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Subject: For the Meeple, by the Meeple (Review of Thebes) rss

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Michael Carpenter
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Box Art




SUMMARY
Style of Game: Family, Exploration
Play Time: 60 minutes
Theme: Very thematic
Number of Players: 2-4
Main Mechanics: Point to point movement, time track
Components: Good
Weight: Light

SETUP
The setup for Thebes is rather simple and in the modern board game hobby that is a subtle but nice factor to acknowledge.

To start players should each take a set of excavation permit tiles, one archaeologist, one time marker, and one time wheel in the color of his or her choice.




Next, players should remove the ten exhibition cards from the research deck. There are five large exhibitions worth five points and five small exhibitions worth four points.



Once players have removed the ten exhibition cards they should separated them based on large and small. They should then place one regular researcher card face-up on each of the four spaces on the board.



They should then divide the remaining researcher cards into three equal piles. The five small exhibition cards should be shuffled into the second stack of researcher cards. The large exhibition cards should be shuffled into the third stack of researcher cards. The stack pf researcher cards that did not have any exhibitions cards added to it should be placed on top of the second stack of researchers cards that had the small exhibition cards added to it. This new, larger stack is then placed by the board where the four researcher cards were placed face-up. The third, smaller stack, should be placed aside and will be used later in the game.

Players should then place their time tokens on the appropriate starting space based on the number of players.

2 or 4 players: Start time tokens on the start space (located neat space number 1

3 players: Start time tokens on space number 16 along the time track.

All archaeologist pieces should start in Warsaw and each player should place their excavation permit tiles and wheels in their player area.

The summary cards (explaining how many artifacts are in each bag) are placed near the board for all players to see at all times.

The last thing to do it setup is take one value 1 token out of each excavation bag and place it on the corresponding site on the board.

Now, I realize it may seem like there is a lot to setup because a few of the steps seem meticulous but truthfully, there are very few components and setup goes pretty quickly. Maybe 3-5 minutes max.


OBJECTIVE
The objective of Thebes is to become the most famous archaeologist team in the world by gaining popularity in the form of victory points. To do this players will have to obtain the knowledge it takes to skillfully excavate a site for ancient artifacts.


GAMEPLAY
The game play is rather simple. On a player's turn he or she must do one of four actions:

Take a researcher card: A player may take one of the four researcher cards that are face-up on the board. Each card has the name of a city on the top of the card, a cost (in weeks) in the top right corner, and a benefit at the bottom of the card.



There are twelve city locations on the board. Seven of these cities are used to collect knowledge and five of the cities are excavation sites. When using the take a researcher card action a player must move his or hr archaeologist piece to the city that is named on the card they wish to take. Each space the piece must move (following dotted lines that connect the city locations on the board) costs one week on the time track. If the piece is already in the necessary city, the player does not pay any movement cost. By the end of this action the player will pay the total of the movement cost (if required) and the cost of the card in the top right corner.





In this example the player started in Warsaw and wanted to take a card with Paris at the top of the card from the research spaces. Since the player had to move his piece two spaces to Paris he would pay two weeks in movement cost and one week for the cost of the card (shown below).



Play player would pay a total of three weeks on the time track.



A new researcher card is immediately drawn to replaced the taken card.

Exchange the four cards displayed: If a player is in Warsaw or moves to Warsaw, he or she may discard the four researcher cards that are showing and draw four new ones. The English version of the rule book does not state that the player may then take one of the new cards. The player must pay one week on the time track for the taking this action and any necessary movement cost. A player may do this a second time if they are able to immediately take a second turn because of turn order. If he or she chooses to take this action a second, third, etc consecutive time he or she must pay two weeks on the time track the second time, three weeks the third time, and so on. This is only if the action is taken on consecutive turns by one player before any other player can take a turn.

*Turn order is determined by who is last on the time track. If players are tied for last then the token that is on top of the other tokens will take the turn. If you land on another player's token when moving your time token you should place your token on top of the other tokens already on that space.

Execute an excavation: To execute an excavation players must have two prerequisites.

1. The player must have a valid excavation permit tile.



2. The player must have at least one specialized knowledge of the corresponding color.



The specialized knowledge cards are part of the researcher deck and can be obtained during the take a researcher card action.

To execute an excavation the player must first move to the colored site they would like to dig at (paying the movement cost) and then decide how much knowledge they would like to use for the excavation. Players may use a number of different types of cards for the excavation. These cards include:

- Specialized knowledge books: These are used only for the excavations performed in the corresponding color.

- Generalized knowledge books: These are used in all excavations of any color.

- Assistants (one, two, or three): If using one assistant card discard that card immediately to receive one additional knowledge for the current excavation only. If using two assistant permanently receive one additional knowledge in all excavations. If using three assistants permanently receive two additional knowledge for all excavations.

