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Game Preview: Babylonia, or Burning with Ecstasy

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
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Designer Reiner Knizia has eleven titles listed on BGG's SPIEL '19 Preview. Some of these games are listed despite not being new in 2019 because this convention will be one of the first times they're widely available to all, e.g., Stephenson's Rocket and Yellow & Yangtze from Grail Games, and Korean publisher DiceTree Games' elaborate version of Modern Art, and some are extensions of earlier game lines, e.g. Lost Cities: Auf Schatzsuche, Axio Rota, and The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples, while some are new as of this show, including Super Meeple's Tajuto (which I previewed here), Tasty Minstrel Games' Aristocracy (which I still need to investigate), XVgames's Chartae (which I need to print and play), and Ludonova's Babylonia, which is the subject of this post.

For convenience's sake, I could describe Babylonia as a blend of Knizia's games Samurai and Through the Desert/Blue Lagoon, with a dash of Taj Mahal, but doing so seems like a disservice to the design, which can stand on its own perfectly well, thank you very much.




Your goal in Babylonia is to have the most points at game's end, but that's akin to saying that you need to have eaten the most sweets in the candy shop. You're in an environment surrounded by sweets, and you can't know which is really sweetest until you start poking around and trying things. Everything you try affects what others do since they see what happens to you and will either try to cut off your supply or build their own sweets pump to boost their score.

In game terms, you're taking turns placing tiles on a game board of Mesopotamia. On a turn, you can place any number of farmers face up on the board or two tiles face up on land, face down in water, or a mix of the two. You want to place adjacent to multiple ziggurats because each time you do, you score points equal to the number of ziggurats you've placed next to; you want to surround city tiles because if you have more tokens next to a city than each other player, you'll claim it and score 1 point for it each time a city is claimed during the rest of the game; you want to use farmers to grab crops because they're a rich haul of points all at once; and you want to build chains of tokens between cities because you score for certain types of tokens each time a city is surrounded — and the longer the chains you build, the more times each of those tokens will score.


Final board in a three-player game


As with many Knizia designs, Babylonia puts you in the position of wanting to do everything and being able to do very little. You're staking out grounds incrementally, trying to edge out others for majorities around cities and ziggurats everywhere you go and forced to abandon certain battles because you have only two hands and can't fight in all directions.

At this point I've played Babylonia five times on a review copy from Ludonova, and I feel like I've barely started to explore the game for real, partly because the game is so open, with your plays being valuable only if you make them so over time, and partly because the game takes on a different character each time you have someone new at the table. You can't go into the game with a set plan, but rather you need to react to what they're doing so that you can knock their snowball aside before it grows unstoppable.

More on the game — and the music video linked below — in this video overview:




My soundtrack for this game — well, all games really, not to mention every other activity:


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