The story of our heroes takes place on the islands of Azuhl in an ancient world ruled by the mighty Drakorean Empire. How long the empire has been in power, no one can say exactly, but over the years they managed – through military might and magic – to conquer most of the known world. The islands of Azuhl, however, have long been ignored by the many emperors, causing various tribes of fantasy races to find refuge on this island. As the final act of a tragic conspiracy, the emperor’s only son and also crown prince was killed. The emperor – in his grief – decided to use dark magic to bring his son back to life. The immortal prince ascended the throne and was hereinafter known as Emperor “Aezher the Immortal”.
The original gods were literally and figuratively driven out of the world by this jealous, evil and insane emperor and Emperor Aezher crowned himself as god and last emperor. In the absence of the old gods, Chaos had free rein. Darkness fell over the world and monstrous creatures, undead and demons appeared on the earth through a rift between the worlds. In an act of desperation, the last emperor performed a dark ritual to expel the chaos and close the portal. The ritual wiped out life from the mainland and froze the oceans. Only Azuhl remained “unscathed”. Remnants of the Empire and the hordes of Chaos are trying to conquer Azuhl. The original tribes of the islands have, by necessity, joined forces to form a rebellion against the empire and a defence against the Chaos. Can players summon the old gods and free Azuhl from the evil invaders?
Uprising: the Curse of the Last Emperor is a huge and awesome cooperative challenge for 1 to 4 players. In this cooperative 4X-game, players each take the role of one of the rebellious tribes of Azuhl and try to drive away the empire and banish chaos. The first question that might come to mind: what is a 4X-game? 4X stands for the following:
- Explore: players gradually explore the game world by sending out troops;
- Expand: by placing units and buildings, players and the enemies take control of the game board;
- Exploit: during the game, players earn resources, skills and items to use to their advantage; and
- Exterminate: with their troops, players can attack and exterminate enemies.
Examples of 4X games are Twilight Imperium, Eclipse and Scythe. Usually, these are complex games with a longer playing time. Often, these games are highly competitive and interactive. Players are constantly confronting each other to achieve victory. Due to the length of these types of games, leadership will often switch between players, making these games feel much shorter than the actual elapsed time. How does the above translate into a cooperative game? Well, this is no different for Uprising. Despite the length, this game is consistently engaging. Does it lack the competitive and interactive nature of a regular 4X? No absolutely not, Uprising perfectly and elegantly incorporates the feel and game mechanics associated with 4X games into a challenging cooperative game.
At the beginning of the game, players choose one of the asymmetrical tribes. Each tribe has its own unique warriors and special abilities. Each tribe also has two heroes that players can choose from. Each hero also has specific properties and unique powers. Depending on the difficulty level and chosen game duration, a number of event cards per chapter are placed on the game board, and a stack is assembled with unique enemies for the Empire (the Legions) and Chaos (the Hordes). The islands of Azuhl are composed of hexagonal tiles and players place their havens and hero on the board. For the Empire, a number of garrisons are placed (represented by beautiful pagoda-like castles consisting of several floors) and for Chaos, curses and skeletons are placed on the board. The figures for the heroes, troops, Legions, Hordes, skeletons and curses are all represented by these beautiful and colourful standees made of acrylic. These figures will slowly fill Azuhl, which creates an absolute spectacle on the table.
Gameplay: Explore, expand, exploit and exterminate
The game is played in a number of chapters consisting of different phases. First things first: Uprising is a complex game with many rules and especially a lot of smaller rules to consider. To give you an idea: the rulebook of the basic game consists of more than 50 pages. The size of the rules, the extensive phases of each chapter and the many game components may be overwhelming the first time you open the box. Do not let this put you off. As I have already described, Uprising is a very elegant game and is streamlined and clear in terms of set-up and gameplay. The manual is clearly written and sometimes reads more like a short law book or reference book than game rules. The above is a compliment from this ex-lawyer. I enjoyed the rules of the game. The rules are structured, complete and clear and the booklet contains loads of examples en reminders. The table of contents and index are a welcome addition and are an example for other complex games to follow. Explaining the game is breeze for such complex material. There is no need to explain every detail to new players, but you can take the players through the various rules and various phases during gameplay itself.
