Monday, December 5, 2011
Board Game Review - Quebec
If I were a history teacher, I would have a bunch of different ways to teach history. There would be all manner of interactive lessons, theme days, and stirring lectures. However, one method I would not employ in order to teach history would be to play board games.
At first glance, Quebec (the game, not the city) seems to be a history lesson in a box. You each play a different family attempting to stamp your name on the legacy of Quebec (the city, not the game). To do that, you'll spend four centuries building the city and jockeying for power, whether you buy off politicians, sponsor plays, or build churches. Personally, I think it would be more effective to simply let everyone in the class dress as their favorite Canadian.
As a historical reference, Quebec (the game, not the city) is unfortunately lacking. However, as a game, it is charming, thematic and full of depth. You will feel like a powerful magnate manipulating the future of a city. That city could be Quebec, or it could be Ice Station Zebra, or it could be a colony on Mars. Historically, you won't really care about how Quebec was built (the city, not the game), but you'll definitely have a vested interest in building the best city you can. If you want to find out how Quebec was really built (the city, not the game), you can have Canadian food day, and everyone will bring in bacon and beer.
In an ironic gesture, the game has no violence at all. This is ironic because the city most definitely had a lot of people die, especially since it's 400 years old. If nobody had died, it would be chock full of geezers who didn't have enough room to maneuver their oxygen tanks, and they would be actively bankrupting the social security program. And yet as you play Quebec (the game, not the city), you will never once kill anybody. However, everyone knows Canadians are peaceful people, so it's no surprise the game doesn't have a body count.
What it does have is a fantastic amount of intelligence. You'll form strategies right from the outset, and every turn will be spent advancing the plan you think will help you win. Everything you do has layer upon layer of consequence, too - you may just be helping to build that cathedral because it will let you move your workers into position for next turn, but it also means you're exerting more influence over the city's religious development, which could create a chain of events that scores you a bunch of points and puts you in a better position for next round - which won't happen for half an hour. It might also mean you miss a great opportunity to improve your standing with the city's political leaders, or hamstring yourself and allow an opponent to sweep in and turn that opera house you've been eyeballing into a motel that charges by the hour.
Another excellent feature of Quebec (the game, not the city) is that while there is a ton of interaction - in fact, you will rely on it - it's not overly confrontational. There's minimal amounts of screwing your friends, which is nice if you play with people who don't like it when you steal their stuff and leave them bleeding out on the sidewalk. Canadians are all about cooperation, which this game will teach us, though I think the lesson would have been better taught by having everyone team up to build collages on poster board.
In case you're not picking up this vibe so far, I'll be real blunt - Quebec (the game, not the city) is very European (obviously the city is not - it's Canadian). Where most games that earn the label 'worker placement' call their little wooden cubes meeples, soldiers, farmers, or disgruntled postal workers, this game actually comes right out and calls them workers. It's that European.
And it's not like it's a dead sexy game, either. The first night I got it, I opened the box, looked at the contents, said 'man, that looks boring,' and closed it again. It's a good thing I'm here to tell you about these things, because if you just judged Quebec (the game, not the city) by appearances, you might be very inclined to skip it. But that would be a mistake, because even though it does not look very fun, it's a really interesting game with a fantastic amount of interaction, virtually no luck, layer upon layer of strategic decisions, and best of all, it really does make you feel like you're building a city that may or may not be Quebec (the city, not the game).
I really do think that board games are a crappy way to teach things, and this particular game has not changed my mind. I do not know any more about the history of the city for having played the game. As an educational tool, Quebec (the game, not the city) fails completely. As a game, it's a masterpiece. Although I did learn one thing - I learned that before I die, I really ought to visit Quebec (the city, not the game).
Feel like you're building a big historical city
Incredible long-term repercussions with every move
Exciting despite a complete lack of bloodshed
Lots of interaction, and most of it is helping each other
Looks very boring
Teaches virtually nothing
Quebec is a little on the pricey side (the game, not the city - though the city might also be expensive). But if you want a copy, you can score a heck of a deal on it at Noble Knight Games:
THE GAME, NOT THE CITY