Mysterium

 

 

Number of Players: 2-7

Year of Publication: 2015

Creators: Oleksandr Nevskiy, Oleg Sidorenko (designers and artists), Igor Burlakov and Xavier Collette (artists)

I hope you’ve been exercising your psychic abilities!

Having been absent from the blog for so long I think I’ve found a great game to mark our comeback!

Mysterium is a relatively new game and bears a few similarities (and many differences) to Clue or Cluedo (depending on where you’re from or which edition of the game you have). The similarities are that you have to determine a murderer, a location and a weapon from a group of options and guess correctly to win the game. Differences are pretty much everything else.

You play as a group of psychics called to the house by its new owner, Mr MacDowell, who has sensed the presence of a ghost and wishes to set it free. The game is cooperative, meaning that all players win, or lose, together.

“In the 1920s, Mr. MacDowell, a gifted astrologist, immediately detected a supernatural being upon entering his new house in Scotland. He gathered eminent mediums of his time for an extraordinary séance, and they have seven hours to contact the ghost and investigate any clues that it can provide to unlock an old mystery.” –excerpt from the introduction in the rulebook

What’s In The Box:

Special apologies made for the complete randomness and, in fact, quite terrible arrangement of this photo. It will be replaced by a better one as soon as time allows.

  1. 6 Intuition Tokens and 6 Clairvoyancy Markers (1 of each colour), 36 Clairvoyancy Tokens (6 of each colour)
  2. 6 Sleeves (1 of each colour)
  3. 1 Clock and Base Board
  4. 1 Character, 1 Location and 1 Object Progress Board
  5. 1 Epilogue Progress Board
  6. 18 Character and 18 Location Psychic Cards
  7. 18 Object Psychic Cards
  8. 1 Game Screen
  9. 1 2-minute Sand Times
  10. 3 Crow Markers
  11. 6 Ghost Tokens
  12. 6 Culprit Tokens
  13. 18 Ghost Character, 18 Ghost Location and 18 Ghost Object Cards
  14. 84 Vision Cards
  15. 1 Rule Book

Setting Up The Game:

Before the game begins there is a certain amount of setting up that needs to be done. Firstly, players should decide who’s going to play as the ghost. That individual then sits behind the Game Screen at one end of the table and the other players, now playing as the psychics, should gather around the other end. It’s important that none of the psychics can see behind the Game Screen. Each psychic must choose an identity to play as for the game; the characters each have a brief bio on page 4 of the rule book which will help you choose (or, as I do it, you can just pick your favourite colour), this will also help you to get into character. They then take the Intuition Token, Clairvoyancy Level Marker, 6 Clairvoyancy Tokens and the Sleeve that correlate to the character they’ve chosen. The Ghost Tokens that correspond to the identities chosen by the psychics should also be passed to the ghost and placed behind the Game Screen.

The Clock should be assembled so that it stands upright on its base board; this should then be placed, with the hand on 1, in front of the side of the Game Screen that the psychics can see. The base board of the Clock also serves as the discard area for Clairvoyancy Tokens used throughout the game.

After the Clock the Character, Location and Object Progress Boards should be spaced (in that order) down the table away from the ghost, and the Epilogue Progress Board should be placed at the very bottom of the game space. Once this is done we’re ready to draw cards, and then begin the game!

Ghost Setup:

Whilst the psychics set up the Clock and Progress Boards it’s good if the ghost organizes him or herself a little behind the Game Screen. Depending on the difficulty level chosen the ghost can take one, two or all three of the Crow Markers. These stay behind the screen simply lying on the table until such time as the ghost chooses to use them. The ghost should also take the Ghost Tokens and place them at the bottom of the columns on the inside of the Game Screen that correspond to the colour of the characters that are in play. Lastly, the ghost should take all of the Vision Cards, shuffle them thoroughly, and place the pile face down on the table inside of the screen. The ghost should then draw a hand of seven from the top of the pile.

General Setup:

Next, Suspect, Location and Weapon cards must be chosen for the game. The number drawn of each of these depends on the difficulty level and number of players. In the game shown in the photos in this post, we had only three players, so one ghost and two psychics, and were playing EASY. This means that 5 of each card were drawn during the set-up stage.

To set up, separate the psychic and ghost cards into the three categories: Character, Location and Object. Shuffle each pile thoroughly face down. Then draw 5 (or the number indicated if playing with a different number of players, or on a different difficulty setting) Character cards from the psychic pile.

NOTE: all the cards are numbered on the back for convenience in this stage

Once you have these five, retrieve the correspondingly numbered five from the ghost cards. Place all unused cards from both decks back into the game box. Repeat this step with Location and Object cards. All cards should remain face down until you have finished drawing. The ghost cards should either be drawn by the ghost, or should be immediately passed to the ghost once drawn. The ghost should then shuffle each pile separately, and randomly draw the number of cards that corresponds to the number of psychics playing. The ghost will see that on the inside of the Game Screen there are six columns, which correspond in colour to the six possible psychic characters. Once the ghost has drawn the correct number of cards from each category, he or she should place them into the plastic wallets in each column, with Character at the top, Location in the middle and Object at the bottom. This layout helps the ghost to see clearly what they need each player to achieve. The inside of the Game Screen should look something like this:

Inside of the Game Screen when playing with two psychics.

