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Puppets in High Places - Game Preview

Updated: May 20

When I think of rondel actions in games, I often think of Euro-style games where my actions are limited to very basic action. In the pre-production prototype of Puppets in High Places by designer Amanda Vallerand the rondel had much more variability and freedom than I typically feel like rondels might afford players. In contrast to the rondel movement of New York Zoo, I felt like the other player's actions didn't ever prevent me from taking what I wanted.

Puppets in High Places is a game for one to two players set in a mob infested city. It's the follow up to With a Smile and a Gun, also designed by Amanda. The setting could be considered fairly dark, but it honestly fades mostly into the background as the speakeasy and infuence elements of the theming bleed through more than violence.

black and white city cards with blue maples on them and different resources of cubes shown

Players attempt to move VIPs (dice) to their side of the speakeasy using gifts (cubes), smiles, and guns. Gifts may be spent to move a corresponding die toward your side of the speakeasy. A smile moves any VIP one space, but it also increases the pip of the die by one, making the VIP more valuable to influence. Guns move any VIP two spaces toward your side, but it also decreases the pips by one. When players cause the VIPs to reach their end of the board they score points based on how many pips are showing on top of the die.

speakeasy board has two yellow dice, one green die, and one purple die on it and two scoring tracks on each side going to 25

I highly enjoy games with a tug of war element such as Watergate, Stonewall Uprising, and Match of the Century. The tug of war for influence with the VIPs is what I find most interesting in this game. There are times to pass early in this game. When you pass, you also get to push your Handshake token one space closer to the middle, which effectively makes your end-zone closer to VIPs and could cause you to immediately gain the points from a VIP.

A reset phase can also reset the number of available points from VIPs in the speakeasy. It's a clever little addition which helps keep the game moving along and adds the right of randomness to a game with a some planning and scheming required.

round smile and gun tokens next to red meeples and yellow cubes

Since players have the option to skip a visit to the speakeasy, there are times it is advantageous to make sure your opponent has no chance to visit the speakeasy and easily influence someone while you miss out on a similar opportunity.

The term influence is used as a stand in for a wide variety of actions which would otherwise be coercive, controlling, and forceful to say the least. I wouldn't want to inhabit the world of Puppets in High Places, but it is intriguing to play. At first, I thought the name was a little much to say, but once you realize the way VIPs are influenced in the game under your sway it seems it is the most appropo of titles. Even the fact that "they" are dice is a (possibly unintentionally) effective and necessary setup to our accidents of birth, situation, and time.

This game will appeal to those who want a little bit of planning with backup plans which can quickly coalesce. There is randomness due to the dice, but it can be dealt with by your choices in the rondel. Plus, as I said in the beginning the rondel feels far more expansive than restrictive. It's a nice touch, and I look forward to seeing the finished product.

The game I played was a prototype provided by the designer/publisher. My views are my own.

Puppets in High Places

Designed by Amanda Vallerand

Published by Subsurface Games


Aesthetics 7.5/10

Strategy 6.5/10

Gameplay 8.5/10

1-2 Players

30 Minutes


Thank you Christopher for taking the time!

Replying to

My pleasure- great work on the game!

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