Tag Archives: Euro

504 – A Written Review

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“We really did it!” The lonely writer who talked to himself as if he actually consisted of two distinct personalities could not believe it…but the proof was hovering in front of him.

The huge tome was full of words! Up and down the pages stood hundreds of bold words, not exactly the ballpark figure he estimated but good enough.

It seemed so simple after many tough years of plugging away at the keyboard and developing a modest vocabulary. A review with four worlds, each jumbled haphazardly in a way to make ingestion possible but unpredictable. Only this way permits one to describe the fundamental brilliance of 504.

Of course, the confused writer recorded all of the instructions to decipher this Book of Review Worlds in a couple of sentences listed below. Now it was time to start your observations.

The Rules
Review Worlds are staggered in priorities. You will need to check for the correct order to decipher the ensuing ramblings by reading Review Worlds in priority order, from lowest Roman numeral to highest (i.e. read the World with priority I before the World with priority II)

The Book Of Review Worlds

(Priority II) The World of Chaos, a Collection of Mechanisms Jammed Into a Compelling Metagame (Review World #394)

The nine modules consist of hobby game staples from all across the spectrum. We have pick up and deliver, race, military conquest, area control, goods production, even a compelling stock market system. Each slice of mechanisms is typically combined to form a medium weight Euro that is relatively easy to assimilate once one navigates the Book of Worlds.

The Book of Worlds is certainly the most compelling element of this game. It’s a spiral-bound booklet with each page cut into three sections or flaps. You can build the world and the associated rules by turning a particular flap to the world desired. This is done across each third of the page to form the three intersecting mechanisms you wish to explore.

So in the top position you can flip to any of modules 1-9, selecting your choice for this specific play. Then you do the same thing in the middle position and finally again in the bottom. You may never choose the same module to occupy more than one position as this will cause a quantum rift the equivalent of crossing the streams. These three positions are referred to as TOP I, TOP II, and TOP III.

The module you select in TOP I is the most important. It determines how victory points are gained and sets the overarching tone of the world. The TOP II module determines how money is accrued. TOP III is the least impactful and adds a wrinkle or nuance to the structure.

A simple enough example is the recommended starting world, #123. This has module one in TOP I, which means victory points are gained from picking up and delivering goods to cities. Module two, Race, determines how players can earn money which they will use to upgrade their trolleys and carry more goods or move faster. Finally, module three is in the TOP III position and adds Privilege cards – special powers which are bought each turn.

When you first hold this book and start to make sense of the madness a huge light bulb will explode over your noggin. Everything fits together and works exceptionally well. There is certainly a substantial learning curve to deciphering the Book of Worlds and a priority system is used to determine which option trumps the others. For instance, each module will list one of several map layouts but you will need to look at only the map listed with the lowest Roman numeral (highest priority). Small rules and setup options will continue to utilize the priority system and you will need to play the decipher metagame to get the world properly setup.

This inherent juggling of priorities and subsystems split across multiple sections of rules is a battle you will need to participate in a couple of times before everything begins to flow smoothly. After a few plays it will all be second nature, however, the game tends to run best if someone determines the world and associated rules before you sit down to play. This allows you to iron out any kinks and work your rules deduction without pressure and distractions.

 

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The Book Of Worlds! Oooh, aaah!

(Priority III) The World Where Everything Matters and Currency is Subtle (Review World #765)

Upon repeated plays you will start to see design patterns and personality emerge in terms of how the disparate elements fit together. The position (TOP I/II/III) that each module is slotted in will have an enormous impact on your game and result in interesting discoveries you may not initially foresee. This will amount to a realization that participants will likely develop clear indicators on how they favor the use of certain modules, refining play to bring about the most enjoyment. In some ways it’s as if you’re developing a whole new skillset akin to learning Worker Placement or Area Control for the first time. This can be exhilarating and thought provoking.

The position of a particular module has a large impact primarily because each mechanism functions differently depending on how it is integrated. Module three, Privileges, is a prime highlight as it adds entirely new elements in TOP I and II as opposed to TOP III. It feels most comfortable in the TOP III position as you integrate the special ability cards smoothly and without much issue. In TOP I and TOP II you throw in Factories and start producing goods, which has absolutely nothing to do with the deck of Privilege cards. This appears to be a natural limitation of the combinatorial metagame at play. It will push you towards utilizing modules in specific slots more often than not, but one can’t argue that they all stick to the wall no matter where you throw them.

