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Subject: I'm Not Dead Yet: A Bits of Boardgames Review rss

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David Montgomery
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Original post can be found on my blog http://bitsofboardgames.blogspot.com/2012/03/im-not-dead-yet...

Overview
Not to be confused with Ratatouille, the beloved Pixar film, this game features rats in the black plague timeframe. Now, if you're skeptical of the theme, don't worry too much, the game doesn't really involve rats, just some rat tokens. The goal of Rattus is to have the most cubes on the board at the end of the game, but this is easier said than done. There are special power cards which help you do different things, but they are also another way to have cubes removed from the board. Players must carefully weigh the pros and cons of holding a power, because once taken, the power is yours until someone takes it from you.

Components
The Components in Rattus are good quality. Each player has a supply of 20 cubes in each of 4 colors - Red, Green, Yellow, Blue. Green and Blue look rather similar in bad light, so be careful with those, but the cubes do their job. They're small enough to fit on the board, yet big enough to move around for someone with large hands like myself. My board suffered some warping, and still doesn't exactly lay flat, but it's not severe enough to be a problem. The character cards are sturdy cardboard and move around easily. The rat tokens are prone to accidental flipping, but they are sturdy disks. There's nothing striking about the components, but they're all fully functional, easily identifiable, and aren't going to break anytime soon. A very sturdy 9/10 on the components.

Mechanics

Here's the game. Get a power if you want one. Put cubes on the board. Move the plague piece. Add new rat tokens to adjacent regions. Conduct the plague in the plague region. Next player's turn. There's a lot that goes into each step, and there are many strategic choices, but these mechanics are not innovative. The board set-up works well with the mechanics, and everything goes along smoothly like a well-oiled machine, but it can feel a bit like you're going through the motions. There isn't that one time where you can do something unexpected and take a huge lead because everyone else can pretty much do the same thing. There is some luck with what icons show up on the rat tokens, but other than that, the game is almost entirely strategic. I give these mechanics a solid but bland 6/10.

Interaction
The interaction in Rattus is fairly direct. You can steal a power card from any player you want, and you know who has cubes in a region when you move the plague there, so you can target a specific player or players if you really want. You're not guaranteed to actually hurt them, but you do have the opportunity. Interaction exists, but it's not a huge factor in the game to me, so a 5/10.

Theme

If you hadn't put the dots together to see that Rattus takes place in the middle ages, then here you go. It's the time of the Bubonic Plague. Disease is everywhere and everyone is doing what they can to avoid it. Kings hide in their castles, Knights divert the plague the best they can, even Witches use their "powers" to avoid the plague in their own areas. The theme of Rattus isn't crucial to the gameplay. It would work as something else, though I'm not sure what. As is, the theme does blend into the gameplay nicely. The board has an old look to it, the rats are dispersed throughout the game, and things work well. It's not an amazing theme, but it is different than many other games, so it gets a 7.5/10 for me.

Learning Curve
I give Rattus a Medium Learning Curve. It isn't an overly complicated game, but it does take a game to see how everything works together. You have to see the end to understand why the beginning works, and the entire game for that matter. It also takes time to know what powers to take and which ones not to based on the state of the board.

Why I like Rattus
The theme is different, the gameplay is solid, and most games are fairly close in the final scoring. To me, those are all things I like to see in any game.

Why I don't Like Rattus
In the base game, there aren't enough power cards to play it often. This is fixed with the Pied Piper Expansion, but the base game of Rattus is incomplete without that expansion.

Replayability

Rattus has enough to offer for several game plays even without the expansion. The dynamics change based on the number of players. Adding even one new player to the mix will change the way people approach powers, and that gives it some legs. Still, the options are limited, and the same 6 powers will be in every game. The expansion changes this and gives 2 additional powers of each type, so you far more variety, which leads to better replayability.

Overall
Rattus is a good game. It made my top 10, but I fear that it's losing it's shine. I recently acquired the Africanus expansion, so that may get it to the table again, but it seems like the novelty wears off after a bit. I still like playing the game, but it takes a group who's willing to have some fun with the theme and doesn't mind attacking each other, both directly and indirectly. It's a solid game, but it's an 8/10 overall for me.

Amusing story
There was one game where one player decided to never take a power card. She ended up winning the game, which strikes me as a potential flaw to the game. Perhaps it was just the mix of powers, or that the rest of us attacked each other a bit too much, but it was a little odd to me. It was a valid strategy that game, but she tried it again and didn't do nearly as well.

Final Thought
Sometimes a game with an odd or unique theme can turn out to be a winner, but not always. Take your time to examine the mechanics of a game, and make sure that the theme alone isn't a turn-off for you or your game group.
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Jason Meyers
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Succint review with good points. This is on my wishlist - but a ways down, right now, mainly because, alas, it is yet another 4-player or under game (without spending more for the expansion. soblue Also, I wonder if the theme and cube-pushing mechanics will resonate at all with my kids? As you say, mechanics are so-so, yet the theme is quite intriguing...
 
