Some games play pretty closely to how they read (3rd edition, sad to say), some take a bit of time to get used to (Mouse Guard), and some really do not play how they look at all. The last type of game is the hardest to review and to get an idea of how it works in play. Games like 4th edition look really damn boring until you actually play the game and realize that it doesn't play anything like how it looks, because the parts are designed into a greater whole that you won't necessarily get until you play the game for a little while and get where it's going.
Burning Empires is one of these games. There's reading this game, and there is playing this game, and there's a world of difference. It's really hard to explain just how bloody competitive this game is and how cutthroat it's intended to be unless you go and crush the other side.
Honestly, when I first saw the rules for this game it reminded me of my true love Burning Wheel (I mean, favorite game. Sorry Maria!). I mean, the lifepaths, the Duel of Wits, character creation (Oh, how I missed you...), races, the PTGS (well, sorta, it is changed a tiny bit), all of it screams Burning Wheel to me. Now, since my initial read-through review of Burning Empires I've played a single-phase campaign. During this time Maria expressed interest at seeing the game, so at some point she came over and studied while the rest of us played. When we got done with the session, I turned to Maria and asked "Kinda funny how similarly it plays to Burning Wheel?" She then commented. "It doesn't feel like Burning Wheel at all!"
"It plays like Mouse Guard."
And she's right. That's when I realized a few things
1) I wasn't playing Burning Wheel like Burning Wheel. I was playing it like DnD/Burning Empires.
2) Fortunately, Burning Empires plays so damn well I accidentally started playing another game in almost the exactly same way I was playing Burning Empires.
3) This game plays like Mouse Guard in a really good way.
There are a few caveats I'd include for those who are looking at this game. Play this game if you like:
1) An actual story-game. Yes, this counts as a real one. No, I'm not trying to be a pretentious ass. This game has a lot of fiddly bits, but it all works out.
2) A heavy, crunchy, juicy awesome piece of awesomness.
3) If you love playing heavy intrigue, you're going to ADORE this game. I mean, seriously, the Infiltration phase alone is so intrigue-tastic you'd be nuts not to love this game.
But this game isn't for everyone, do not play this game if you:
1) Hate rules-heavy games. Hell, while you're at it avoid Burning Wheel too. And probably Mouse Guard as well.
2) Want a game where you just shoot people. If you want that, go play Pathfinder or any of the WoTC games. This is game is incredibly tactical, but the tactics produce a story first, action second.
3) If you want a mindless dungeon-crawler good Lord stay away from this game!
Honestly, I'm pleased as punch I've got this game. Go check it out!