- Rumor cards: These are discarded after used but can be used on the excavation of your choice.

*The only other thing that can be used during an excavation are shovels. If using one shovel discard that card immediately to draw one additional artifact token from the bag for the current excavation only. If using two shovels permanently draw one additional artifact token in all excavations. If using three shovels permanently draw two additional artifact tokens for all excavations.

A player may not use more general knowledge points than specialized knowledge tokens when performing an excavation. A player may HAVE more general knowledge but may only used up to the same amount as the specialized knowledge they possess in the color they are excavating.

Once the total number of knowledge is determined the player should turn the wheel until the correct number of knowledge is showing at the top. This will be a white number with a blue background.

The total number of knowledge is twelve so the player has turned the wheel to twelve. There are fixed numbers in black down the middle of the wheel. These numbers represent how many weeks the player will have to spend to draw the number of tokens to the left (red numbers, white backs). A player may choose any number of weeks they would like to spend as long as the corresponding number in white is at least 1.



Once a player executes a excavation they should turn the matching excavation permit tile to the "X" side for the remainder of the current year.



Once a player has chosen how many weeks they would like to spend and paid the movement cost for getting to the excavation site they may draw the appropriate number of artifact tokens from the matching colored bag, applying any bonus draws they may receive from shovels. A player will also receive the artifact token of value 1 that was placed on each excavation site at the beginning of the game if they are the first player to excavate a site.


Execute an exhibition: When exhibition cards are drawn from the research deck the card is placed in the "A" slot on the left side of the board (if an exhibition card is already in the "A" slot then they should move that card to the "B" slot and place the new exhibition card in the "A" slot).





To execute the exhibition a player should move to the city that is on the top of the exhibition card (paying movement cost) and then show that they have the required artifact tokens to complete the exhibition card. If they can show the required tokens then the player takes the card and places it in their playing area.



As players moves along the time track (due to the spending of weeks for movement, cards, exhibitions, and excavations) they will eventually spend all fifty-two weeks of the year. Once a player has crossed over space fifty-two and into a new year the player may turn over all of their excavation permits tiles that have been used (turned to the "X" side) back to their valid side for the new year.

Players will continue to take one action on their turn, sometimes taking more than one turn in a row based on who is last on the time track, until all players have gone around the time track enough times to move the year marker to the 1903 slot. Once players have finished the 1903 year by traveling around the time track during 1903 they must stop at space number one. Once all players have finished spending their weeks in 1903 player will count their points from artifact tokens, exhibition cards, congress cards (end of game scoring cards obtained from the research deck), and having the most specialized knowledge in each color.

As far as I can tell, during the last year of the game a player may only spend as many weeks on their last turn as they have available on the time track before they pass space fifty-two. Therefore, if a player started on space fifty, they could not spend two weeks on movement and then choose ten weeks during an excavation, thus going ten weeks into 1904.

The player with the most points wins the game.

MIXTURE OF THEME AND MECHANICS
I believe this game is very thematic. Do I feel like I am digging in the dirt? No. However, I do feel like I spending time making my excavation team's odds of success better and I do feel like I am only partially successful, like archaeology seems to prove. This is a good theme for a game that incorporates a significant amount of luck through its mechanisms.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Pros:
- Easy to learn, easy to play, nice play time
- Offers plenty of moments to cheer for or against someone
- A fantastic blend of theme and mechanisms

Cons:
- A large amount of luck
- The English version of the rule book is a little vague in areas.

I don't have many complaints about the way the mechanisms work together. The game play is smooth and works well. The mechanisms are designed to benefit the player who prepares for an excavation adequately and hurt players who do not and this seems to hold true, for the most part. You are going to have some moments when an ill-prepared excavation is a success.

While the game does not necessarily state that the game is played in two phases, it seems to play out in that fashion. Since players do not have to spend specialized knowledge, general knowledge, or assistants, in most cases, the first phase of the game is to simply obtain as much knowledge as you can, as efficiently as you can. The second phase of the game is largely spent on excavating and drawing tiles. Not every player has to play like this because there are ways to score via exhibition cards, congress cards, and having the most knowledge in each area but if you allow other players to excavate way more than you do you will likely give up a pretty good amount of points. Plus, the other players have an an easier opportunity to block what you are trying to do with the cards, than you do to block their digs because the only way to really hinder their digs is to dig there yourself. Meaning you have to spend a lot of weeks, if you want a serious chance of finding artifacts. So excavations are necessary, but there is more than one significant way to score in this game.

A balanced approach to all the scoring methods may not be the best strategy in the game but it does seem to be the most engaging or thought-provoking way to play the game. Each individual way of scoring in the game is pretty straight-forward and none of them require too many decisions, but balancing everything and spending your time efficiently is challenging and enjoyable.

