Written by Matt Prendergast
When our good friend Mr. Bogen sent me an urgent missive that perhaps he could use a wee bit of an assist with his current load of spectacular game previewing and reviewing, I took a roll of the dice and said ‘sure, buddy’. And then he sent me the new Kickstarter project, The Lords of Rock, and I knew I was getting one thrown right smack dab in the middle of my wheelhouse on the first pitch.
The phrase ‘high concept’ may have been formulated specifically to describe this new offering from designer Dave Killingsworth and Dave Ferguson of SolarFlare Games/Brave Frontier Studios LLC.
The simplest summary might be: ‘What if Tenacious D at their MOST Tenacious D was not in fact a band, but instead a card game?’ Let’s dive in…
The base concept of The Lords of Rock is both fresh and certifiably insane – set in the modern era, it seems the gods of history have found themselves with weakening power, many vanishing entirely from existence. So the remaining lords of their respective echelons have agreed to a Winner-Takes-All showdown for the allegiance of all the remaining souls on Earth – and no better way for this to be decided definitively than with a Battle of the Bands. Obviously.
This is a game for 2-5 players by definition – but more on the high-and-low ends of that spectrum a little later – so first step, each participant needs to select their preferred pantheon of the gods: Egyptian, Greek, Norse or Aztec. Personally, I’m a Norse guy, but by all means don’t go by my preference, there’s a lot of power rockers in each division. Within your chosen pantheon, you have two ‘Lead Gods’ – one, and only one, of these two must be within each four-person band set-up per round (identified by a golden star beneath the pantheon icon on each card).
The remainder of your crew will be assembled each round from the additional 10 gods per pantheon. Players will also receive one Celestial Pantheon Power card, specific to their chosen affiliation. These are an optional add, but should be decided upon implementation before beginning the game.
Each participant is then dealt four Venue cards. These cards determine the setting for each showdown, the available points per round, and provide the framework for the length of game. In addition, the size of the Venue directly determines the amount of band members that will be counted towards round scoring (S = 1, XL = all 4)
Now Let’s Do This
The victory conditions within Lords of Rock are simple: finish the game with the most Soul Stones, and you gain not just your victory here, but immortality and relevance for your pantheon once more! Plus you gain the added benefits of banishing your opposing pantheon(s) to complete dissolution in history and the future. As you embark, one player must be declared the Anchor Band (suggested it be the person who last attended a live concert, but you do what you will). The Anchor Band plays last in each round, and this is important as by rule of the traditional game, once the Anchor has played two Venues, the Soul Stones of each pantheon are counted up and the winner of the universe is determined.
Moving to the left of the Anchor, player one begins the first round by selecting from their four Venue Cards, the first location for the rock domination showdown. The player choosing the Venue each round has a distinct advantage from the jump, as they are the only person with knowledge of the skill sets that will gain dominance that round – player one then places the venue card face down.
From this point, each faction must assemble from their gods a tight four piece – one singer, one lead guitarist, one bass player, and one drummer, and as mentioned previously, one and only one of these roles must be filled by a lead god. Your chosen four will be placed face-down in front of each player.
Each master of the gods will select seven Set List Cards. These serve as the action variables that will ultimately determine your final place in history as “Ruler of All” or “Forgotten Like Some Silly Children’s Story.”
Venue Card Revealed! Play Begins!
Now, see that Venue card to the left (Yggdrasil)? Here’s the important stuff: The circle on top indicates the venue size (S, M, L or XL) – that’s proportionately affects the amount of Souls available at this setting. The rewards (in millions) for your final battle standing listed in descending order below. Toward the bottom – and this is critical – are the only band member talents that count towards your final round score. So in this battle, at the end of the round, only gods with Lead Singer, Guitar, and Drum talents add to your final tally. Because once again in this world, the bass player can go get screwed.
Players then take turns, clockwise, playing one Set List card per turn – Set List Cards (which are terrific, by the by) can have either positive or negative affects on the current round’s performance. Positive cards will be placed face down in front of your own band, whilst negatives are placed face-up in front of the opposing player you are wishing ill-will upon. Players can continue to play as many Set List cards as they want, but once opting to skip a play, it constitutes the end of that player’s participation in the round – with the exception of an allowance for playing (1) countering positive card on their own list in response to having been struck with a negative card after they’ve finished their round. Once all players have passed, the cards are then revealed and point totals for that venue determined.
Now, as to how these set list cards work for you: you’ll note in card at right (‘Nymphs, Nymphs, Nymphs’) the appearance of all four band symbols. This is a great card to drop down if you’re playing a gig in an XL venue, as it gives points for each member. It’s worth +4.
As a comparison, positive card two – to the right there, only grants points for a Guitarist – and that’s if the Guitarist icon is an ‘active’ participant at the venue. So, if there’s no Guitar active at this Venue, you might want to skip playing it this round as it ain’t worth diddly-doo. With the exception of the aforementioned ‘four band members count’ card, almost every action card is worth from -2 to + 2, making strategy critical, as I took second/third/fourth due to a conservative approach that round, and lost out on a position by a point.
