(Last of a series, reviewing games I played in September 2013 at That Board Gaming Thing.)
Designer: Friedemann Friese
Playing time: 95 minutes
Age range: 12+
(Image courtesy of trenttsd@BoardGameGeek)
It’s common among beginning designers to lift mechanics from their favorite games (guilty as charged). It’s less common to see experienced designers do this; more often they want to break new ground. Copycat is the exception to this. It proudly states its goals in its name: directly copy mechanics from some of the most popular board games and combine them to create a new game.
In theory, Copycat is a game about building political influence, though honestly while playing I couldn’t tell if you were supposed to be a businessman or a politician (more on that later). Everyone starts with the same deck of cards — some give you money, some give you influence, i.e., victory points. You also start with some meeples (shaped like little “V for victory” symbols) that act as workers. Your goal is to use your cards and your workers to build up enough influence and become the next president.
The first familiar mechanic comes from Dominion: each turn you draw a hand of cards from your deck, and throughout the game you’ll buy new cards to build up your deck (deck-building). The second familiar mechanic comes from Through the Ages: the cards you buy from are laid out in a line, which slides over at the end of the turn and filled in with new cards — cards become better and better (but also more and more expensive) as the game goes on. The third comes from Agricola: there is a certain set of fixed actions on the board you can activate with your meeples, and a set that’s laid out in a semi-random order via cards. A fourth comes from many a Wolfgang Kramer game: there is a score track that encircles the board and tracks influence.
There are some new elements to the game. First, you don’t build up your worker pool over time, a la Agricola or Stone Age. Instead, you have cards you can play or actions that you can place a worker on that allow you to add new workers just for this round. If you buy cards further along in the track, you may have to pick up some empty filler cards (you can see them in the image above as red cards with toilet paper on them) that just act to do nothing in your deck. You can get rid of those cards if you need to, though — there are some slightly different ways to remove cards from your deck, some of which will allow you to perform other actions.
However, for me, this game feels very generic. The theme did not grab me at all — like I said, it was hard to tell whether it was about politics or business. The mechanics are so familiar that I felt myself wishing I were playing one of those other games. I also didn’t feel like there was a lot of strategy: I came in second simply by buying a lot of cards that produce a lot of influence, and doing the same with the actions on the board. And finally, for a good part of the game I was regretting that this was the last game I’d be playing at That Board Gaming Thing. In the end, it feels like an interesting experiment that didn’t quite pan out.