Radio Review #14 – Copycat


(2012  Rio Grande Games)



Friedemann Friese (most notable as the designer of Power Grid) has never been one to shy away from humor and unpredictability in the themes used for his games. From escaping the dungeon of a castle in which a Frankenstein monster has been let loose to devour you (Fearsome Floors), to building and owning apartment buildings in which you can kill deadbeat tenants and bomb buildings (Landlord!), Friese always keeps his fans on their toes with what he can come up with next. With his newest creation, Friese has dug into the world of political campaigning. And as with any great politician, Friese “borrows” the ideas for this game from the other notable designers in the field around him, making them his own. It’s humorous and quite clever, but let’s take a look at how it plays.






– Copycat game board




– Campaign Workers in each player color (red, white, blue, and gold)




– Player Markers in each player color (red, white, blue, and gold)




– Victory Point tokens




– Campaign Action Cards




– Campaign Office Cards




– Action Summary Cards




In Copycat, players will play through 4 phases each turn with the goal of running the best political campaign and winning office. Mind you, players aren’t necessarily trying to become the most qualified for the job, just the best politician. Because as we all know, the best politicians are the ones that end up winning. Throughout the 4 phases, candidates (the players) will hire campaign workers, throw parties for important friends, advertise on national radio, collect donations, etc, all for the sake of building their campaign and collecting votes (Victory Points). The candidate with the most Victory Points at the end, wins the game and becomes the newly elected official.

The two main mechanics of the game (deck building and worker placement) have been “copied” from both Dominion and Agricola. As is the politician way of things. Players will place Campaign Workers into the campaign office in order to resolve certain actions. They can also play Action Cards from their hand in order to hire/additional Campaign Workers to use, as well as use the Cards to purchase more Action Cards and Victory Points. All cards used in a hand are then discarded and all Cards are reshuffled once the players Draw Deck is exhausted. Before we get into how the Action Cards and Office locations are used, let’s first look at how to set the game up.




Action Cards


There are 6 different types of Action Cards and each can easily be recognized by its color. While I won’t go over every single Card individually, I’ll take a look at how each type differs from each other. Note that on each Card, the top left number will determine Turn Order during Phase 1 of each Round (which I’ll explain later). The bottom left icon represents how much money that particular card costs to purchase from a street space on the game board. Finally, any icons directly beneath the picture on the Cards represent a particular action that this card can be used for.

The color of each Card gives an indication as to what type of Action it provides and when it can be played/resolved. Blue and Purple Action Cards can be played and resolved during Phase 2 of a Round, while Yellow and Green Action Cards can be played and resolved during Phase 3. Gray Action Cards can be played and resolved during either Phase, while Red Action Cards can be played, but give no actions to the player.



Blue = Draw additional Cards




Purple = Hire additional Campaign Workers




Yellow = Money used to Purchase Action Cards




Green = Collect Victory Points




Gray = Special Actions




Red = No Action





Campaign Office Cards


As players place their Campaign Workers into different Office Buildings (the board starts with 8 offices to select from), they will be able to resolve the actions printed on the building. They are color-coordinated in the same way that the Action Cards are for easy reference. All Workers however, are only placed into the Offices during Phase 2. Therefore, any Workers placed into a yellow (money) or green (Victory Point) Office Building will not be able to resolve their actions until Phase 3. There are also no Purple or Red Offices.



– Blue = Draw additional Cards

– Yellow = Gain Money

– Green = Gain Victory Points

– Gray = Special Actions




Special Actions


There are a few Action Cards and Building Offices that are colored gray. These represent Special Actions that can take place for the player when they are resolved. One might double the use of another card (so for instance, an Action Card that grants you +2 money will now award you +4 money), while others will allow you to place a previously placed Campaign Worker into another Office Building. The player can determine the Phase in which they want to resolve these actions.





Before beginning a game of Copycat, there is quite a bit of setup that needs to take place, though the game board is designed to make this step as simple as possible by providing icons for setup on the Cards and board itself. There is also a quick setup sheet that comes included with the game.


At first glance, you’ll notice that the board shows an Office building that takes up most of the board, with a Street along the bottom portion of the board, and a Campaign Bus to the right side of the board. These are the 3 main areas of the board which will be used during the game.


Each player will be given a starting Deck of Action Cards (numbered 9-18) that consist of 7 yellow (money) Cards and 3 green (Victory Point) cards. This will be the starting hand for each player. The rest of the Action Cards (numbered 1-8 & 19-61) are placed off to the right side of the game board, nearest to the street.


