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Subject: A great game with great mechanics rss

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Matthew Roskam
United States
Birmingham
Alabama
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When a game uses mechanics that are different from the norm, the game designer takes a lot of risk. If any one of them fails, the game will seem irritating and dull after repeated play. The game Thebes took enormous risks by combining time based turn order, card collecting, chit pulling, and even a conveyor belt mechanism - and it pulled it off magnificently.

When I first started looking at this game as a possible purchase, I did my homework. I watched the video reviews - I read the written reviews. I downloaded a copy of the rule book and I thought hard about it.

Several things concerned me. It seemed the consensus of opinion was that the luck of the draw was too random to make this game enjoyable for the 'serious gamer' - a term that is an oxymoron if I've ever heard one. And I wondered how well it captured the theme. My biggest concern was that it would feel like "you have to mess around in Europe for a while, delay, delay, delay, until you finally put together enough stuff for an expedition. Then you are just subject to blind luck and the game ends."

But the theme resonated with me well enough to take the plunge. I bought it, played it, and wasn't disappointed. The game plays well throughout. The time based turn order is genius. It makes time, not money or even knowledge, the ultimate commodity. Few games do that. It has the added side benefit of never wondering whose turn it is, because all you have to do is look at the board, and you know (an important feature when your game table is subject to frequent interruptions, as ours is).

But the game is just plain fun in all phases. Gathering resources in Europe plays to the theme well- and is filled with its own subtle strategies. If I grab this quickly, it's still my turn- but if I don't grab that, my opponent will grab it on their next turn. Do I gather huge amounts of knowledge for a potential big haul- taking the risk of coming to a site that has already been pillaged by others? After only a few plays, it was obvious that everyone had a strategy unique to themselves- and that each approach could work well. Some hit the lecture circuit for fame, while others focused on exhibitions for potential glory- some gathered resouces quickly to dig first, while others spent more time in the library to dig deeply. These are the kinds of tough decisions many of us live for as gamers.

And then the games ultimate payoff occurs- digging in a bag for treasure is just too tense not to be fun. Knowing that the best strategy of preparation can end with only a fistful of dirt only adds to the excitement for me. The youngest, most inexperienced player at the table knows he/she has a shot at fortune if luck smiles. Those who lament the luck element should remember what every talented Texas hold'em player knows- that strategy and cunning will not win every game, but it will, in time, payoff. This is what Thebes ultimately rewards- but it does it in a way that is truly fun. To me, that is what gaming is all about anyway.

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Andy Andersen
United States
Ada
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I've only played with 2 and found it rather dull. I'm guessing 3-4 would play much better. Thanks for the review.
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Kevin B. Smith
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Orangemoose wrote:
I've only played with 2 and found it rather dull. I'm guessing 3-4 would play much better.

With more players, as you would expect there is a bit more competition for the resources, and less predictability about what will be available when your turn comes back around. I don't think the nature of the game changes dramatically.

My friend and I prefer it with 2, because it moves faster. 4p games, especially, can go longer than I like for this type of game.

Of course, to enjoy Thebes, you have to like games without direct conflict. There is a fair amount of indirect interaction, via the main cards (especially conferences), exhibitions, digging before bags are depleted, and final scoring based on knowledge majorities.

Great review. I agree that the time track mechanic is great (and underused):
Games where the time track determines turn order (so you might get 2 turns in a row)
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Ernest S
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Renton
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Nice review (your first, it seems); Very good job. Your feelings about the game mirror mine.

I like this game fine. My daughter and I play it 2-player a lot. My game group will play it on occasion. It's a quick game and pretty easy to teach. Typically a good strategy will win the game, though bad luck can sometimes make it more difficult.
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Andy Andersen
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Ada
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peakhope wrote:
Orangemoose wrote:
I've only played with 2 and found it rather dull. I'm guessing 3-4 would play much better.

With more players, as you would expect there is a bit more competition for the resources, and less predictability about what will be available when your turn comes back around. I don't think the nature of the game changes dramatically.

My friend and I prefer it with 2, because it moves faster. 4p games, especially, can go longer than I like for this type of game.

Of course, to enjoy Thebes, you have to like games without direct conflict. There is a fair amount of indirect interaction, via the main cards (especially conferences), exhibitions, digging before bags are depleted, and final scoring based on knowledge majorities.

