Designed by: John Hawkins, Michelle Menard
Published by: CMON
Playtime: 45-60 Minutes
Review copy provided free of charge by Asmodee UK.
There’s something satisfying about a deck-builder, I think. You take the same stack of basic cards as everyone else and then proceed to slowly add new things to it, molding what you began with into something that’s yours, built around your vision for how to win. So, Gateway attempts to merge this deck-building satisfaction with area-control. Does it work? Um, sort of.
You’ll be battling for control of Gateway city which is made up of six randomly chosen hexagonal districts that surround a central district, but standing in your way are other players, the city guards tasked with keeping order and even invading monsters whose sole goal is to trash stuff, thus not only do you want to score the most Infamy points by the end of the game but you also need to stop the city from getting overrun by the monster hordes otherwise it’s game over for everyone, bringing a sort of semi-cooperative element into the experience. Sounds pretty good, so far.
So, the core of the game is its deck-building which follows the same basic idea as most games in the genre. Your starting deck contains a variety of merchants which are free to play and grant you gold to spend in the shop, and what a big shop it is. From the massive thirty different types of cards you randomly select eight to sit alongside a few core cards to form what is essentially the Argos of fantastical things. You can pick up new, more valuable merchants, new insurgents for your army like mobile wizard towers and blunderbuss mages and Red Templars. All of them get added to your discard pile, ready and waiting to be shuffled into your new and hopefully improved deck.
Much like your merchants, support cards are also free to play and are taken back off the table at the end of each turn, but they bring a variety of benefits including extra gold to spend, being able to draw more cards, boosts to your army and more action points.
Action points? These come into the picture when you play insurgent cards who form your army. Every turn you have a default of two action points to spend and typically an insurgent will cost a single point to put on the table, although some special effects can alter this like letting you play a bonus card for free. Unlike other card types your insurgents stay on the table to act as your army, and only get removed when they are defeated in combat. Don’t worry, though, they don’t die, they just get added to your discard pile.
That brings us nicely to vying for control of the numerous districts, either against other players or against the city guard or even the incoming monsters. Whatever your target you simply need to calculate the total attack and defense values of your army as clearly listed on the cards, and then compare them against the enemy’s same values, with attack points being pitted against defense and vice versa. You can assign your attack points however you see fit, so you could pour them all into an annoying card that has a high defense value or spread them out against several smaller foes, perhaps ones that have abilities you want to get rid of. Importantly, though, whoever your attacking also gets to strike back, doing the exact same thing as you, and thus you need to be prepared to lose a few soldiers in the assault unless you massively outnumber them.
So long as you wipe the entire enemy force out you get to take control of the district, as shown by placing one of your kind of ugly cardboard standees on it. This can also trigger the district’s ability, including drawing an extra card or some victory points. Surprisingly, though, the area-control aspect of the game is a lot less important than it looks visually. With the various districts sitting in the middle of the table and player’s armies surrounding it, taking control of Gateway city intuitively feels like it’s the primary goal of the game, and yet once everything ends each district you currently hold is only worth a single point.
In reality, me and my friends quickly discovered that fighting other player’s was only worth the effort if we could crush them easily because otherwise you get nothing for your effort other than a district’s special ability, which is rarely worth the effort. Attacking the city guards and roving monsters, though, can yield a lot of Infamy points, and it is frequently worth ramming your army into a large group of city guards or even one or two of the most powerful monsters, even if it means losing all your troops in the process. Sure, you could battle another player, but why bother when you get snag like eight points for killing that monster over there?
Speaking of the city guard and monsters we need to discuss how they turn up. Firstly, the central district always gets replenished to three guards at the end of every round, which obviously makes holding that district a royal pain in the backside, though you do get two Infamy points each time you take control of it. Outside of that, the end of each round also sees one Event card drawn from the deck of twelve that were randomly chosen at the start of the game, and these contain a variety of different effects, many of which tell you to add a few monsters or guards to the city, potentially triggering fights between the guards and monsters, or between the guards, monsters and players. In these instances, battles play out per normal, but the players around the board will take on the role of the city guards or monsters.
So the area control doesn’t seem very important so far, but there’s something else in Gateway that can almost entirely kill the concept of fighting over Gateway; Runestones. These come in common, uncommon and rare varieties with each costing more than the last. The idea is that Runestones can be used at any point to activate the ability written on them, or you can simply keep them until the end of the game where they will score points. On paper, this sounds like a good idea, but in reality we found that it was a solid strategy to focus your deck on producing cash and then using it to buy Runestones every turn, thus generating consistent points.
The automatic and sensible argument here is that the game is simply providing more options for achieving victory rather than simply generating the most effective military machine, but as something that advertises itself as being a deck-building area-control game I guess I was simply expecting the area-control aspect to actually matter in the grand scheme of things. There needs to be something to encourage fighting other players.
One thing I did very much like in Gateway was the variety of cards on offer. Not counting the standard decks of cards that get put on the table for every match there is a grand total of thirty different types of card, and since you pick out eight for every game of Gateway there’s plenty of variety. The manual has some scenario suggestions, but also says that grabbing one of each type, shuffling them together and then randomly drawing eight to determine the composition of the shop is fine, too. Me and my group really enjoyed trying different combinations of cards, and due to the variety on offer and their abilities, it was possible to build some nice synergy.
As for component quality, it’s mostly just okay. The cards are decent and have a nice finish to them, and the artwork is generally rather eye-catching with some really cool designs. But as for the districts themselves, they’re made of a flimsy card while the tokens you place on them are just cardboard standees, although to be fair I can certainly see the justification for not having miniatures as they would have raised the cost quite a bit. The overall feeling is that it’s a purely mediocre game in terms of its component quality.
So, Gaetway: Uprising is not a bad game. Not by any means. But it is a fairly forgettable one that never got me or my group of friends excited to play it. The only reason it ever hit my table was because my friends knew I was reviewing it, but otherwise it would likely have gotten left on the shelf in favor of other games and other deck-builders. It’s a shame because I think there’s a solid idea here. Had more emphasis been placed on strategically vying for control of the city it could have been something special, but there is certainly fun to be had from fine-tuning your deck, conquering other players or launching a suicide mission to wipe out some monsters in the name of Infamy points.
Oh, and did I mention you can recruit fish into your army? Yup. The world of Gateway is a strange place.
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