Meanwhile, the cards chosen by the psychics can then be turned over and organised underneath the correct Progress Board so that every player (including the ghost) can clearly see them. Players should also place their Intuition Tokens (the little crystal balls) onto the Character Progress Board to begin the game. Once this is done, the game space should look something like this:

Complete starting set up

As you can see here, the psychics have also already placed their Clairvoyancy Markers onto the Clairvoyancy Track that sits above the Epilogue Progress Board. This is important to not forget, as the number of points gained by each psychic on this track throughout the game will make a big difference at the end.

Lastly! Place the Sand Timer somewhere it can be seen by all psychics, but also reached by the ghost. Once this is done, we’re ready to play!

Playing The Game:

Objective: conduct a successful séance; work together with the other psychics to successfully interpret the visions sent to you by the ghost in order to identify his/her murderer.

We are a group of powerful psychics, and as such, possess the ability to communicate with the ghost haunting the house of Mr MacDowell. However, although we can all clearly sense the presence of the ghost, the ghost is unable to communicate with us clearly, and seems to have difficulty remembering the events of his death. The best the ghost can do is send us visions that will help point us to the correct suspect, location and weapon of the murder. We have seven hours in which to discover what happened, or else the ghost is destined to wander the netherworld for another year before we may have another chance to help.

It’s important to realise that whilst this is a cooperative game, the ghost has a different suspect, location and weapon for each psychic to find. This means that the visions being sent to the psychics will differ, and the psychics will need to help each other, whilst trying to work out their own clues.

The psychics must identify their suspect before the ghost is able to give them visions corresponding to their location, and location must be determined before object. Also important to know is that the ghost is not allowed to communicate with the psychics in any way apart from through the Vision Cards that he or she will distribute throughout the game.

At the beginning of each “hour” of the game, the ghost will send visions to each of the psychics. Choosing from the seven Vision Cards he or she has in his or her hand the ghost will try to choose cards that in some way indicate to the player which Suspect, Location or Object they should choose. The Vision Cards can be very obscure, so some creative thinking is required from the psychics. The ghost must give at least one Vision Card to each psychic every round. Even if they think that none of the Vision Cards they have available to them will help. Once the ghost has given Vision Cards to one psychic, they are allowed to draw new ones (to fill their hand to seven) before passing some to the next psychic.

The Crow. At this point I should tell you what the Crow Markers are for. In our game, played on EASY, the ghost is allowed to use the Crow once per hour. The Crow allows the ghost to discard as many of their Vision Cards as they wish, and draw new ones, to fill their hand once again to seven. To make sure that the ghost does not use the Crow more often than the rules state the ghost is required to stand the Crow Marker onto the Game Screen, like this:

Once the ghost has given at least one Vision Card to each of the psychics they should flip over the Sand Timer, giving the psychics two minutes in which to decipher their clues and make a guess. The psychics do not receive Vision Cards in any particular order – the ghost is allowed to choose who to give to first, based on the Vision Cards that they have in front of them. This does mean that the psychic who receives first has a little extra time, as they are allowed to consider their clues as soon as they are received, and do not have to wait for their companions to get theirs. However, as the game is cooperative this can be an advantage to the other player. If the first psychic receives a very clear clue and is sure of the their guess, they are then free the help the others, who may have more challenging visions to work with.

Once the sand has run out, each psychic must have placed their Intuition Token onto one of the cards (Character, Location or Object, depending on where you are in the game) in front of them. In this photo you can see that only one psychic has chosen and the Sand Timer has clearly run out. The blue psychic must now immediately make his choice.

ghi

The ghost will then reveal whether or not each psychic has guessed correctly. However, before that happens, (and actually, this should happen before the Sand Timer runs out) the psychics have a chance to place a bet on their companions. To do this the psychic will take one of their 6 Clairvoyancy Tokens and place it next to an Intuition Token, with either the tick or the cross side facing up. This indicates whether or not their believe the guess is correct. If the ghost reveals the guess to be correct, or incorrect, as indicated by the Clairvoyancy Token, the psychic that placed the Token is allowed to move their Clairvoyancy Marker up the track at the bottom of the board. Clairvoyancy Tokens can only be used once, and must then be discarded to the base board area of the Clock.

Photo shows the progression along the Clairvancy Track of the two psychics playing

At this point, if a psychic has successfully deciphered their clues they are allowed to do two things: firstly, they take the Character, Location or Object card that they have discovered, and place it in their Character Sleeve. This is kept for later. Secondly, they move their Intuition Token to the next Progress Board in the game space.

NOTE: players move through the game at different speeds. It is completely possible for one psychic to have discerned all three pieces of information given to them by the ghost, whilst other psychics are stuck on the first or second.

Once the ghost has revealed whether or not the psychics are correct any psychic who has succeeded discards all Vision Cards given to them by the ghost so far. The other psychics keep their Vision Cards to see if they can find more of a pattern in the next cards that they receive.

The Clock is moved forward one hour, and play continues in the same way until one of two things happens:

  1. All psychics successfully discover their Character, Location and Weapon before the Clock runs out, OR
  2. The Clock strikes eight, meaning that the seven hours of the Séance are up, and the ghost is damned to wander the netherworld for another year. Meaning that the game ends and everyone loses.

If a psychic discovers all three of their clues before the Clock strikes eight, he or she should take their Intuition Token and place it on the Epilogue Progress Board. They are then also allowed to move their Clairvoyancy Marker forward on the Clairvoyancy Track the number of hours remaining on the Clock. This psychic is no longer given visions by the ghost, but instead can be more involved in helping the other psychics to catch up.

