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Subject: Maj Muses on Mundi rss

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Joe J.
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I don't write very many reviews, mostly because there are so few games I have (or have played), that someone hasn't already written one for. Heck, if I see that Tom Vasal has written a review for a game, I won't even consider it. However, some games stand out enough for me that I'm willing to invest the time no matter how many reviews have already been posted.

I had anticipated the release of Gloria Mundi from the moment I first saw pictures of it on the Geek. It looked like the type of game that my group and I enjoy, and I'm a big fan of games with really nice boards and 'bits.' However, I couldn't seem to find it anywhere, and when it finally popped up at online retailers, I was usually buying something else. Purchase after purchase, I kept passing on it, mainly because I'd never played the game, and I feared being disappointed and regretting the money being spent on a stinker.

I shouldn't have worried. Recently a small retailer in my town closed up shop, but before he did he offered 40% off everything in the store. I broke the speed limit getting there, only to discover he'd been cleaned out. Or almost so.

I scored a new copy of RK's Africa, and then spotted Gloria Mundi sitting there looking neglected. I was only planning on getting one game, but decided that when desire is coupled with discount, you can't walk away. So I got both games.

Initial Thoughts: Wow, the box is too big. Others have already said it, I can't disagree. What was the point of all the extra space? Getting past that, everything else is pretty nice. I was put off a bit by the see-through player pieces, but they're different enough to kind of make the game stand out from others. The bits for the different types of produce are also great, made into different shapes and colors so they are easily separated. The artwork on the cards is very nicely done, and I found the board itself to be better than I expected. It depicts a well drawn map of Italy, with two winding paths connecting the cities. One path for the Goth (starts at the top of the board), the other for the player tokens (from Rome to Carthage). All in all, a well-produced game.

Rules: I'm a big fan of companies that are willing to invest the time and money into releasing games with well-written instructions. These aren't bad, but there is room for improvement. Very few examples of game play, and there are a few gray areas where we had to sit, discuss and figure out what to do. Don't get me wrong, the game is easy enough that it really doesn't require a long, drawn-out set of rules, but I hate interrupting game play to try and interpret what the writer was trying to say.

Game Play: I love an easy game that also has a mean-streak built into it. After a couple of rounds, everything kind of 'clicks' in your head, and turns progress quickly. The idea is to escape into Africa (Carthage is the final destination), while managing your holdings, and sacrificing them as the Goth makes his way into Rome. Each turn a player must do several things.

1. Play a card into the Forum.
This is an area of the board marked with six spaces for the 'building' cards to be played. The first one is marked with +5, the next +4, and so on down to 0. This is the extra cost that must be paid in order to purchase the building cards. As a new card is played, the rest slide down to the next space, so they become less expensive with every turn, but never less than the amount shown on the card. When a card is pushed of the 0 space, it is discarded.

2. Play a production card.
All players start with a hand of three types of these cards (number of each depends on number of players), and one of each go into their play area when the game begins. These are farms, cities and legions. Farms make food, cities make gold, and legions create peace. Each turn, a player selects a card and plays it into their area, and this determines what cards will 'pay out' for that turn. Example - If I play a city card, then all players with cities can either produce gold or activate building cards on their cities. Since you have a set amount of each type of card, and cannot get any replacements during the game, determining when to play them is crucial. The wrong choice can give another player an advantage you don't want them to have.

3. Activate Cards.
Once the type of turn is determined, players can either allow their production cards to produce normally, receiving a food, gold or peace token for each card, or they can activate any building cards attached to production cards of the chosen type. You cannot do both. If you choose to activate a building card, the production card doesn't produce for you. Some cards produce a glory token. Glory is a wild resource and can be substituted for anything else. It can also be offered as a tribute to the Goth, but more on that later.

Optional Actions
One of the optional actions on a turn is to purchase a building card and attach it to a production card in play. You can only attach one to each production card, and they must match the color of the card they are played on. Red building cards are wild and can be played on any color. You cannot discard or otherwise change building cards once they are attached. Building cards offer various benefits when activated. Some allow for extra resources tokens, others can change one resource type to another (Example - use 2 food to buy 5 gold, or vice-versa), and others let you move further away from Rome.

The last optional action is to pay tribute to the Goth. This is merely a delaying tactic, because he will move eventually, and the results can be devestating. Each stop on the path is marked by a city and the type of tribute needed, depicted by the same icon as is on the production cards. Some require only a single offering, others need two. The last stop before Rome requires three. Offering a tribute prevents the Goth from moving, but should a player opt to not pay (because they don't have the tribute, or just don't want to pay up), the Goth moves to the last covered space.

When the Goth moves, he destroys production cards along the way to his last stop. Starting with the active player, players remove one production card for each tribute token. We suggest you remove the tokens and place them in the center of the board to show what has been removed and what remains. Depending on how many tributes were made (and the number of players), some players could lose two or more cards from their area. Where the game gets mean is when a player doesn't have any cards matching the remaining tributes. In that case it passes to the next player, and so on until all tokens are accounted for.

Players may then recover the tribute. Again, beginning with the active player, each person selects one token of their choice. You could possibly go around the table a few times doing this, depending on how much tribute was offered before the Goth was moved. This is where paying attention to what the other players have is important. You could possibly not lose anything while causing damage to the others. Figuring out what you can sacrifice without doing yourself too much harm is a challenge, but one that can be a lot of fun, especially when the groans begin when you announce you're not paying tribute.

Endgame
There are several ways to end the game. Naturally, the first player to reach Carthage wins the game. I've only seen this happen one time (to me!), and you definitely need the right building cards to move that far in a game. The one time I made it was due in large part to luck and the fact that I was teaching the game to three new players. Other ways for the game to end is when a player is unable to play a production card on their turn, the Goth reaches Rome (most likely), or when the building deck is exhausted (not likely), and a card cannot be played into the Forum. When a condition other than someone getting to Carthage is met, the player furthest from Rome wins the game. In the event of a tie, the player with the most remaining resources wins. If tied again, you share the victory!

That's a bare-bones explanation of play at best, but hopefully give you an idea of the game. I've played a few games now, and I like it more each time. The game can be played with 2-6 players, but I've found that the more people in the game, the better it is, at least for me.

Gloria Mundi is a very easy game to teach, and as stated before, after just a few rounds new players will quickly understand the mechanics and really get into it. My group loves games where the possibility to hose someone else mercilessly is a big part of it, and this game certainly delivers in that area. While essentially a race game, there is a lot of strategy involved in staying ahead of, or catching up to, your opponents. Some people have noted that on occassion the game can suffer from, 'runaway leader' syndrome. I've seen this firsthand, but I've also seen a player come from way behind to win the game, so anything is possible.

Player response when I've introduced people to the game has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone enjoys the game, and so far, whenever it's suggested, no one argues it off the table. We have noticed that three and four player games can finish in about an hour, but if you play with five or six, expect a longer game.

So is Gloria Mundi for you? That depends on the kind of game you enjoy, of course. There are some similiarities to other games. One players likened it to Leonardo Da Vinci, which I've never played, so I'll have to take his word for it. Having a half-dozen games under my belt now I would certainly recommend it. It's fairly unique, easy to play, and seriously fun. At this point I don't think I'd turn down a chance to play.

The only question I have about the game is this. I've met designer James Ernest, so is that him depicted on the box cover?
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