Friday, September 01, 2006

Roman Holiday (Der Untergang von Pompeji, Conquest of the Empire)

Alongside a wonderful roman feast (marinaded meats, authentic sauces, dates, etc), we played Der Untergang von Pompeji and Conquest of the Empire.

Der Untergang von Pompeji

This is a weird one. A light game about escaping certain death at the hands of an erupting volcano. The idea is quite simple: The board depicts the city of Pompei, identifying major buildings and the gates out of the city. In phase A, players place their meeples in the buildings. In phase B (once the volcano explodes) try to have your meeples get out of the city before being burned alive!

The mechanics themselves are quite simple as well (other than some of the strange deck management). Phase A is all about setting yourself up for the big escape. I haven't played often enough to know all the strategies, but it seems that you want to accomplish two major things: Get as many meeples on the board as possible, and place them in buildings which provide speedy escape routes (there are "omen" cards which allow a player to arbitrarily remove a meeple from the board, which lends a "take that" aspect to this phase which discourages players from taking the very best spots, for fear of being targeted). In phase B, lava tiles are drawn from a bag, and placed according to the symbol on the tile (if it has a helmet in the bottom corner, then it must be placed onto to the "helmet" space). Once a lava tile of a particular symbol has been placed, the next tile with that symbol must be placed adjacent to it. If any poor meeples are on that space (or completely surrounded by lava), they are thrown into the volcano!!!

Anyway, I quite liked it. It's a bit grim as a theme, but it's abstract enough to be funny. Throwing meeples into the volcano is fun! As I said, it's light, but there is definite strategy in the initial placement and in the order that the meeples are evacuated. Lots of luck, too, but the balance felt right for the game (it's short, too. Maybe 30-45 minutes).

I fared poorly. I didn't get enough meeples down, underestimating the importance of that phase in the game (also, Luch targeted me repeatedly with omen cards and volcano tiles... not sure why... anticipation of wanting to beat me at Conquest of the Empire, perhaps?). Bharmer managed to get a lot of Pompeians out early, and looked like a lock for the win. JayWowzer came from behind, though, and evacuated right until the bitter end. It was a two way tie, but Bharmer's death toll in the volcano exceeded JayWowzer's... so he lost.

Quite fun, look forward to playing that one again soon.

Conquest of the Empire

Another session of Conquest of the Empire. We wanted to play this again soon after the last game in order to cement our knowledge of the rules so that things would run faster in future sessions. Despite this, the game proceeded at a leisurely pace. Combined with a rather late start, we didn't get anywhere close to finishing!

In our last game, we messed up two important rules: 1) You can't start in Italia, and 2) You can't take two cards on a turn. As both those issues came up and shaped the game in important ways, it was good to clear that up.

I started spread out across the north. For the first time in three games, I had a presence east of Italia! Also, for the first time, I started with four distinct provinces. Kozure dexcribed last game how difficult this starting position can be, and I'm inclined to agree.

I spread out my forces, trying to maintain the influence tokens I started with. A skipped an opportunity to expand in order to grab the "assassin" card (flashes of losing my general in the first game going through my head). However, as it turns out I wasn't even close to being the leader, so I probably wouldn't have been a target anyway. Kozure and Luch split up Italia, and JayWowzer dominated the south. Kozure, well he had it tough at first. On two occasions I hurt him fairly badly (I stole some large vote cards, and assassinated his general out of unfounded fear he was going to attack me). Again, those moves were ill advised on my part because targeting Luch or Bharmer would have prevented more losses, and I never did get around to purchasing a political card so all those turns picking up votes were essentially wasted.

Two seasons in, we called it a night. Kozure and Luch tied for first, but Kozure held the tiebreaker (most influence). Bharmer was in the middle and JayWowzer and I tied for last. Oh well! Bharmer and JayWowzer expressed dissatisfaction with some aspects of the game... particularly that in several situations, there is nothing to do. I found that odd, because I always feel like there is way more that I want to do than the 2 actions allow! The biggest problem, I think, is that it's very easy to fall into a situation where there isn't enough time or funds to accomplish the things you want to do... so there is nothing left to do. I have to admit that this week, I put myself in that situation time and time again (I was constantly cash poor, and overspending the small income I had on troops. This left me unable to purchase the cards/ influence tokens I needed as they became available). I still quite like the game!

I'm curious if a few tweaks might streamline the experience. Special taxes, for example, don't seem well balanced. The maximum of 25 talents raised by special tax seems too low (particularly in light of how much chaos it costs). Also, it would be interesting to see what would happen if we went back to the original Struggle of Empire rules and allowed conversion of influence without spending an action (maybe do a similar thing with combat?). The political angle also looks like it could be improved... with so many votes in everyone's hand, it's hard to make those cards pay for themselves. Maybe players shouldn't start with votes? I don't know, just rambling.

All in all, a good night. I wish we could figure out how to accelerate Conquest of the Empire, but in the meantime we'll just have to make sure that we have enough time in the future.

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