Once all psychics have reached the Epilogue Progress Board any remaining Characters, Locations and Objects not in a Sleeve are returned to the game box, and all Vision Cards are returned to the ghost. Likewise the Character, Location and Object Progress Boards are also removed at this point.

Winning The Game:

By the time the Clock strikes eight all psychics need to have successfully discerned their Character, Location and Objects assigned to them by the ghost. If everyone has achieved this then all players progress to the final stage.

Revealing The Culprit:

This final stage of the game is divided into three parts and we start with a suspect line-up. Simply, all the psychics remove their three cards: Character, Location and Object from their Sleeve and organize them into groups on the table. The ghost then gives each psychic his or her Ghost Token back, with the numbered side facing up. The psychics then place these next to their group of cards to make it easy to identify which is which. Like so:

Once this is done the psychics reclaim all of their Clairvoyancy Tokens from the Clock Base Board where they have been discarded over the course of the game. We are then ready to move onto our Shared Vision!!

At this point a lot hangs on the ghost getting good Vision Cards to pass to the psychics. The ghost is allowed to choose three Vision Cards from his or her hand of seven. If they have a Crow Marker available at this point they are, of course, allowed to use it if they think they have weak cards. The ghost must choose three Vision Cards to present to the psychics in a Shared Vision. One card should indicate the Character, one the Location and one the Object, all from the same group of those laid out on the table by the psychics.

The ghost shuffles the Vision Cards once they are chosen before placing them face down in front of the psychics. He or she should also secretly take the Culprit Token with the correct number for the group he/she has indicated on it, and place it, also face down, on the indicated space on the Epilogue Progress Board. As shown here:

We are now ready for the final step in the game. The Straw Poll!

It is now more important than ever that the ghost does not communicate in any way with the psychics as they try to interpret the final vision they have been given. Psychics should also not communicate with each other during this stage, as whether or not the game is won or lost is decided by a vote and each psychic must vote alone and secretly. Psychics will also vote at different times depending on the level of clairvoyancy that they have gained throughout the game, as shown on the Clairvoyancy Track. Any psychic with a Clairvoyancy Level of 1-4 will only see the first card of the Shared Vision before s/he has to vote. A psychic with 5-6 will see the first two cards, and a psychic with seven or higher will view all three cards before having to place their vote.

Once a psychic has viewed the amount of the Vision Cards that s/he is entitled to they must cast their vote. They do this by taking their Clairvoyancy Tokens, which are numbered on one side, and sliding the one with the number that corresponds to the group that they wish to vote for, into their Sleeve. This is done secretly. Once each psychic has voted it’s time for the truth to be revealed. The Sleeves containing the votes are passed to the psychic with the highest score on the Clairvoyancy Track and that psychic then reveals each vote in turn, placing it onto the group it corresponds with. If there is a clear majority, this group is immediately chosen as the suspect group. If for some reason there’s a tie, it’s broken in favour of the group the psychic with the furthest progress on the Clairvoyancy Track has chosen.

Now it’s time to flip the Culprit Token.

If the number on the Culprit Token matches the group selected to be the suspect group then the psychics have won and the ghost can rest in peace knowing that his/her murder has been solved. If, however, the psychics are wrong, everyone loses and the ghost is damned to haunt the house for at least another year before a fresh attempt can be made to help them.

Strategy:

This is an odd game, in that I don’t think there’s very much that can be said by way of strategy. It’s mostly guess work and trying to think like the ghost. I believe the best piece of advice that can be given regarding strategy is that if one psychic seems to get the ghost, i.e. interpret all the Vision Cards they’re given easily and correctly, then trust that psychic to help you with your own visions as you’ll most likely progress through the game quicker in this way. Other than that I don’t know how much strategy really comes into this game. It’s more about observation and communication than anything else.

NOTE: as we often say in these posts, we played the game wrong at least twice before really getting it. Initially we thought that the Clairvoyancy Tokens could be used as much as possible, and a few other things, and since then, more thorough re-readings of the rules have shown us how wrong we were.

History and Interesting Things:

  1. The game itself is a reworking of the game system present in Tajemnicze Domostwo
  2. It has won 3 awards
  3. Was a finalist for 1 award
  4. Was nominated for 7 awards

I realize I’m stretching this list a little thin, but there’s not much history to be found for this. Sorry!

To Conclude:

I think Mysterium is a really good, co-operative, family friendly game that all ages (from the recommended 8+) can enjoy together. Once played through once or twice you’ll find you have a good grasp of it. On top of that the game itself has been well manufactured. The cards have interesting and detailed graphics and the Vision Cards that the ghost has have many different ways that they can be interpreted due to the complexity of some of the images. I’ve only rated it 3.5 at the beginning of the post because I feel that although the game is highly enjoyable i believe it’s lacking in something not really identifiable that pulls you in.
I found that whilst playing other, different, co-op games I was much more engrossed in the actual game. Take Pandemic as an example, I realize that the games are very different, but when playing Pandemic I feel completely absorbed in the game. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get the same feeling with Mysterium which is what accounts for a slightly lower rating than I would otherwise have given it. Also, although the box itself is not badly designed, it does have a few spaces where there could be obvious improvement in the way the game components are stored.

In spite of that, I would still highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoys co-operative games, or who really liked Clue.

I hope you enjoyed our comeback post and will look out for our next game!

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Let’s Try Again!

Hi everyone!

It’s been five days shy of two years since a new post went up on here, and it’s definitely time to refresh this space. A lot has happened in the two years since we’ve posted anything. The most key of these things being that Dave and I no longer live in the same country, making writing a blog together somewhat more challenging.