It’s also noteworthy that certain modules feel more ethereal or background than others. The fantastic Shares module adds an external area of play off-board. If you play 943 then the only direct interaction on the map will be military conquest. The other vectors of play are all happening above board or on a separate collection of stock components. This doesn’t feel disjointed or fiddly, but it does feel distinct and each combination can have a very definite personality.

 

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Delicious goods to be produced, picked up, and delivered.

 

(Priority I) The World of a Sophist of High Concept with a Knack for Excitement (Review World #281)

504, as a concept, is bananas. With Friedemann Friese behind the wheel this should come as no surprise. This eccentric German designer perpetually maintains a green mane and requires the name of all of his designs begin with the letter “F”. His titles always bring something unique and attempt to work in a space not well defined or previously tread. One should admire him as much for what he’s attempted as for what he’s accomplished.

This release is a huge box of 504 Euro-style games broken down into nine distinct modules. Each forms a portion of the DNA of the individual games – called worlds – that you may experience. When sitting down to play you pick three of the nine modules and arrange them in an order of your choice, the specifics of which matter greatly.

To facilitate all of these different mechanisms and systems the box is crammed full of high quality components. You have hundreds of wooden bits that are used as Residents, Settlements, and Trolleys. There are several different decks of cards. Mounds of chits used in all different manners. Player aids, swathes of hexes, and two distinct booklets. You could lose a pet or a small child in a component drop. All of this acts as a sort of flag or indicator of the wizardry the designer is about to perform as you sit down to the table.

 

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(Priority IV) The World of Confused Critics and Revelatory Procedure (Review World #629)

Sitting down and expecting to combine semi-random Euro mechanisms into a coherent game that reaches lofty heights is a fantastic dream. I believe those expectations should be jettisoned from your trolley and long forgotten. An inherent limitation of this combinatorial exploration of separate mechanisms is producing a finished game that could most commonly be described as generic.

Those desiring 504 exceptional games crammed into this box are missing the point entirely. The “game” here is not what you sit down to play or limited to the three main mechanisms at work. The true heart of this design is the metagame that you encounter every time you embark on the journey and crack open that box.

You could describe the experience of playing this title as one big module five – exploration. It feels like you’re exploring the far reaches of Friedemann’s madness, lost in a maze of abject insanity and fumbling along walls engraved with astonishing brilliance. It’s a journey across multiple layers that will reveal itself in waves of colliding sub-systems.

It’s not a stretch to call 504 a piece of art. It’s a huge exploratory adventure that teases out wonderful reactions and poignant discussion. This is the type of game that anyone interested in even contemplating game design needs to experience. No individual world may earn its way onto your top 10, but 504 as a whole is a touchstone experience that can radically redefine a person’s perspective.

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Archipelago – A Written Review

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Designer:            Christophe Boelinger

Publisher:           Asmodee, Ludically

 

“He’s crossed all the oceans all around the world.” ―William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Archipelago is an obtuse, conflicted, and wildly engaging Euro game full of chaos and caustic judgment. On the surface it feels like a stream of consciousness design with mechanical quip and obfuscated layers making the journey more difficult than necessary.  The truth is, Archipelago is spiritually the board game equivalent of a William Faulkner novel, with its unrelenting prose proving a forest upon your path.  Like much of Faulkner’s work, beyond the outright chaos and seeming hodge-podge is a deep and enrapturing experience that is exceptionally enjoyable and surprisingly focused.

This is a Euro game as only Christophe Boelinger could fashion. The philosophy behind the design unsurprisingly mirrors the ideology present in its Ameritrash brother Earth Reborn.  Layered mechanics give way to depth and are integrated in a streamlined fashion which beckons you to return again and again.  One could posit that Boelinger is cut from the same cloth as Phil Eklund, although the former’s games tend to have a greater degree of coherency and direction that elevate them to a level of grandeur rather than toil in a realm of overwhelming difficulty.

