Copycat by Friedemann Friese / 2F-Spiele & Rio Grande Games

I was visiting the US and randomly found myself at a board game night with some friends of friends. One of the guys did this cool thing where he took a really basic kids game, Ghost Blitz, and played it with us without explaining the rules. The aim was to figure out the rules based on what happened. There are only about three rules and it’s super simple, but so am I, so I found it surprisingly difficult. It was a bit like playing Mao (which is fun in small doses). Anyway, turns out that guy was Wei-Hwa Huang, co-designer of my favourite game of all time, Race for the Galaxy. Not only that, but he’s the main designer of Roll for the Galaxy, and he had a draft copy of Roll for the Galaxy with him which we played and it was excellent. Incidentally, yesterday, just under two years later, my copy of that arrived.

That was a long introduction to get to the point that the other game that he had with him was Copycat, which looked interesting mainly because it has an awesome box cover (a parody of the Obama HOPE campaign) and also because it’s by Friedemann Friese (creator of Powergrid, etc). Also, Wei-Hwa explained this whole Friday Project thing and obsession with the letter ‘F’. In German, it’s called “Fremde Federn”, which according to Google Translate means “Cornucopia”, but I later found out is actually a reference to an album by a German cover band (i.e. copycat). For this and many more fun facts, I highly recommend reading more about the creation of the game in an article written by Fridemann Friese over at BGG.

The next part is the kicker though, Copycat was designed to take the best part of his favourite games and combine them into one. The games it took inspiration from were Dominion (deck building), Agricola (worker placement) and Through the Ages (the cards come in “ages” or “phases”). Seeing as Dominion and Agricola are also two of my favourite games, this had to be good, and, well, it is! And just for completeness, it also copies Ticket to Ride’s lack of a “91” space in the score counter.

The basic idea is that you’re running a political campaign, and you have a bunch of campaign workers that do stuff each round (like your family in Agricola). Then you have a set of action cards, draw five per round, action, buy, cleanup, shuffle, just like Dominion. There are ways to pick up extra cards, get coins, etc from your workers. Like Powergrid, there’s a turn order counter, but the order is determined by a bid phase at the beginning of each round where you discard a card face-down, then simultaneously reveal, and the play order is in card value order. It took me a long time to realize that the (unfortunately sexist) “Wife’s Charity Event” card exists mostly for this purpose.

There’s some really nice touches in this game — for example, it comes with an achievement card. After every game, the winner gets to claim a victory, e.g. “First win as Red in a 3-player game”, or “First win of 2013”. A non-winner can also claim “I got all the doctorates” which I pointed out near the end of a game which had the hilarious effect of the at-the-time last-place player deliberately sabotaging their strategy (and all the other players) to claim all four doctorates.

The artwork is entertaining also, and there are lots of subtle jokes and references. We always get a laugh out of the bare-chested president riding a horse on the card labelled “Huge PR Campaign”, and the picture of the toilet paper for “University Degree”.

 It’s not a fast game, usually taking at least 90 minutes, but it is fast-paced, especially if you don’t let people deliberate too long over worker placement. We don’t play it super often, but when we do we always say “we should play this more”. It’s a lot of fun. Unlike Dominion, your strategy will be highly influenced by other people’s worker placement and card selection, so what it lacks in variation between games, it makes up for in being adaptive with your strategy.