However! Given that I currently have a decent amount of free time I’m going to try and start posting again. Dave will still be helping, but in a purely administrative kind of way, so if you liked his posts more than mine, unfortunately you’re out of luck.

I have the good intention of posting my first new post next Monday evening. Fingers crossed I can keep to that. We used to post regularly on a Monday evening, but although I would like to be able to post once a week again, realistically I don’t know yet whether or not I can organize enough people here in Austria to make this possible.

But in the interests of keeping update posts short and sweet watch this space next Monday evening for a post about a pretty good game called Village.

Over and out – Mim

Cambio

4 - 5

Number of Players: 2 – 3

Year of Publication: 1996

Creator(s): Maureen Hiron

IMAG3069

 

Video:

Cambio, similarly to Quarto!, is a complicated or ‘thinking mans version’ of Tic-Tac-Toe (Naughts and Crosses).  For this review we’ve done another video. The video covers all our normal sections except ‘History and Interesting Things’ so check it out below:

History and Interesting Things:

There are only a couple of notable things about this game and they are:

  1. The game was invented by Maureen Hiron in 1996. She is a very successful game inventor and know for inventing several other games including: 7 Ate 9, Continuo and Qwitch.
  2. The word Cambio means exchange.

To Conclude:

Like we say in the video we like this game, the design of our specific issue of it could be better but apart from that its a fun and fairly simple strategy game thats not too long to play but not so fast you miss what just happened.

Quarto!

4.5 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1991

Creator(s): Blaise Muller

 Video:

Quarto! is complicated Connect Four and for this review we’ve done a video, our first real video review! The video covers all our normal sections except ‘History and Interesting Things’ so check it out below:

History and Interesting Things:

There are only a couple of notable things about this game and they are:

  1. The game was invented in 1991 by Swiss mathematician Blaise Müller.
  2. It has won the following awards:

To Conclude:

Like we say in the video, we like this game a lot! My only issue with it is retaining enough concentration to keep in check all of the eight different piece attributes that could create a line. However I would highly recommend this game and if you like games that range from Connect Four to Chess then you will most probably love this game.

Mastermind

3 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1971

Creator(s): Mordecai Meirowitz (designer)

I’m The Real Mastermind:

It’s completely possible, and quite likely, that the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing the word Mastermind is the TV Quiz Show, and although there is a board game of this, this is not it. This game of Mastermind pre-dates the TV show (by 1 year) and is a very simple, quick and fun game that anyone can pick up. But I want it noted here that the version featuring in our photos is in fact the Junior Mastermind, version of the game produced for children, featuring small, brightly coloured jungle animals as the pieces and having only three holes across for the code, rather than 4.

What’s In The Box:

You can probably tell that we're missing some of the pieces...
You can probably tell that we’re missing some of the pieces…
  1. Green jungle playing board
  2. Rocky mountain section (used to hide the code)
  3. An assortment of 6 coloured animals
  4. 15 red creatures and 15 white creatures (supposedly)

Playing The Game:

Objective: to crack your opponents code before you run out of pieces, or to create a code that your opponent cannot crack.

To start the game you choose one player to be the code-maker, and one to be the code-breaker; then you position the board accordingly. The code-maker then takes a minute or two to secretly decide what the code’s going to be and put the pegs (or in our case little animals) in the shielded section of the board. After this, play starts.

It’s now the job of the code-breaker to pick out pegs (or animals), and position them on their side of the board in the order that they think the code is. The code-maker then uses their red or white creatures to signal which, if any, of these guess are right. To be right a piece must have both the correct position in the code (i.e. central, left or right hand end, from the point of view of the code-maker) and be the right colour.

So the first turn of the game might look something like this:

And they're all wrong
And they’re all wrong

Play continues in this manner until the either the code is cracked, or you’ve played to the end of the board. Like this:

And Dave wins
And Dave wins

Winning The Game:

Traditionally this game is played in rounds; the players decide before starting how many rounds are going to be played (always and even number) with the roles of code-maker and code-breaker alternating every round. The winner is the player with the most points at the end of this. Points are scored by the code-maker. S/he gets one point for each guess the code-breaker makes, and is given an extra point if the code-breaker doesn’t manage to accurately guess the entire code in their last move. Points are kept track of across the rounds and added up at the end.

Strategy:

For the Junior version of this game there isn’t a great deal of strategy required, but for the adult version (which has a four-peg code, rather than three, and one more option for indicating yes or no to part of a code) you can be a little more logical about it. Unless you’re a mathematician (which I’m definitely not, but the internet’s a wonderful place to learn things) you probably won’t be able to work out in your head the maths that accompanies this game, but the most important thing to remember is that duplicates are allowed in the code.

History and Interesting Things:

  1. The modern game, played with pegs, closely resembles a pen and paper game called Bulls and Cows that may be over a century old.
  2. The rights to the game have been held by Invicta Plastics since 1971, initially they manufactured it themselves, but have since licensed it to Hasbro, Pressman Toys and Orda Industries for production across the world.
  3. The 1973 edition of the game features a well-dressed white man sitting in the foreground with an attractive Asian woman standing behind him. Bill Woodward and Cecilia Fung reunited in 2003 after 30 years to pose for another publicity photo.
  4. In a standard set of the game, allowing a four-peg code, with six colour options, there are 1,296 different possible code patterns (including, and allowing for duplicates).
  5. In 1977 Donald Knuth showed that the code-breaker can solve in a maximum of five moves, using this algorithm.
  6. There have been computer versions of the game produced, as well as multiple different editions released.
  7. The difficulty level of the game is altered simply by changing the number of pegs allowed for the code, or the way in which the code-maker indicates a correct or incorrect guess.

