Levee en Masse is fun to play and fun to learn
At this point I feel like I’ve played just about all of the digital incarnations of board games that have come to iOS. One of the reasons I love them is that the AI is always a willing opponent. Very few have flat out single player versions in them, and even fewer are solitaire games from the get-go. There are games like Carcassonne that have special modes, and something like Elder Signs works great single player. But single player is the only option in Levee en Masse, both for the tabletop and app versions.
That’s what made Levee en Masse so interesting to me, a board game designed to be a purely solitary affair. I’ll admit to also being interested in the subject matter, even though I know painfully little about the French Revolution.
The game involves the various events that surrounded the French Revolution, with you needing to deal with internal problems, fighting back various invading armies, and handling the political creep of Monarchy and Despotism threatening the Republic. Oh, and Paris is constantly on the brink of riot too. No pressure. Good times.
The game mechanic is really a pretty simple one, mostly involving die rolls to determine success of failure. As the different events of the revolution unfurl (not in historical order mind you, it’s somewhat randomized for multiple plays) different obstacles will trigger against you. An army may march forward, or Paris could burn for example. Maybe you need to attempt to quell a political threat against the republic. You’ll get various pluses and minuses to your dice rolls in determining these events too, again based on the current event.
Each round, you’ll be presented with a new event, then you’ll have a certain amount of actions you can take to try and deal with whatever the most pressing concern is at the time. Afterwards, you’ll draw more events and continue on. After working through those event cards, victory points let you know if you won or lost.
As you can probably guess, the main mechanic of the dice can be pretty random, which can lead to some frustration (just ask anyone that’s ever played Risk). While you can mitigate the chance for failure by maximizing your plusses and minuses, it’s hard not to throw our hands up when you need to roll a 3 and you roll a 1 four times in a row. Of course, the luck also goes the other way as well.
My favorite part about Levee en Masse was the various event cards containing different historical facts about the French Revolution. They could’ve just given the card a title like “The Treaty of Campo Formio”, but in addition to the gameplay changes it brings, they also give you some background into what the event meant to the overall time period. I ended up spending more than a little time on wikipedia learning even more, after getting teased with the card blurbs. The educational opportunities of the game can’t be undersold, I actually learned something!
My only real complaint about Levee en Masse lies not in the gameplay but in the presentation. I understand die rolls are random, and showing a rolling die on my screen doesn’t change the outcome… but I really wish it did more than just appear with a number. If just left me feeling robbed whenever I lost. That’s probably more my fault than the app, but I felt like the presentation all around could be more dynamic and interesting.
But it’s a small complaint of an otherwise very fun game. It’s an interesting time and place in history and the game manages to present it in a tense and compelling way. I’m super excited to see another board game company take the app plunge, and can’t wait to see what Victory Point Games does next.