Taking its title from the murky world of intrigue in the French court at the time of Louis XIII, the original Grey Eminence (or rather, Eminence Grise) was Francois Leclerc du Tremblay, a Capuchin friar who was the right-hand man of Cardinal Richelieu. This game of negotiation and political wheeler dealing from Dragon Dawn Productions, however, has a very recognisably contemporary setting. Here the Eminence Grise are figures from the world of politics, the media and finance who exert influence over world events. Any similarities to real-world persona are entirely intentional but, whatever your politics, there's nothing here to give offence. For sure, the President's tweets are a randomising event each round, but designer Ren Multamaki doesn't use the game to take cheap shots at any of the very recognisable individuals who pop up in the game.
The 3-5 players each take on one of the Gray Eminence persona; for example, 'Green Greta' (Thunberg), 'Spaceman Jeff' (Bezos) or 'Reborn Gyatso' (the Dalai Lama). They will have their own individual objectives, plus initially secret objectives from cards dealt at set up, and they each start with a different mix of the three resources of the game (money, power and influence) and faction cards. Event cards will reveal world crises that have to be tackled but it's up to each player to decide whether the cards they play and the actions they take are for the common good or for their personal gain...
This is a clever design where players will have to decide on what resources to commit to bids that determine turn order and the way the player interacts with others. Players' resources are stored in a tuckbox, hidden from the sight of other players so, unless you've got a very good memory, you're never certain of the resources rivals have available to them... When the bidding is done, one player will be acting in the public eye and another will be acting in the shadows, with others taking on the grey eminence positions in the middle. Action cards are 'programmed' for simultaneous reveal and, once the effects of the President's tweets have been reckoned in, players check to see whether there are sufficient resources in the pool to resolve the event card crisis. Events, tweets and other cards can move country markers on a 'relationship chart', which can advance or set back a player's individual objectives...
Gray Eminence is actually easier to play than it looks. Tho' there are quite a few moving parts, the phases of each round are clearly defined in the compact rule book. There's scope for horse trading as well as backstabbing, but this is a semi co-operative game: you want to rack up more victory points than the other players but you can't pursue your own agenda without any regard for the common objective set out on whatever scenario card you are playing or you'll all collectively lose.
Lars Munck has done a great job with the art - especially the portraits on the character cards. And tho' there's a lot of text on the cards. much of it is flavour text. You'll want to read it all because it contributes to the theme and players' immersion in the game but I suppose you could skip over it if you want to speed things up and you have no soul :-) On the other hand, players who really throw themselves into role will be able to use the game as a springboard for debating world events.
Tho' Gray Eminence already feels bang up to date, DDP are very conscious of the fact that a year has now passed since the game was first launched on Kickstarter. There are plans therefore to add an expansion to reflect the events of the past 12 months. If, like us, you've been using Gray Eminence to discuss issues of the day and put the world to rights, then you too will be eager to see the 2021 update.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)
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