To Conclude:

I like Mastermind a lot, it’s a simple game that’s good for burning time or just chilling out, it doesn’t require a lot of concentration, and it doesn’t take long to play. I’d strongly recommend teaching it to kids too, the length of time it takes to play is well-suited to the generally shorter attention span of kids. But don’t let the really little ones get their hands on it – swallowing one of those pieces could end really badly!

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery

4 - 5

Number of Players: 3 – 4

Year of Publication: 2012

Creator: Aaron DillJohn KovaleskiSean Sweigart (Designers) and Charles Woods (Artist)

NO! I’m Spartacus:

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery is a board game based on the TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand ( which has a mini series prequel and is followed by Spartacus: Vengeance and Spartacus: War of the Damned and proceeded by a not so good Spartacus: Gods of the Arena). To reflect the style of the TV series this is the only game I’ve come across, to date, that has an age rating on it:

The age rating at the top corner of the box lid.
The age rating at the top corner of the box lid.

And because of this you get cards with things like this written on them:

This did make us laugh...a lot.
This did make us laugh… A lot.

Now unfortunately, being a big fan of the TV series this review is unlikely to be completely non- biased, I will however do my best to stay objective.

What’s In The Box:

The Stuff!
The Stuff!
  1. Game board
  2. Rules Book
  3. 4 x House cards
  4. 62 x Market Cards
  5. 104 x Intrigue Cards
  6. 10 x Favor/Injured tokens
  7. 4 x Champion tokens
  8. 3 x House betting tokens (per house) and 1 x House marker (per house)
  9. 1 x Host marker
  10. 117 x Gold
  11. 4 x Gladiator figures
  12. 4 x Turn summary cards
  13. A lot of Dice (9 x Red, 9 x Black and 8 x Blue)

Playing The Game:

Objective: Be the first to raise your house influence to 12!

Depending on whether you want to play a Quick, Standard or Advanced game you set the starting amount of influence each house has to a different number:

  • Quick = 7
  • Standard = 4
  • Advanced = 1
Starting favor set to 7 for a quick game and the starting amount of things dealt out.
Starting influence is set to 7 for a quick game and the starting amount of things dealt out.

You then get dealt the starting number of items as dictated by your house card (circled green). So for Solonius that’s 2 Gladiators, 2 Slaves, 1 Guard and 12 Gold. Additionally each player gets one gladiator figure, their 3 house betting tokens and a turn summary card.

Now, every turn of play is made up of four sections:

  1. Up Keep
  2. Intrigue Phase
  3. Market Phase
  4. Arena Phase
Up Keep:

Up keep consists of three parts:

  1. Refreshing Cards – Any cards that have been exhausted in the previous round (so are face down) get turn back up so their abilities can be used again.
  2. Healing Injuries – Attempt to heal any injured gladiators or slaves by performing a healing role – on a role of 4 – 6 they are healed anything less and they stay inured.
  3. Balancing the Ledgers – You gain one gold for every ready slave you have and you must pay one gold to the bank for every ready gladiator you have – if you cannot pay (or don’t want to) you must discard the card that’s making you pay.
Intrigue Phase:

Intrigue consists of two parts:

  1. Drawing Cards – At the start of each intrigue phase each player draws three intrigue cards (players all receive three cards simultaneously).

    All Intrigue cards dealt.
    All Intrigue cards dealt.
  2. Playing Schemes/ Foiling Schemes/ Cashing in Cards – Some of the intrigue cards are schemes you can play against another Dominus (Latin word for master), cards that allow you to foil other schemes or get rid of an opponents guards. To play a Scheme you must have the right amount of influence  to play it (as listed on the card), if you don’t you can pair with another Dominus to play it by adding your influence together but beware; deals that are made can be easily broken. If someone plays a scheme against you you can foil it by using your guards and performing a dice role or you can play a scheme foiling card that are reactions to schemes and also require that you have the right amount of influence to play it. Finally if you don’t want some of you cards or can’t keep them (as your had size is dictated by the amount of influence you have) you can cash in cards for the amount written on them from the bank.
Market Phase:

This phase is made up of three parts:

  1. Open Market – At this point anything can be traded for anything for anything else. Except Intrigue cards, which cannot be sold.
  2. Auction – After open market is over each player conceals their gold in their hand and cards equal to the amount of players playing are drawn face down on to the board. The first card is flipped up; each player decides how much they want to bid for that card and hide it in their hand and hold it out over the board, then together they revel how much they have bid, highest bidder wins. Someone who bids nothing is ignored, but if everyone bids nothing the card is discarded. If there is a tie the two players who are tied place the amount they have already bid on the board and repeat the procedure until one player is victorious. This is then repeated with each card until all cards are sold or discarded.
  3. Bid for Hosting – This is done in the same way as the bidding for the cards. The person who wins the host bidding gets the Host token and it marks that they control the next phase of the game and choose who will fight who.
Arena Phase:

This phase is made up of six parts:

  1. Honour to the Host – The player that won the hosting rights in the auction gets +1 influence.
  2. Hosting the Event – The host then invites two players to take part in the games (they can invite themselves).  If a player declines they lose one influence. If they accept they place their gladiator figure in the arena in the starting position then place the card of the gladiator they are fighting, along with any Weapons or Armour they are also using.

