Vegas Showdown – A Classic Bidding Game of Casino Building
Since Tim’s birthday is this month, I let him pick a game for me to run through and review. He chose a classic oldie, but goodie and one of my favorite games that I’m always willing to play: Vegas Showdown.
Vegas Showdown, designed by Henry Stern, is a bidding game of casino building. You and your fellow players are competing to build the most famous casino in Las Vegas. To build your casino, you’ll bid to acquire room tiles like slot machines, table games, high-rollers rooms, lounges, restaurants, buffets, theaters, and more.
Each room you acquire increases your Revenue, Population, and/or Fame. While ultimately, the player with the most Fame at the end of the game wins, you need income to acquire rooms throughout the game. You need your Population to keep pace with your Revenue, because the money you actually receive each round in the Collect Income Phase is usually the lower of the two.
Vegas Showdown isn’t just a bidding game, though. There’s also a puzzle aspect to Vegas Showdown in how you place the room tiles you successfully purchase into your building. Once placed, they’re set in stone unless you take a Renovation action. Ideally, you want to completely fill your Casino and Hotel sections and connect them. You can also score Fame points for having the Highest Revenue and/or Population, some money on hand, or completed stars in your casino at the end of the game. But before I say more about that, let’s take a look at how Vegas Showdown plays.
Vegas Showdown‘s game play is streamlined into 6 steps each round. You don’t have to memorize these steps because the handy dandy Dealer’s Button lists them all on the back. Let’s look at those steps in more detail:
1. Drop prices.
Simply move the minimum bid markers on the Premium Tiles down one spot along the bottom bidding tracks. Yep, there’s an economic component to Vegas Showdown as well. Some events may make the prices go up or down even further then the normal drop each round.
2. Flip new tiles (if needed).
If any of the Premium Tile spaces are empty, the Dealer draws an Event Card from the deck for each empty space, one at a time. Each card’s title specifies the Event. The icon underneath it indicates what size tile to place – small square, large square or rectangle. Set the room tile’s starting price on the track underneath its place on the board. The room’s starting price is the small number shown at the top of the tile.
Each Event’s effect is described on the bottom half of the card and affects all players that round. It’s possible to have more than one Event in affect at one time in the same round. Some events are good, like awarding a bonus for all of the slots or restaurants in your casino. Some are not so good, like a Strike that prevents everyone from bidding on a particular type of room that round.
3. Collect income.
In this phase, everyone simultaneously collects income according to their current Revenue or Population – whichever is lower. Players start with 5 Revenue and 8 Population. Yellow casino-type tiles typically increase your Revenue, while blue hotel-type tiles increase your Population, and green neutral tiles increase your Fame. The pricier rooms – those with a high starting price – typically provide larger or multiple benefits.
4. Choose actions.
This is the nexus of the game, when you interact with your fellow players the most as you bid to build rooms in your casinos. Starting with the Dealer, you take turns bidding for rooms by placing your bidding token on a spot on the bidding track under a room you’d like to purchase. If you’re outbid, take your bidding token back. You’ll be able to bid again when the play order gets back to you. Unless an Event says otherwise, you can bid on the same room tile again – assuming you have enough money – or you can bid on a different room tile. Instead of bidding on a room tile, you can save your money that round by choosing to Renovate to add or move 2 tiles in your casino or take Publicity for one Fame point (if available).
The number of Premium tiles available in each game depends on the number of players. Also, in a 5-player game, there are two bidding tracks for Slots, so two can be purchased per round.
In some rounds there’s little contest as you and your fellow players seek to acquire different rooms. In other rounds, however, the bidding is hot and heavy as you vie to acquire a particularly highly desired tile. It’s important to note that you can only bid on a room if you have the money on hand to pay for it. Money on hand is public knowledge, so pay attention to how much other players have and bid accordingly.
Every room tile you buy provides a benefit, which brings us to the next step.
5. Adjust Revenue, Population and Fame.
When everyone has successfully placed their bidding token on the board, players simultaneously pay for their rooms, place them in their casinos and adjust their Revenue, Population and/or Fame according to the reward on the tile they acquired. Use your dollar sign ($) token to track your Revenue and your person-shaped token to track your Population on your personal casino board. Your star token tracks your Fame points on the game board.
Some rooms have a prerequisite. You don’t have to have the prerequisite(s) to acquire the tile, but you do need it to place it in your casino. If you don’t have the prerequisite(s) already in your casino, you’ll have to set that tile aside for now. Once you’ve acquired and placed the necessary rooms in your casino, you can take a Renovate action to put the set-aside tile in your casino. You only gain a tile’s Revenue, Population, and/or Fame reward when you place the tile in your casino.
