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My Take on Mesopotamia

Klaus-Jürgen Wrede designed Carcassonne, which I’ve quite enjoyed. More recently he designed Mesopotamia. Everything I heard about this game left me uninterested.

However, in my haste to get rid of Star Wars Stratego (I can’t stand keeping games around the house that I don’t like) I listed Mesopotamia in my list of wants in a math trade, and I got it. Go figure.

The Components
Each player gets a pile of wooden bits including a beam, pawn, tribe markers and huts. There are also boards to track mana on, holy place disks, offerings (4 per player), cards, little pieces of wood, real live rocks, a stack of tiles that make up the board (composed of volcanoes, forests, quarries, and plains), rules and a rules summary/quick set up guide. Last, but not least, the game comes with a big and completely superfluous wooden ziggurat that is placed in the middle of the board. It’s not necessary for game play but it sure looks cool.

The components are high quality. All the wooden player pieces are as big as they can be without being too big. The tiles that make up the board are nice and large, though they do have interlocking boarders which I find completely unnecessary and complicate game play and take down. The cards are a good sized and linen finished. The wood pieces are like the roads in Settlers of Catan with natural coloring. And the rocks are, well, rocks. Kudos to Phalanx games for including such a cool bit, however, the rocks rub against each other and generate quite a bit of dust. I had to wash mine off before playing the first time. So far I haven’t had to wash them again, but I suspect that if I moved the game around a lot the rocks would have more opportunity to grind against each other.

The Game
To win you need to be the first to bring all you offerings to the ziggurat. To bring your offerings to the ziggurat you need mana.

7 tiles are used to set up the game: the ziggurat tile, a forest tile, a quarry tile, 2 volcanoes and 2 plains. The set up is slightly different depending on the number of players, but the ziggurat is always in the middle flanked by the 2 volcanoes. The plains start out on one side and the quarry and the forest on the other. Players start out with a hut and three tribes on one of the plains tiles.

A turn is quite simple. You get to move a total of 5 spaces, then you take an action. Finally you get mana if you are on a holy space.

When you move your tribes you can have them pick up wood and rocks, explore new tiles by moving off of the board, steal other players’ goods, carry goods around and make offerings at the ziggurat.

The actions you can perform are to have your tribes procreate thus generating new tribes, build new huts which is how your offerings come into play and they make procreation easier, build holy sites which generate mana, or you can pick a card which gives you special powers.

My Take
In order to win you need to at least to the following: 1) make 4 offerings of rock to the ziggurat to increase you mana limit to 7, 2) procreate one new tribe so you have 4 tribes to make the 4 offerings and 3) build 4 huts thus bringing your four offerings into play.

Will you win if that’s all you do? No!

Mesopotamia is fundamentally a race game, but you have to build up infrastructure. You need wood for huts and rocks for holy places and ziggurat donations. You need new tribes to run around exploring, collecting stuff, generating mana, building stuff, making donations to the ziggurat and mugging you fellow players’ tribes of their stuff.

It is a game of getting your tribes in the right place so you can maximize their 5 movement points.

There is a lot of tactical play in the game because you don’t know what tiles will come up when. And new tiles are the only way to bring more resources into the game. Cards are very useful and the earlier you get them the more useful they are likely to be. The problem is your opponents can fill up the primo real estate while you’re picking cards forcing your huts into more isolated positions.

A couple of the main strategic aspects of the game are where you place your huts and holy sites and how to position your tribes to best take advantage of the production spaces. A neat twist is that you can use your opponents’ holy sites for generating mana. It’s also important to keep in mind that rock can be used up quickly and be in short supply by the end of the game so you don’t want to postpone your rock needs for too long.

Mesopotamia takes about 30 to 45 minutes to play and makes for a short and intense pick-up-and-deliver game with some interesting chrome.
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