27th Mar2019

‘Victorian Masterminds’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


Anytime you hear of a game that has been designed in tandem by two great minds like those of Eric Lang and Antoine Bauza, with a production from CMON, it’s time to setup and pay attention. In this case, the game is Victorian Masterminds. The theme? Steampunk villains, diabolical machines and, erm, stealing buildings. Yes, Victorian Masterminds is just as bonkers as it sounds, but it’s also quite unique from a gameplay perspective, with several mechanics that you don’t often see elsewhere. It’s a light to midweight game that the whole family can enjoy, and it looks fabulous set out on the table.

First of all, each player will choose a colour and take the five thick poker chips to match. Next, everyone will need to choose a machine, each of which comes with its own blueprint board and a set of pieces that will be placed aside. Every machine has a unique look and a different set of construction demands, but most notably, its own engineer ability, which acts as a a unique power for that player during the game. Next, the board will be setup with an objective card in each city, as well as a set of standard buildings and a single, unique building such as Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower.

With all five or ten minutes of setup done, Victorian Masterminds will be ready to play. Turns are simple, with the first player simply choosing a poker chip from their hand and placing it face down on any one of the city spaces – and that’s it. At this point, nothing usually happens and the next player simply does the same. This continues around and around until one of the cities receives its third chip. At this point, the stack will be flipped over and all of the chips will be resolved from the top down. Every city provides a basic benefit to the players who place their chips there, but depending on which chip was used, there will be also be one of five unique effects.

Among the benefits that the chips provide are the following abilities, as follows:

  • Number 2, who allows the player to take the benefit of the current city twice,
  • The Henchman, who allows the player to claim the current mission card in that city,
  • The Saboteur, who’s ability simply cancels the ability of the next chip in the stack,
  • The Engineer, who allows the ability of your machine to be activated, and finally,
  • The Gunner, who allows the player to claim (destroy, thematically speaking) one of the buildings from the city in which they were placed.

Each city provides a different benefit to each of the players who had a chip there, and this may include taking knowledge or components for your machine, or a scientist which can be traded in for certain benefits. One of the cities allows the players to increase their firepower, which is one of the pre-requisites for claiming buildings. There are five cities in total and each has its own benefit, all of which you’ll need. As such, no city is inherently better or worse than the next, but choosing which chips to place into the city and when is crucial.

As an example, placing your chip first in a city is important, because it cannot be countered by the Saboteur. Placing a chip on top of someone else’s will always be a risk when the chips stack, but there is a way to mitigate this through planning and observation. Whenever a stack of chips is flipped and resolved, the players must place the chips that are retrieved into their own discard pile (to recycle whenever they run out of chips) which is public information. This means that observant players will always know roughly which chips a player has access to in their “hand.”

As players collect blueprints, bolts and knowledge, they will be able to add components to their machine. Each machine looks different and has a different ability, but each one also has several sections that come with different requirements to build them. Collect all of the prerequisite parts and you can trade them in for a component, which will usually unlock a benefit in turn – perhaps it will increase your firepower, for example. Why is firepower important? Well, you must have a higher firepower than the Secret Service power guage, or else you can’t destroy buildings.

Victorian Masterminds links several things together in a relatively lightweight, but very interesting way. The main board is a dance between the players, each of whom is attempting to advance their own plans, whilst simultaneously disrupting those of their opponents. Claiming city rewards and buildings is important, but it’s no more important than managing the firepower track, focusing on missions or on building out your machine. On that note, there is a lot of hidden depth in Victorian Masterminds that comes from some of the side abilities – trading scientists or knowledge to influence the chips you play and in what order, for example.

Victorian Masterminds ends either when one of the machines has been completed, or when someone reaches maximum firepower. Each of these events thematically indicates that someone has become powerful enough to achieve world domination of a sort. That doesn’t mean that they win, however, because the winner will actually be the person who has the most victory points. Mayhem tokens, progress on building your machine, mission cards and knowledge all gain points, as do collected/destroyed buildings. This means that Victorian Masterminds has a lot of different ways to win, which I think means that it suits both new players (who will feel that they are always progressing) and experienced ones (who will target peak efficiency) alike.

In summarising, I think that Victorian Masterminds is one of the most enjoyable new gateway games that I’ve played in a long time. Turns take maybe twenty seconds at most, given the simplicity of the options on offer. Even with that said, there’s a fair bit to think about – refining a single scoring strategy, or spreading your focus across several areas at once. The production, as always with CMON is ridiculously good, making Victorian Masterminds one of the most appealing games in my collection as well as one of the most fun.

Whilst great at three or four players, I would say that I enjoyed Victorian Masterminds slightly less at two players, but believe it or not, it can be over and done with in perhaps half an hour. Even at four players, this is an hour long game at most. Overall, Victorian Masterminds is a beautiful, simple to learn game that offers more complexity than you might think. It’s a game with a streamlined, well tested design and a lot of variation from one strategy to the next. A fun, unique family proposition, Victorian Masterminds has a place in any collection.

Victorian Mastermindsis available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.


Comments are closed.