In my job I am frequently faced with people who don’t really play games, and tasked with helping them have a good time. And while some of those people are going to enjoy the hell out of some of the longer, meatier, more complex games that hobbyists love (Gloomhaven, Battlestar Galactica, Concordia… practically anything in the BGG top 100 list), the reality is most new gamers need to be introduced to high fun but low complexity titles if they are to fall in love with this hobby.
Rudiger Dorn’s Vegas, aka Las Vegas, and most recently released as Ravensburger’s Las Vegas Royale, is such a game. The rules are simple, the game play fast, and the decision points really matter. The game is a beautiful blend of skill and luck, and most people easily grok the goal of “get rich.”
Las Vegas Royale adds a bunch of different mini games that can be swapped in and out to vary the game play, but the perfect, elegant core of the game remains the same. Honestly, if I owned Royale, I’d probably never even use the mini games, but they do spice things up if you’ve gotten a little bored with the base game.
The base game is a set of eight dice for each player, six different numbered casinos, and a deck of money cards ranging from $10k to $90k each. The game lasts four rounds of play, and the player with the most accumulated cash at the end of round four wins.
A round begins with money cards being dealt to the six casinos. Deal cards out to a casino until it has $50k or more in bills, then move on to the next casino. A casino might have one big bill, or several small ones, or a mix of small, moderate, and big. It all depends on luck of the draw. Typically, each casino will have one or two bills up for grabs, but three or even four is possible. Five bills is possible, but I’ve never seen it happen.
Players take turns rolling all their dice, and then picking all the dice of a single value, and placing all those dice on the casino with the corresponding number. Once placed, the dice stay where they are for the remainder of the round. Once all players have used up all their dice, the casinos pay out.
The player with the most dice at a casino gets the biggest bill from that casino. The player with the second most, gets the second bill (if there is one), and so on. If there are more bills at a casino than players’ dice, the unclaimed bills go to the house (are discarded). Each of the six casinos pays out, and then a new round begins.
Here’s the catch that makes this game the brilliance that it is: if two or more players are tied for most dice at a casino, they cancel each other out, and the biggest bill goes to the player with the next most dice! Because of this mechanism, it is possible for a player with a single die at a casino to take the pot. It is also possible that all players with dice there cancel each other out, and no one gets the money!
This twist also means that all players will likely end a round with some cash in their pocket. You have to be either extremely unlucky, or very bad at the game to end a round with no new winnings.
The competition is often fierce for the casinos with one big bill, but even casinos with multiple small bills on offer will be popular because getting something for second place is better than getting nothing.
Because each player has eight dice to use, some will go hard on one or two casinos, while others will sprinkle their dice more liberally around the six possibilities. Because you never know how the money will be distributed at the start of a round, you never know what your next roll will be, nor can you know the future rolls of any of the players, there is no one size fits all strategy that will guarantee success. For that reason, Vegas won’t appeal to players who like to formulate and implement long term strategies, but it will appeal to people who enjoy more tactical, and “press your luck” style gaming.
Unlike many games, even when it isn’t your turn, you can be heavily invested in what other players do, because a single die placed in the proper spot at the right time can spell a reversal of fortunes for everyone involved! Trash talk and kibitzing are emergent in the game play, making for a spicy experience for all.
I was recently running a private corporate function, and all I had to do to get a full table for Las Vegas was to ask: “Who likes casinos?” The table was full in seconds, and by the second round of play they had spectators who were just as entertained by the game as the players were.
So, if you’re looking for a game to get people who are on the fence about games to get off the fence and have some fun, I cannot recommend Vegas/ Las Vegas/Las Vegas Royale enough.