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David Montgomery
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I think that kids will like the various abilities of the powers, and they may get into even more since they'll try to stay alive with all their cubes. They may surprise you with the excitement, or it may fall completely flat. It's hard to know.
 
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Jason Meyers
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True and they do like games with role selection like Citadels and Mission: Red Planet.
 
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David Montgomery
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Spielemitkinder wrote:
True and they do like games with role selection like Citadels and Mission: Red Planet.


Since I only know Citadels, I would wager they'd like this too. Especially since you can play as any of the roles on your turn, which is a nice twist.
 
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Danny Mack
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your review was intelligently plotted and well worded. As with any review, it is a subjective statement, and I would like to add to a few points and disagree with a few others. (But please do not take this as an attempt to be antagonistic or argumentative.)
mathguy6189 wrote:
Components
My board suffered some warping, and still doesn't exactly lay flat, but it's not severe enough to be a problem.

That's just the way the Z-Man boards were manufactured--they just don't lay 100% flat. It's not that it's warped. It's like it needs to be stretched, but I'm afraid it would pop apart if I did that. But no, it's not a problem.

mathguy6189 wrote:
Mechanics
There isn't that one time where you can do something unexpected and take a huge lead because everyone else can pretty much do the same thing. There is some luck with what icons show up on the rat tokens, but other than that, the game is almost entirely strategic. I give these mechanics a solid but bland 6/10.

No, it's about the slow build and the unforeseen losses. All of a sudden you turn around and realize your sneaky, unassuming opponent has 5 more cubes on the board than you do because of a role combination you've let them keep for several consecutive turns while you were busy making your own plans. And no, you can't just "do the same thing" because usually the game isn't long enough to allow mimicry. To me it's much more tactical than strategic; what's bland about that? In a game where the average winning score is 11 or 12, what does a huge lead look like? How would that be any fun--it would have to be the result of mismatched player abilities. To me that's not bland; I don't know what a 10/10 would look like...?

mathguy6189 wrote:
Interaction
The interaction in Rattus is fairly direct...Interaction exists, but it's not a huge factor in the game to me, so a 5/10.

IMO, this is way off. EVERYTHING you do in Rattus affects your opponents--every cube you place, every role you take, every rat you move, etc. And they are going to have an immediate reaction as well as something to say about it, probably. Perhaps I don't understand the definition of "interaction" as the OP is using it. To those out there who think this game is about "cube pushing", don't be fooled by the 80 cubes in the box. This game is 50% direct conflict and 50% indirect conflict. The determining factor between the two is the luck element in the game (or the prudent use of the Witch role.)

mathguy6189 wrote:
Learning Curve
I give Rattus a Medium Learning Curve. It isn't an overly complicated game, but it does take a game to see how everything works together. You have to see the end to understand why the beginning works, and the entire game for that matter.

It depends on how you teach the game. I forewarn new players that the 1st and last rounds are different than all the rest. Then I teach them how to take the 3 phases of their turn, we do the placement (1st turn) and begin the game. They explore the roles right away, and the play continues until we are 1 turn away from running out of rat tokens. Then I explain the final round. I don't see how knowing "the end" at the beginning affects anyone's grasp of the beginning of the game--your initial placement has almost no bearing on the end game outcome. The key truth in this statement is, "It isn't an overly complicated game."

mathguy6189 wrote:
Why I don't Like Rattus
In the base game, there aren't enough power cards to play it often. This is fixed with the Pied Piper Expansion, but the base game of Rattus is incomplete without that expansion...Adding even one new player to the mix will change the way people approach powers, and that gives it some legs. Still, the options are limited, and the same 6 powers will be in every game.

This is a 100% subjective comment, not a fact. In fact, it is the source of a debate that frequently arises between fans of the game. I rarely ever play with my expansion added in. The base game is so fun as it is, and it's not formulaic unless you play with the same people over and over again and you all use the same strategies over and over again. This is not like a "take Australia, bottleneck at Brazil & North Africa, stay out of Europe" kind of Risk thing. Some role combinations are guaranteed to put you ahead, but you are not guaranteed to get them, be able to keep them, or make use of them in such a way as to be untouchable by the rat tokens or by other role combinations.