These Cards are broken up into 5 Sections and each Section is shuffled on its own, then placed in order (with section 1 being the Cards on the top of the Draw Deck and Section 5 being Cards on the bottom). This is to make sure that the more powerful Cards are not available until the latter parts of the game. Also, the Doctorate Cards (Section 5 Cards) are placed at the bottom of the Draw Deck, as they can end the game. Cards from this Action Deck are then flipped from the top and fill up the empty street spaces until are spaces are full.


The Deck of Campaign Office Cards is placed face-down on the lowest window in the 5th column of the Office Building. As in Agricola, a new Card will be flipped at the beginning of each Round and added to an empty window, representing a new Campaign Office that will be available for player to send their Campaign Workers. In a 3-4 player game, extra Campaign Office Cards will be placed on the left side of the building before the game starts to give more availability.


Each player then takes their two Player Markers and places one of them on the 0 spot of the Victory Point track running along the outside of the board, and the other on one of the window spaces of the Campaign Bus.


The Markers on the Bus represent player order for each Round, but can randomly be placed during setup since player order will be determined during Phase 1 of the game. Finally, each player get 3 Campaign Workers that are placed in front of their play area, while leaving the remaining Workers to the side. Final setup should look something like this:






Copycat consists of 4 Phases which will make up each Round of the game.


Phase 1: Planning Phase

This Phase will determine turn order for that Round as well as have players draw a new set of Action Cards from their Draw Deck. Each player will Draw 5 Cards into their hand. Later in the game, if there are not enough Cards in your Draw Deck, draw as many Cards as you can, then reshuffle the Discard Pile to make a new Draw Deck. Then continue drawing from this new Deck until you have a total of 5 Action Cards in hand.


(In this scenario, Player A, B and C have played their cards for turn order from left to right, respectively.
Therefore, Player A will go 1st this Round, followed by Player C, then Player B.)



Once all players have 5 Cards, each will choose one of the Cards and play them face down. These Cards are revealed by all players simultaneously. The Card with the highest printed number in the top left of the card will be the 1st player this Round (moving his Player Marker to the 1st spot on the Campaign Bus). This will continue with all players until turn order is set. Note that if two players play the same numbered Action Card for turn order, they player that was lower in turn order the previous Round will get favor for this tie. After turn order is complete, we move to Phase 2.



Phase 2: Action Phase

It is now time to campaign! Candidates will now take turns playing Action Cards and placing Campaign Workers in the Office Building. On a player’s turn he can place 1 Worker and can play any number of Blue, Purple, and Gray Action Cards from his hand either before and/or after the placement of his Worker. This will continue from player to player until everyone has place all of their Workers in the Office Building.


Remember that Blue (draw cards), Purple (gain workers), and Gray (special) Action Cards can be played during Phase 2 (Green and Yellow are used during Phase 3). When playing an Action Card, that card immediately resolves its action. So for instance, if you have placed your 2nd Campaign Worker and then choose to play the Huge PR Campaign Action Card (seen above) from your hand, you will immediately receive 2 more Campaign Workers to continue placing when it becomes your turn again.


Since players will have various numbers of Workers from Round to Round, it is possible that some players may be able to place Workers in the building back to back, if everyone else has previously run out. Once all Workers have been placed and Phase 2 Action Cards resolved, the players move on to Phase 3 (note that while players will not play Green or Yellow Action Cards during Phase 2, they will be placing Workers into Green and Yellow Office spaces to be resolved in Phase 3).


(As Action Cards are resolved, they do not immediately go into your Discard Pile. Instead, they go into a temporary “Clipboard” Pile. The reason that they do not go into the Discard Pile is because there are times during Phase 2, when you will play and resolved Blue Action Cards, which will allow you to Draw additional Cards into your hand. If the Draw Pile runs out, you are to shuffle your Discard Pile and create a new Draw Pile to draw Cards from. In this way, it is made sure that you do not draw Cards that you just played previously on your turn.)


Phase 3: Buying & Success Phase

Players will now (in turn order) play all of their remaining Action Cards from their hand, on their turn. Any Green (Victory Point), Yellow (money), and Gray (special) Action Cards will immediately resolve. The player will then add up his total amount of Money earned during this Campaign Round and can choose to buy additional Action Cards from the game board. Note that a player must have a buy action (represented by a shopping cart icon) available to him in order to make a purchase. These icons are found on certain Yellow Action Cards and Offices, and each shopping cart icon is worth 1 buy.


(Player A has played 3 +1 money Cards and 2 +1 Victory Point Cards. He has 1 buy and chooses to purchase the gray Skull Session Card from the game board. This card normally costs 2 to purchase but is in a +1 cost space, so it cost 3 instead.)