I think that this game gives off the appearance that it is a very divisive kind of game because luck is going to make some people love it and others hate it but I don't know if that is the case. If you approach this game with the mentality that the luck of the draw is only a portion of how you are going to score points you can find more game in here than it appears. However, I could see a potential for maximizing other scoring strategies to only truly be successful in the four player game when the artifact tokens are being fought over and split up more thinly while you tackle many ways of scoring. I have only played a two player game and in a two player game if you are not excavating, you likely will not be able to keep up. It is possible, but not likely. One example of this is the congress cards. The congress cards increase in worth as you collect more of them (i.e. 1=1, 2=3 etc.). In our two player game my wife collected five of these cards for fifteen points and I only had two and yet I still won the game because I had excellent excavations in the orange site.

While trying to compete against the luck of the draw with scoring methods is a viable option, it is almost like purposely taking the fun out of the game for yourself. Which kind of makes it odd to approach the game in that fashion.

Now, it may sound like I am praising the game and making it seem like there is a deep strategy but don't take what I am saying as meaning that this game has a ton of decisions to make and a deep strategy. All I am trying to say is that there is enough of an underlying level of strategy that it is worth mentioning.

Overall, the game is pretty light and moves really quickly. Thebes is definitely a family game and I enjoy it but this will never be a go-to gateway game, family game, or strategy game. The only thing I could see this game serving a purpose as is a fun game when you want something quick but with a little more substance than a filler.

The blend of the theme and mechanisms save this game from being rated too poorly but I don't think I can go any higher than a 6 on this one because it's reliance on luck to score a large portion of your score, with the only way of competing against the luck of the draw being to remove the fun from your own experience.

If you like luck in your games, I can't see too many games being a lot better than this one though.

Again, I have only played this game one time but it isn't a complex game. The "basic" strategy is very apparent, the gameplay molds itself into two obvious phases, and there aren't that many decisions to make. Which is by no means a bad thing but it does simplify the assessment process.

Rating - 6/10


If you enjoy my reviews please recommend and check out my geeklist For the Meeple, by the Meeple

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David Hvisc
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Oakville
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I play this often with my gaming friends, and my new gaming friends absolutely loved it.
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Michael Carpenter
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I can believe that. I think it is certainly suitable for families and new gamers and the occasional gamer group may enjoy it. I just don't think it's going to be a go-to game in most categories for most groups. I am sure there are exceptions to that though, which is the case for almost anything. I stand by my opinion that this will be at its best (meaning people will be least critical of it) when it is brought off the shelf with the intentions of playing a light, quick, good game that is more substantial than a filler. Nothing wrong with a game being in that category. Especially for one that I think will thrive in it.
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Kevin B. Smith
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I think you're overstating the luck a bit, and understating the strategy a bit. For me, this hits that "next step" level of game, with more strategy than a typical gateway, but not up to "medium" euro levels.

Although you're correct that accumulating knowledge early is valuable, you have to know when to start excavating. The first player to excavate each color gets a free artifact. Plus, you can only excavate each site once per year, so it's great to squeeze in a couple small digs at the end of the first year. With a little luck, those early digs can even allow you to hit a couple exhibitions.

Plus, the more a site is dug, the more artifacts come out, but the dirt stays in. If you're digging near the end of the game, you're likely to have worse results. Meanwhile, someone who got their digging in early had better odds, and then they can soak up knowledge near the end, going for the majority bonuses. If the other player(s) are off digging, you might get some good knowledge bargains, plus exhibitions, and if you're lucky, a bunch of conferences too.

I don't want to overstate in the other direction. There *is* a fair amount of randomness. And the decisions are often pretty light. But there is more going on than might be visible at first glance.

My main complaint with the game is that it can overstay its welcome a bit. We sometimes houserule it to cut the length by half a year.
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Michael Carpenter
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I am going to defer to your expertise on this game because I have only played the game once but what you are saying is a bit like what I was saying (or trying to say) when I said there are ways to play the game without relying on luck. To me, they just seem counter-intuitive. At least for me. I could tell there were ways to make choices that were the "strategy" part of the game but if I sit down to play Thebes again it is going to be to draw out of those bags.

If I am playing Thebes I probably wasn't in the mood that evening to put together much of a strategy and instead was in the mood for a high fun factor game that is more than a filler. Trust me when I say that you definitely have the upper hand in understanding the strategy aspect of this game though. It is hard for me to comment on the outstaying it's welcome opinion because it didn't happen in our game but it was a new experience and any well constructed game likely won't produce that feeling the first time through.

One thing I can think to say though is that experienced players are likely better at maximizing efficiency in their moves and do not spend as many weeks on each turn because we felt like we were rushing through the year at times and were not getting enough done.

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