Revive kinda came out of nowhere at last year’s Essen Spiel. I kept seeing pictures of this game that became known to me as ‘that one with the big yellow flower on the box’ and the crazy busy player boards, but it wasn’t a must-have for me. Fast-forward a few months and the hype is still strong, and having hit retail shelves here in the UK, it was time to take it for a test drive. It turns out the hype was deserved. Revive picks the things it wants to do – and there are quite a few of them – and does each of them really well. Is it enough to revive the interests of those of you bored-to-death of Euros full of mechanisms?
Euro games get a bad rap for not carrying their theme too well, and while that’s certainly true in Revive, I can’t help feeling like in some ways it’s actually pretty well done. The story of the game says you’ve been stuck underground since something bad happened to the world, and now your phoenix-like, fledgling tribes are emerging back onto the surface. You’ll try to explore this abandoned world, building and expanding your reach, while your population learn the secrets of their past, uncovering and activating machines to make their new world a better place.
I know – blah, blah, blah. But the way it goes about it is pretty cool. The landscape tiles of the main board are all flipped face-down to begin with, and there’s a decent feeling of venturing forth as each player emerges from the chasm in the middle of the board and spreads out, like ants from a crack in a dry lawn. There’s a mechanism where your citizens have to hibernate to rest, rendering them useless for the next round, and while exploring they can find crates with supplies in. It might not be the most thematic game in the world, but there’s certainly more to it than I initially thought.
The main reason I worried about the game is because of the things I heard about it from those who picked up a copy at Essen. For every post I saw praising the game, I’d see another slating it for just being a Euro mechanism sandbox, with mechanisms seemingly thrown at the game just because they could. The reality for me was much different. There really isn’t that much going on, certainly not as much as I’d feared, and I think a lot of it comes down to the presentation.
When you see these player boards for the first time there’s an undeniable reaction of “Wow, what’s going on here with all of this stuff?”. By the time you’ve got your player board, the tribe board that slots into a notch on the side, and your card areas all around the board, you’re looking at each player having their own area as large as older games in their entirety. The spiderweb of tracks on the – admittedly gorgeous, double-layered – player boards looks more confusing than it really is. The three main tracks could have been laid in a straight line and taken a quarter of the space, but Revive is a game that makes you want to feel special. You’re meant to be leading a tribe here, a nation, and on a subconscious level that’s a feeling you don’t always get if you’ve just got a small cardboard player board like in Hansa Teutonica. You need something bigger, like Gaia Project, and now Revive, to make you feel like you’re in control of something significant.
Checking your balance
Asymmetry in games can be an odd beast. Games like Obsession (review here) or Votes For Women (review here) are both asymmetric, but both feel like the balance is very carefully baked into the game. Some games, such as Tapestry, can feel wildly swingy in comparison, resulting in games with a huge disparity in final scores. The tribes in Revive are asymmetric in nature, so each player ends up with a different unique power that’s for them only. The players also have their own artefact cards, which give them secret end-game scoring conditions, and on top of that, the large corner tiles placed on the main board are randomised too.
I don’t mind a gulf in scores when it represents players simply playing the game better than the rest of the table, but sometimes things just feel unfair from the get-go. You might get dealt an artefact card which rewards something that doubles up with the end-of-game scoring condition on one of the big corner tiles, or maybe meshes well with your tribe’s unique abilities. When that happens it can feel like a one-way street to Loserville – population: you. We played a game of Revive at my local group where one player had a tribe which let them use books (one of the three resource types) as wild resources. They also managed to get some modules which awarded double books, meaning whenever they played a matching card into a slot around their board, they were drowning in books. Now maybe when we’ve all played it more we’ll find a good counter, but at the time it certainly felt very one-sided.
The publishers, Aporta Games, have taken this sort of feedback on board, which is great. One of the designers – Kristian Amundsen Østby – posted this Official Low Luck Variant on BGG, so if that sort of thing bothers you, at least there are options now. Going into Revive without knowing these sorts of things could leave a sour taste in your mouth, which is why I’ve taken the time to go into a little detail here. Revive is so much fun, it’s definitely worth your time.
