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Mea Culpa» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Mea Culpa: A Brilliant Mid-Heavy Euro engineered to perfection rss

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Peter D
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Summary

Mea Culpa is an extraordinary game. A game where the clever layering of mechanics and currencies produces something to rival Madeira in the way the complexities are inter-woven. The game has been years in development and it shows: it is so perfectly engineered. It feels like the workings of a well-oiled mechanical clock, where the cogs individually turn but, by the works of a masterpiece of engineering, it turns it into a magical time piece. Mea Culpa effortlessly combines auctions, action selection, area majority, set collection and a little bit of bluffing; and it does so in a completely integrated natural manner, and with a huge dose of interaction. Don't be fooled by the excellent comedy cartoony theming: this game is dense, yet dense with a lightness of touch. As I say, engineered to perfection.



Intro

Each year Zoch, the publisher of family games, produce a deeper game. And they have a good pedigree: Manila, Aquilea, Tobago and so on, are all top games. In Mea Culpa Zoch have gone heavier still - we are looking at a weight of over 3 on the BGG scale here. The mechanics of the game weave throughout the play. There are Euro games which offer a fairly linear form of play (you plan a series of actions which yield a result when compounded together) and then there are the games that are more multi-layered, where the impact of actions is not simply linear. The latter is Mea Culpa.



Game overview

The game's mechanics are so interwoven that it is tough to summarise the game easily but I will attempt to do so.

The Theme:
The theme is about absolution: you spend your life heading towards Hell and then, in a Lutheran reprieve, you can gain access to Heaven at the end of the game for all the Letters Of Indulgence you have collected throughout the game.


The Aim:
During the game you lose points doing stuff (losing points means heading towards Hell). At the end of the game you gain points for the tokens you have collected whilst you have been doing all this stuff (and off toward Heaven you go). You will receive one point per token you have collected and 8 points for a set of four, one of each colour. So the game is about trying to collect these sets of tokens without losing too many points doing so. These tokens are called 'Letters of Indulgence' and you have to do different things in the game to obtain the different colours. The game plays between 8 and 11 rounds depending on how quickly the scoring area-majority Cathedrals get built.


A Round
A round begins with a secret, revealed bid auction to win one of the four characters who gives specific benefits and determines turn order. Then you do the actions which are:
- buy resources (which are used to gain majorities or buy green or red tokens directly),
- sell resources to raise cash,
- donate resources or money (this is for the area majority),
- or gain a super-action from one of the cards. One of the super-action cards yields a yellow token, the only way you can get yellow. Whilst Blue tokens are only available in the area-majorities.





So what makes this game so good?


The clever mechanic behind Mea Culpa, the thing which gives it this multi-dimensional dynamic, is the use of three currencies in the game, and the multiple uses these currencies have.

The Currencies:
- Firstly there is money: money has three uses, it is used to bid in the auction, to buy resources, and is one of the variables measured in the area majority which you will have tucked away in 'donations' during the game.

- The second 'currency' is in effect a d6 (it's actually a cardboard hex-cylinder) which you have and which contains 6 units to be used each round. It is used as a currency in the auctions, it is used to buy the powers on the super-cards, and finally it is used to buy extra actions. You originally set it to bid then you can use the remaining numbers up to 6; and if you don't spend the 6 units you have available to you then whoever spent the least of their d6 gets to penalise the player who spent the most of their d6.

- The final currency are the 'sin pots'. When you take extra actions you sometimes have to spend this currency by putting your coloured discs into these pots. These tokens will score negative points when the pots are resolved. So by spending this currency you are buying a liability to lose points in the future. But the clever bit is that whoever is the player who causes these pots to resolve does not take the hit. So, if you play well, you may get to use this currency for free.


The Characters:
The four characters put one further layer of interest into the game. You bid for one each turn. They all have a benefit but how much will you be prepared to pay for them? The Petty Sinner has the best benefit as he immediately can grab a rare yellow token, but he goes last, and comes at a cost, so is he worth it? The Pope is great as he resolves the 'sin pots' and gains absolution from the negative points contained therein. The Emperor decides which of the three area control areas gets closer to being scored. The Merchant grabs extra resources for free. Ahh the decisions, the decisions.