There’s one mandatory rule when placing a tile: you must be able to trace a path from it back to at least one of the two doors in your casino. This is where the puzzle aspect of Vegas Showdown comes into play. To score points for a Filled Casino, you must completely fill the yellow Casino area of your building with only yellow and/or green tiles. To score points for a Filled Hotel section, you have to fill the blue area with blue and/or green tiles only. It doesn’t matter what you have in the white area.
Additionally, if you acquire buildings with partial stars on them, you might want to try to arrange them to make ¾ or full stars for some extra points. Making stars is not an easy thing to do, as the tiles with partial stars on them usually have very few doors. After everyone’s paid for and placed their tiles and taken their reward, move on to the final step.
6. Pass the Dealer button.
The simplest step of all. Pass the Dealer button to the next player clockwise who guides the steps for the next round.
The game ends immediately when you need to place a Premium tile and can’t because there are none of that type available, or when a player completely fills her casino board. I’ve rarely seen the latter happen. The game doesn’t end when a room stack runs out; it only ends when a drawn Event card calls for that type of tile and there are none available.
When a room stack gets low, it’s always exciting gambling whether you’ll get another round to execute your plans or have to settle for just squeezing out another point or two however you can.
End-game scoring is straightforward and listed at the top of the two Building Prerequisites charts:
- 5 Fame for a Filled Casino Section
- 5 Fame for a Filled Hotel Section
- 3 Fame for Connecting your Casino and Hotel doors
- 5, 3, and 1 Fame for players with 1st, 2nd and 3rd highest Revenue respectively
- 5, 3, and 1 Fame for players with 1st, 2nd and 3rd highest Population respectively
- 1 Fame per $10 cash on hand
- 1 Fame for each ¾ Star & 3 Fame for each Full Star
The player with the most Fame wins.
Since players can perform most of the steps each round simultaneously, game play is pretty fast in Vegas Showdown. Replayability is excellent, as every game is a different depending on the order in which Premium tiles and Event cards turn up and, of course, how the players compete for room tiles.
Vegas Showdown‘s Components
Vegas Showdown is an older game, published long before games got really glitzy and gorgeous. So it’s not going to win any awards for its looks. In later printings, the publisher made the box cover more glitzy, but did nothing to improve the components. Still, the room tiles, dealer button, and no-bid tokens are thick and sturdy. The paper-like player boards hold up surprisingly well. My only gripe is that they don’t lay flat; they always bump up at the crease.
The poker chips provided are unfortunately the cheap plastic kind. I replaced the chips in my game with a set of hefty 14-gram poker chips with shiny Las Vegas laser graphics – they match the game perfectly! I also made tuckboxes for the tiles and cards. The box just comes with a simple 4-section divider. While it works, I prefer everything to be neat and tidy.
The wooden player tokens are Vegas Showdown‘s best-looking components. The transparent, red price marker chips work great: you can see right through them and they’re perfectly sized for their spots on the board.
While I love my games to be pretty, Vegas Showdown‘s looks don’t offend me in the least, especially since I upgraded the cheap plastic poker chips. The game play more than makes up for any deficits in looks.
Awards & Honors
Games Magazine named Vegas Showdown 2007 Game of the Year. Board Game Geek members nominated it for the Golden Geek Best Family Board Game in 2006. Vegas Showdown typically rates in the sevens on Board Game Geek with over 5,400 ratings – not too shabby for a game first published in 2005.
For me, Vegas Showdown is a classic. It will always have a place on my game shelf. I’m always willing to play it and often suggest it. That’s a big deal, because I’m not generally a fan of bidding/auction games. I just don’t grok them. Vegas Showdown is the exception. Maybe it’s because the bidding isn’t as cutthroat as in other bidding/auction games. Some rounds no one gets outbid: everyone just pays for their building and that’s it.
While I certainly enjoy the puzzle aspect of the game, I often get too wrapped up in it. I need to get better at watching the other players’ Revenue and Population progress and buy rooms accordingly so I can get in on those end-game points. Instead, I tend to focus on filling up my casino and hotel sections and connecting them. Once in awhile I’ll go for stars.
Vegas Showdown supports 3 to 5 players ages 12 and up. I think it plays just as well with 3 players as with 4 or 5. Playtime is an hour or so. It’s one of my favorite games and one I wholeheartedly and highly recommend. It’s a classic.
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