Design: Alex Berry
Artwork: Tim Allen
Publisher: Frosted Games, Victory Point Games
Duration: 30-40 minutes
I was intrigued to play High Treason! The Trial of Louis Riel. I have a healthy (I think) interest in real life crime, and since the game’s designer is actually a lawyer I was all the more interested to discover more. I’ve considered many titles from Victory Point Games over the last year or so but haven’t gone as far to purchasing any.
I watched the unboxing of High Treason and must say that I loved the appearance. Beneath the game was a box similar to a takeaway food container. So much so that my daughter asked if it was a pizza. Alas not. But it did come with a Victory Point Games printed napkin, for the purpose of wiping the soot from tokens (post-punching). I thought this was a lovely touch. The rest of the components were no frills, and inline with the other VPG games I’ve perused (cardstock playmat instead of a board and the like).
The game itself is a true-to-life account of the trial of Louis Riel. In reality he was found guilty and sentenced to death, but in the game (where you play as either the prosecution or defense), you can alter the fate of Riel. At first glance the various symbology on the playmat and the amount of detail on the cards can seem a little complex. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s fairly straightforward in terms of gameplay, and once you get started it all clicks into place. In brief, you play across five relatively quick rounds:
- Jury selection- you each use five cards to learn more about the jurors. By examining their traits you can attempt to keep those that may vote in your favour and dismiss others that will not be sympathetic to your case. You also ‘bank’ cards prior to jury selection and every round thereafter to use during the Summation round.
- The Trial in Chief (Rounds 2 & 3) is where you can play cards for their abilities or action number. Actions will allow you to place sway markers on the jurors, and once a juror’s sway spaces are full they are then ‘locked’. You can also use actions to argue (move) aspects of the jurors into your favour. If you choose to utilise the abilities instead this will allow you to move the ‘insanity’ and ‘guilt’ markers, as well as arguing (moving) aspects.
- The Summation round is when you play your banked cards, either for the ‘summation event’ or to sway unlocked jurors.
- Deliberation is the final round. The trial is over and all traits on jurors are revealed. For any jurors you locked you can move the corresponding aspects. You then move on to final scoring.
What struck me initially is how short a duration High Treason! is. Perhaps this is because I associate trials with being lengthy, heavy and epic, therefore I imagined the game was going to have a similar feel. The fact that it plays more like an ‘opener’ is interesting. I would have possibly preferred it to be heftier, but there’s enough going on here to compensate for the relatively short time frame.
If I’d reviewed High Treason! after one or two games I would of described it as a game of clever hand management, delicate balancing and deduction. Now I’ve played a few more times I still stand by those statements, only now I would add ‘cut-throat’ and ‘slow burner’ to the mix. The way you must manage your hand and the absolute wealth of tough choices to be made is really what makes High Treason! a thoroughly decent game for me. There’s so much to be considered- from the jury selection, to which cards to bank, to whether to use a card for the actions, or the abilities. I really enjoy the Summation round- if you’ve been smart and banked some excellent cards then you can really kick some ass. As the prosecution you have to be especially carefully about the sequence in which you play the summation cards, because you only play 3 and then the defense plays theirs in one hit, leaving you to finish. The deliberation phase is possibly the most anxiety inducing (again with the nice thematic touch). This is where you hope you’ve been wise enough lock a decent number of jurors. You’re also prepared for a last minute change of heart from one of the six, meaning that it could really go to pot for you at the very last minute (depending what cards your opponent is holding of course). It’s all about those sway markers!
It’s also about the balance, and there are so many things to be balanced in this game. The arguing of the aspects on the central play area is also very important, and much of the game is spent trying to influence in your direction. But the locked jurors can also have an effect on this during the deliberation phase, so depending on your strategy there is an opportunity to tackle this at the last minute.
I’ll end with a summation of my own (see what I did there?)
- The plentiful and rapid decisions you must make throughout the game make for pretty stellar hand management.
- The five short phases make High Treason! a nice streamlined package.
- The nice thematic touches.
- Historically it’s fascinating, and there’s much room to learn about the case and trial through the information on the cards. But it’s not essential to know (or necessarily care) about that aspect either.
- There are many strategies to try, so much so that I almost didn’t write this review as even after several games I feel like I’m only just starting to figure them out. It’s a slow burner.
- You have a fair bit of control over the game. The only thing that breaks this control and adds the element of surprise is your opponent of course. The good news is you have the opportunity to play it well enough so they can’t possibly win. Maybe.
- I would have liked it to be possibly a little bit lengthier but I think it makes sense that it’s not.
- As much as I’m all for the lo-fi aesthetic, it bothers me that the player ‘board’ doesn’t sit flat, and I don’t have a plate of glass hanging about to pop over it. I also don’t own enough games to merit owning said glass plate of glass.
- If ‘mean’ games aren’t your thing, High Treason! most likely won’t be your thing. However it’s not mean for the sake of being mean. It’s a trial. No one is fighting fair. Obviously.
- This is a perfect two player game, but I would of loved to see an AI option.
Overall I found High Treason! to be a very interesting game, with many layers to peel. I was also pleased to see that this is possibly the first in a series of ‘World on Trial’ games, where further historic, and not necessarily well known trials are open to be designed. Susan B. Anthony was one that caught my attention, and I’m excited to see how this develops further.
Thanks for reading! I hope there are no objections. I’m a dork.