Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Movie Empire from The Dice Tower.
What is this game about?
Movie Empire is a worker placement game about becoming the best movie producer, as indicated by getting the most victory points. Throughout the game, you'll choose scripts, acquire and arrange the right cards to bring those scripts to life, add stars, and produce movies—ideally trendy ones—in various world markets. You'll also vie for the favor of your boss, Mr. Grumpy, whose feelings about you determine your budget and your ability to have more than one film in production at a time.
During each turn of the game, you'll receive your budgeted money from Mr. Grumpy (better hope he likes you), then place your workers in various spaces on the board. Your ultimate goal is to turn your scripts into movies you can produce. To get points for your scripts, you'll need the right combination of production cards of various colors. But if none of the cards you need for your script are available on the market, you can take other actions that include sucking up to Mr. Grumpy, getting more money, or drawing from the deck of production cards. Interestingly, while meeting all of the requirements of a script can earn you big points, you only need one blue production card to actually produce your film, which may lead you to go for fewer but faster points instead. In addition to getting points for scripts, you can also get points for producing movies that are "trendy" in a given round, so you might be tempted to rush your action movie to market in a bid for a quick score.
In the multiplayer game, you can also choose to play with "Black Dossiers" which add a pretty vicious "take that" element to the game.
How does it play solo?
Movie Empire comes with a solo opponent called Archibald Leech, who plays with a combination of his own decks of cards and with the main player board. He comes with a deck of cards that will determine his actions, as well as a logical set of priorities if he can't do what is specified on his AI card. He also has a built-in catchup mechanism—he uses only two workers if he is ahead of you, but three if he is behind.
Movie Empire had some good ideas in it, but it did not impress me overall. It is clear that the people who made it love movies, and they put a lot of work into the aesthetic of the game—the art is pretty cool (especially if you love watching inappropriate cartoons aimed at adults), and several of the boards even have alternate art on the back. And I liked that enough thought was put into Archibald to make solo mode an actual challenge.
But in the end, this game is bloated. There are so many ideas floating around in it, including multiple game modes that you can add and remove, that the game doesn't quite flow. There are a lot of actions you could take, but they don't feel sharp or satisfying. Instead, it feels like Movie Empire was stitched together from every decent idea its design team had, without any of the careful paring down that might have made it into a stronger game.
There are also a few technical problems that inhibited my experience of playing Movie Empire. The first is the rulebook, which is at times unclear. It reads like work from an author who knows exactly what he intends, but doesn't always step back from the work enough to make those intentions accessible to others.
There is also a bit too much resource squeeze when it comes to the production cards. I mentioned above that you can produce a movie as long as you have a single blue production card. However, you also cannot produce a movie without one. That means that if one is not out on the market (or if your opponent gets it first), you may find yourself stuck and unable to get your movies made and on the market. That level of chokeout, in my opinion, takes a game from "competitive" to "not fun."
Do I recommend it?
No. Movie Empire has ideas with potential, but it does not come together to form a compelling whole.
Overall Rating: 2 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It was okay.
1 star — Meh.