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Gray Eminence Kickstarter Preview

Quick Look: Gray Eminence

Gray Eminence
Designer: Ren Multamäki
Publisher: Dragon Dawn Products
Year Published: 2020
No. of Players: 3–5
Ages: 15+
Playing Time: 60–90 Minutes
Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Geopolitical conditions are constantly changing and the ability to take advantage of those changes is why you are leading your organization. You’re not the only one acting on the reactions of the government leaders, so you consider your options carefully. You make the calls to put plans into motion. Now, sit back, relax, and watch how events unfold.
Gray Eminence puts you in control of an organization operating in the shadows to manipulate world events for your own advantage. You’re not the only puppet master in this theater. This leads to cooperatively play, but not necessarily for positive results for the entire group.
We sat down with three players to see how the drama unfolded.
Gray Eminence is a slightly twisted presentation of our own reality. You are working to complete personal mission objectives, private and public, to earn victory points. The publicly known missions are based on the character you are playing. You can also earn victory points from resources you are holding, but they are few (four total points available to all players).
This is a complex game and has more of a learning curve to get into the game. Allow for extra time with the first time you sit down with this game. There is a lot here to digest. In our group, we have a player who likes to digest the rules of these types of complex games and then bring them to everyone else after they have worked through it a time or two. Gray Eminence is a great candidate for this strategy of teaching the game to new players.
Once we got into and worked through the questions we had when first learning, we liked the complexity. It is not like some strategy games where you have multiple routes to earning the victory points needed, it is complex in the way you are working with and against the other players at the same time. In fact, there are conditions when every player loses and the game wins.
The age ranking is appropriate because of the multiple layers of mechanics, the difference in each of the phases and what needs to be played, the negotiations required between the players, the manipulation the players have to consider during gameplay, and the resulting conversation that may arise when playing through the scenario because of the real-life human conditions represented.
I was impressed with the amount of research included in the scenarios we were presented in the prototype. I know they are working on additional scenarios, but even with the limited number we have, or even one, there is enough variability in the characters, factions, events, tweets, actions, and objectives to allow for replaying with vastly different outcomes.
Central Games Mat
Choose a scenario to play and decide if you are going to play either five or eight rounds. Read the scenario information aloud so everyone is in understanding. Discussion is a large portion of the game, so remember to talk out any point of interest that arises from the scenario or other aspects of the game during play.
From the information on the scenario card, create the decks that will be used during your game. The decks are created from master decks based on information on the scenario card you are playing. Simply put scenarios limited in scope, like the European scenario, use cards only applicable to that area.
Players have a Gray Eminence card. These are the character cards that have the public objectives for earning victory points. There is also color commentary that allows for some role-playing and understanding of the viewpoint of the character and how that may influence gameplay from their perspective. They also give the player their starting resources.
Players draw three Victory cards, which contain the private missions for victory points, and choose two to keep. These are only revealed when the victory condition is met, or when required to by other game circumstances.
Each player should have a small box, cup, etc., to store their personal resources outside of the view of other players.
Randomly place player markers on the Visibility Track. This determines turn order when needed. The level of visibility to the public allows for different play options.
Player Game Mat
Gray Eminence is played in either five or eight rounds, depending on how long you want to play. While we were learning the game we limited ourselves to five rounds. Each round is divided into nine phases, these are also described on the front of the player mats for reference.
Phase One: Refresh
Players draw four action cards. Players with more than eight action cards discard down to eight, keeping the cards of their choosing. Players can also refresh factions that were utilized in earlier rounds.
Phase Two: Event
Draw an event card and read it. The players then discuss how they each feel the event should be resolved.
Phase Three: Bidding
Players make a blind bid of resources to choose where they are on the Visibility Track. All resources bid are placed in the Bid Pool.
