The Opulent Kickstarter Preview

The Opulent, from Black Locust Games (Regnum Angelica) is a very unique cooperative game up on Kickstarter as of 2/2/16.  Set in the Jazz-era excesses of the Roaring Twenties, The Opulent features asymmetrical co-op gameplay for 1-4 players.  You and your cronies will manage The Opulent, an Atlantic City speakeasy that opens its doors in 1920, just in time for the beginnings of this historic decade of wealth, prohibition, and eventual financial disaster.

Featuring a scenario-driven campaign mode as well as solitaire play and gameplay designed for players of different levels of skill, The Opulent certainly sounds like one heck of a clip joint.  But does it hit on all sixes, or is it really just a four-flusher?  Well, lace up those ground grippers and get togged to the bricks – we’re hitting The Opulent tonight!

jessmJess:  Why are you talking like that?

andysmAndrew:  Because Jazz!  Come on, my bunny fine, don’t be such a Mrs. Grundy!

jessmJess:  …Okaaaay…

A quick closeup of some of the components
A quick closeup of some of the components

(Standard Kickstarter Jive – All components are prototypes and none of it’s final.  If someone says otherwise, tell ’em to go chase themselves!)

Generally, gameplay in The Opulent revolves around moving patrons through the various stations in the club.  Folks start with 2 or 3 wooden nickels that they have to spend, and each station will work to keep them happy (i.e. willing to part with their cash).  If patrons wait too long, get passed over too often, or are generally unsatisfied, they might leave without turning you a cent of profit.  However, keep these folks a little tipsy, a little toe-tapping, and most of all, moving, and you’ll be filling up your cash box in no time.  Just watch out for the feds (more on those bluenoses in a bit).

Some of the movers and/or shakers who you will see in The Opulent. Each one has a unique backstory!
Some of the movers and/or shakers who you will see in The Opulent. Each one has a unique backstory!

One of the unique things about The Opulent is its asymmetrical design; during a game, each player will be manning a different station in the club, managing the four critical aspects of the speakeasy’s operation – the Doorman, the Bartender, the Band, and the Club Manager.  Each of these stations is mechanically unique – all of them play out as minigames within the framework of The Opulent.  Different as they are, all four are working towards one objective – raking in enough cash to meet the scenario’s target goal, and maybe some extra to hire some help and buy some club upgrades besides.

The Doorman - push your luck dice rolling
The Doorman – push your luck dice rolling

The Doorman makes sure that patrons get in to the club without waiting too long.  The Doorman’s station is all about dice rolling, using color-coded dice to match patrons and move them into the club.  The Doorman’s station is the lightest, mechanically, and the decision making here is all about the push-your-luck gameplay of getting your dice to match the patrons.  Still, there are some decisions to be made here, as the Doorman may not always want to let everyone in but will still need to schmooze it up to keep people happy; an over-crowded club is no fun for anyone.

The Bartender - resource management with just a bit of dice-driven chaos
The Bartender – resource management with just a bit of dice-driven chaos

The Bartender serves up the giggle water for the fine folks who make it past the Doorman.  This station is slightly more complex, combining resource management with a little dice rolling.  The Bartender always needs to make sure there is enough stock on hand, all while keeping the coffin varnish flowing and everyone tossing around those wooden nickels.  Of course, patrons may occasionally need to be streeted (with some help from the Doorman), and judicious use of watered-down drinks will either save the club a ton of cash or land you in hot water.

andysmAndrew:  This one was my favorite station to play – I loved the balance of resource management and dice rolling, and it’s fun to roleplay it up a bit, too!

The Band - hand management and set collection.
The Band – hand management and set collection.

The Band keeps the toes tapping, banging out the uptime jazz which clubs like The Opulent and its ilk were known for.  This station is definitely more complex than the others, as the Band player will draw from different card piles as they attempt to either play tunes to keep folks happy or move them on through to the next station.  More of a set-collection minigame than anything, the Band will need to draw from the right card deck at the right time to keep everyone dancing in tune.

The Club Manager - does whatever is needed and caters to the VIPs too
The Club Manager – does whatever is needed and caters to the VIPs too

The Club Manager is the anchor, able to do a little bit of everyone else’s job.  The Manager pitches in wherever the help is needed most; glad-handing folks the Doorman missed, comping drinks and restocking the bar, and adjusting the set list for the Band.  Unique to the Manager, though, is handling VIPs (which are a fussy, rich bunch) and making sure that the club always has a lookout or two on hand for averting a federal raid.

All set up and ready to go!
All set up and ready to go!

Last seen by us in Fantasy Flight Games’ XCOM, of all things, this asymmetrical gameplay is what first attracted us to The Opulent (though to be clear, there is absolutely no real-time element to The Opulent, a key facet of XCOM).  The way the game is structured, four people could sit down and play the same scenario several times, each time having a different gameplay experience by simply manning a different station, though, unlike XCOM, there is very little screaming about UFOs shooting down defense satellites in The Opulent (maybe some stretch goals?).