Along the game board beneath where the Action Cards can be purchased, you will see that some of the Cards furthest to the right side of the street have a +1 and +2 coin beneath them. This represents an additional cost to purchase these Cards. So you can buy the more powerful Cards as soon as the come out, but you’ll have to spend a bit more for them. When purchasing Cards, a player must take all of the Red Cards (no action) that are to the left of the purchased Card. These Cards remain in the player’s deck, though there are action that can be taken to discard Cards from the game.

Any Green (Victory Point) Cards that are played show the amount of Victory Points that they player will earn this Round. A player can also earn Victory Points by placing his Campaign Workers on the green Office spaces. Additionally, any Office space (no matter the color) that was not used by a Worker the previous Round will have a Victory Point token placed on it. These can build up from Round to Round.


(So for instance, if no player has placed a Campaign Worker on the Fiscal Department Office space for the last 3 Rounds, 3 Victory Points will have piled up on that space. When a player finally does place a Campaign Worker on an Office space that contains these Tokens, he will add these Tokens to his play area to be scored along with his other Victory Points at the end of Phase 3.)


Phase 4: Cleanup Phase

This Phase is basically used to refresh the game board for the beginning of the next Round. Players will now take all the Cards from their Clipboard pile and place them into the Discard Pile. 1 Green Victory Point token will be placed in every Office space where there was no Campaign Worker for this Round.

Action Cards are then replenished to fill in the empty spaces along the bottom of the game board where previous Cards were purchased. If you look to the left, there are 3 sets of people standing above the first three spaces where the Action Cards are placed. This represents the number of players in the game, and which Cards will be removed from the game before new Action Cards are placed out.


(So for instance, in a 3-player game, the two leftmost spaces will have their Cards discarded from the game, before new Cards are drawn. If Cards from these spaces were bought during the current Round, then no Cards will be discarded from the board. After this has taken place, all other Cards will shift to the furthest left space available, then new Cards will be drawn from the Action Card Draw Pile to fill in the rest.)

All players then remove their Campaign Workers from the Office spaces, and only keep 3 in front of them for the next Round. Also, a new Office Building Card is drawn and placed in the appropriate empty window in the Office Building. After these cleanup actions have been completed, a new Round begins with Phase 1 and drawing new Cards.



Endgame Conditions:

The game will be over at the end of Phase 4 if any of the following End Game Conditions have been met during the previous Round:

– A player or players have moved past the 95th spot of the Victory Track.

– A player has purchased the final Green Doctorate Victory Point Card from the game board (these are located at the bottom of the Draw Deck, so all Action Cards will have been placed out before these are available for purchase).

– There are no more Office Building Cards to place in the Office Spaces during the Cleanup Phase.


The player with the most Victory Points when one of these 3 End Game Conditions have been met, is the winner of the Campaign, and the newly elected official.






Copycat takes a satirical look at politicians and campaigning for office (purchasing your own Doctorate Degrees for instance), though the theme is more like light-hearted background music than it is an overwhelming, thought provoking examination of politics. Players can find enjoyment more based on whether they prefer worker placement/deck building games, over whether they are political science majors. A lot will be made about the copying of games such as Dominion and Agricola, but it‘s presented as “copying” more for the use of political theme than for the sake of trying to remake those games. Many games use deck building and additional worker placement areas as the game goes forth, as their main mechanics (though many originate them to Dominion and Agricola, respectively), but the idea of “copying” them from these other games goes well with the theme presented here with taking on the role of politicians. In this regard, Copycat is able to stand on its own. Even the box art is a copied version of Barack Obama’s famous Change poster with designer Friedmann Friese’s mug replaced.

Strategies in the game vary, and you’ll start to find more with each additional play. It’s quite easy to get a head start in Victory Points by taking smaller, quicker Victory Point actions. But, you need to balance these with gaining Cards and purchasing power for the later Action Cards that will come up. It is a game that can get away from players, Victory Point wise, so it’s a good idea to observe where the other player’s are on the Victory track and plan accordingly. The game does not hold your hand, nor provides an easy catch-up mechanic. Cards are not scored at the end of the game, so gaining Cards needs to be more about how well they are going to individually help you from turn to turn, rather than their cost value. Additionally, turn order is quite important since that player will go first in playing Action Cards, placing workers, and buying Cards every round (though at the cost of discarding a high valued Card at the beginning of the Round).

Though Copycat is light and easy to learn, there is a lot of simple strategies and depth that can be found over the course of additional plays. While it won’t replace games such as Dominion and Agricola (and I don’t feel that it makes out to), it brings a lot of what’s best about those games and creates its own style of gameplay, while revolving around a theme that is humorous and quite entertaining.


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