Whoever wins the bid can place their marker anywhere on the Visibility Track, In the Public Eye, in the Gray Eminence, or In the Shadows. In descending order of the bids the remaining players then get to place their marker. After determining play order, players are gain a benefit from their placement.
The player acting in the Public Eye gains a faction and money or influence.
Players in the Gray Eminence gain one resource (money, influence, or power) and have the option at playing a fourth card in the next phase for no cost.
The player In The Shadows can take a faction from another player. This move can be prevented by paying resources or showing a private Victory condition to the player In The Shadows. They also can take one resource from the Bid Pool.
Phase Four: Programming
Players choose to play three or four action cards and place them in the appropriate locations for the Common Good, Personal Gain, Discard, and the Optional space that can be for the Common Good or Personal Gain. Players who are in the Grey Eminence of the Visibility Track can make this optional play for free, other players must pay one resource.
Phase Five: Presidential Response
Each event card has keywords identified as hashtags (#). There are eighteen hashtags used in the game. Draw a Tweet card to put into play. If it has a matching hashtag, the political powers are satisfied with their response and no further cards are drawn. If there is no matching hashtag, draw again. There can be up to four Tweets played. Each Tweet has some impact, usually to the resources in the Bid Pool.
Phase Six: Action (in player order)
Players make a final determination of how their Programmed Action Cards are played—they can change their location of Common Good, Personal Gain, etc. Players still have to play one card to each of the three main areas, and have the option of playing a fourth card.
Personal Gain cards are resolved as they are played. The Common Good is completed in the next phase.
At this time Factions that want to be used by a player are identified and their effects are done. The card is turned around on the edge of the Player’s Mat to show what the cost for refreshing the Faction is.
Phase 7: Resolution (common event)
Randomly select the order of the Action Cards played for the common good and resolve them in order of play. After the cards are completed the players discuss how to best resolve the Event based on the different conditions identified on the Event Card.
If an Event can be resolved in some manner, the players must do so. If no condition can be met to resolve the Event, the unresolved effects are completed.
Phase 8: Trading
Negotiations are held between the players. Any type of trade can be made. Any deals made are binding to the players.
Phase Nine: Victory Points
Players may choose to complete one Victory Condition, public or private. Victory conditions can only be met one time during the game unless stated otherwise.
Players completing a private Victory Condition draw two additional Victory Cards and keep one for continued play and the other is discarded.
Theme and Mechanics
The theme of Gray Eminence plays up many events that are happening in our current global geopolitical situation. I know some people I would choose not to play this game with because of the depictions made. I also know others who will thoroughly enjoy the thematic elements because of their personal interests.
Multiple mechanics are employed during the phases of play as described in the phases above.
Artwork and Components
We are playing a prototype. I already know there are changes planned for the components I have to include additional artwork among other alterations.
The Good
  • Complexity of play
  • Required social discussion for resolution of events
  • Hidden agendas for each player

Final Thoughts
It took us a couple of rounds to get fully into the play of Gray Eminence. Once we we were getting a better understanding of the flow of the game, the events, negotiations and planning for both a public good and private agenda provide multiple layers of strategy to be employed.
The issues are dramatized but come from current events. It is not all based on trying to manipulate and gain control of the world. It is about how to best move your character's agenda based on the goals they have.
Players Who Like
  • Complex strategy
  • Negotiations
  • Cooperative/competitive games
  • Geopolitical unrest

Check out Gray Eminence on

About the Author

Daniel Yocom does geeky things by night because his day job won’t let him. This dates back to the 1960s through games, books, movies, and stranger things better shared in small groups. He’s written hundreds of articles about these topics for his own blog, other websites, and magazines along with short stories after extensive research. His research includes attending conventions, sharing on panels and presentations, and road-tripping with his wife. Join in the geeky fun at guildmastergaming@blogspot.com.

See Daniel's reviews HERE.
Gray Eminence Kickstarter Preview Gray Eminence Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by Guild Master Gaming on February 22, 2020 Rating: 5

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