Tabletop Review – Slyville

Do you sometimes feel that the modern day is just a bit too much? Don’t you wish that things were a bit simpler like they were in the past? A time of fluffy dresses, horrendous hygiene and even worse teeth? If it sounds like I’m referencing the Middle Ages, that’s because I am. Yes, we have Renaissance fairs to relive the superficial elements of that historic period. But what about all the stealing, backstabbing and treachery that was so typical back then. If you ask me, that’s what truly made it special. Well, do I have some good news for you crooked-nosed knaves!

The ye-olde gentlemen and women of Hexy Studio, the designers and publishers of the Star Scrappers universe and Hard City, have given us the medieval experience we’ve all been clamoring for! In Slyville 3-5 players don the role of dishonest and mischievous guild leaders bent on becoming the most powerful guild in the city. They’ll do that by acquiring goods, making deals in their favor and backstabbing their rivals! Players will travel the board and gain materials by playing a hand of cards face-down to resolve a series of actions. Whoever accumulates 100 Influence Points first wins the game!

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All for one.

Setup is done very quickly, you’ll connect an interlocking board composed of 5 districts and one center board and then lay out materials and tiles specific to each one. A district board is composed of 3 areas: a space for placing action cards, a space to accrue materials and a space to lay down the district “deal” tiles. “Deals” are the main way players can score points. Each one denotes two options which have a varying amount of goods required to fulfill it. Once a player can meet either of these conditions, they’ll be able to visit the district and do their best to secure the deal for themselves. Each district specializes in a particular good and a specific set of deals you’ll be able to negotiate on the board. You’ll start the game by adding one material of each type to each district, establishing which board is the First District and selecting the first player for the round. The first player is called the Prince’s Favorite, and it comes with more perks than just a cool title.

On the center of the board lies the Main District tile that has a space for the Prince’s Decree cards. Prince’s Decrees are special round altering rules that are applied before a round is resolved to a district of the players choosing. The Prince’s Favorite has an advantage as they are able to see the card before it resolves later on in the round before the rest of the table. This is important since most of these decrees have the power to null certain actions or make specific deals unachievable. The Prince’s Favorite token will pass counterclockwise at the conclusion of every round.

Players will receive a deck of 7 identical action cards, a player board, a henchman standee, a good of their color and a hidden good. Each player, in clockwise order, will then play one card face-down per turn on any district. After 5 turns the round is resolved, at this time each district will flip any cards face-up starting with the first district marker that is placed at the beginning of the game.

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You have a few options with a lot of possibilities.

 

A turn is as simple as placing a card; however, when and where you place that card is where the games depth lies. Actions are divided into 4 major types: Sabotage, Takeover, Deals and Acquisitions. Sabotage is used to eliminate a card or a henchmen from the district it was played. Takeovers help move your henchmen around the board and bump other players. Deals come in two types: Big Deals and Little Deals. Big Deals require more goods to acquire but give more points; while Little Deals require less goods but give less points. Finally, Acquisitions come in different denominations but are all used to bid on the accumulated materials of a particular district. 

When a card is played it goes on a district’s stack. Once the round resolves, the cards are revealed and are resolved by their initiative. Sabotage cards go first, followed by Takeover, Deals and Acquisitions. As you can imagine, players will very likely play the same cards district to district. In the event of a tie the Prince’s Favorite decides the order in which that set of cards resolves. Players have incentive to negotiate with the Prince’s Favorite as often as possible. Once the round resolves, each district gets one new good of its color, the district marker and Prince’s Favorite Marker moves clockwise and finally each player receives one good of the district their henchmen currently occupies.

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You better not even THINK of sabotaging this round…

This is a bluffing and negotiation game at its heart, with a sprinkling of set collection and some light take that. Although the described mechanics are simple in nature and easy to learn, there is a lot of space here for strategy and cunning. The more the game moves forward, the more familiar players become of each other and begin to anticipate each others’ motives. “Will Red go to the green district and get the last missing material in order to complete that Big Deal or will they visit the purple district to cash in the little they have left? What about Green? I know they are aiming on stocking up on blue goods and they are dangerously close to fulfilling the highest contract on the table. However, they are pretty behind on points for now. I should probably focus on Red and hope Yellow deals with Green this round.” These questions and situations are constant throughout each round, adding a nice level of tension and excitement every time. My friends and I would be carefully monitoring each others boards, making sure we knew what everyone else was up to. But since all cards are played face-down, the mystery was always there.

