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Subject: Mesopotamia - A Review with a lot of rules rss

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John Heder
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A long time ago, a friend introduced me to a computer game Civilization, a turn based game where a player attempts to go from the Stone Age to the Space Age, while attempting to conquer the known world – or at least to not be conquered by others. Its graphics and interactions were simple, and it could take several hours to complete. Yet I liked it. I have since played other computer games like it but still remember that game with some fondness. I have played a few civilization building board games, that remind me of that game and others, and Mesopotamia is the latest. While it doesn’t advance to other ages or have the war element, when I read it, it made me think fondly of the old computer game and I wanted to play it. I’ve been able to play twice now and wish to write this review.

Game Mechanics (what happens) – tile laying, resource gathering, structure building, and goal completion for victory.

Game Components (what gets played with) – 1 temple with temple tile, and multiple tiles of four other types, plains, forests, quarries, and volcanoes; Huts, natives(tribesman, villagers, dudes or whatever you want to call them), holy places, sacrifice tokens, mana counters, with indicators, lumber, stone, and cards.

Game play (how players play) – The game starts with a board made up the temple, 1 quarry, 1 forest, 2 volcano, and 2 plains). Players start with a hut and 3 workers on a plains tile. In a 3-player game a forth, neutral hut is placed limit the expansion on that tile. I am not sure what happens in a 2-player game. The number of resources placed on the quarry and forest tiles at the start of the game is equal to the number of players in the game – this is also true when new forest and quarries are discovered, but then the resources are spread out a bit. Stone goes on the quarries and lumber on the forests.

On a players turn, they may move their natives. 5 spaces is the general movement though it is less for most players at the start of the game. The movement may be done all by one native or may be split up between multiple natives.

While moving around, natives may explore to add new tiles and resources to the board, pick up resources or sacrifice tokens, offer stone to the temple, offer sacrifice tokens (which takes the native off the board – while I don’t believe that the native is specifically designated to be a sacrifice, it is removed and it is fun to think that it was sacrificed), or steal resources from another player (stealing resources may only be done with an area majority on a tile basis – if you outnumber the player that you are trying to steal from, you may, otherwise you may not).

Exploring takes a movement as your native moves to the tile that is explored. This is important as it is the only way to find new plains on which to build and it is also the only way to replenish resources. When exploring, the player draws a tile and places it where his native is moving – unless the tile drawn is a volcano, then the player may place it anywhere and draws another tile. The only purpose a volcano has is to get in the way, therefore it is a good idea to place them where they will get in the way of other players. Tiles are interlocking which allows them to not be easily moved by accident.

To pick up, or steal a resource or a sacrifice token, a native only has to pass through the tile where the resource is located. It does not cost movement points to pick up, offer or drop items – note sacrifice tokens may NOT be dropped: once it is picked up the native holding it has it until it is delivered to the temple. Sacrifice tokens are kept secret as they are placed into play and carried around.

Items picked up are placed on top of the natives that picked them up. This is a little awkward as they are easily knocked off. I have found that the sacrifice tokens work better if placed underneath the natives rather than on top. This does not work with the lumber or stone, as they don’t provide a stable base. A possible danger of placing it on the bottom is that you may forget that it is there and have that native pick up another item. If this happens you or other players must cry shenanigans on the offending player and stop the inappropriate action. Players carrying resources may move as normal, except they may NOT move through the temple with the resource. They may carry stone and sacrifice tokens to the temple, but only if they are offering the stone or sacrificing the token & native.

When making an offering to build up the temple a native only has to carry a stone to the temple. Doing this increases the maximum amount of mana a player may collect and gives a point of mana. This is an essential part of the game, as a player will be unable to deliver most of their sacrifice tokens without increasing their maximum level of mana. Therefore stone becomes extremely rare as they are grabbed up early.

When sacrificing to the temple, a player must have collected the needed amount of mana and then move a native with the token to the temple. The token is shown and is placed by the temple so that all may see who has delivered what. The value of the token is taken from the player’s mana indicator. If they do not have the right amount of mana, the sacrifice is not made and the native is shunted back to the tile from which it entered the temple. There are 4 values of sacrifice tokens – 2, 4, 6, & 7. The maximum amount of mana a player may collect is 8 so a player will have to collect more mana after each sacrifice is made.

After movement, players take one of 4 actions: Build a hut, Build a holy place, Reproduce, or Draw a card. For the first three, if the conditions are met in more than one place the action may be performed in all those places. For example a tile has 2 of a player’s huts and 4 of their natives, Reproducing will create 2 more natives. Building either huts or holy places both require 2 natives on the tile with a lumber for a hut and a stone for a holy place. They may NOT be built on the same tile. Both are necessary as building huts introduces the sacrifice tokens to the board (placed under newly built huts) and holy places allow players to collect mana (needed to deliver sacrifice tokens).

The fourth action a player may take is to draw a card. Cards give a variety of benefits, such as extra movement, extra mana. I have found that if a player is able to successfully play cards they have a great advantage, therefore ignore the cards to your detriment.

Next comes collecting mana. For each holy place a player occupies with the correct number of natives they collect one mana each. It is the number of holy places occupied and NOT the number of natives doing the occupying that determines the mana collected.

This collection, offering stone to the temple and a few cards are the ONLY ways to collect mana, and without collecting mana there is NO WAY to win! It must be done!

Victory (how to win) – a player wins if they are the first to deliver all four of their sacrifice tokens to the temple.

I like the game because it does remind me of the old Civilization game, though it is obviously vastly different. It does have some similarities – deciding where to explore, what to build, how to use resources, etc.

It doesn’t take 5 to 20 hours to play (the box says 45 minutes and that is pretty accurate).

Also I like how a player must balance what they do. To win a player must deliver their tokens, which requires the huts that they come with, natives and mana to deliver them. To build huts and gather resources you need to explore to find the resources and the plains to build on. If you don’t explore, you may get stuck with no resources or having to build far away from the temple and closer is better. To get mana you need to offer stone and build holy places. If you concentrate on one thing too much you miss out dong the other things that end up being necessary. If you ignore the cards you miss out on the benefits that will shoot others ahead of you, and if you collect to many you aren’t building or reproducing as is necessary. It requires a balance.

A few bad things were the awkward carrying of pieces, and the stones provided were a bit chalky (still cool) so rock dust can get all over the other pieces and perhaps scratch them up. Also some of the cards were useful only in certain situations and often useless in others. And stone was a coveted resource while lumber – more plentiful – was scattered around at the end of the game rather useless.

Still it’s a good little game that I enjoyed and would like to play again.
 
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Ben Penner
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In a two player game each player is on a different plains, along with a neutral hut on each.
 
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John Heder
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I thought it would be something like that.
 
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