There aren’t too many times when you get to sit down with some friends and play a game set in the mid-1700s where you play the role of a tailor shop owner. Since the folks in my various gaming groups know I will try anything, I was excited to get this to the table because I had a feeling I would love the theme.
The game is Rococo Deluxe by Eagle-Gryphon Games, and a tailor shop owner is exactly the role you will be playing. Over the course of seven rounds you will have to find ways to score prestige points in a variety of areas to outduel (out-tailor?) your competition by gathering sewing materials, tailoring women’s dresses and men’s jackets, providing decorations for a variety of grand halls, and hiring staff to make all of this happen; you will be using a clever mix of deckbuilding and hand management/action selection to succeed.
“Welcome to the shop! How can I help you?”
Rococo Deluxe is the deluxified version of Rococo from 2013, and it shows. Like other Eagle-Gryphon productions, the component quality is excellent and the rules are well laid out for those who are new to the property. Except for the player aids—which are flimsy cardboard half-sheets with icons that need a better explanation to be useful—everything is top-notch, right down to the unnecessary-yet-cool polyresin lace and yarn tokens that you can pick up when you acquire new materials. Is the first-player gold thimble token really necessary? Of course not. But do I feel a slight sense of pride when I temporarily control the gold thimble when I take over going first in the next round? Absolutely!
While the production quality is the highlight here, the gameplay is just as strong. What I love most about Rococo Deluxe is the simple nature of the gameplay: look through all of your cards and select just three of them to play in the current round. Anything you play is discarded faceup, so for the next round you have to pick three cards not currently in the discard pile.
From there, everything is dictated by the level of the craftsperson on your cards: Apprentice, Journeyman, or Master. (A tip for new players: be sure to always keep at least one Master in your hand; these cards are the only ones able to perform all of the available actions in Rococo Deluxe.) Each employee is limited to certain actions, but Masters can do it all. This becomes important for what we found to be the most vital process in the game: hiring—and later, trashing—staff. (In a game this elegant, of course “trashing” is not the word that is used to describe the action of permanently removing cards from your deck so the designers went with “deputing”, which I had to look up in order to ensure I was spelling and pronouncing it correctly!).
What makes hiring staff so vital? Like other deckbuilders, it is all about the cards—and the only way to get new cards is by going to the market and hiring new staff. Rococo Deluxe is a little unique in that cards purchased from the market are added directly to your hand (not your discard pile), giving you more chances to take actions in the current round. And you can use any of your workers to “depute” other cards, so you can trash some of those crappy starting staff cards to make room for classier versions.
The cards get better from there—you use the card to take whatever main action you want on the board, then you can use the optional bottom half of the card to take a secondary action as well. Watching others come up with cool combos by stringing staff together in useful ways is one of the best things about this game, and as you play Rococo Deluxe you will go through progressively stronger sets of cards that give you better actions and/or end-game scoring chances.
The other board actions essentially come down to “I need points and/or money! What can I do to get one or both quickly?” You can gather resources to make dresses, or use those same resources to sell clothing design patterns for cash. Or you can use your money to put decorations all over the five grand halls, scoring you prestige points at the end of the game. You can even adorn statues and decorate the largest hall’s balcony with your signature color, which will grant you additional points at the end of the game (thanks to a fireworks display!). Some of these actions are important to help you raise your income level, allowing you the cash drip needed to fund future turns to get your engine rolling.
Even though our first three-player game featured two players completely new to the game, Rococo Deluxe had a snappy 90-minute playtime. The actions are quick, cleanup is very easy between rounds—essentially dealing out new staff cards to the market and adding new designs & materials to the other half of the board—and except for some late-game analysis paralysis (AP) things kept humming along. This checks the box for me—low-to-no downtime!
Is this an all-time great? No. Does Rococo Deluxe have minor issues? I think so: mainly around some of the iconography, and the importance of playing first in a given round (there will be limited chances to acquire Journeymen/Master cards at the market, meaning that a player in the lead can compound their already-ideal situation by grabbing the best cards every time).
My main issue with Rococo Deluxe? The “Deluxe” part. $110 for a game like this is frankly ridiculous. Why is there not a Rococo Peasant version for, say, $50? I would buy that right now. There are four expansions in the box: one major expansion with additional designs and staff cards, one solo expansion, and two mini-expansions. We haven’t used those in any of our playthroughs, and in reading other reviews, these expansions seem unnecessary in order to have a great time with the base game.
In general, the need to give people expansions they have never played before, and may never use, is a problem with gaming across the board, and not just in this box. Still, I would love to see a future printing dedicated to just the base game.
If you can afford it, Rococo Deluxe is an excellent game and it lands at a weight that will keep both your hardcore and your casual gaming friends quite happy.