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[Review] Patential

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Patential (Self-published, 2004 - Richard Warburg) has a theme I don’t believe I’ve ever run across before, securing the right to develop drug inventions. The goal of the game, gaining $1,000,000,000 - while ambitious - is nothing new, but the game certainly has a unique theme. Players are attempting to obtain patents for drugs, working through a long process of patenting and testing them, so that they can eventually sell them for a huge profit.

If you don’t mind a “roll-and-move” game in the genre of Monopoly, then this is probably the best one I’ve played. There are some meaningful decisions in the game, and some of the choices can be nail-biting. At the same time, the vagaries of the dice can really affect game play, so this game will have mixed reactions. I really enjoyed it, as a light diversion and didn’t even mind the theme (I actually found it interesting.) The game starts out slowly, but suddenly a player will collect huge amounts of money, which is very gratifying. Patential won’t go down as one of the greatest games of the year; but it was certainly an enjoyable time for when I played it, and those who I played it with (both teens and adults) enjoyed it.

Each player (up to four) takes three clips of their color, setting them in front of them. A board is placed on the table, on which a shuffled deck of Invention Cards is placed. Stacks of money, from $100,000 bills to $250,000,000, are placed in a “bank” area, and a pile of invention tokens is placed near the board. One player is chosen to go first, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.

The first thing a player does on his turn is roll a six-sided die (with numbers “1” to “3”) on it. The number rolled is equivalent to the number of million dollars the player receives from the bank. The player then has the option of buying or leasing an invention card. Each invention card can be bought (which is an extremely high price, ranging from three to thirty-six million) or leased (which is a fraction of the buying price - as low as $100,000). If the player buys the invention, they flip the card, showing that they owe no fees on that invention. The player then takes the corresponding token for that card and places it in one of their stands - “generic” side up. The player then pays $100,000 and can place the invention on either an “Apply for Patent” space or on the “Enter Clinical Trial” space. The board has a long wrap-around track, and starting on the “Apply for Patent” space is at the beginning. This means that a player who starts there will have a much longer time before their invention hits the market; but they have a chance to patent it, gaining a more massive amount of money. Players can have a maximum of three inventions at a time and can discard them if they want to buy/lease another one.

The player then rolls a normal six-sided die and moves all of their inventions that many spaces on the track. Inventions move the full amount, unless they pass a space with a stop sign, where they must stop and follow the instructions there. Many spaces require the player to pay a fee - which must be paid immediately, or the invention is removed from the board. When an invention finishes the patent track (if chosen), the invention is flipped to the “patent” side and moves to the clinical track. At several points along the clinical track, as well as the start and the beginning, there are places where the player must pay fees listed on their card; unless they’ve “bought” the invention. Once a player has finished the clinical track, the NDA approves the invention, and the player moves to the “collecting revenue” track. Many spaces on this track will cause the player to pay a royalty to the bank (if they’ve leased the invention) or receive revenue. The revenue received is always a hefty chunk o’ change, and even more so if the item is patented. (For example, Infectious Disease Invention 1 gives a player nine million if generic, and twenty-four million if patented). Once an invention reaches the end of the collecting revenue track, the player either discards it or pays five million to start the invention at the beginning of the track again.

If playing with “Competitor” rules, players may try to compete with any player who has an invention piece in the collect revenue track. The competitor must have a generic invention of the same type (color) as the person they are hunting, or they can even pull one out of the stack of unused invention cards. The player can then pay twenty million dollars and automatically enter the revenue track. The original player with the patent can then sue the copy-cat, paying five million dollars to initiate litigation. The competitor must pay five million or lose their piece. If they do pay, the owner can still roll a die, with one of the two pieces being discarded (depending on the roll).

A few other rules are important to the game. A player can choose not to roll the dice and move their piece, instead of just saving up money. Players can also make deals with other players with any terms they wish. Play continues until one player collects one billion dollars, at which point they win the game.

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The game isn’t component heavy, but I’m very impressed for a self-produced game. The tokens are of good quality and easily fit into the plastic clips, which I’ve seen in many games. The cards are of excellent quality, with all the necessary information easily accessible on them. The money is fairly generic looking, but who can scoff at a one hundred million dollar bill? Everything, including the two good quality dice, fit inside a box with some business-like graphics. The board itself looks like your typical “roll-and-move” board but is very cleverly laid out, so that the intersecting tracks cross at the correct points. Each track has a different color, and each space is very easy to decipher. The spaces that have more detailed explanations actually have a listing printed on the side of the board, so confusion is kept to a minimum.

2.) Rules: Both a one sheet “Quick-Start” rules and a twenty page booklet are included with the game. The quick-start rules are pretty much all you need, but the book does help clarify a few little rules and even has a ten page glossary with drug terms. The rules could have been formatted a little better; they were easy to read, but I didn’t understand how the game worked until I read the quick-start rules. The game is simple to play, and pretty much anyone will easily understand it.

3.) Theme: If I tell people that a board game I have is about drugs, they will have pre-conceived theories that the drugs are evil and illegal. But this game is about the true-life drug companies, which are probably just as evil. I don’t know how many people I’ll attract with the theme, but the game at least fits the theme.

4.) Roll-and-Move: I’m not opposed to playing a game where you roll dice and move a piece around the track, but I usually don’t seek to play them. But this one is different. A player has up to three pieces moving on the track, can start them at various points on the track, and can even choose to move them or not. Yes, a player can have bad or good luck when moving their pieces, but the choices they make are much more important.

5.) Strategy: Knowing when to buy or lease an invention is usually pretty obvious; it’s all a matter of if you have the money or not. Knowing where to start the invention is a much harder choice. Skipping the patent process saves you a lot of time, and you can get the invention on the market faster but for a far-smaller profit. Knowing when to just sit on your pieces and when to move them is also just as important. Sometimes a player has to take risks in the game, but most of the game can be planned out in a calculating way. Getting your first invention into play is a long arduous task, and players may think that it will take FOREVER to get that billion dollars. But once a player markets one invention, it’s a lot easier to get other inventions into the market. Suddenly, the money starts flowing in, and competitors become a viable and dangerous strategy.

6.) Competitors: Players can choose to play without the competitor rules, and I introduce the game to kids without them, as they add complexity to the game. But with this complexity comes some real play balance as well as some good strategy. Players can try to “piggyback” off of someone else’s hard work, but take the chance of being sued. Players can sue those who leech off their success, but take a chance of losing their own shirt in the process. Either way, players must carefully know when to apply the competitor rule.

7.) Fun Factor: When the designer of the game first contacted me about it, I almost turned him down, as the idea of a roll-and-move game really didn’t appeal to me. But after reading the rules, I was intrigued; and I must say that I had a lot of fun. There were meaningful decisions, and who can deny the fun in collecting millions of dollars. There was too much luck in the game for it to be anything more than medium-light, but it’s certainly one I’ll keep.

Patential certainly has a unique theme and has good mechanics for its genre. The game is too lucky for people who don’t like roll-and-move, so I wouldn’t recommend it to them; unless they are people who like Monopoly with the original rules or games such as Careers, where luck plays a large part; but the player has many choices. There are a lot of people who will enjoy the game, however - I gamed with many of them. The game’s theme has the potential to teach students about drugs, while giving them money skills at the same time. Either way, people will have fun in a race to get a lot of money! I mean, isn’t it fun to have one billion dollars in your hand!

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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