The integration of the theme
The theme is wonderful and completely integrated into the game. The idea that the Pope visits the House of Sin incognito, but only if another player doesn't guess which room he wants to visit (that's another little fun mechanic added in - a bluff and double bluff from the Pope) works well.


The tough decisions:
The decisions involved are so tough. For example, how much of your D6 do you use in the auction to gain the character you want, each notch on the D6 is one less action to use and limits the use of the super-powered cards. How much cash to add to the D6 bid? If you have the highest D6 bid you get the cash back - now that is another clever mechanic. Then which character to choose? The petty sinner gives you a yellow token, but he goes last. The Pope goes first and may resolve the sin pots if the timing is right. Then what actions to do? Push your influence in the area control? Use the sin pots for extra actions, but that might come and bite you? Turn your D6 up a notch to get an extra action, but that might make you the highest on the D6 and vulnerable to a loss of points at the round end. So much is going on all of the time, and the player interaction is fully integrated into the game, something a Euro does not always manage so successfully.

The Strategies
You can play the game in various ways. The two extremes are (1) You can sin a great deal, getting loads of extra actions, losing loads of points, and collecting a ton of sets, hoping to go shooting back up the score track at the end. Or (2) you can sin very little, have fewer actions, and play a more measured game. Or more likely you go somewhere in between.


The Humour
The game is hugely entertaining, with its theme shining through.




In Conclusion:

Mea Culpa is a brilliant Euro. It isn't as complex as Madeira, but I refer to that game since it shares a similar way in which the mechanisms inter-weave together. It's of the complexity of Puerto Rico, and shares with that game strong levels of interaction, but Mea Culpa is less linear than Puerto Rico.


There are a lot of deep and thinky Euro Games out there. Not many, however, manage to combine and layer so many great mechanisms so seamlessly and smoothly as Mea Culpa. And in doing so it offers player interaction as a significant part of the game at all times. Then throw in the entertaining theme and Zoch have a real winner with this game.





Note: I was not supplied with this game for review, I paid for it at Essen.
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Daniel Danzer
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Great summary on a more "abstract" level!
 
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Peter D
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duchamp wrote:
Great summary on a more "abstract" level!


I wanted to emphasise the excellence of the play to overcome people's perceptions from the artwork, the theme and the fact that it is Zoch (known for family games) that people would think it is a light game. So I chose to emphasise that, despite all that, this is a deep game.

Perhaps I should have described the theme more as actually I think that the theme is excellent and quite hilarious. It really promotes great table talk and laughter.
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Simon Neale
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Great over(re)view, Peter.
I've played his twice now and I really like both the humourous theme and the well meshed actions and mechanics. I do like a game that is different enough to stand out from the multitude of games and Mea Culpa certainly does that it style!
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Nicola Bocchetta
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Milano
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Quote:
The Theme:
The theme is about absolution: you spend your life heading towards Hell and then, in a Lutheran reprieve, you can gain access to Heaven at the end of the game for all the Letters Of Indulgence you have collected throughout the game.


I thought it was the Catholics that gave out letters of indulgence, and the Lutherans were totally against that.
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Peter D
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Faso74it wrote:
Quote:
The Theme:
The theme is about absolution: you spend your life heading towards Hell and then, in a Lutheran reprieve, you can gain access to Heaven at the end of the game for all the Letters Of Indulgence you have collected throughout the game.


I thought it was the Catholics that gave out letters of indulgence, and the Lutherans were totally against that.


Yes of course, hence the Pope in the game. My mistake.
 
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Frank Weiß
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Hi Peter,

Thanks for your review. Did you play the games with 2? If so how was it? Best regards, Frank
 
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Peter D
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Mr Franks 71 wrote:
Hi Peter,

Thanks for your review. Did you play the games with 2? If so how was it? Best regards, Frank


No I didn't. I have only played with four. I would say it really needs four to work well, maybe three.
 
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