Tools of the trade
So who’s going to enjoy Revive, and why? Revive is somewhere between a deck-builder and a deck-construction game, combined with tech trees. Half of your actions will involve playing a card into a slot around your board, and the cards are multi-use. Cards played into the top of your board obscure the bottom of the card, and so give you the benefits or resources shown on the top half. Cards in the bottom do the opposite. The resources you gain by playing cards let you play the three other main actions: explore, build, and populate, which translate as flip tiles on the main board, and add buildings and people from your player board to the main board.
This is where the game starts to feel like the one I mentioned above – Gaia Project – and its step-sibling, Terra Mystica. In both of those, there’s an emphasis on getting pieces off of your own board and onto the main board, to expand your influence on the main board while simultaneously unlocking abilities on your board. Revive does this same thing, and it’s very satisfying to do. One of the things I really enjoy in Revive is that none of the actions feel weak, or like “Well, if I want to do this cool thing later, I need to do this lame thing for a while first”. Exploring brings instant victory points and lets you choose the lay of the land, often triggering track advances at the same time. Building nets loads of adjacency bonuses from the main board. Populating is arguably the most satisfying because when a meeple leaves your board, they unlock the action or ability they were covering.
My personal favourite thing is the module mechanism. The card slots around your board have notches next to them where these cardboard ‘modules’ fit nice and snug. Mechanically, all they do is give you some bonus resource when you slot a card of matching colour in, but there’s something very personal about choosing and attaching one. The same goes of advancing around the three tracks on your board. Clear a wooden marker from an indented disc and you get to take a machine disk from the market. All you’re doing is putting a round piece of cardboard into a round hole, but the satisfaction we felt as a two-year-old doing the same thing with a shape sorter must lie dormant, in some kind of lizard part of our brains. It’s just as much fun to do now as it was all the way back then.
Revive isn’t for everybody. There’s a lot to think about, and fans of lighter fare may struggle with the decision space at any given time. The game is quite generous with the resources given to you, so there’s often an abundance of choice when it comes to what to do next, which some people really don’t like. If you like that feeling of a sandbox, however, with open-ended strategy from turn one, you’ll love it.
The apparent lack of balance can make it feel like the game gets skewed in someone’s favour at times, which can be mightily frustrating if you’re not the one lady luck favours. As I said further up though, there’s an official variant and plenty of house rules if that’s your thing. My job here is to review the out-of-the-box experience, however, so it’s only fair to make you aware of it.
Revive is a ton of fun to play, especially with the way things start to combo as the game goes on. I wondered why the game includes two cubes to track the actions you take (you get two actions per turn), because it doesn’t sound like a difficult thing to keep track of, but later in the game you’ll be thankful for them. The familiar dopamine hit of “Do this thing, which gives me this other thing, then that triggers this. Then I take these free actions…” is ever-present and very satisfying. It just gets hard to keep track of how many actions you’ve taken.
Revive is a beautiful, lavish production which fans of mid-heavy Euro games will lap up. Aporta Games have made a game which feels like a £100+ production in a box which will cost you a little over half of that. The included mini-campaign does a good job of drip-feeding a few additional rules and attempting to build a little more story, but in all honesty, you’re neither going to care about the lore nor worry that you’re missing out on it. If this all sounds like your kind of thing, pick it up, you’ll have a great time with Revive.
Review copy kindly provided by my retail partner, Kienda. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can buy this game from my retail partner, Kienda. Remember to sign-up for your account at kienda.co.uk/punchboard for a 5% discount on your first order of £60 or more.
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Design: Helge Meissner, Eilif Svensson, Anna Wermlund, Kristian Amundsen Østby
Publisher: Aporta Games
Art: Gjermund Bohne, Martin Mottet, Dan Roff
Playing time: 90-120 mins