    IMG_0564
    A starting gladiator ready to battle.
  3. Tribute – The owners of the gladiators are then paid tribute if their gladiators have favour or are champions – +2 gold for each favour token and +6 gold if they are a champion. If they don’t have any favour and are not champions they get nothing.
  4. Place Wagers – It’s then time to place wagers, you can wager on who will win (competing players can’t wager against themselves) and how they will win (injury or decapitation). Three is the maximum wager on any one wager and the wagers you place are marked by putting you house wager tokens on top of your pile of gold on the wager you have made.
    So a bet on players combatant one to win returns 1:1 odds so you can double your money.
    So a bet on combatant one to win returns 1:1 odds so you can double your money.

    A bet on the fight ending in injury returns 2:1 odd so you triple your money.
    A bet on the fight ending in injury returns 2:1 odds so you triple your money.
  5. Combat! – Now the fight begins. Each fighting gladiator has statistics for Attack, Defence and Speed. They are given as many red dice as their attack statistic, as many black dice as their defence statistic and as many blue dice as their speed statistic:
    IMG_0564
    3 Attack = 3 red dice, 2 Defence = 2 black dice and 2 Speed = 2 blue dice.

    Each player then roles their total amount of speed dice to determine who moves first, the player with the highest total wins and decides who moves first. Your total number of speed dice dictates how many spaces you can move; so if you have two dice you can move two spaces. You can chose to move and then attack or if you’re already adjacent to your enemy you can attack and then move away. Once adjacent you attack by rolling your attack dice while the defender roles their defence dice. You then line the dice up from highest to lowest, opposite each other. Any place where one attack dice is a higher number than the defence dice is a hit and any place where a defence dice is higher than the attack dice is successfully defended. If they’re equal it’s also a successful defence. Where attack die outnumber defence dice any additional roles that have no matching dice count as a hit so long as they are three or above.

    Two warriors ready for combat.
    Two warriors ready for combat.

    The dice are your health; so for each hit that is obtained the taker of the hit decides which dice to get rid of, lowering their attack, defence or speed for the next move. All attributes must be reduced to 1 before any can be completely removed. If one is completely removed then the player has yielded, if two are reduced to zero in one attack the player is wounded and if all three are reduced to zero in one attack the player is decapitated.

  6. Victory and Defeat – The winning Dominus gains one influence. The winning gladiator revives one favour token, if it’s his third favour token he becomes a Champion. Wagers are then settled with the bank. If the loser was not decapitated the host of the games decides if he lives or dies with the thumbs up or down signal. To kill a loser who has favour will cost the hosting Dominus 1 influence per favour token and champions cannot be killed.

After all this the turn phases are repeated unless one player has a full 12 influence at this point, then they’re the winner! If they have reached 12 influence before this point they are not yet the winner as they can still lose influence before the turn of play is over.

Strategy:

  1. MONEY IS POWER! Like in real life. If you are a broke Lanista (trainer of Gladiators) then you are a rather useless Lanista.
  2. UNDERSTAND WORTH! Linked to the first point, knowing what/how much to bid for something in this game is everything. Knowing what you need and what’s not worth buying (at that time) will be the key to winning and losing.
  3. HOST THE MOST! Bidding to be the host is always worth it, not only does it automatically give you influence you then have control too.
  4. KNOW YOUR FRIENDS! While this is a rather back stab-y game it’s important to know the people you’re playing with and understand when they’re likely to stick with you and at what point they will abandon you and leave you to be eaten by dogs.
  5. KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE! With such a large turn phase to the game it’s very easy to get caught up in just one round or one arena match and forget about the bigger picture and larger aim. Everything you do should be in aid of the bigger picture not just to get back at another player or just because you want to see a fight between two cool Gladiators.

History and Interesting Things:

While the board game itself does not have much notable history (at least nothing I can find) the historical events it’s based (very loosely around) do so that’s more what this section is going to contain.

  1. The board game was published in 2012, before the airing of the final season of the TV show, by A1 GamesBattlefront Miniatures LtdGale Force Nine, LLCHeidelberger SpieleverlagMarabunta and Zvezda.
  2. The board game is only based on the first season of the TV show Spartacus: Blood and Sand, it being the only season in which Spartacus is a Gladiator rather than a rebel.
  3. The TV series is a re-imagining of the 1960 film Spartacus directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas.
  4. However both the TV show and the film are based (loosely) around the historical Third Servile War of the Roman Republic.
  5. While historical facts on the war are highly debated it is often interpreted as a rebellion of oppressed people rising up against a slave owning oligarchy.
  6. Historically Spartacus (the man) is supposed to have lived from 109 BC – 71 BC. The characters Crixus,OenomausCastus and Gannicus, are also historically verified people who assisted in the uprising.
  7. He was born a Thracian and supposedly died on the Battlefield near to Petelia (modern-day StrongoliCalabria, Italy) as depicted in the TV show and film (probably without the “I’m Spartacus” fiasco).
  8. This being Appian also that his body was never found.
  9. 6000 survivors of the battle where crucified alongside the Appian Way from Rome to Capua as depicted in the final episode of the TV show with the crucifixion of Gannicus.
  10. Andy Whitfield who played Spartacus in the first season Spartacus: Blood and Sand (who’s face should be on the front of the game box rather than his replacements Liam McIntyre) sadly died on September the 11 2011 of on-Hodgkin lymphoma and the series was literally less than half as good without him.
picture lovingly borrowed from http://www.funnyjunk.com/funny_pictures/2600925/RIP.
Picture lovingly borrowed from: http://www.funnyjunk.com/funny_pictures/2600925/RIP.