The negative card represented on the bottom-left is pretty straightforward. It docks a point for either a lead singer or drummer that round, and execution of it during the round may force an opponent to switch to a defensive move (draining their Set List arsenal), or opt to drop out of that round. There is an additional negative variant card that effects the end total of Soul Stones gained at rounds end – those are pretty good ones to try to cancel out. How so? Glad you asked. The rare Roadie card can be utilized at any time to cancel out any negative card played upon within the round. The Roadie cards function like a positive, and are played face down until revealed at round’s end.
And at any point during the game, a player may choose to play their unique Pantheon Power Card (if playing with this option) to attempt to push that round more in their favor.
At the end of the round, once all players have passed, each player begins to total their points, beginning with the active primary score of each qualifying band member. To reference the battle of Yggdrasil from before, the points for your Lead Singer, Guitarist and Drummer get totaled first; in the card below, Zeus would have been played as the Guitarist – his primary skill – and worth 7 points. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!
Suppose your venue was a Medium venue, and only the bass player and drummer score points, because this place appreciates a solid foundation and doesn’t care for these clowns soloing and doing kicks on stage?
Well, in such a case, the Secondary skill set gets added in – so with the card above, Zeus still gets you 2 points because he can fill in on the low end on days when Athena is sent to rehab. This mechanic is what gives the Venue selector of each battle a distinct advantage, as they are the only one who is aware of the next requirement before band members for the round are decided. So, if they wish, they may choose a small Venue that ONLY scores Guitarist, and then load their band lineup with their highest pointing guitarist, then choose lead singer, bass player and drummer that all have secondary guitarist skills. More points off the bat, mortal!
Finally, all the points, positive and negative from the Set List cards are added to the total. Once all players have their scores, the final dispersion of Soul Stones commences! For Yggdrasil, for example, in a three player game, player one receives five Soul Stones (and the Venue Card), player two receives four, and player three gets, well, three.
Before proceeding to next round, all players draw an additional three Set List cards, and dispense of those they don’t want if exceeding the max limit of 10 in hand. In addition, the previous winner of the Venue may have the ability to draw an additional card depending on what the previous Venue awarded them (Note the “extra card with no Hand Limit” note at the bottom of Yggdrasil). Play then continues to round two with player two now choosing the Venue from their group of four.
At the conclusion of the first Venue played by the Anchor Band (remember them from before), all players discard all their round one Venue cards and select 4 new ones for the second and final go-around.
Now this part is probably clear, but once that final go-around is complete, following the Anchor’s second Venue, the pantheon with the most souls wins them all.
There’s certainly a few variables running throughout this gameplay, I highly recommend running through a methodical practice round the first time through to get the swing of the mechanics and scoring – but once you’ve got that down, The Lords of Rock is a brisk and thrilling game with a load of replay value. The artwork is first class, and the variants affecting the various factors influencing points per round balanced with the strategy necessary to truly achieve victory conditions provide an even playing field for aggressive go-for-broke players and methodical long-con players alike. And there’s humor – LOTS of it. That’s always a winning element in my scroll.
The Lords of Rock is a terrifically original concept, and the design clearly has been vetted quite well. This will be a stalwart go-to for game nights both with the family, as well as my die-hard gaming friends. It plays fast, and that’s nice plus, but also leaves space for variable approaches, which I’ll cover below.
The game packaging and release information indicates Lords of Rock can be played with five players, but honestly I’ll be damned if I can figure out how. With only four pantheons of gods available, it’s current build seems to make a hard cut-off. HOWEVER – there are Venue cards that have pantheon-specific bonuses upon winning – and I noted specifically that a couple have benefit for only a ‘Chtulhu pantheon’, of which there is not in the prototype. To this I say, “PLEASE DAVE KILLINGSWORTH, UNLEASH THE CHTULHU PANTHEON ON THIS PUNY WRETCH OF A MAN.”
In the last rules release I was sent, there was a note that this game really plays better with three players or more, as the two-player model ‘plays weird’, and I wholeheartedly agree if following the provided rule boundaries, however, I may suggest the addition of a ‘Pantheons Unleashed’ variance of game play that makes the two-player game a blast and can be applied to other sizes as well. With this format – which I ran through as well – there is only one fundamental change-up: All positive cards are also played face-up throughout each round.
With this modification implemented, a terrific ‘live’ aspect of competition now factors in, as the one-on-one battle becomes a battle of wills and who will flinch first. There may be room here for a modification in regard to refreshing Set List cards as well, perhaps pushing that up to five or more post-battle, while maintaining the 10-card hand limit. For the three players or more, this variant also introduces the element of alliances within the rounds, which adds a nice vengeful touch. And there’s one more benefit I’ve found from this model of gameplay.
This mode of play creates a much more socially interactive game. The Set List song titles incorporated here are brilliant; classic tunes renamed within the universe of the Immortals Rock Showdown. Quite a few I still haven’t figured out, which is a huge plus. When incorporating this open-faced format, the impact and humor of these creations adds a fantastic wrinkle, as players are naturally drawn to not only deciphering the majestic title re-imaginings, but without prompt, singing not only the chorus to “Don’t Dread the Deathdealer,” but improvising revised lyrics as well.
The joy is nigh indescribable.
That’s my two cents. Great work, folks! Now get out there onto Kickstarter and back them up!
-Matt Prendergast, 7/28/2016