Designed by Chris Gidlow
3-4 (5?) Players, about 90 minutes
Reviewed by Mike Siggins
Much to my regret, Chaosium pulled out of the boardgame market years ago on the basis that it didn't make them any money. Perhaps by way of revenge, they are now back and have certainly lavished very little cash on Credo, the game of duelling dogmas (catchy eh?). The merits and commercial sense of returning with a card game about the early Christian church may be debated, but the net result is an interesting and fun game, if not one that is actually going to be played very often. My network of advisers informs me that Credo was designed by an Oxford don, touted around numerous UK companies and finally found commercial recognition with Greg Stafford. Well, that's not unusual and we have Mr Stafford to thank for bringing us a game with an indisputably different theme.
Credo is a card game of the 'play nasty events on your rivals and good ones on yourself' school. The essence of play is picking up said event cards and deciding where best to deploy them, a conundrum that has baffled the world's best minds for centuries. I don't know about you but this type of decision making, almost non-decision making really, switches me off pretty quickly and leaves me exposed solely to the systems and atmosphere of a game to make my judgements. Credo's systems aren't special, but the atmosphere is pretty good initially. What I would rather have is perhaps a compulsory turn of the event card followed by one or two actions from an appealing selection, but there I go re- designing again.
Each player represents one of the factions within the Christian church, each one hoping that their particular doctrine will be accepted by the religion and thus become part of the creed (pardon me throughout this review if I get completely lost on the religious nuances and terminology. A bit of a heathen, me). Each faction is dealt a number of cards as a starting position which will include cards representing your specific beliefs (doctrine), some bishops, seculars and Prefects (usually with voting rights), and flock, which depict your faction's popularity. As the game is won by amassing 11 million flock, 117 votes or by having the largest flock when the Credo is completed, you can see how important these are. From then on you have a couple of cards in your hand and take one new card each turn. In a turn you may play a card on yourself or a rival or store them up for later use.
The core of the game is the definition of the Credo. This is built up during the course of the game by voting in a series of General Councils. These meetings are convened by the Emperor (one of the players) who is usually looking to line his own pockets by way of extra flock the reward for a successful vote. Each Council is called to determine, in order, the ten articles of the Credo. At the first Council you might have Alan and Bill, the Emperor, sitting with the Orthodox, "I believe in one God", as their doctrine whereas Colin, a bit of Dualist on balance, might have, "I believe in two Gods, one good, one evil...", and Dick, as a hedging Tritheist, "I believe in three Gods, which are...". Mike meanwhile, as a Barmeist, goes with, "I believe if there is a God, and he is keeping an eye on all of us, he has a rather good database package..."
Chances are A and B will win this one on combining their votes, with C and D having little say. Depending on the majority of votes cast, and bear in mind you must vote for your own belief, the winning doctrine is placed onto the Credo sheet and becomes permanent. All other beliefs are immediately blasphemy (heretical?) and are rewarded by a brief spot of persecution of the losers. This can mean loss of flock and bishops and a correspondingly lower key role in the game. As the game progresses, with the ten articles to be decided, various factions form, trying to agree voting blocks and changing from ally to ally you may be a Dualist on one article, Orthodox on the next, but Nicene on another.
The General Councils are where things really get moving, but they are bracketed by a variable number of normal turns in which those action cards are played, and the atmosphere, the historical interest, and often humour, get a chance to shine. A typical turn might see you create a new Emperor, introduce silk vestments for your bishops, build a new basilica or even mutilate the Patriarch of Rome despite having his eyes and tongue forcibly removed, he pops up next turn large as life (and twice as lively). Thank goodness for miracles. There are also cards that cause plagues, start civil wars, allow Attila the Hun to invade, see the True Cross discovered and even have one of your bishops revealed as a secret sun worshipper (Factor 20 and thong at the ready). The best ones though are the Iconoclasm and Stylite cards, the latter involving shock horror headlines when a bishop renounces the world and goes to live on a pillar.
So all good stuff so far, but Credo is not without its problems. For a start, there is confusion over how many can play (five players are mentioned but only four sheets are provided) and the components are pretty shoddy. The boards are folded paper, there are loads of thin, tiny cards with which you can hardly play and it all comes in a ziploc bag for £12 not exactly the bargain of the century. Presentation is basic and the days of quirky design and the graphical glories of Elric or White Bear, Red Moon are reduced to sub-Wham artwork and forlorn use of spot colour. In all honesty, I'd prefer the quaint but sturdy duplicator finish of Nomad Gods to this cheapo production. I am not one to moan about production that is adequate, but this is so bad as to actually affect play Chaosium should do it well if they are going to do it at all (and I don't notice their Call of Cthulhu books looking cheap and nasty).
Next up, the game is about 50% too long, there is too much adding up of votes and there is a lot of player downtime in any given turn. Play really can feel slow unless everyone gets a move on, and a recently suggested variant of drawing and quickly playing two cards per turn has much going for it especially since a number of card draws (article cards) can be useless.
The main drawback, and I suspect ultimately Credo's downfall as a game aspiring to replayability, is that you have negligible control over what goes on. Event cards can vary from tame to lethal (literally) and your flock and bishops come and go seemingly at random. There is often little or nothing you can do to prevent this and in the same way, when an article comes up for voting, if you have the right beliefs you are happy and if you don't you are in a persecuted and helpless minority, looking ripe for a spot of bullying. True to form no doubt, but a bit demoralising for the poor old player on the receiving end.
The only exception to this, and admittedly one of the more interesting rules, is the chance to convince another faction that your creed is best and thus convert them (and their votes) to your cause. The result, in game mechanic terms, is that they exchange one of their articles for the same one as yours and therefore are compelled to vote with you at Council. When successful, this allows for some significant power shifts (and no little leverage over the Emperor) but, being card driven, it doesn't seem to happen often enough.
I would summarise Credo as a classic experience game. It is fun to read the amazing (yet apparently entirely accurate) cards, exile the Bishop of Nicopolis to Upper Egypt and to mutilate the odd prelate. It isn't much fun to see an all-but-game winning flock numbered in the millions disappear and be able to do nothing to stop it. Oddly, this frustration seems to apply even if you don't much mind about winning, simply because a small flock and voting capacity reduce your involvement and enjoyment of the game. You often just sit there and say, 'Fine by me', because there is nothing you can influence anyway. Whatever, the interaction is there because you do of course try to do the same to some other sucker by proselytizing him and it always helps to be the Emperor (on an 'It's good to be the King' basis). The end result is that you go with the flow, griping as required by events, and savour the game as a sort of Bible Belt theme park ride.
As you will have gathered, I am left a little high and dry on this one. I've played it four times and am pretty sure that will do me for a lifetime. It is both interesting and enjoyable without offering any real innovation in gameplay, and it certainly gives rise to the odd laugh, but as a game it doesn't have that essential element that makes you want to pull it off the shelf. The good news is that you get at least a feeling for what went on in those far off days and actually learn something in the process. I found myself asking the theologians (like programmers and accountants, a common breed among gamers it seems), just what the creed was and where it fits into the bible, quite why someone would go and sit on a pole in the desert (and do you get fed?) and just how do you pronounce Credo anyway? Not too bad, but far from a classic.
On to the review of Mine! or back to the review of The New York Toy Fair 1994.
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