In addition to the flow of patrons through the club, each round of The Opulent will see the Club Manager draw an Event from the event deck.  Sometimes positive, often negative, these cards add a little chaos and variety to the gameplay.  Each scenario (which you can play all in a row as a campaign or individually for stand-alone games) has a unique, defining event that gets added to the event deck, as well as the opportunity to improve the club’s functions by hiring staff and adding new upgrades.

Some of the events. The lower row are scenario-specific.
Some of the events. The lower row are scenario-specific.

Upgrades and staff improve the functionality of the club.  For example, the bar can be upgraded to hold more stock, the dancefloor to hold more patrons, or the Manager’s station to protect your cash from those damned federal agents!  And those jerks show up, all your money and patrons are at risk, potentially tanking a whole game session all at once.  Fortunately, by the time The Opulent is big enough to really attract the Feds, it’ll probably have a few upgrades to make it less vulnerable to their unkind attentions.

Gameplay proceeds through each station every round, with players trying to keep folks happy and moving, until you meet your scenario goal conditions (which are a certain amount of profit and the purchase of a club upgrade).  Once that’s done, congrats!  The Opulent has remained in business for another year!  If not, well, applesauce to that, my friends.

The Opulent features a lot of little game systems, all intended to interlock into a whole.  Generally, the game is about building something – the club as a whole wants to run like a well-oiled machine, moving patrons from station to station as quickly and as happily as possible, to turn the best profit with the limited number of patrons who will show up in any given scenario.  Each station, in turn, is a little game in-and-of itself, contributing to the whole without necessarily interacting with the rest.  All throughout the game, the event deck will toss you curve-balls and the dice will add some chaos, making your success anything but automatic.

andysmAndrew:  So, how successful is it?  Well, this may sound odd, but I think you’ll like The Opulent more if you’re inclined to like The Opulent.

jessmJess:  Who’s the bunny now?  That’s some off-time jive, blue serge mine.

andysmAndrew:  Hang on to that bangtail and let me explain!  I know my onions, for sure.

jessmJess:  Ok, this slang is just getting weird.

Generally, I think The Opulent is a really solid game.  However, it is not without its issues.  While the asymmetry of the four stations makes for more interesting repeated play and the tiered difficulty levels of the stations makes mixing newbies and experienced gamers easier than shaking up a Tuxedo #2, the asymmetrical difficulties of the four stations are sometimes as much a negative as a positive.  Perfect for new players, the Doorman station is a little too mechanically uncomplicated for a more veteran player to be truly entertained for the course of the whole game while, on the other hand, the Band station stuck out to us as being a little bit (hah) off-key.

Black Locust has gone to great length to add a bit (but just a bit) of real-life music into the game, making the Band player keep track of key and tempo as they try to make sets with their cards.  While all the information you need is right in front of you (hopefully made even easier to track thanks to some of the KS stretch goals), running the Band is just a little confusing at first, focusing as much on percentage probabilities of drawing cards from the four stacks than anything music-related.

Upgrades and staff change the game as they are acquired.
Upgrades and staff change the game as they are acquired.

The fact is that no single one of the minigames would be, on its own, a particularly satisfying game.  Taken as a whole, they are entertaining, but that entertainment value is limited by your group’s enthusiasm for the experience of the game.  If the idea of a co-op speakeasy simulator with an event deck driven core and asymmetrical gameplay sounds like a hit-list of your trigger words, then I can recommend The Opulent wholeheartedly.  If the theme isn’t your thing, then the game mechanics may not be the thing that sells it.

jessmJess:  One other consideration, though we don’t think it really qualifies as a criticism, is that you cannot play with less than the full compliment of stations.  If you’ve got less than 4 players, someone will have to double up.  No big deal, though.

Still, all that aside, The Opulent is already a beautiful game and one I know belongs in my own collection.  Capitalizing on the unique visual style of the 1920’s, the art and imagery effectively capture the glamour of a bygone era.  While I don’t particularly like the colored dice that come with it (they are garish in comparison to the refined, well, opulence of the rest of the components), everything else, from the bits to the cards, are already nice and will only get nicer as the Kickstarter meets its stretch goals.

jessmJess:  Worth noting, Black Locust has already implemented some changes to The Opulent and the version going up for Kickstarter is already cleaner and more refined than the one we played for this review, and we consider that a great thing!

andysmAndrew:  We think The Opulent has the goods to be a really special game.  Steeped in theme and clearly carved out of pure appreciation for its subject matter, The Opulent makes a choice that few games do – it cares more that its players truly appreciate a slice of history, making its mechanics secondary to the holistic experience of playing the game.  Maybe it won’t be for everyone, but The Opulent is most assuredly for us!

Check out The Opulent’s Kickstarter page right here!  It should go live 2/2/16, 10 AM Central (we’ll post updates when it does)

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