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Going through the board is simple and easy to follow.

While players are contemplating all these possibilities, the game plays at lighting speed. My players and I had rounds that we finished in less than 3 minutes. Because the complexity lies in the interaction between players and not a heavy rules overhead, players are given the space to focus on each other instead of a complicated intermingling of mechanics. With that being said, what’s here feels weighty in the best sense. I wouldn’t consider this game a filler by any stretch of the imagination like I might say of Sheriff of Nottingham. Both titles have similar premises with negotiation and bluffing, but where in Nottingham a player is mostly left with speculation (especially in the early game) in Slyville players often have multiple layers of information and/or actions to provide greater agency in their decisions. You can follow your gut like any other bluffing game, but if you take a deep breath and study the state of the board closely, you’ll more than likely find out the answer. Which is more than I can say for many games in the genre.

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I see what you’re up to green.

One of my favorite mechanics was the Prince’s Favorite. Like the rest of the game, its deceptively simple, but the level of information this provided was crucial. For example, knowing beforehand if deals are going to be allowed this round in a particular district gives the Favorite such a powerful bargaining chip. Either they keep the information to themselves and play the round as efficiently as possible, or they lead other players into false paths by selling their insight to the highest bidder. Also, the ability to decide tiebreakers can lead to some very interesting decisions that, depending on your players, may have some lasting feelings for the rest of the match. It is all devilishly delicious.

The theme here doesn’t feel all that attached to the games mechanics. Most of the decisions and actions players are performing can be applied to any fictional genre imaginable. With that being said, the artwork is lovely and does a good job painting the world. Characters are wacky and colorful and the districts have a good sense of identity and detail. I especially like how many of the boards feel like real city blocks and card placements don’t really break that nice illustration. I would have liked to see some small people circling the streets to give more liveliness to the city, but this is just a minor subjective quip. On the other hand, the overall graphic design can be slightly improved to make each card a tad more obvious. After the first round players are pretty familiar with that’s in their hand, but that first round doesn’t feel as intuitive as it could. 

The replayability feels substantial with the right groups. However, I can anticipate that some gamers might not have more to explore after some time. I would have loved to see some more distinction between each of the guilds, even if it was an optional variant. Moreover, the  Princes Decree cards could have potentially had some more variations, possibly locking certain districts down or affecting the board as a whole. Conversely, I do appreciate that they don’t hamper players plans too aggressively and are restricted to a single district. If you’re playing smart, you’ll likely be doing multiple tasks all across the board regardless of where the decree was placed.

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Don’t forget to bring an apple for the Prince.

In regards to components, there’s not much I can say currently. We were provided with a prototype copy. But, based on other IPs from Hexy Studio, I’m sure that the final product will be great. I remember playing their previous game Star Scrappers: Cave In and acknowledging the sturdiness of the cardboard and the nice quality of the cards. The Kickstarter Edition of that game included miniatures, which I wouldn’t necessarily mind for Slyville either. On the other hand, the standees do a great job and I would be happy with the solution as is.

In conclusion, Slyville may have seemed simple at the start, but once I made it to that third and fourth round everyone at the table was weighing their options like the hedge-borns we all are. Slyville brings a slew of familiar mechanics into a fairly fun and engaging bluffing game. What you’ll find here isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but for a game of this scope and size, it simply doesn’t have to be. What it does, it does expertly and everyone that played with me had an amazing time. Decisions feel like decisions and game time is silky smooth. I highly recommend Slyville whenever it becomes available. In the meantime, me and my fellow fustilugs have a Prince to suck up to.

Player Count: 

3-5 Knaves

Play Time:

45 minute – 1 Hour

Core Mechanics: 

Bluffing, Negotiation and Set Collection

Accessibility: 

Easy to grasp mechanics and smooth gameplay tied together with a devilish theme.

Artwork/Components: 

Iconography can be better for some cards, but overall the presentation is great. I especially like the attention to detail on the main board.

Replay Value: 

This will mainly depend on your players, but overall there’s enough here to keep you tied over until we’re all back in the mud again.

Slyville is available later this year.
A copy of Slyville was provided by the publisher.

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