Some years have passed since HASBRO's initial takeover of the successful strategy games publisher AVALON HILL, but after some well-chosen first releases like Diplomacy or Acquire the new AVALON HILL label seemed to get a bit neglected. However, in recent years HASBRO has recognized the need to design and publish not only the typical kinds of family games which they usually release under the PARKER label, but also some strategically more demanding games. For this reason their branch of AVALON HILL games is picking up speed again.

[IMAGE] Vegas Showdown is one of the games which was chosen for this new AVALON HILL product line, and judging by public commentary on the game it seems that the design crew of WIZARDS OF THE COAST - which stands behind this publication - has done a rather successful job. Thus, let me now take you on a trip to Las Vegas where some bored millionaires have made a bet who might be most successful in designing and running a hotel-casino on the Vegas Strip.

Although the playing components of the game and the gamebox provide the impression that the game actually is concerned with the different kinds of gambling offered at Las Vegas, there is a total abstinence of Poker, Roulette etc. in the game. Quite the opposite, the designers have given the players a building & construction game, but this has been done in an impressively atmospheric way by giving most of the of the playing components a gambling appearance. Thus, there exists a main gameboard which is designed like a gaming table, but on which all the playing components are placed and on which the players note their scores and place bets to receive tiles from which they might build their hotel-casinos. Each player also receives a playing sheet representing his hotel-casino - an empty shell of a building in which the he will place the building tiles which he acquires during the course of the game. Apart from the building itself, the playing sheet also shows a scoring board for a player's Population and Revenue, two factors which are influenced by the kinds of building tiles which will be placed within the hotel-casino.

[IMAGE] To prepare for the game, the building tiles are separated into either common or Premier tiles. The common tiles then are subdivided into groups of Restaurant, Lounge and Slots (i.e. gambling machines) tiles and placed at a common bidding area on the main gameboard. The Premier tiles (which are rooms of a higher, more specialized class of the three aforementioned groups) are only separated into stacks of equal sized rooms. Each of these stacks then is randomly shuffled and the top card from each Premier stack then is revealed and placed at a bidding area as well. Some other components like event cards, reference charts etc. are put closeby, and each player receives a starting purse of 20 chips which form the currency of the game.

The game is played in rounds which are subdivided into different phases, and in each phase all players have the chance to act. At the beginning of a round, the prices for Premier tiles which were not sold in the previous round will be reduced by one step on each tile's auction scale. Then an event card is drawn for each Premier tile sold in the previous round. These cards not only show events which the players must deal with, but also a symbol for choosing a stack from which a new Premier tile is revealed and placed for auction. After all cards have been dealt with, the players will receive their income and then proceed to the central action phase.

In turn, the players now may chose either to Bid on Tiles, Renovate or to Publicize. To bid on a tile, a player puts a marker on the auction scale of one of the common or Premier tiles on the main gameboard, placing it either at the current minimum bid value or a higher value (as long as his purse allows a bid of that size). If a player is outbid during the still unfinished action phase, this player will get his marker back and once again is allowed to chose an action, so he may bid again on the same or an other tile or even chose one of the other two actions. However, if a player is not outbid he will receive the tile he has bet for by the end of the action phase (paying the amount of his bet to the bank), and then he may chose either to place the tile at an empty space within his hotel-casino or to keep it next to his playing sheet for later use. If a player decides to use a tile, he has to observe certain placement rules:

  • To place a Premier tile, certain prerequisites must be met. So, for example, the placement of a "Fancy Slots" tile requires a normal "Slots" tile to be present within the player's building, and the placement of an even more valuable "Dragon Room" tile requires the presence of both a "Slots" and a "Fancy Slots" tile. These kinds of preconditions exist for all three groups of tiles (Restaurant, Lounge and Slots) and are set out on a clearly structured overview sheet.
  • Furthermore, each building has two entrances, and whereas all Slots tiles must connect to the left (Casino) entrance of a building, all Restaurant tiles must connect to the right (Hotel) entrance.

Once placed, a player cannot change the layout of his tiles, unless he chooses to renovate. This is an action a player can chose instead of bidding, and if a player decides to renovate he may first remove up to two room tiles from his building and then place up to two room tiles from his stockpile of unplaced tiles at empty spaces within the building. The renovation process may temporarily leave gaps in the layout of the room tiles, but these gaps must be closed upon finishing the renovation action and once again all tiles must be aligned so that the placement rules are observed.

Finally, a player also may decide to Publicize. In this case a player receives one point of Fame (victory point) and he may also add one of his unplaced rooms to his hotel-casino if he desires to do so.

After all players have acted, the round progresses with the adjustment of each player's Fame, Revenue and Population. The different kinds of room tiles all offer symbols for one of more of these scores, and thus a player adjusts his scores accordingly to the rooms he has placed on (or removed from) his playing sheet. The round then ends and a new round begins with a new starting player and each player once again receiving his income (which is the lesser of each players' Revenue and Population scores).


The game ends immediately if one of the players completely fills his hotel-casino with room titles, or if an event card instructs the players to draw a new tile from a Premier stack which has already been depleted. The final scoring of the players now is calculated, and a number of factors will have to be evaluated to find out which player has scored most victory points. Thus, the players will receive additional victory points...

  • if the casino-side of their building is completely filled with Slots and Louge tiles;
  • if the hotel-side of their building is completely filled with Restaurant and Lounge tiles;
  • if the hotel and casino entrance of their building have been connected by an unbroken chain of tiles creating an uninterrupted path between both entrances;
  • for having the highest Population or Revenue;
  • for each set of 10 chips in their purse;
  • for building "clusters" of Premier tiles which are more attractive for visitors (this means that Premier tiles must be arranged next to each other)

After playtesting, I have to state that Vegas Showdown comes close to a borderline which is also scratched by other modern boardgames. On the one hand, we have a playing mechanism which is relatively easy to learn and a scoring track on the main gameboard which allows the players to keep effectively track of the development during the game, but on the other hand we have a sophisticated final scoring which offers quite a few ways for scoring additional victory points and which may tip the game in favour of a player who did not really look like the winner if you have just kept watch of the main scoring track.

As said, this is a phenomenon which can be observed in other games as well, and it is not always the case that a game is as clearly structured as Vegas Showdown so that the players still will be satisfied with the final outcome. In Vegas Showdown, the evaluations made in the final scoring are not so overwhelming as to keep the players calculating each round, but instead the victory points are given for overseeable categories which can be easily observed during the game. Thus, even inexperienced players can stand a chance to emerge victorious, and so the game is suitable for beginners and serious hobbyists alike.

Overall, the game offers some very fitting artwork which contributes greatly to the dense atmosphere of the game, and it is the combination of an entertaining playing mechanism with atmospheric artwork which makes the game really worthwhile to look at!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany