Federal Department.

Prepare the supple for the extra Office cards, in descending order 1 through 5.  And draw the first card and place it into the number 1 slot to the left of the Federal Building.

Place one of each players Victory Meeples on the zero space on the victory track.  The other Victory Meeple will be placed onto the bus to determine turn order.

Gather all of the victory point markers and place them next to the board.

Each player starts with 3 of their meeples.

Game Play Overview:
There will be 4 phases in the turn order.

To start the game all players will have 10 cards in their hands.  7 of which will be cards all worth 1 coin and 3 of which will be worth 1 victory point.  Each player will shuffle their starting hand of cards and draw 5.  Gamers who are familiar with deckbuilders will immediately recognize this from numerous games, though this ‘theft’ was attributed to Dominion.  In the upper left hand of the card, there is a number which will lead us into the first phase of the game.

Planning: After players have drawn their 5 cards from the face down pile they all need to choose one of these cards.  Utilizing the number in the upper left hand corner to determine how much they want to “pay” for first place.  Essentially all players are now bidding on first place on the turn track.  Once all players have revealed their cards, the player with the highest number on their card becomes first player and it will then go around based on the next highest number.  The catch is that the higher the number, the better the card, so you have to think wisely if you are going to sacrifice this card for turn order because one it’s used to determine turn order it is no longer available for you to use for the upcoming turns.  The game directs you to place it in front of you tapped… er, I mean turned sideways and ‘attached to your clipboard’.

Action: Placing Campaign Workers in the federal building and using actions. At this point, every player as exactly 3 workers to place.  Taking turns in the newly determined order of play, you’ll place your workers into available positions in the Federal Building.  As with most worker placement games, you can only play into a building that has no workers in it, this can change as you draft cards later in the game.

In this phase you can also play cards or use actions of selected offices before placing your worker.  In the action phase you can utilize Purple and Blue Cards to take immediate actions.  At this point you would simply play one of these cards in front of you and take the actions, you can also immediately use any office space that is blue by laying your worker on its back.  They had a rough day at the office, had to perform an action and now need a nap.

Once a player has no workers left, he has to pass and cannot play more cards or use any offices.  All players will continue to take offices by placing their workers until no one has any workers left.  One all workers are placed, phase 3 begins.

Buying and success: Buying cards and receiving Victory Points. Phase 3 again plays out in turn order.  Each player plays all remaining cards they have in their hands and uses all actions of his workers in the federal building.  Once the first player has completed all of his actions the next player will perform all of their actions.

If the player has selected an office that allows him to buy a card he may then purchase a card with the amount of coins that are in his hand.  There are multiple positions on the board that will allow you to buy a card, or two cards depending on the office.  If you don’t get into one of those spaces, your cards with coins will basically be dead cards for this round.  So pay attention to the offices!

There’s a catch to street with the card offerings though! If there are any red cards in the street and you make a purchase of a card, you MUST take all red cards to the left of the acquired card.  The red cards are completely worthless in your hand and will just take up space.  You know all about these cards, they’re the victory point cards in Dominion that you grow to resent.  Any cards purchased will then go into your discard pile.  When you need to draw additional cards, you’ll shuffle your discard pile to build you new deck, then gaining the abilities of all new cards to be drawn.

Any cards you played with victory points on them, you’ll immediately gain victory points for and move your Victory Meeple along the track.

Cleaning Up: Clearing the game board and preparing the next round.

This is phase 4, once all players have completed their actions and buys from Phase 3, you will prep the board for the next round.  In every office where no worker was placed, you’ll take one of the green victory point markers and place it into the office.

Each player will take the cards played and place them into his discard pile.

Each player will take their workers back, only keeping 3 workers and playing any other workers he acquired through the cards or actions in offices back into the general supply.  Though you may gain workers in addition to the 3 you start with every round, you must gain them again the next round if you wish to place more than 3.

You’ll then place the top card of the office supply into the next open position in the federal building.  Agricola players will recognize this as there will be only 11 cards that come out throughout the game.

Depending on the number of players, you’ll remove some of the action cards at the end of the street and shift all cards down.  Filling in the open positions with new cards.  And now you’ll repeat phase one.

End Game Conditions:

If a player reaches 95 or more victory points.

If a player has bought the last Doctorate.

When the 11th round ends.The player with the most victory points is elected to be the next president and wins the game.

Copycat is basically one big tribute to other games that are generally well received on BGG.  One part Agricola, One part Dominion, One part Through the Ages, One part Power Grid and you get one hell of a Frankengame.  It’s an easy game to learn, especially if you’ve played any of the above mentioned games.  Though simple, I wouldn’t call it an overly light game.  Sure there aren’t super tough decisions to make throughout the game, with the exception of what card that you want to bid for turn order with but there are some very sneaky combos that can be played.

Our gaming group sat down and played it a couple of times.  Mostly laughing and shaking our heads at the combos that other players were able to pull off.  There were numerous moments of “D’oh why didn’t I do that” or “SH&% I DIDN’T EVEN THINK OF THAT.” We saw numerous turns where it seemed like one player was going to just crush the other players by racking up huge victory points only to be defeated a turn later by an even smarter and well played combination.  It’s definitely a game where each action you take can have a vital impact on the end game outcome.  Fail to optimize your play and you may just lose. Who will build the best engine, to score the most victory points? Though even the best built engine can still struggle if you win the turn order and block all of the spaces that they need!

The iconography for the most part is easy to pick up, or blatantly obvious.   If you’re unsure, there’s an excellent Glossary of cards that’s included in the game.  (The back side of the Set-up page.)  The game also comes with an Achievement page, similar to the one that accompanied ‘Power Grid: The First Sparks’.

We all enjoyed Copycat quite a bit, though I think it was unanimous that the theme wasn’t really present throughout the game.  The cards were obvious political parodies of real life events, or just generally humorous but at no point did I actually think or even relate politics to the actual game play, the actions I was taking or the cards that I was adding to the deck.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fun and enjoyable experience.  If I was going to point out anything about the game that we didn’t enjoy, it was the amount of cards in the office deck that were dealt out before the beginning of each round.  With 11 spaces on the board and always only the same 11 cards, after multiple plays, it’s going to be very predictable, another office supply deck would add more depth to the game.  Though it would take a while before you got bored with these options.

If you’re a fan of Friedmann Freise Games, or of any of the above listed games you might want to pick up a copy of Copycat.  It’s fast and entertaining, you’ll surely laugh at some of the mechanics and cards.  It’s not a heavy game that will give you brain burn, but it’s got enough decisions to make it worth your while.

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