This game has been around since the spring so it’s surprising it hasn’t created more of a stir. The publisher, Entropic Games, launched it initially on Kickstarter and it has been demoed at the UK Games Expo. It’s a card game in the mould of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) but its setting is one of gritty realism rather than the fey fantasy world.
Oligarchy is described as being set in a dystopian world, but it’s a world you’ll immediately recognise from the daily newspapers. The rules say the game is set in 2080, but it feels closer than that to the real world. In Oligarchy, players control factions: perming any two of the eight on offer: Corporate, Crime, Eco, Media, Illuminati, Religious, Military, Government. The currencies of the game are Influence and Affluence, with the various faction-specific character, weapon and action cards costing different combinations of these. A dial keeps track of each player’s Influence and Affluence, with separate dials representing each faction’s power base. In MTG terms, the Influence and Affluence are the equivalent of mana and the power base represents the faction’s life points. To win, you need to exhaust your opponent’s power base.
A feature of the game is that it encourages players to put together attacks involving three or more characters from the same faction. This is considered a “power play”, which means it activates that faction’s special power. These vary between the factions, and some seem more powerful than others. To some extent tho’, this is a “grass is greener” effect: when you are hit by an opponent’s special power, it always feels stronger than the ones you have available to use. That said, it is certainly the case that some are overtly offensive and some less so: the Military faction’s power play is a direct attack that deprives an opponent of 2 from their power base; the Eco faction’s power play generates resources, giving the Eco player an Affluence and an Influence point for each attacking Eco character they have in play.
This is a collectible card game, in that you can buy add-on booster packs, but Oligarchy is definitely playable straight out the box: this isn’t a game where you are necessarily obligated to chase after booster packs. The box comes with all eight factions. The rules recommend particular combinations of factions for players to kick off with, but the factions can all be played in various combos – making a total of more than 50 possible pairings. That’s a lot of replayability before you’ve even considered creating your own customised deck or adding in booster packs.
The theme comes through strongly in play, and most of the factions give an appropriate flavour and feel. You’ll quickly begin to slip into role as the faction’s Oligarch: whether you are a Crime boss, a crazed Religious cleric or a manipulative Media mogul.
Be warned though: you’re going to need sleeves. The cards all have black borders. This may be thematically sound in a dystopian game but black-bordered cards are notorious for showing the slightest nick or mark. You will be well advised to sleeve all the cards as soon as you take them out of the box. Once you’ve done that, you can look forward to many hours of engrossing player vs player conflict.