Review: Viva Il Re (iPhone)

Posted by James (admin) on November 18th, 2010

I get the impression that Viva Il Re isn’t that well-known, although it got a Spiel des Jahres recommendation in 2004 and it’s recent re-release as King Me is sure to have increased awareness more recently.

Viva Il Re is about selecting a new king and having your candidates in the best positions when one is chosen.  The board is split into numbered levels (from the bottom upwards: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 10).  The candidates to be king are placed on the different levels. Each player ‘owns’ several candidates but, apart from their own, players do not know which opponents own which candidates.  Multiple players can own the same candidate too.

Players take turns moving any one candidate (not just their own) to the next level up so long as no more than 4 candidates occupy any one level.  The top level is slightly different – when a candidate is moved there, the players simultaneously vote using their vote cards showing Yes or No.  If at least one No vote is cast, the candidate is executed and the game continues.  If there are zero No votes, the candidate on level 10 is the new king, the game ends, and each player scores points for each of their surviving candidates (equal to the level the candidate is currently on).  So, owning the candidate that is now king is a good advantage but other players can win with multiple high scoring candidates.

Viva Il Re plays very quickly because taking a turn (and any resultant voting) is simple and fast.  The interesting part of the game is that players only have a limited number of No cards each, so they must be used carefully. Sometimes you risk voting Yes (hoping someone else votes No) when you don’t want the vote to succeed so you can preserve your No cards for later.  Finding out who voted which way is the best part of the game.

There’s a nice game balance in moving your own candidates to the higher scoring levels to make them more valuable but also placing them at greater risk of being executed.  Not knowing whose owns which candidates is an intriguing mechanic as you don’t want to reveal which candidates are yours by being too obvious with your movements  or they can try to target you.  That would be fine but there are a lot of candidates, overlapping ownership and the game moves very quickly so it can feel a bit random and is hard to track.

As a result, it’s difficult to work out if your candidates have good positions versus the other players – so you often vote based only on a gut feeel about your own current score without really being able to compare it to other players.  Due to this, I feel the game is more of a light filler than something substantial.  The similar secret moving mechanic of Top Secret Spies delivers a lot more tension and tactical play but then that game lasts longer and players only own one character each.  Abandon Ship shares some similarities too and has a bit more depth.

The implementation is very good.  The board game is simple so there’s not too much to get wrong but it’s done well so that the iPhone version plays quickly and simply.  You just drag-and-drop candidates and occasionally tap Yes or No when voting.  It’s also very quick to set-up a game (players take turns placing any one candidate on levels 1 to 4).

You can play against 2 to 5 opponents but no other human players.  I think playing against humans is better because you can start to work out who owns some of the characters – it’s easier when you see players physically moving candidates, can read their expressions when you tell them you know which candidate is theirs, and can try to read into a player’s movements.

Hotseat (one iPhone  passed amongst multiple human players) would have been a good addition as the main game can be played with all players viewing the screen simultaneously.  Players would need to be able to vote in secret (taking turns to cast their vote) but that wouldn’t be difficult.  (In fact, an iPad version would work well with all players viewing the game at the same time with their own set of voting buttons.)

There’re no online play options which I don’t feel is a problem as the game play is too quick and not deep enough to really need it.  The one downside of the implementation is that the game doesn’t save when you switch to another app, although games play in minutes which reduces the chances of being interrupted.

Due to the game feeling a little bit random, I haven’t been able to work out if the AI is good or not and there’re no difficulty settings for the AI either.

Overall, Viva Il Re is not a bad board game but it doesn’t offer as much tactical play as I had hoped.  As an iPhone game, it actually finds some new life as a quick filler but, for me, still doesn’t deliver deep enough game play.


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Viva il Re - Pro-netics S.p.A. For iPhone (reviewed)

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