To Conclude:

While my obvious like for the TV show has made this review at least slightly biased I would still maintain this game is a good game by anyone’s standards. It is, however perhaps a touch complex and drawn out. For example; cancelled down version of just the gladiator battles would have made quite a good game just in itself. So this game is primarily for the patient and those who are naturally enthusiastic about games not for those who think monopoly is the epitome of (board) gaming.

Further more it’s always nice to see a box that’s well designed unlike the Pirate of the Caribbean edition of Buccaneer! and Conquest of the Empire:

I rate this box design 4.5/5! The only thing that would have made it better is a slot for the host marker to sit in.
I rate this box design 4.5/5! The only thing that would have made it better is a slot for the host marker to sit in.

Yes I do think rate the box is going to have to become a permanent part of our posts.

Conquest of the Empire – Classic Rules

3.5 - 5

Number of Players: 2 – 6

Year of Publication: 2005

Creator: Glenn DroverLarry Harris, Jr.Martin Wallace (Designers) and Paul Niemeyer (Artists)

Julius Caesar, The Roman Geezer, Squashed his Wife with a Lemon Squeezer:

So as far I can figure Conquest of the Empire is just a table top version of Rome: Total War and being a huge fan of that game I’m also a huge fan of this game. In many respects it’s cooler; because you’re playing real people you actually feel some sense of victory when you crush them! But on the other hand, it’s obviously far more limited than Rome: Total War. To illustrate my point this is a picture of the Rome: Total War map:

Lovingly borrowed from http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:Rome_total_war_map.jpg
Lovingly borrowed from http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:Rome_total_war_map.jpg

And this is a picture of the Conquest of the Empire board:

IMG_0515
Can you see the similarities?

Now, there are two sets of rules to this game, as I explain in the History and Interesting Facts part of the post but this post is only covering the Classic rules, as we haven’t had the time to play the other rules. Hopefully there will be another post covering the other set of rules before the month is over, so keep an eye out for that.

What’s In The Box:

IMG_0505

IMG_0509

  1. 1  Game board (see picture in introduction of it laid out)
  2. Province tokens
  3. Some of the Chaos tokens (the ‘X’s at the bottom of the other sheet are also Chaos tokens)
  4. Influence/control tokens for each colour (except the bottom row)
  5. 2 Instructions Booklets:
    1. 1 for the Classic rules
    2. 1 for the new Conquest of the Empire 2 rules
  6. Black game pieces consisting of:
    1. 1 Caesar
    2. 4 Generals
    3. 20 Infantry
    4. 10 Cavalry
    5. 6 Catapults
    6. 8 Galleys
  7. Yellow game pieces, the same as black
  8. Blue game pieces, the same as black
  9. Purple game pieces, the same as black
  10. 25 five-talent coins (Silver) 50 ten-talent coins (Gold)
  11. Red game pieces, the same as black
  12. Green game pieces, the same as black
  13. 8 Dice (for some reason ours has 12 but it did come from a charity shop)
  14. 16 Fortifications
  15. 16 Cities
  16. 1 deck of cards
  17. Cards
  18. 20 Roads

Playing The Game:

Objective: To capture the other player(s) Caesar

The aim of the game is ultimately just to capture the other player(s) Caesar, which can lead to a fairly short game if you get lucky and the other person is careless; or if the other person is careful it can be a long complex game of strategy and well thought-out battling.

The board right at the beginning.
The board right at the beginning.

You start in one of the six starting provinces, these are shown on the board and the instruction book denotes which are available relative to how many players there are. The tribute scale at the bottom of the board is used to mark your income per-turn and increases if you capture provinces and decreases if you lose them depending on the worth of the province (marked on the board). you start on 15, as you home province is worth 10 but it also has a city in it which adds an additional 5.

The tokens for each player show the amount of money they get each turn.
The tokens for each player show the amount of money they get each turn.

Each turn is broken up into 6 sections:

  1. Movement
  2. Combat
  3. Collect Tribute
  4. Destroy Cities
  5. Purchase New Pieces
  6. Place New Pieces

So first up is movement, normal pieces can only move when attached to a General/Caesar. When they’re attached they form a legion; a legion may be up to 5 pieces (of any type) and then the General/Caesar to make a legion of six pieces overall. Without roads normal pieces may only move one space (being from one province to another) in a turn, however General/Caesar may move two, so they may move with a legion and then one further turn on their own. However they cannot fight by themselves – but are useful for conquering unoccupied provinces. The exception to this is roads; once on a road a player may move as far along that road as he/she likes. Galleys are the only units that can move without a General/Caesar, they can move up to two sea provinces even with no units in them.

The first move of the game.
The first move of the game.

The second part of a players turn is combat. Combat occurs when you move your pieces into a province occupied by an enemy and once you have finished all of your moving.

Just before combat.
Just before combat.

Combat is somewhat similar to Battle Cry! (as reviewed here) in that it uses dice with symbols that show which piece have to be removed. You role as many dice as there are piece in your legion (up to 6) and the defender does the same. the relevant pieces are then removed according to the symbols on the dice, and either you fight again or one player retreats. Generals/Caesar are the last pieces to be removed from any legion and can only be captured when the rest of the legion has been destroyed. Captured Generals are kept by the winner and can be bartered with later in the move, if Caesar is captured the person who loses their Caesar has lost the game and is out.

