‘A Study in Emerald’ is a board game inspired by the Neil Gaiman story of the same name. The premise is simple, the year is 1881 and the ‘Old Ones’ have been ruling the earth for over seven hundred years. Although most of humanity has accepted these monstrous rulers, there is a growing underground movement to overthrow the regime, labeled the Restorationists. A secret war is being fought around the cities of the Europe and the New World between agents of the Restorationists and those loyal to the powers that be.
The award winning short story combines the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and H.P Lovecraft. The board game has gone one step further to bring in real historical figures to flesh out this alternate reality, allowing players to examine an interesting ‘what-if’ situation.
At the beginning of the game you are assigned a secret identity, which will either be that of a Restorationist or a Loyalist. Your identity matters as it determines what you need to do to achieve victory.
There is a deck-building component to the game. You start with a deck of ten cards and you add to this set as the game goes on. There are twelve decks of cards on the board, one in each city. You can gain these cards through the use of influence cubes, in what is in effect a bidding system. As an action you can place influence cubes on a card that you would like to draft. If at the beginning of your next turn you have the most influence on that card then you can choose to claim it and place it on your discard pile. You can also use influence to gain control of cities, which will earn your victory points as well as the benefits on the City card.
Many of the cards that are available to draft are agents. When you draft one of these cards you also take control of the agent counter, which remains on the board. Agents have a range of uses, from acting as additional influence to allowing you to assassinate ‘royal’ persons or other agents.
The 1880s was a period of political unrest, with anarchist factions turning to violence as a means of achieving their ends. It is no different in this game, problems are generally solved with dynamite. The Restorationists wish to assassinate their nightmare rulers, while Loyalist’s hunt them down and try to kill them in turn.
Another aim of the Restorationists is revolution. If they can convince the people to rise up and attack their masters then the world, possibly, can be set to rights. The Loyalists also have an agenda, which is to engineer a world war. By doing so they will create enough madness to feed their masters, giving them the strength to bring more of their kind to Earth from the terrible dimensions in which they reside.
There are many directions a player can take in this game, some of which will be determined by the cards that are available. As some cards are removed from the set at the beginning of the game and the rest are arranged in random piles then no two games will be exactly the same. The cards allow for the appearance of zombies and vampires (the inclusion of both can be justified, as will be stated in the player notes). You can employ the services of the Russian secret police, otherwise known as the Okhrana, to harass your opponents, or call on the Old Ones themselves to appear. You must be careful, though, when dealing with such terrible forces as your sanity will be tested to its limit.
To win the game it helps to know the identities of your fellow players. When the game ends all players reveal their identities. If it is a four-player game then each side (Restorationist and Loyalist) totals their points and the side with the lower score is eliminated. If there is an odd number of players then the side which has lowest scoring individual player is eliminated. The remaining player with the highest score is then declared the victor. Thus you have to be careful to end the game when you are assured of victory. It will do you no good if you are ahead on points while another player languishes in last place, as he will bring you down with him.
‘A Study in Emerald’ is designed for two to five players and should take around two hours to play.
This KickStarter edition includes wooden zombie figures and 12 bonus cards introduced to expand the game.
ERRATA: (from the publishers)
Unfortunately there is a minor printing error in A Study in Emerald. The reverse (vampire) sides of William Morris and Wilhelm Stieber have been accidentally transposed. This only becomes an issue if one or the other agent becomes a vampire, which will not actually happen that often.
For the moment we can offer you a hi-res PDF download which you can use to produce a stand-in counter or stick on the back of the counter. (Right-click (control-click on a Mac) the image and choose “Save Link As…” to save the zip file to your computer.)
I have looked into producing replacement counters but this cannot be done until the end of January next year. The big problem is shipping out these counters to individual addresses, which would be very expensive. I am looking at various options, such as using BGG or having the counters included in a range of future releases.