Capitol: my view.
I have only played one building game, Manhattan. Therefore when one member of our gaming group bought along Capitol, I was keen to give it a try.
I really like the look of Capitol. It comes with a really nice board depicting Rome. The artwork is excellent and the board contains six city districts, two each in red, black and white. There is a large bag of wooden building floors and there then sets of roofs (both rounded and triangular) in each of four colours (green, red, blue, yellow). Each player has one ‘stop’ card featuring a senator. There are also stacks of cards to represent roofs, floors and permits. There are cardboard counters to represent fountains, amphitheatres and temples. Finally, there is the much talked about scoring track which comprises four columns that fit under a cardboard slider. We played without even gluing the basic scorer together and it was ok. We all agreed that it was fiddly and unnecessary but also agreed that gluing a simple piece of cardboard across the back would make it perfectly usable. I guess it would have been easier to have had a score track around the outside of the board, but at the same time, I applaud the game designers for at least trying to do something different, even if it didn’t quite come off.
Being English, we used the translation of the rules that came with the game…. these were adequate but there were several ambiguities and incorrect translations (including the colours!). Fortunately, the German rulebook is well illustrated and it was possible to cross check the two and work out how to play. Excellent one page summaries can also be downloaded from BGG.
Overall, the components are very good indeed. The wooden buildings and coloured roofs are excellent. Once there are several buildings on the board, it really looks like an ancient city.
Gameplay is fairly straightforward. Each player is dealt 2 roof cards, 2 floor cards and 4 permit cards. The remainder of these stacks are placed face up next to the board. Each player then takes the roofs of a particular colour and 6 floors. These are used to build a one storey and a two storey building with each roof type. Players build these four buildings (and subsequent ones) off the board. Next, the fountains, amphitheatres and temples are placed in the appropriate spaces down the right hand side of the board. Set up is completed by choosing a starting player and giving him/her the starting token.
The game consists of 4 rounds, each comprising the following phases:
Construction: Beginning with the starting player, each player performs one of the following actions:
- Play a floor card and take 2 floors, using them to build new buildings or increase the height of buildings under construction (those without roofs).
- Play a roof card and place 1 roof atop one of his/her uncompleted buildings.
- Play a permit card and place 1 building in a city area with a matching colour. There are several rules governing placement of buildings: (1) They can only be placed in an unoccupied small space; (2) They must have the same roof style as existing buildings in that city area; (3) All three city areas of the same colour must not have the same roof type; (4) The first building built in an area may only be 1 storey high, and subsequent buildings in an area must be the same height as existing buildings there, or 1 storey higher.
This phase continues until all players have passed. Numbers on the cards are ignored.
Improvement Auction: This phase uses ONLY the numbers on the cards. Each player stacks his/her cards face down with the cards he/she wishes to bid at the top and the stop card immediately below (other cards are placed under the stop card). Players then simultaneously flip over their cards to see who wins each auction. Only the player who wins the auction actually spends the cards bid. In the case of ties, auctions are broken in favour of the player who played the single highest denomination card. There are 3 auctions each round. The first and second auctions in each round are for fountains. The third auctions in rounds 1 and 2 are for amphitheatres. The third auctions in rounds 3 and 4 are for temples. Fountains are placed in any empty small space and give bonus points during scoring. Amphitheatres are placed in any empty large space and give bonus cards during the end phase. Temples are also placed in any empty large space and allow double scoring during the scoring phase. Note that there is only one large space per city area.
Scoring: Each of the 9 city areas is scored. The player with the tallest building in an area scores 2 points plus 1 point per temple in the area. The player with the second tallest building scores 1 point plus 1 point per temple in the area. Temples double the points that players receive for the area in which they are built. Players can be tied for first or second place, in which case they both receive the appropriate points.
The player with the most points at the end of 4 rounds is the winner.
End phase: Each player draws 6 cards from the face up piles. Each player with the tallest building in an area containing an amphitheatre draws 2 additional cards. A player with the second tallest building in an area with an amphitheatre draws 1 additional card.
So What Do I Think?
I have to say that I quite like Capitol, although others in our group are less enamoured by it. There are certainly lots of different choices each turn. Gaining the right colour permits is key in order to be able to play buildings where you want to. All of the various improvements are quite useful, and there are also certain city areas on the board that contain temples from the beginning. Turn order can be quite important. However, players who have either kept cards over from the previous turn or who have acquired lots of additional cards from amphitheatres, can essentially ensure they build last during the construction phase if they want to. Similarly, players with more cards may be able to ensure that they win a key auction, although the fact that the numbers on the cards vary so much (from 1 to 8) can mean that luck of the draw mitigates against this. The game can suffer a little if some of the players are not willing to build 1 storey buildings to open up new areas. A good way to avoid this is for everyone to build several 1 storey buildings in the first round. This tactic is both a good one for gaining early points, and for opening up the board quickly. Later in the game, it becomes a rather cagey balancing act, with everybody trying to build and then place taller buildings than everyone else. It can be frustrating if your card draw isn’t great. For instance, you might have to draw 3 permit cards before you get the colour you want (using up valuable draws that you might otherwise have used to gain roofs and floors).
Overall I give Capitol a very commendable 7. For me, it can only live up to this score if all players are willing to: (a) play some one storey buildings early on to open up the board; (b) play relatively quickly. Given those two provisos, the game can be finished in about an hour, which is excellent. Finally, getting back to where I started this review….. our group now has two building games in Capitol and Manhattan, so how do they compare? I like both but the rest of the group are not that keen on either! Capitol feels slightly more prone to luck but is significantly shorter. Both look good on the table, but in a totally different way: Manhattan has the feel of seventies day-glow plastic whereas Capitol has more reserved but elegant traditional wooden blocks. I rate them both equally because they offer slightly different but equally interesting building experiences. Both allow you to develop points in key areas of the board, and both also allow you to shaft other players as you do so. There are more options in Capitol but provided you don’t get analysis paralysis it plays quicker. Manhattan is more straightforward, but consequently feels rather slow and dry (particularly if played without the baby Godzilla variant). Choose either with confidence if you fancy a decent building game. Read reviews of both to work out which one might suit your group…..unfortunately neither seems to quite suit the rest of my group, so they don’t hit the table as often as I’d like.