Archipelago can be dissected into 3 vital organs and spheres of interaction that form the guts of the title. The Action Wheel provides for the turn to turn momentum and pace of player manipulation as each participant places action disks worker placement style.  The hex board is built as players branch out and explore, discovering new vistas and resources to exploit.  The final and most powerful element is the market system which dictates the vitality and health of the raging economic undercurrent that players interact with on a constant basis.  All of these are nuanced and developed, comprising fleshed out interfaces to manipulate and be manipulated by.

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The Action Wheel is made up of a plethora of spaces for players to utilize. Each player takes a turn placing one of their action disks (workers) and then executing the corresponding action.  Actions are tight and you will often want to accomplish much more than you are afforded.  Options include harvesting resources, constructing buildings, taxing the locals, birthing or hiring additional workers, and exploring.  Most actions are pretty straightforward and indicative of the typical fare.  Exploration is the most fascinating and reminiscent of Boelinger’s search mechanic from the earlier mentioned Earth Reborn.  When you explore you may either take the top tile from the stack or the tile beneath it.  Tiles are double sided and you are able to attempt to place either side, but you can only see the top-most face which is readily visible.  The difficulty arises in that tile placement is restricted based on respecting land features – so a mountain must connect to a mountain, sea to sea, and so on.  So, when presented with the desire to explore but the only visible tile face is not currently place-able, do you take that risk and go with the tile below it?  If you fail, then your entire action is wasted.  This is a chief example of that aforementioned chaotic current interwoven throughout the game that forcefully shoves the design in the opposite direction of its genre associates.  The risk/tension is fascinating and in no way feels tacked onto the game or shoddy.

One of the most interesting elements of the Action Wheel is the fact that some spaces allow only limited placement while others permit freedom of being able to be repeatedly selected. There is no limit to the number of people that can harvest Exotic Fruit, but if you want to explore you are only able to place your disk on the space marked with your color.  Once you have done this, you may explore with a subsequent action by placing your action disk on one of the multi-color spaces, as long as they haven’t already been occupied.  This hybrid of limited and free action selection adds to the tightrope struggle of balance embedded in the design’s nature.  While this intrinsic elegance is belied by the cluttered and busy graphic design of the Action Wheel, the simplicity and strategic engagement rises to the surface quickly upon engaging.

The map is built of these hexes that players explore and place, branching out and taking shape like watching a map being charted by a cartographer in accelerated real-time. The tiles themselves are beautiful and a joy to gaze upon, erecting a flourishing portrait as players place Citizens, Buildings, and Boats on the map, giving life to a newfound culture sprouting from its energetic roots.  The map is perhaps the most forgiving element of the design as you can readjust, move, and shift focus all at the cost of an action or two.  Placement of your Citizens and the tiles themselves due limit you in scope, but the game offers enough breadth of strategy that you can often make do no matter the draw.

 

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Gorgeous artwork sets the backdrop for the Archipelago.

 

If there is one key force touching nearly all elements of this game it is the market system. The system is comprised of the Domestic and Export markets, each containing stockpiles of the main resources in the game: Fish, Wood, Stone, Iron, Exotic Fruit, and Cattle.  Players guide this capitalist system by purchasing from and selling to each.  The markets are also shifted in quantity when Crises arise on a turn by turn basis where both the locals and foreign homelands demand goods be provided.  Players must take turns either meeting this demand from the corresponding market, or by providing their own resources to quench the thirst.  Failure to do so results in the rise of Unrest.

Unrest is the main fixture in placing this game firmly in the camp of Semi-Cooperative. A population chart keeps track of the total number of player Citizens (meeples) on the board, as well as the rising Unrest which equates to the local populace’s broiling anger and approaching civil disobedience.  If Unrest ever passes the population marker then the colony falls into open revolt and the game immediately ends with all players losing.  It’s brutal and un-remitting causing all members at the table to continually monitor the rising tide of revolution.

The markets themselves also mettles with Unrest via taking stock of certain supply levels. Once each turn you will check both the Domestic and Foreign markets, and if enough stock exists (meaning the island is oversupplied) the island-wide unemployment will rise giving way to eventual Unrest.  It’s an ebb and flow that requires give and take as you don’t want the markets to become oversaturated with goods, but you also don’t want them emptied so that you can’t satisfy the continually occurring Crises.  This is inexplicably fascinating and the most enjoyable and alluring aspect of the design.  Throughout play I find myself thinking about the impact of our actions on the market which are typically subtle and sometimes difficult to puzzle out.  All of this in combination gives it a sort of living and dynamic feel that is prevalent and immediate.

