High Treason! The Trial of Louis Riel is one of the latest titles put out by Victory Point Games, and will hopefully be the first of many in a series. I’ve never played a courtroom or trial type game before so I really had no idea what to expect from a mechanics standpoint, but opening the box it was readily apparent that the game was very well produced and also well thought out. Alex Berry, the designer, has created a short, tense, 2-player game that is both easy enough to learn as well as providing a great head to head challenge.
High Treason! The Trial of Louis Riel, July 1885
Publisher: Victory Point Games
Designer: Alex Berry
Time: 45 mins
Louis Riel was a French Canadian who lead a number of rebellions in order to protect the rights of the Metis people, who were neither represented by the French, nor the English during the early days of the country’s expansion. He was apprehended after a failed rebellion and was put on trial for treason, and we’re here to replay that trial to see if we can alter the course of history. Louis Riel’s trial was frought with modern day injustices and the details can all be found in the game. The rulebook explains a bit of the history, and each card has a blurb of the historical figure it represents. By the time you’re done playing, you end up very invested in the story.
High treason is broken down into a series of phases that represent the stages of trial, you begin with jury selection, whittling down from 12 jurors to 6. Players take turns either secretly looking at or publically revealing traits that the jurors have, and in doing so can better guage which biases and prejudices the jurors have. Then six will be dismissed, 3 by each player. On our first outing this phase seemed somewhat arbitrary, the notes in the rule book gave hints like the prosecution is looking for X in a juror, and defense is looking for Y but it was hard to see how that would all come together later. How wrong we were. Juryselection might well be one of the most crucial parts of the game, because the defense in our first game was able to get 5 out of 6 jurors with the farming occupation, and therefore was able to focus intently on that one aspect to help win the game. My adivce would be, try to know a little about everyone and not everything about just a couple.
After this, the trial proceeds with witnesses and attorneys arguing the case back and forth, represented by the moving of the aspect tracks as well as trying to place sway markers on jurors. After this cards that have been saved up from the earlier rounds are used as closing arguments to further sway and cement the jury, and then points are calculated.
Components for this game get the job done. You can take a look for yourself in the unboxing video here. The counters are exquisite. I love the printing on the laser cut counters, it’s just so precise and fine, they really look great. The deck of cards falls into that same category, the printing quality is excellent. The card stock for those cards however is not my favourite. They’re a good thickness, but they’re a non glossed, and whilst I should trust the printing I know that I can get clammy hands at times, and I wouldn’t want the inks to run, smudge or get blemished. With that in mind I will have to get card protectors for these.
One day hopefully they’ll do deluxe editions for these like they have for Zulus onthe Ramparts and other games, with a mounted board. The small little pieces and resting the jurors on one side was a little precarious at times because the baord wasn’t entirely flat, and I didn’t want to get out my 22 x 34 poster frame to play it in. The game is well produced, hopefully with a good reception there will be upgraded components in a future print run.
It might sound like I’m gushing, but the mechanics are where the game really shines. The game is a tug-of-war on 15 fronts, and I don’t mean that figuratively. First you have to try and manipulate the Jury as best you can to get more favourable jurors for your side. Then in presenting you case you argue about the issues that they do [or do not] care about, and try to make them more valuable pointswise for the prosecution, or devalue them for the defense. You are also trying to sway jurors to your side and hopefully get enough sway to lock them in to a specific verdict making them double their score fo the prosecution of halve their score for the defense. All of this is done during two trial phases and a closing statements phase with the play of cards. And beware, your cards at diferently in each phase.
The cards have different abilities in each different phase, and I fell into thte trap of looking at the wrong phase, so I saved a card thinking it would manipulate a trait on the game board, when all it did was sway a juror, which is still great, but is a very different strategic move.
There’s just so much to consider in every phase of the game. On our first playthrough we kind of just played it to see how it all worked together, and after a full play through it became very obvious how important some things were that we didn’t put as much weight in. Jury selection is critical, and having an imbalanced jury in favour of the defense can be an absolute killer for the prosection. That said, at every turn there’s many decisions to be made and trying to make the most of your hand is the name of the game.
Sometimes your hand can play itself if you have a bad draw, but there’s also a muligan rule to once a game ditch your hand and re-draw to try and negate that sort of thing. All in all for a game this size I was amazed at the number, and level of meaningful decisions to be made.
There’s a number of non-historical cards that you can add to the game to shake up the deck somewhat, and the random distribution of trait tiles on the jurors means that no two games will ever have the same jury. This game has a good number of replays in it, but I’ll also be waiting with baited breath for the next one in the series. For me, if I can easily get another 3-4 plays out of this, and for a game that’s as cheap as this one is that’s plenty.
Final Thoughts 15/20
That final score should be contextualized I feel, because I like this game a hell of a lot more than other games with a similar score. Grant and I constantly discuss this game and how much it succeeds at what it tries to do. It plays in 45 mins [60 max wih learning and rules the first time] and I had all but one question about one card that I had a hard time discerning the meaning, which Alex Berry, the designer, answered almost immediatey on Board Game Geek. Again, for a $20 game this packs a big punch with very intricate interactions and very tense back-and-forth style. I had never heard of this game, and it’s not a stretch to say that many other haven’t also, and in that sense it’s a diamond in the rough. This comes with all my recommendations and I hope there will be many more to come from Berry in this line of games.