Cleopatra and the Society of the Architects
(Days of Wonder)
What a great little game! That has been my response and the response of everyone I have introduced to this recent release by Days of Wonder.
Cleopatra and the Society of the Architects is a resource management game in which players take on the role of rival architects of the court of Queen Cleopatra, competing to build sections of her palace and be richly rewarded in the process. The game embraces all that is enjoyable about playing Eurogames, from the duration of play (between an hour and an hour and a half) through to its wonderful components; consisting of an array of plastic architectural features that include columns, door frames, obelisks, sphinxes, floor tiles and the throne (not to mention the inner box, which becomes the main temple structure!)
CSA's game mechanics are certainly not unique. They seem very familiar and comments were made comparing aspects of the game to Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Big City and even Blockus! That's not to say that CSA does not have its own feel and rules - it borrows bits and pieces of the best and manages to reinvent itself as something entirely new and fresh.
Each player begins the game with a cool little Pyramid with a slot in the side to hide corruption tokens (explained later). They also get 5 talents (Egyptian coinage), three Nile Merchat Ships (wild resource tokens that can be used as a substitute for any resource) and two statues of Anubis (explained later).
Each turn a player can do one of two main actions:
- Visit the market to collect materials; or
- Build and score
The market consists of cards with various resources (artisans, marble, lapus lazuli, wood and stone). The standard 'untainted' resources provide one of each resource, however there are 'tainted' cards that provide two of each resource, plus a selection of special 'tainted' cards that allow a player to do sneaky stuff (think Development Cards in Settlers). For example:
- The Beggar forces players to give you resources/talents
- The Courtesan allows you to search the discard pile for a card
- The Smuggler allows you to maintain a hand of cards in excess of ten (for one round)
The market is created by shuffling all the cards, splitting the deck and reversing half of the cards, then shuffling the two decks back together; so that half end up face up and the other face down, intermixed in the one deck.
Three cards are laid down to start the market, with some cards visible, some not. When you collect from the market, you take all cards in one of the three stacks and then lay three more cards out. Early in the game you are picking up one card only, but as the game progresses, you are collecting many more in one go, deciding on which market to buy from by what is visible.
The resources allow you to build pieces of the palace and you are rewarded depending on what you build, with bonus points awarded for how you build in relation to other features (e.g. floor tiles score extra for each palm tree they cover on the palace roof template, door frames score extra for each column that is connected them). There are six major building components(detailed above) and when five of these are complete, Cleopatra inspects the palace and the game is over and ready to be scored. You advance a little figure of Cleo down the entry plaza to represent this. The one with the most talents wins the game!
Now here's the real twist in CSA. Remember I talked about tainted cards and corruption tokens? The only way you are going to get a reasonable score to win the game is by using the odd tainted resource card or special card. Each comes with a price measured in corruption tokens. Use them and you bank the corresponding corruption tokens into your pyramid. When the end of the game is reached, the corruption levels are revealed and the player with the most corruption is fed to the crocodiles. Their score in talents (no matter what it is) is not considered for determining the winner. They are the ultimate loser.
Only after the lucky crocodile snack has been determined, the surviving players compare talent totals to find the winner.
That's CSA in a nutshell but there are a number of other elements that make this a far more strategic game than it seems at first glance. There are ways of reducing corruption by creating sanctuaries in the palace gardens. T do this you buy into the expensive mosaic floor tiles that look a bit like Blockus pieces. The configuration that you place them in can create areas (sanctuaries) where no other tile piece can be placed. If this is the case you can mark these areas with one of your Anubis statues. At the end of the game, before the crocodile feeding, you can fill the spaces in the sanctuary
you created with a corresponding amount of corruption tokens you have accumulated in your pyramid.
You can also get rid of corruption through the 'offering to the Gods'. This is a hidden auction of talents, initiated by a cumulative rolling of dice. There are five dice, each with an Ankh symbol on one side. When you build something you roll them all. Any with the Ankh face up get put on an altar. Next time the remaining dice are rolled and Ankhs placed on the Altar and so on until the fifth die is placed there - this initiates an offering.
All money in an offering is lost BUT the winner loses 4 corruption tokens. The next highest GAINS one corruption, the next highest two corruption and so on.
There are a number of other card base and positional strategies that can win or lose the game and that you can learn about by grabbing a copy of CSA! If you really don't like it, you can always use the miniature architectural pieces in your RPG campaign or Warhammer Fantasy game!
Rating: 5 out of 5
All money in an offering is lost BUT the winner loses 4 corruption tokens. The next highest GAINS one corruption, the next highest two corruption and so on.Just a correction -
the winner loses 3 corruption markers, not 4.