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Subject: A Quest is a Quest is a Quest... rss

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Joe J.
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"Irish legends tell of the hero, Chu Chulainn..."

Celtica is the latest release from Ravensburger, and authored by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. It hasn't been out long, but already it's taken quite a bit of abuse, which is perhaps doing more harm than intended. Most people slam it for being 'too simple,' and 'unoriginal.' This review will show both the good and the bad about the game, at least from one player's point of view.

I almost passed on Celtica. I admit it. I saw the game at my FLGS, was intrigued by what I saw, and went home to consult the Oracle that is BGG. Wow, big surprise. People were less than enthused about it, something I couldn't believe. The box art and photo on the back of the box had me more than a bit curious, but great artwork and ease of play hadn't helped the general opinion here.

So in spite of everything I read, I went back to the store and made my purchase. Since it was the only copy the employees there had seen, they asked me to open it up so they could see the contents. What do you get? Here's where I gush over the components.

Face it, if you've seen the pictures here, you've got to agree the board is gorgeous. A wonderful depiction of an ancient land, which is as green as you might expect Ireland to be, but I doubt the Emerald Isle ever looked like this. The board has a printed path for the druid tokens to follow, with numerous stops on the way to the goal in the center of the board. One of our players called it, "Uncle Wiggily gone druish."
(The response was, of course, "Funny, he doesn't look druish.")

Also included are five druid tokens in red, gray, white, black and brown. A deck of 60 cards is included, which has the five druids repeated 12 times. An 'experienced' deck of 20 cards has the same artwork, but with a horned helmet added to show that the druid has faced a challenge. More on this later. Finally, included are a bunch (and I do mean a bunch) of amulet tiles with which the magic amulets are constructed. Each amulet is made of nine different jewels and a centerpiece, and there are enough to make ten complete amulets, so do the math. There's a lot of tiles. So, all in all, the game is very attractive, and believe me, experience has proved it will make people stop and look.

Setting up the game is one of it's drawbacks, but it really doesn't take that much time. Each player is given one stone and one center piece tile as a start for their amulet. The remainder are shuffled and stacked (number of stacks is the player's decision), and nine are drawn and placed in the amulet part supply spaces at the top of the board. The deck of druid cards is shuffled and each player dealt five. Now here's where the game takes a twist. The players do not select a druid token to play. All players use all of the tokens, even in a two-player game. The cards you are dealt determine which token you move, and how far. Example: I want to move the red druid two spaces, so I play two red druid cards. What space you land on determines what action you take -

Land on a cloister, castle or village, and you can draw from the amulet supply the number of pieces shown at that space (1-4), then fill the empty spaces by drawing from the supply stacks.
Land on a ruin, and your druid is jumped by Viking raiders who rob him of some amulet pieces (again, 1-4). These are discarded away from the supply stacks, unless those are depleted. The player then gets to take an experienced druid card of the same color. This can be used if you don't have enough cards to avoid Vikings in the next space or two, or they can serve another purpose at the end of the game.
Finally, if you move a druid to a cult site, you may draw a card from the druid deck. However, this card must be played on your next turn. You can choose not to draw a card, as there can be disadvantages to doing so. To quote the rulebook, "A player uses his last druid card to move the red druid to a cult site that is one space away from two ruins (one loses two parts, and the other three). As this cult site now has all five druids and the other players have no druid cards remaining, he will take his next turn immediately if he draws a card. Regardless of the color card drawn, he must move to the next space and lose pieces of his amulet. Thus he chooses not to draw the extra druid card"

The game is played in rounds, which end when all players have played all of their druid cards (experienced cards do not count and are held separately). It is possible to play all of your cards while other players still hold some. Play continues until all players are out of cards. If no single druid has reached the goal, a new hand of five cards is dealt to each player, and play continues, beginning with the player to the left of the player who played the last card in the previous round. (Say that three times fast!)

The game nears its end when the first druid reaches the goal. The player landing there gets to draw a big helping of five amulet pieces. the other players finish another turn each (with the exception of the one who moved the druid to the goal), by playing druid cards and moving druids to collect as many pieces as they can, or giving them up to Vikings and gaining experience cards. Once all players have made their final moves, the game ends and scoring is done. But first, players may trade in their experienced druid cards for extra pieces. Use one card to trade any amulet part in their play area for one from the supply spaces, or use two cards to take one amulet part from the supply spaces. This allows some amulets to be completed that otherwise may not have been.

The player with the most completed amulets is the winner. If players tie for completed amulets, the winner between those tied is the one with the most uncompleted amulet. If tied again, the win passes to the player with the second most completed amulet, and so on.

So does all this add up to a great game? No. Does it make a good game? Yes. By no means is Celtica a complicated game, or one of much depth. It lacks a lot of strategy, as movement depends on luck of the draw. However, knowing when to move which druid can be tricky, and there's a minor amount of 'screw-the-other-guy' play available. Following a premade path to the goal caused several comments like the aforementioned Uncle Wiggily were made, with a couple of comparisons to Candyland as well.

Still, this is not a bad game if you would like some lighter fare, and it is a nice game for families that aren't offended by references to Celtic religions or the word 'cult.' It plays well with 2 - 4, but really shines when you can get five players together. You'll hear plenty of groans as somebody sees the druid they were waiting to move get moved by someone else. The game seems to encourage a good-natured 'take-that!' attitude and lots of laughter as players race to complete their amulets and reach the goal.

If that's the kind of game you like, I heartily recommend the game. If you're into deeper strategy games that cause analysis paralysis, you'd be better off passing. Celtica can be fun, is played in under an hour even with five players once you get the hang of it, and is a great game for families. It is far from perfect (no game ever will be), but it isn't as bad as some believe. I've enjoyed several games now with both my gaming group (who very-much liked it), and my family (now one of my 8 year-old daughter's favorites), and it hasn't yet lost its replayability.

I think we'll enjoy Celtica for many years to come. Take the time to try it yourself before passing on it. You might be glad you did.
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