A captured Cesar.
A captured Caesar.

The next phase of a move is to collect tribute, that’s as simple as it sounds, you look at the tribute scale at the bottom of the board and collect the amount of tribute you are due.

A pile of gold!
A pile of gold!

The next phase is to destroy cites, you can do this in provinces you own if they are about to be captured to stop the other player gaining any benefits from them. This phase doesn’t have to be done as you may not be in a situation where its required.

The next phase is to buy pieces. You use your tribute to to buy pieces to build a bigger army. Pieces initially cost:

  1. Infantry – 10
  2. Cavalry – 20
  3. Galleys – 20
  4. Catapult – 30
  5. Fortified City – 50
  6. City – 30
  7. Fortification – 20
  8. Road – 10

However when inflation is trigger the first time (marked by the change in the tribute scale at the bottom of the board) cost doubles, when its triggered again (by the second change in the scale) the cost triples from the original prices.

A newly bought army.
A newly bought army.

The very last phase of a players move is to places his newly brought pieces. All new combat units must be placed in the home province of the player buying them, ships are placed on the coast of that province, or on the closest coast if you are landlocked. Cities are placed in the relevant province that you want a city in, only one city per-province and only one fortification per-city. Roads can only be built between two cities in adjacent provinces but multiple road sections between multiple cities can be used to make one long road.

Roads!
Roads!

This process is then repeated until there is only one players Caesar remaining.

Strategy:

Now, like most games on this blog I don’t claim to be a master ,but here are a few things I picked up that are important:

  1. DON’T FOR GET ABOUT YOUR CAESAR! That’s how I won the game we played, he was left in a province by himself. Always know where he is and always have him protected away from the action (unless you have no choice but t0 have him in the action.)
  2. MONEY IS POWER!  Conquering provinces is important to generate more tribute so you can buy more units so you can have more power.
  3. DON’T FORGET ABOUT SHIPS! Ships look like they can be a very useful tool to attack your enemy where he/she is not expecting.
  4. DON’T FORGET YOU CAN DESTROY YOUR OWN CITIES! Also destroying a city will destroy a road that runs between it and another city as roads can only exist between two cities. This could help slow a fast enemy advance.
  5. BRUTE FORCE IS KING! Due to the luck/probability of the dice actually being 100% tactical is difficult, so just out manning the other player in all conflicts is advised.

History and Interesting Things:

      1. While I have stated the publication date of the game as 2005, and hyper linked the 2005 game on BoardGameGeek, the original version of the game was released in 1984 by Milton Bradley and it’s sole designer was Larry Harris, Jr.
      2. However the original version of the game’s catapult rules were considered to be “broken” so the 2005 version of the game was issued with two sets of rules, one that was similar to the original rules but with fixed catapult rules (the classic rules, the ones played in this article) and another completely new set that were based on Martin Wallace’s Struggle of Empires (these are Conquest of the Empire II rules).
      3. The original version of the game also had different combat rules and the rules in the 2005 version were changed along with the dice that have images that correspond to the different units.
      4. The game is thought to be very similar to the game Axis & Alliesthis may be because it’s also designed by Larry Harris, Jr. (and because of this Axis & Allies is obviously going on our Games We Want page).
      5. It was a 2006 Golden Geek Best Wargame Nominee
      6. The original version of the game is now completely out of print and therefore a prized collectors piece.
      7. However, that’s what Wikipedia says but you can buy a 1984 original copy from America for around £55 on Ebay here (eBay listing was active at time of publication).
      8. The game is set in the Roman Empire after the death of Marcus Aurelius. So just after this happened:

(This may be from the film Gladiator and therefore may not be historically accurate).

      1. Like I said in my introduction, the game really is a physical version of Rome: Total War, just less complex and in some ways more fun.
      2. It is also the largest game we have played to date, which makes it just a little bit more awesome.

 

To Conclude:

I like this game, I like it a lot, but I was always going to – as I said in my introduction, it’s just table top RTW. However this version of the rules has quite a lot of ambiguity but with careful reading and a  bit of logic you can think your way through this. There are a few thing I think should be done differently, for example you should be able to build units in places other than your home provinces, other cities would have had barracks and been able to train men etc. Also it just feels wrong to collect your money half way through your turn, everyone knows turns begin with collecting money, it’s true of so many games, both table top and computerized. However I understand the building units one turn and not being able to move the till the next because it represents a training time.

The biggest issue with this game though is this:

Everything thrown in the box!
Everything thrown in the box!

POOR BOX DESIGN! Now you may say that this is irrelevant to the game in the sense that it doesn’t affect game play. But it does, if you’ve had to spend 20 minutes sorting out pieces because there in a mixed mess you’re not going to have the same amount of fun playing the game as if they were all sorted already in a vacuum-formed tray in the box like 90% of games I’ve played (like Battle Cry!.) The only other game I’ve come across to rival this is the Pirate of the Caribbean edition of Buccaneer! Which you can read my rant about at the end of the post on it here.

But all in all Conquest of the Empire is a good and fun game (perhaps not quite as good/well thought out as Battle Cry! and definitely not as versatile). It’s also very large which for some unknown reason makes it more exciting…

We’ll have to wait and see if the other way of playing it is as good or perhaps better.

P.S. I (Miriam) wouldn’t usually add on to a post like this, but it was more like 2 hours sorting time than 20 minutes which makes this, in my opinion, an epic design flaw… Especially when trying to determine if all the pieces were still there.

They weren’t.