Of course, despite the above, the game remains a more complex game. For this reason, I will not give a detailed description of every action you can take in the game, but I will try to give an impression. Roughly speaking, the game proceeds as follows. Players complete the new events of the main chapter, which also brings new enemies into play. Next, players can station troops at their settlements and reinforce these settlements with walls and towers. To pay for the above, players must use resources (salt, loot or food). After this building phase, players can take actions and after players have exhausted their actions, it is the enemies’ turn.
Of the above, the action phase is the most extensive. Basically, each player gets 8 action points to use and some require the payment of additional resources. Players perform these actions in turn, but some actions can be combined in a single turn. Players can, during their turn, move their hero, explore hexes, move troops, buy items or complete quests. By exploring unexplored hexes, players can unlock new terrain where enemies or rewards may be hidden, or where players may gain the possibility to build new havens and expand. When players’ troops encounter enemies or when a player wants to complete quests, players can roll many (loads of) colourful dice and then the fun and excitement can really begin!
Rolling the dice as if your life depended on it
Battles or quests are settled by a roll of the various dice (or an exponential increased multiple thereof). Each hero has a certain set of attributes (which players can also improve) that correspond to an amount of specific coloured dice. These dice must be rolled by a player to defeat a quest. Each quest shows which and how many symbols a player must roll to successfully complete the task. Each colour of the dice has a different distribution of symbols. Completing these quests can unlock bonuses or points, but failure can bring forth loads of trouble…
Battles are played out similar. As soon as a player’s troops reach enemy territory (or vice versa), a battle begins. For each enemy, it is indicated (per troop quantity or threat level) what kind of die or dice this enemy rolls during the specific phases of a battle. The different troops of a player give the player access to specific dice as well. Skulls inflict damage, shields prevent damage and lightning bolts activate effects or cancel out other effects. By defeating enemies, players can earn much-needed victory points.
With special abilities, players can influence which dice they can use and also influence their own and their opponents’ rolls. In particular, the choice of which dice (or which troops or even player) are most suitable to take on certain tasks and battles during the game poses a very fun and exciting dilemma. The dice are a necessary element of luck that keeps players on the edge of their seats during the game.
Gameplay: the bad guys strike back
After players have taken their actions, it is the bad guys’ turn. In order of initiative value, enemies move across the board. The Hordes of Chaos move towards the capital of the Empire. On their way they leave behind curses and they may attack players and/or armies of the Empire. The Legions move towards their targets and like Hordes they may attack players and/or troops of Chaos. The bad guys can also fight each other. Now you might think of that scene from Godzilla where the scientists let the big scary monsters fight it out, but that’s not always the best outcome in this game. Even when the bad guys attack each other, they can earn victory points.
After the baddies have crushed the players and the other baddies, players produce new resources based on their settlements and players and baddies get victory points based on their presence on the playing field. After this players get ready for the next round or the final scoring. The players win if each individual player has gained more points than both bad guys, otherwise the players lose collectively. The players must – to gain victory points and protect themselves – confront the enemies. This makes the game feel as competitive and interactive as a 4X-game.
Uprising is exciting right up to the end. The game is extremely challenging and simply a great game. Perhaps one of the best games I have ever played. Despite being extremely challenging and even difficult, the game does not feel unfair. At no point did we feel that the game was working against us to such an extent that we could not win. Setbacks were often caused by our own actions and mistakes. In our first game we lost by only two (!) victory points. Immediately after the first game, the following question was asked: “when are we going on another adventure?” An adventure is the perfect way to describe this game. Uprising is extremely thematic and stories are slowly written by the players while playing the game. Not because the game contains campaigns with long texts written by the game designers (although you can actually find those online), but because players themselves form a story with their gameplay experiences.
Because of the different (combinations of) tribes, event cards, objects, enemies, terrain hexes and even expansions (which I will tackle in a separate review together with hopefully the free campaign mode which can be found online), the game contains an enormous amount of variation, which means that different games will not likely proceed in the same way. The components and the artwork is stunning. Highly recommended for all expert board gamers!