 

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While it is exceedingly easy to get lost in all of these textured modules the end game is ultimately to score the most victory points by satisfying objectives. Objectives deal with having the most of a resource, having the most of a certain building, possessing the most money, etc.  These objectives are randomly included in the game in one of two ways.  The first being the Trend card, which is a public objective everyone can see.  It sort of determines a general need and inclination that most players will want to gun for.  Secondly, each player is dealt a Hidden Objective card of a similar nature.  Each player’s hidden objective is functionally identical to a Trend card and ALL players can score off it at end game.  The catch is of course that you don’t know what objectives your opponent’s possess so you will have to deduce from their actions and tendencies what they are trying to accumulate.  I first experienced this idea in Troyes and it appeals to the deduction fan inside of me.  It’s a nice clever way to add a bit of depth and color to the game.

This also brings us to the most controversial aspect of the game, which is the Semi-Cooperative element. One of the hidden objective cards is a traitor card, which allows the player to win if the game is lost due to rebellion.  This births an insipid atmosphere of questioning other players if they don’t contribute to the crisis, or if they sell a bit too much Cattle overwhelming the market.  It aligns perfectly with the fact that players don’t exactly know how well they are doing in terms of end game scoring due to the hidden objectives of the other players.  This natural paranoia is a balancing factor in combination with the hidden scoring facet to incentivize all players to stick out the game and feel like they possess a real shot at victory.  If a player does get battered down and believes he is in a horrible position, it is up to the other players at the table to bribe him into contributing positively towards the colony’s health, utilizing the game’s penchant for negotiation.  There’s this lively yet biting undercurrent of tension and give and take in direct parallel to the market system that flows naturally from the hidden objectives and unwieldy Unrest.  Sometimes it feels like it’s hanging together by rubber bands and duct tape but it ultimately works and the game is better for it.

Archipelago is a game to be studied, ruminated, and played. Its depth is in proper accordance to its density and the reward of breaking through to the other side is commensurate of the impact of Miss Quentin stealing Jason’s money and running away alongside the man with the red tie.  “The Sound and the Fury” isn’t for everybody, and neither is Archipelago.  Both have a solid and eternal place in my heart.

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Yedo (2d6 Exclusive Content)

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Designers:          Thomas Vande Ginste, Wolf Plancke

Publisher:           Pandasaurus Games (2012)

 

Can you recall the first time you dug your teeth into a hearty steak?  Succulent meat in all its glory, flavorful juices running down your chin, and sensations on your tongue you could only dream of.  Yedo is that filet in all its perfect, unfettered glory prepared by two top-notch chefs and shoved down your gullet in transcendent fashion.

This is an absolutely astounding worker placement experience that is overflowing with theme integrated into an abundance of clever mechanics.  The core of the game is acquiring hidden Mission cards that possess resource requirements you must acquire by placing Disciples (workers), winning auctions, and playing well-timed cards.  From Tom Vasel to Bob the BGG reviewer, everyone compares this game to a souped up Lords of Waterdeep, which I cannot argue with.  The primary mechanic of hidden Mission cards is very similar to LoW’s Quests, however, several layers of additional interactions and mechanisms make for a very different experience.

One of the initial differences is the auction phase, which occurs early in the turn before Disciples are placed.  Yedo auctions are similar to those found in Power Grid, where the current player starts a bid and then players may proceed to outbid each other in player order.  There is one key difference in that bidding does not keep going around until everyone bows out, rather each player only gets one chance to up the ante with the person who initiated the auction getting final say.  Once a category has been bid on, it is no longer eligible until the next auction and each player may only win a single auction.