Great review. I agree that the time track mechanic is great (and underused):
Games where the time track determines turn order (so you might get 2 turns in a row)


Thanks for the comments. My wife and love direct conflict so this may be holding the game back for us.
 
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Bill Eldard
United States
Burke
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peakhope wrote:
There is a fair amount of indirect interaction, via the main cards (especially conferences), exhibitions, digging before bags are depleted, and final scoring based on knowledge majorities.


I would argue that the game has plenty of interaction.

It is, after all, a race against time. Each player knows exactly how much time he/she has to execute a plan, and that he/she is competing with the other players for the same things.

In that context, the great tension in the game play is in the risk-taking. One can improve (but not guarantee) the chances of successfully uncovering treasures by collecting more aids and spending more time at the digs. But likewise, by accepting more risk, one can beat the cautious players to the digs and with a little luck, have better success. Therein lies the interaction, because what the other players do and where they go greatly affect what you do and where you go.
 
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Matthew Roskam
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Birmingham
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I agree. I know a lot of people like direct combat style games, but the games that force you to take into consideration and adjust your strategy according to what your opponents are doing all the time are far more interesting for me as well. I think the more indirect style of interaction gives a lot of subtlety and richness to the decisions we face as gamers- far more interesting than simply lining up for a set of combat dice rolls. There is a lot to process in watching your opponents even in so-called indirect games for anyone that has an eye for it. Thanks for your thoughts on this!
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Roger Howell
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I am so on the fence about buying this game. I like set collection games a lot but this game has so many people that say it is dull. I purchased Pergamon (another archaeology game) and it deals with set collection as well. I did not like it (but the set collection pieces in that game are displayed in puzzle form - too much down time trying to piece together what you need and what you need to acquire to stop your opponent from scoring.) Anybody else out there buy Pergamon, and if so, what are your thoughts compared to Thebes?
 
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Steve Duff
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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rogerramjet3361 wrote:
I am so on the fence about buying this game. I like set collection games a lot but this game has so many people that say it is dull.


Who's saying Thebes is dull? It's a Spiel de Jahr winner. It's one of the highest rated games on BGG.

Every game has detractors, Thebes has clearly shown over the years that's it's extremely popular and fun for most everyone who plays it.
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Bryan Jensen
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Layton
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We start the game with half the dirt called for at each site. It has made the expositions a more competitive and tenser part of the game. It also gives players a greater sense of success without wholly removing the possibility for digs that are significant busts or just don't show up with valuable artifacts.

At game's end players have seemed to feel more satisfied. Given that we play 3 or 4 players always, the sites are often fully, or near fully excavated by game's end, which makes it feel like an appropriate wrap up. Luck still plays a role, of course, but I have heard much fewer complaints when everyone feels like they had a good chance -- even if they came up empty or nearly empty at times -- because such unsuccessful digs aren't nearly so common as in the game when played as designed.

And the stronger ability for more competition in filling expositions feels much more enjoyable an aspect of the game to be enhanced.
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Randall Bart
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Winnetka
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quixotequest wrote:
We start the game with half the dirt called for at each site. It has made the expositions a more competitive and tenser part of the game. It also gives players a greater sense of success without wholly removing the possibility for digs that are significant busts or just don't show up with valuable artifacts.

Are you shortening the maximum weeks at a site? You don't want it to be possible to draw all the tokens from the bag.
 
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Bryan Jensen
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Barticus88 wrote:
Are you shortening the maximum weeks at a site? You don't want it to be possible to draw all the tokens from the bag.


No. We haven't found that to be a problem; For a 4-player you're only running 2 years; this variation front loads the first year digs to be more exciting and profitable -- which has made the game more interesting to people to whom we introduce Thebes. You see more tension about when to race for an early dig rather than everyone hanging out in Europe till they are sufficiently educated (the safer play like we've tended to see in a base game in order to make the 16-sand digs much less unprofitable). You can more reasonably see tense competition for the early exhibitions. But if someone wants to play the patient education-acquisition game they can come in for a powerful dig late in the first year.

Another variation we've tried is playing with 16-dirt digs but only throw back half of the dirt (round down if necessary). This is a decent choice for a 2-p game, and good for a 3-p game too. This variation makes the early game much the same as how people tend to play the stock game, but the late game is more fun. It rewards the savvy education acquirer a little more than the 8-dirt variation we've played more because we favor it for the 4-p games we've tended to play most.
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