Game review: A Study in Emerald is a secret war of fighting factions
Posted May 28, 2016
The board game A Study in Emerald by Grey Fox Games combines the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu into a guessing game of competing factions, deck building, assassination and big scary monsters. No one truly knows where allegiances lie. Beware.
The year is 1882, and the "Great Old Ones" from the Cthulhu myths and legends have already taken over the world. Most people have adapted and are going on with life as slaves of their monstrous leaders. Many are loyal to their masters, but others are fighting to restore humanity to freedom. An underground war of loyalists and restorationists fight. Players will secretly be dealt a faction card at the beginning of the game to determine which faction they belong to.
At the heart of A Study in Emerald is a deck-building mechanism that allows players to slowly build a personal deck of cards that allows them more and more options to interact with the game on each turn. Unlike other deck-building games that allow players to purchase cards, this game is different. To gain cards, a player must exhibit the most influence in an area where a new card exists.
The game board shows a variety of cities around the world. It's cool because each city is occupied by one of the "Great Old Ones." They are tough to beat but can be destroyed for lots of points. However this is a dead giveaway that the player might be a restorationist. In addition there are various cards available in each city that can be purchased by players and added to their decks. Only the top card in each city is visible.
Players begin the game with 10 influence cubes, 10 agents and the same set of 10 cards in their personal deck. Decks will become customized as the game goes on. Each turn a player draws five cards from the personal deck. The cards allow a player to take actions in the game. A player may take two actions each turn but must have the appropriate cards that grant that action.
The first action a player can take is to claim one of the available cards on the board from one of the cities. To do this a player must have the most influence cubes in that city. Another action that can be taken is to place influence cubes in one of the cities. Another action is to retrieve influence cubes from the board.
Agents are special tokens that add influence to an area but also allow players to take an assassination action in any of the cities where they are present. Other agent tokens and "Great Old Ones" can be assassinated for points. But remember that no one knows who is on which team, so be careful not to eliminate a friend.
Other actions that can be performed are one-time actions on a card, discarding cards to start fresh the next round or to simply pass. The goal is to gain a certain amount of victory points to end the game or to gain points before a player's secret identity is revealed. Victory points can be gained individually or by faction.
The most unique thing about this game is that each person gains points for personal victories and for faction victories, but points are adjusted at the end of the game when all identities are revealed. No one knows until the end which points will actually count for their opponents.
For those who like the Cthulhu mythos and enjoy games of influence and secret identities, A Study in Emerald is one of the best. It stands out for its unique gameplay mechanisms, hidden identities and smart gameplay. This is definitely one to try before a purchase but one that will be beloved by the right crowd. Check out more at Grey Fox Games.