So we disagree on some things. Honestly, what I hear as I read this review is a total lack of excitement for / enjoyment of the game. It is true that who you play with can steer this game in a different direction. Players must adapt to the strategies in play, not expect the game to balance them out. This game is in my top 3, and it's not going anywhere...maybe you need to play this with someone like me to get a fresh perspective.
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David Montgomery
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Danny, first off, thank-you for your well articulated thoughts. A bigger thanks to you for spending the time to give another view on a good game. Let me respond to a few of the points you brought up. I play almost exclusively 4 player games, so that skews my thoughts.

mathguy6189 wrote:
Mechanics
There isn't that one time where you can do something unexpected and take a huge lead because everyone else can pretty much do the same thing. There is some luck with what icons show up on the rat tokens, but other than that, the game is almost entirely strategic. I give these mechanics a solid but bland 6/10.

bandit_boy7 wrote:
No, it's about the slow build and the unforeseen losses. All of a sudden you turn around and realize your sneaky, unassuming opponent has 5 more cubes on the board than you do because of a role combination you've let them keep for several consecutive turns while you were busy making your own plans. And no, you can't just "do the same thing" because usually the game isn't long enough to allow mimicry. To me it's much more tactical than strategic; what's bland about that? In a game where the average winning score is 11 or 12, what does a huge lead look like? How would that be any fun--it would have to be the result of mismatched player abilities. To me that's not bland; I don't know what a 10/10 would look like...?

I agree that unforeseen losses are the biggest part of this game. That slow build is possible, but generally in a 4 player game, you don't get to hold onto a great combo. You may not be able to do exactly what your opponents do, but as long as you keep an eye out for what your opponents can do, you can usually counter.

mathguy6189 wrote:
Interaction
The interaction in Rattus is fairly direct...Interaction exists, but it's not a huge factor in the game to me, so a 5/10.


bandit_boy7 wrote:
IMO, this is way off. EVERYTHING you do in Rattus affects your opponents--every cube you place, every role you take, every rat you move, etc. And they are going to have an immediate reaction as well as something to say about it, probably. Perhaps I don't understand the definition of "interaction" as the OP is using it. To those out there who think this game is about "cube pushing", don't be fooled by the 80 cubes in the box. This game is 50% direct conflict and 50% indirect conflict. The determining factor between the two is the luck element in the game (or the prudent use of the Witch role.)

I suppose by interaction I mean that players have the ability to work together or against others in groups, as well as have the ability to respond to what others do.

mathguy6189 wrote:
Learning Curve
I give Rattus a Medium Learning Curve. It isn't an overly complicated game, but it does take a game to see how everything works together. You have to see the end to understand why the beginning works, and the entire game for that matter.

bandit_boy7 wrote:
It depends on how you teach the game. I forewarn new players that the 1st and last rounds are different than all the rest. Then I teach them how to take the 3 phases of their turn, we do the placement (1st turn) and begin the game. They explore the roles right away, and the play continues until we are 1 turn away from running out of rat tokens. Then I explain the final round. I don't see how knowing "the end" at the beginning affects anyone's grasp of the beginning of the game--your initial placement has almost no bearing on the end game outcome. The key truth in this statement is, "It isn't an overly complicated game."


The big thing here is in how you take powers from others. Ideally you want to end with a lot of cubes but either one or no powers. Some players like to get a lot of powers, and they can't see the problems with this until they've played a game and seen the devastating results.

mathguy6189 wrote:
Why I don't Like Rattus
In the base game, there aren't enough power cards to play it often. This is fixed with the Pied Piper Expansion, but the base game of Rattus is incomplete without that expansion...Adding even one new player to the mix will change the way people approach powers, and that gives it some legs. Still, the options are limited, and the same 6 powers will be in every game.

bandit_boy7 wrote:
This is a 100% subjective comment, not a fact. In fact, it is the source of a debate that frequently arises between fans of the game. I rarely ever play with my expansion added in. The base game is so fun as it is, and it's not formulaic unless you play with the same people over and over again and you all use the same strategies over and over again. This is not like a "take Australia, bottleneck at Brazil & North Africa, stay out of Europe" kind of Risk thing. Some role combinations are guaranteed to put you ahead, but you are not guaranteed to get them, be able to keep them, or make use of them in such a way as to be untouchable by the rat tokens or by other role combinations.

I'm used to playing Cosmic Encounter, which is the ultimate example of variety in player roles/powers. There is depth in the base game of Rattus, but I appreciate the variety and seeing many different interactions.

bandit_boy7 wrote:
So we disagree on some things. Honestly, what I hear as I read this review is a total lack of excitement for / enjoyment of the game. It is true that who you play with can steer this game in a different direction. Players must adapt to the strategies in play, not expect the game to balance them out. This game is in my top 3, and it's not going anywhere...maybe you need to play this with someone like me to get a fresh perspective.