The items you can bid for include:

Action Cards, which are used to perform special interrupts and break the rules in interesting ways

-Bonus Cards, which are hidden and worth points at the end of the game if you meet their conditions

-Weapons, which are used to accomplish Missions

Annexes, which are special tiles you can acquire that are required for Missions but they also offer an additional space to place a Disciple on and can offer powerful benefits

Geisha, which are used only for Mission and Bonus cards

Disciples, which allow you to acquire additional workers (you start with 2 and can get up to 4)

Mission Cards, which allow you to gain Money, other cards, and the primary way to gain Victory Points

What’s very interesting about the auction phase is that some very difficult decisions are packed into a tight space and elegantly integrated into a worker placement whole.  I’ve seen players attempt to up-bid a player to drive up the cost, only to have the original bidder let them take it – which means the winning bidder cannot bid on another auction this round.  I have seen people purposely maneuver the turn order so they are last, which allows them final choice on an auction category without any opponents, although their choices are reduced.  I’ve also seen players offer fistfuls of coins for seemingly small benefit due to their desperation.  Certain resources are also limited (Annexes, Geisha) which makes passing them up early possibly burdensome.  All of these decisions are not terribly easy to make and this tense phase is ultimately very interesting because of this.

 

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The second half of the game is the Assign Workers phase, where you place your Disciples on the board, one at a time.  The board offers many thought provoking effects which results in players sometimes colliding and jockeying for certain spaces early.  The areas you can place Disciples in are organized into five unique Districts.  Actions performed in each District are very different, but more importantly, Mission Cards require you to expend actions in specific areas of the board.  Some Missions require you to possess workers in two different areas as well as possessing certain weapons, annexes, geisha, etc.  You can see how things quickly get dicey with the more complicated requirements and juggling these priorities of resource acquisition is the heart of Yedo.

The majority of District options offer resource acquisition at a cost that is typically greater than what is paid in the auction phase.  This makes for juggling your limited actions and money with resource needs a difficult task.  Other spaces on the board allow you to look at and arrange the top 3 cards of different decks, change the player order, gain a single VP by visiting the Shogun, and many more interesting options.

There is also this really cool mechanism which has a guard token in the middle of the board, moving each turn in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction.  If the guard is in a District where you have placed Disciples, the workers are arrested and returned to your board (if you have 2 workers or less) or to the supply (if they are your third or fourth worker).  This effectively shuts off certain Districts in a dynamic fashion, which is further enhanced by players using Action Cards that can move the guard additional spaces or change its direction.  It can be absolutely brutal to unexpectedly have the guard move into a District where several players have Disciples, which enforces a sense of caution and respect when placing workers on the board.

 

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The guard can be a cruel bastard.

 

I am a huge fan of this game because of how solid and streamlined the different mechanics are in combination with how well they play off each other.  You have dynamic auctions, sometimes game changing events, stalking guards, tight worker placement, and hidden objectives that make for this absolutely phenomenal game that is astoundingly rich and meaty.  This game repeatedly delivers small moments of triumph and story that keeps a smile firmly plastered to your pale geek face and you can’t help but enjoy it.  It decidedly is a Euro, but it’s the best kind – one that not only espouses a great theme, but one that lives and breathes it with each passing second.

 

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The game is beautifully designed and illustrated. This is one of the player boards which boasts colorful background and does a great job of organizing all of your different resources and cards.

 

Yedo is a somewhat complicated game mechanically that I would compare to something like Troyes or Power Grid.  It’s firmly in that middleweight category between heavier titles like Mage Knight The Boardgame and lighter fare like Stone Age.  It also can take quite a long time to play, clocking in at 2 to 3 hours with four players (which is the optimal amount).  Five players can take 3-4 hours which is why I would hesitate to recommend it at that count.  The play is deep and pace pretty steady so I would not hesitate if you don’t mind spending a couple hours engaged with a few of your good buddies.  When Matt flips the “Assassinate the Shogun” card midway through the game and does a fist-pump and an air-katana slice, you know you’ve hit on a great experience that produces memorable stories and a strong thematic narrative.

 

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The Castles of Burgundy (A Video Review)

The game is set in the Burgundy region of High Medieval France. Each player takes on the role of an aristocrat, originally controlling a small princedom. While playing they aim to build settlements and powerful castles, practice trade along the river, exploit silver mines, and use the knowledge of travelers.

The game is about placing settlement tiles into the princedom. Every tile has a function that starts when the tile is placed. The princedom itself consists of several regions, each of which demands its own settlement tile.

The core game mechanism involves two dice. The pips show the kind of action the players are allowed to do (example: roll a 2 and a 5: using the 2 the player buys a watch tower and places it on a 5 city tile which triggers the function of the tower with additional advantages).

It is also possible to influence the dice, so the player is not completely subject to luck.

