Jussi Autio


No. of Players:
3 - 5



Some of you might remember that I have presented you with an interesting looking prototype of a game called Modern Society in my reports of the SPIEL 07 convention, and after two years of finetuning the Finnish publisher TUONELA this year finally will bring the finished game to Essen. Shrinking the game to two decks of cards and some coloured tokens by the removal of the big gameboard which was included in the prototype, the game now comes in a small and handy gamebox. However, the main function of the gameboard was the display of a track on which the four different values of the players' society could be recorded, and this track now is presented on five of the playing cards which are placed on the table before the game starts. Thus, the game is a perfect example of how unnecessary game components can be removed in order to save production costs, and in case of Modern Society this even has led to an international marketing of the game through GRYPHON GAMES.

However, let us now have a look at the game itself, and in Modern Society the players are presented a quite interesting approach to the problems and political agendas of our world at the beginning of the 21st century. Thus, the players take the role of statesmen (or politicians) all living in the same fictional state, and they are trying to use their political powers in order to influence the four basic values of the society. When the society sways in a certain direction it will get easier to pass certain laws, and through the laws the players actually will generate victory points.


Each of the four society values symbolizes a specific focal point of civil interest, and so one value is freedom-orientated, one is environmentally minded, one is in line with economic growth and the fourth concentrates on conservative tendencies. At the beginning of the game a coloured marker for each of the four values is placed at the middle of the value-track which has been placed on the table, and during the course of the game the players will try to influence the public opinion on each of the four values by playing Topic cards. At the beginning the public opinion on each of the four values is stable, but the use of the topic cards may bring the value markers either into the positive or the negative areas of the value track. The position of a value then has an influence on the question how well a player can score for each value at the end of each round, and this in turn influences the player's ability to pass laws based on the specific value.

Each player starts with a hand of five Topic cards, and usually one of the Topic cards will be used by a player during a round. After three rounds the game switches to the next season, and at that time each player receives five new cards for his hand to use in the upcoming season. The Topic cards show many different subjects which are on the political agenda of present day governments, and so they range from "Renewable Energy" to "Equality Rights" or "Car Manufacturers". During a round of play each of the players simultaneously chooses and reveals one of the topic cards from his hand, and then the markers of each value on the value track will be adjusted according to the changes listed on all played Topic cards. For example, the playing of "Renewable Energy" means one positive adjustment both for the environment and economy value markers, whereas a card like "Protest suppressed by the Police" gives an increase to the conservative value but a the same time leads to a two-step decrease of the freedom value.

As indicated, the changes listed on all topic cards are effected when the players have revealed their cards, but before any value points are scored at the end of the round the players first have to act upon possible special features which a card may contain. Thus, certain features allow the drawing or playing of an additional card, whereas other features directly influence other players by forcing them to discard a card or to lose value points if they have certain cards in play. It is important to know at this point that a Topic card played by a player remains in front of him for the rest of the season, and the special features of a card possibly may be triggered by other cards already in play.

When the special features have been dealt with the round is ended with an evaluation phase, and now each player scores value points in one or more values as indicated in the Topic card he has played. There is a possibility to score additional points if a card lists such a "combo option" and the required other cards are in play (i.e. in front of a player), but most important is the fact that the points scored are adjusted by the current value of each of the four markers on the value track, so that the current position on the value track has a great influence on the value points a player can score. All value points for each of the values then are recorded by the players on their personal score sheets.

The conversion of value points into victory points is done through passing laws, and a player may purchase a law by spending value points at the end of each round. Laws exist for each of the four values, but following a pyramid-structure there are less high ranking law cards in each deck of law cards. Law cards must be purchased in an ascending order, with the more expensive law cards replacing the cheaper ones. However, as might be guessed each step forwards also increases the victory points value of the card, and so the first law card for each value costs five value points and brings one victory point, whereas the fourth and final stage in each deck of law cards has a cost of 25 value points and counts 11 victory points for the player in the final evaluation. As an additional feature the law cards give the players different advantages for playing cards of the corresponding value, so that additional value points can be scored, points from another value might be converted, specific blocking rights can be ignored and even a bonus might be available the next higher ranking law card. Here a player who purchases a law card can chose from the cards still available, and so each player can try to emphasise his own interests by chosing fitting law cards. In most constellations the game ends after a total of four seasons (12 rounds), and then each player adds up the victory points of his highest ranking law cards for each of the four values.

As it is common with most card-based strategy games, the players have to make the best of the cards they get onto their hand. Thus, Modern Society does not actually allow the players to develop their society freely into a direction they might desire, but instead they have to adjust their goals to match the hand of cards they receive. However, the game offers good possibilities for increasing a player's yield of value points by card combinations, and several options need to be considered when a player evaluates his hand of Topic cards. Apart from the impact of a card on the value track the special features and the card's ability to generate value points also take a quite important role, and so a player constantly needs to check which card might best suit his general value orientation while not advancing the goals of the other players. An additional dimension is added by the interesting conversion of culture points into laws, and the passing of a law helps a player to get a an advantageous position on a specific value while at the same time forcing others to act if they have planned to pass laws on the same value.

Thus, the laws also are the driving factor for competition in the game, and interactivity is further strengthened by some of the special features of the Topic cards since there are possibilities to hamper the other players' efforts to gain value points. However, another factor which seems to be included for reasons of keeping interactivity high is the fact that the game is divided into seasons, and here the rules prescribe that each player looses his display of Topic cards after a season is over. This is a somewhat short period, and the fact that the players only keep a cards display for three rounds has a reducing effect on strategy and planning since the only cards which a player keeps from one season to the next are the laws which he may have passed and his remaining hand cards. However, I guess that this move was needed in order to keep the game balanced, since a mechanism which is based on the random drawing of cards only allows strategic decisions up to a certain degree. If the players would keep their displays longer the luck factor actually would increase, because some players would find ever better combinations while others would be left with a colourful conglomeration without much interrelation between the cards. This actually would diminish the rather good playing atmosphere created by the game, so that the splitting into seasons gives every player a chance to catch up again.

The most fascinating fact about Modern Society is that the game matches its background rather well. Different coloured faction cards also were used in Cold War - CIA vs KGB, but whereas that game was more superficial and without much coherence between the cards Modern Society offers a deeper card interaction on both the functional and story level. The author has done a rather good job upon the naming and positioning of each card in the deck, and so the players actually get a feeling on the forces which might give a society a certain general direction. Thus, the game actually distinguishes itself also on its educational value, but it is even more important that it offers interaction and strategy coupled with a good replay value.

And if you want to give Modern Society a try, you should have a look at the online version on the TUONELA website!


Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany