Ultimate scheme is a game of world domination! Each of the 2-5 players is in control of a different sinister faction trying to wreak havoc in the world by carrying out nefarious plots. Your minions travel the world collecting resources because you always need resources to carry out a nefarious plot. Once you have sown enough anarchy in the world you can claim victory and claim the world! Ultimate Scheme was designed by Richard Baker and is being published by Sasquatch Game Studio. It is currently on Kickstarter with the campaign ending on February 25th, 2016.
In Ultimate Scheme each player will first take a faction card, each of which has a different special power and home space on the board. Professor Roboto for example starts in Tokyo and gains a science resource at the beginning of each turn as well as two scheme cards on the first turn. Each player also starts with an ultimate scheme which is the player’s goal to win the game, two minions on the board, two regular scheme cards, and an action card. All ultimate schemes require the player to achieve 15 progress to win, but each has a unique secondary win condition such as “Found an Evil Coffee Empire” which requires only 10 progress combined with two schemes completed in South America. Secondary win conditions can also include things such as different resource symbols on completed schemes. Each round players go through several steps, the first of which is to collect a scheme card. Scheme cards are broken into three distinct types, each of which is more heavily weighted towards different resources. Each scheme has a cost in resources, a location, a reward including progress and sometimes resources, and potentially an icon matching those of the resources. These icons are what count towards the secondary win condition on the ultimate schemes. After the draw step comes the move step in which each player in turn order moves one of their minions from the city it is currently in to a city connected with a line (a-la Pandemic). This step is repeated until each player has moved two of their minions. Next comes the resource step. Each player chooses one of their minions and collects the resources of the city that minion is currently in and each city can only generate resources once per turn. Each player will activate two minions before play moves to the execute step. In the execute step each player may execute a scheme card from their hand. They must have a minion in the city identified on the scheme card as well as the resources identified on the scheme card. Other requirements may include a certain anarchy level minimum (some schemes increase the anarchy level permanently), or the ninja who is a resource that may be collected in Okinawa. Each player may complete as many schemes as they can so long as they have the required resources. Finally comes the end step in which players reset their minions (which were laid down to identify which cities resources were collected from) and the start player marker passes to the next player. Additionally players may play action cards in any phase unless the action card specifies otherwise. Action cards have multiple effects on the game such as killing the minion of an enemy on the same space as one of your minions. Once a player completes their ultimate scheme then that player wins at the end of the turn. If more than one player completes their ultimate scheme on the same turn, then I believe the unobtainium resource is the tie-breaker.
Ultimately I had fun playing Ultimate Scheme. The version that we played was a prototype of course, so it was a little rough, but the end result was still a fun game. The game is billed as a worker placement game, and I suppose I can see that except for the fact that you have to move your workers around the board in order to gather the resources offered by the various cities. In addition some locations are hidden (Area 51 for example) and can only be accessed once unlocked. There is only one city on the board that you are able to use to unlock hidden locations, and various schemes and action cards may also unlock hidden locations. The point is that while most worker placement games remove the workers from the board each turn, this one has you move them around the board instead. As a result your actions are extremely limited. For example if your workers are all in San Francisco, and you have to get to Area 51 to complete a scheme, then you have to use two turns just to get one of your workers to the middle east to unlock Area 51, which is one space from San Francisco on the board. While this is limiting it is somewhat balanced by the fact that you are drawing at least one scheme per turn, so while working on one big scheme you can be completing other smaller ones as you go. You also have to be cognizant of who the start player is, particularly when determining where you need to collect resources. If a player who gets to go before you is on the same city as you, then likely they will collect those resources, leaving your minion useless for the turn (aside from maybe being able to complete a scheme for that turn in that location).
I did enjoy the game quite a bit, and I fully recognize that I played a prototype version of the game where the components and rules may not be 100% finalized, but I still had a few issues. My first issue is with the theme of the game. Sure, sending your minions to travel around the world and gather resources for your evil schemes makes sense, but the locations of the various resources are quite arbitrary… aside from the ninja being in Okinawa. But why is there only one location in the world that will unlock any of the hidden locations? and why is it in the middle east? That said, I can’t really hold it against the designer, after all, I love Lords of Waterdeep and that game’s theme is really weak as well. I do have some issues with the graphic design of the game however. First of all, the board borrows heavily from Pandemic, but is more simplified, and while it has a place for everything, it also has a lot of wasted space taken up by the giant game logo and the icon definitions which could easily be placed on a reminder card instead. In reality I guess I was just disappointed by the rather amateur design and layout though the graphics team is made up of professional graphic artists. My last issue with the board is that it is very hard to see. To be fair, we were playing in a low-light situation, but it just proves that the board needs work so that the game can be played anywhere. The board we played on was glossy (could be just the prototype, and lets hope that is the case), and as such it reflected a lot, but the real problem was the progress track at the bottom of the board which is made up of black squares on a steel blue board with steel blue numbers. There is no contrast there, and as such it was all just a big mass of black at the bottom of the board from where I was sitting.
While I enjoyed the game, the issues I had with the design, layout and theme ultimately means that I will not be backing the project. I also happen to have Nefarious which scratches my itch for taking over the world. Regardless, the game play is pretty solid and if you want a euro-style game about sowing anarchy and taking over the world, then you should go ahead and back it.