~ Ravensburger

 

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The Downfall of Pompeii (2D6 Exclusive Content)

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Designer:            Klaus-Jürgen Wrede

Publisher:           Mayfair Games (2013)

Space Alert makes people cringe, Mascarade makes people confused, Diplomacy makes people angry, and The Downfall of Pompeii makes you yell “AAAHHHHahhhhahhhhh” as you vigorously toss Roman citizens into a volcano.  A light family Euro where you get to burn down your friend’s pieces is a game worth owning.

Pompeii was originally released in 2004 and has been brought back from its ashen grave by Mayfair with only a couple of minor changes.  The reissue now contains an even 30 pieces for all 4 colors, allowing you to play whichever color you like in a 2 player game.  Previously, you were stuck between only 2 color choices due to an uneven distribution of pieces.  It also contains a clever mini expansion that contains 3 dual vent tiles.  These tiles are double sided, containing a different symbol on each face.  You may decide which side to use when placing them, providing for some additional variety and an interesting choice.

 

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For those who have not had the pleasure of enjoying this game upon its initial release, inside you will find quality components Mayfair has become known for, including thick tiles and sturdy cards.  The player pieces representing the Roman citizens of Pompeii are wooden and of good quality.  The volcano is the one item that stands out, a plastic sheet that is curled into a funnel shape and slides together easily.  It provides a very stimulating visual on the edge of the board, a constant reminder of the impending doom and carnage.

The rules are relatively simple and can be easily explained to new players.  The game takes part in two phases, the first being a turn-by-turn placing of pieces on the board followed by a destructive volcano eruption where you place lava and evacuate your hapless bystanders.  Each phase is simple enough to grasp, but allows for some depth and interesting choices that are not altogether obvious.

On your turn you play a card from your hand which dictates where you are able to place a citizen.  The card will give you a number and color, the number being the specific building you must place inside.  Most buildings span multiple spaces on the board, and each has different positions within the space where you may place.  Placement is important, as you are able to chain additional actions by placing figures in already populated buildings.  This gives way to some strategic depth where you attempt to place into populated buildings while also weighing your figures proximity to the city exits which you must escape out of in the second half of the game.

 

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After you have played a card you refill your hand to 4.  After the first 8 or so cards, you will come to the first of two AD 79 cards, which signals a shift in the parameters of the game.  In addition to opening up the chaining rules I mentioned previously, powerful Omen cards enter play.  If you draw an Omen, you reveal it immediately and then are able to remove a single piece from the board – tossing it into the volcano and giving your best Wilhelm scream.  When the second AD 79 card is revealed, the volcano erupts in a flurry of violence and second half begins.

After the volcano erupts, you discard all of your cards and now simply take your turn by drawing a random lava tile, placing it on the board, and then move two of your pieces.  Placement of lava is restricted to placing your tile adjacent to lava with the same symbol.  There are several different symbols and this will restrict placement so that you are left with sometimes tough decisions.  Do you encroach towards the city exit where the yellow player is planning on rushing out several citizens, or do you take a quick fix by deluging the square with 2 of blue’s pieces?

After placing your lava tile, you move two of your pieces 1 square each.  The goal is to move outside the city and save as many of your citizens as possible.  You must be clever and efficient in your movements as you don’t want to find too many of your pieces cut off and facing a molten grave.  The winner of the game is determined by who has the most pieces escape, tie breaker being who has lost the least pieces to the volcano.

 

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The Downfall of Pompeii fills a niche as a great cut-throat family game that is easy to learn but allows for wide strategic breadth.  For this reason, it is reminiscent of Carcassonne in its ability to be enjoyed by lovers of Monopoly as well as the type of person who owns Puerto Rico or Troyes.  This will certainly not be the deepest game in your collection, but it’s a game that can be pulled out and enjoyed by virtually any crowd.  It can also be played in an hour and taps into your inner 10 year old that lights up and is giddy when playing with a plastic volcano eating alive Roman citizens (well, maybe my child-hood was different than yours).

An enjoyable, fun, easy to teach game that packs good replayability is not an easy find.  Pompeii delivers on all of these and is wrapped up in a pretty package of quality components and solid artwork.  This is a game that I will proudly display on my shelf, sitting between Eclipse and Claustrophobia.

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