I agree with you that this is 100% subjective. That's why I say what I don't like, not what's wrong with the game. Maybe it is a lack of excitement, but it isn't a lack of enjoyment. The game offers some good variety, but I couldn't see playing this as a two-player game with the same person over and over. I think it just wouldn't last. Having 3 or 4 players brings different approaches to the game.
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Danny Mack
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So with Cosmic Encounter as your reference point, having played primarily 4-player games of Rattus, when you say this:
mathguy6189 wrote:
Mechanics
There isn't that one time where you can do something unexpected and take a huge lead because everyone else can pretty much do the same thing.

...what you mean is that because of the roles shifting ownership throughout the game at the whim of the players (unlike the set race/power system that Cosmic Encounter or Small World offers) there's no way to play your "team" well and thereby use its characteristics to pull ahead of the competition. You are right. It's quite a different way of going about a winning strategy. It's about what you are using and what you leave unused. It's about how big you allow a buildup to get before sending in the Merchant of Death. It's about parity of available options & resources, which means the difference between scores will be narrow indeed as the only influencing factors are whether you played the same roles better (and/or luckier) than your opponents.
mathguy6189 wrote:
I agree that unforeseen losses are the biggest part of this game. That slow build is possible, but generally in a 4 player game, you don't get to hold onto a great combo.

...and in a 4-player game this is often the case.

mathguy6189 wrote:
I suppose by interaction I mean that players have the ability to work together or against others in groups, as well as have the ability to respond to what others do.

Okay, this is what happens off the board. It's the table talk, collusion, the metagame, etc. Again, entirely up to the people playing how this goes down; not the game's responsibility, therefore experiences will differ. On the board, there's a lot of player interaction & intermingling.

mathguy6189 wrote:
mathguy6189 wrote:
You have to see the end to understand why the beginning works, and the entire game for that matter.

bandit_boy7 wrote:
I don't see how knowing "the end" at the beginning affects anyone's grasp of the beginning of the game--your initial placement has almost no bearing on the end game outcome.


The big thing here is in how you take powers from others. Ideally you want to end with a lot of cubes but either one or no powers. Some players like to get a lot of powers, and they can't see the problems with this until they've played a game and seen the devastating results.

Meh. Due to the element of chance in this game, it's not always devastating. In fact, in a close 4-player game use of the Knight and/or the Peasant on the final round can clinch the win. I would play this scenario differently than you--that's what it boils down to.

mathguy6189 wrote:
Why I don't Like Rattus
In the base game, there aren't enough power cards to play it often. This is fixed with the Pied Piper Expansion, but the base game of Rattus is incomplete without that expansion...

mathguy6189 wrote:
I'm used to playing Cosmic Encounter, which is the ultimate example of variety in player roles/powers.

So we'll look at Cosmic Encounter as a "10" in the category of Variety. In that case, yeah, Rattus is probably a 5 or 6. But I would never rate a game according to this category, because variety doesn't have to be the source of replayability. As you said, adding in 1 or 2 new players makes this a whole new game...unless they catch on to your pre-existing "group-think".

mathguy6189 wrote:
bandit_boy7 wrote:
So we disagree on some things. Honestly, what I hear as I read this review is a total lack of excitement for / enjoyment of the game. It is true that who you play with can steer this game in a different direction. Players must adapt to the strategies in play, not expect the game to balance them out...

I agree with you that this is 100% subjective. That's why I say what I don't like, not what's wrong with the game. Maybe it is a lack of excitement, but it isn't a lack of enjoyment. The game offers some good variety, but I couldn't see playing this as a two-player game with the same person over and over. I think it just wouldn't last. Having 3 or 4 players brings different approaches to the game.

I appreciate your careful wording, and am glad you are able to enjoy this game in spite of how it may pale in comparison to some of your fave games. You are right that in this game, fresh opponents are especially vital to keeping the game fresh (although I enjoy it with just 2, as long as my opponent has the ability to play around with different strategies.) You almost have to agree to make it fresh, and when you do manage it or the tokens flip a certain way unexpectedly, what you have is a little gem of a game on your hands. Lots of fun.
 
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Damien Seb. ●leoskyangel●
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Quote:
Why I don't Like Rattus
In the base game, there aren't enough power cards to play it often. This is fixed with the Pied Piper Expansion, but the base game of Rattus is incomplete without that expansion.


Agreed on this one. I played about 7 2-player games in one shot and felt the choices (of role cards) were a little scripted. Bought the Pied Piper expansion straightaway to spice things up a little.

Also, taught this game to new comers plenty of time and the King's privilege is the most popular role. What happened in many of my sessions, this role tend to change hands almost everytime. The witch is the least popular among new players.
 
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Danny Mack
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dtroy_de_rapcore wrote:
Also, taught this game to new comers plenty of time and the King's privilege is the most popular role. What happened in many of my sessions, this role tend to change hands almost everytime. The witch is the least popular among new players.

Yes, this sounds typical, but you can facilitate a different outcome as the teacher, if you desire. But, yes, very common (and no less fun for new players because of it.)
 
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