“We really did it!” The lonely writer who talked to himself as if he actually consisted of two distinct personalities could not believe it…but the proof was hovering in front of him.
The huge tome was full of words! Up and down the pages stood hundreds of bold words, not exactly the ballpark figure he estimated but good enough.
It seemed so simple after many tough years of plugging away at the keyboard and developing a modest vocabulary. A review with four worlds, each jumbled haphazardly in a way to make ingestion possible but unpredictable. Only this way permits one to describe the fundamental brilliance of 504.
Of course, the confused writer recorded all of the instructions to decipher this Book of Review Worlds in a couple of sentences listed below. Now it was time to start your observations.
Review Worlds are staggered in priorities. You will need to check for the correct order to decipher the ensuing ramblings by reading Review Worlds in priority order, from lowest Roman numeral to highest (i.e. read the World with priority I before the World with priority II)
The Book Of Review Worlds
(Priority II) The World of Chaos, a Collection of Mechanisms Jammed Into a Compelling Metagame (Review World #394)
The nine modules consist of hobby game staples from all across the spectrum. We have pick up and deliver, race, military conquest, area control, goods production, even a compelling stock market system. Each slice of mechanisms is typically combined to form a medium weight Euro that is relatively easy to assimilate once one navigates the Book of Worlds.
The Book of Worlds is certainly the most compelling element of this game. It’s a spiral-bound booklet with each page cut into three sections or flaps. You can build the world and the associated rules by turning a particular flap to the world desired. This is done across each third of the page to form the three intersecting mechanisms you wish to explore.
So in the top position you can flip to any of modules 1-9, selecting your choice for this specific play. Then you do the same thing in the middle position and finally again in the bottom. You may never choose the same module to occupy more than one position as this will cause a quantum rift the equivalent of crossing the streams. These three positions are referred to as TOP I, TOP II, and TOP III.
The module you select in TOP I is the most important. It determines how victory points are gained and sets the overarching tone of the world. The TOP II module determines how money is accrued. TOP III is the least impactful and adds a wrinkle or nuance to the structure.
A simple enough example is the recommended starting world, #123. This has module one in TOP I, which means victory points are gained from picking up and delivering goods to cities. Module two, Race, determines how players can earn money which they will use to upgrade their trolleys and carry more goods or move faster. Finally, module three is in the TOP III position and adds Privilege cards – special powers which are bought each turn.
When you first hold this book and start to make sense of the madness a huge light bulb will explode over your noggin. Everything fits together and works exceptionally well. There is certainly a substantial learning curve to deciphering the Book of Worlds and a priority system is used to determine which option trumps the others. For instance, each module will list one of several map layouts but you will need to look at only the map listed with the lowest Roman numeral (highest priority). Small rules and setup options will continue to utilize the priority system and you will need to play the decipher metagame to get the world properly setup.
This inherent juggling of priorities and subsystems split across multiple sections of rules is a battle you will need to participate in a couple of times before everything begins to flow smoothly. After a few plays it will all be second nature, however, the game tends to run best if someone determines the world and associated rules before you sit down to play. This allows you to iron out any kinks and work your rules deduction without pressure and distractions.
The Book Of Worlds! Oooh, aaah!
(Priority III) The World Where Everything Matters and Currency is Subtle (Review World #765)
Upon repeated plays you will start to see design patterns and personality emerge in terms of how the disparate elements fit together. The position (TOP I/II/III) that each module is slotted in will have an enormous impact on your game and result in interesting discoveries you may not initially foresee. This will amount to a realization that participants will likely develop clear indicators on how they favor the use of certain modules, refining play to bring about the most enjoyment. In some ways it’s as if you’re developing a whole new skillset akin to learning Worker Placement or Area Control for the first time. This can be exhilarating and thought provoking.
The position of a particular module has a large impact primarily because each mechanism functions differently depending on how it is integrated. Module three, Privileges, is a prime highlight as it adds entirely new elements in TOP I and II as opposed to TOP III. It feels most comfortable in the TOP III position as you integrate the special ability cards smoothly and without much issue. In TOP I and TOP II you throw in Factories and start producing goods, which has absolutely nothing to do with the deck of Privilege cards. This appears to be a natural limitation of the combinatorial metagame at play. It will push you towards utilizing modules in specific slots more often than not, but one can’t argue that they all stick to the wall no matter where you throw them.
It’s also noteworthy that certain modules feel more ethereal or background than others. The fantastic Shares module adds an external area of play off-board. If you play 943 then the only direct interaction on the map will be military conquest. The other vectors of play are all happening above board or on a separate collection of stock components. This doesn’t feel disjointed or fiddly, but it does feel distinct and each combination can have a very definite personality.
Delicious goods to be produced, picked up, and delivered.
(Priority I) The World of a Sophist of High Concept with a Knack for Excitement (Review World #281)
504, as a concept, is bananas. With Friedemann Friese behind the wheel this should come as no surprise. This eccentric German designer perpetually maintains a green mane and requires the name of all of his designs begin with the letter “F”. His titles always bring something unique and attempt to work in a space not well defined or previously tread. One should admire him as much for what he’s attempted as for what he’s accomplished.
This release is a huge box of 504 Euro-style games broken down into nine distinct modules. Each forms a portion of the DNA of the individual games – called worlds – that you may experience. When sitting down to play you pick three of the nine modules and arrange them in an order of your choice, the specifics of which matter greatly.
To facilitate all of these different mechanisms and systems the box is crammed full of high quality components. You have hundreds of wooden bits that are used as Residents, Settlements, and Trolleys. There are several different decks of cards. Mounds of chits used in all different manners. Player aids, swathes of hexes, and two distinct booklets. You could lose a pet or a small child in a component drop. All of this acts as a sort of flag or indicator of the wizardry the designer is about to perform as you sit down to the table.
(Priority IV) The World of Confused Critics and Revelatory Procedure (Review World #629)
Sitting down and expecting to combine semi-random Euro mechanisms into a coherent game that reaches lofty heights is a fantastic dream. I believe those expectations should be jettisoned from your trolley and long forgotten. An inherent limitation of this combinatorial exploration of separate mechanisms is producing a finished game that could most commonly be described as generic.
Those desiring 504 exceptional games crammed into this box are missing the point entirely. The “game” here is not what you sit down to play or limited to the three main mechanisms at work. The true heart of this design is the metagame that you encounter every time you embark on the journey and crack open that box.
You could describe the experience of playing this title as one big module five – exploration. It feels like you’re exploring the far reaches of Friedemann’s madness, lost in a maze of abject insanity and fumbling along walls engraved with astonishing brilliance. It’s a journey across multiple layers that will reveal itself in waves of colliding sub-systems.
It’s not a stretch to call 504 a piece of art. It’s a huge exploratory adventure that teases out wonderful reactions and poignant discussion. This is the type of game that anyone interested in even contemplating game design needs to experience. No individual world may earn its way onto your top 10, but 504 as a whole is a touchstone experience that can radically redefine a person’s perspective.