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Subject: Trajan Review rss

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Brendan Slade
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Have played a couple of games of Trajan and would like to relate my initial impressions.

What is it?

Hard to say exactly who you are or what you are meant to be doing but basically you are some sort of important person in Rome during the time of the Emperor Trajan and you are in charge of shipping, military, construction, Forum, Senate and the Arch of Trajan. The idea is to be better at being this unknown person than everyone else is by getting lots of points.

How many players?

2-4 can play. Increasing the number of players will increase downtime and overall game length by quite a bit. It will also make competition for resources much more prevalent. Only the Forum and Time track scale with regards to number of players. So with 2 players there are 3 ships to ship. With 4 players there are 3 ships to ship.

Gameplay

The game has 6 actions. Military, Shipping, Construction, Forum, Shipping, Trajan.

Which action you choose each turn is determined by a Mancala wheel. You pick up a group of markers and drop one in each circle until all have been placed. The final circle is the action you take for that turn.

Because of this sometimes the action you want to take is not available so you need to think several turns ahead to make sure that you can take the action you want. Furthermore the action markers all have colours. If you can get the colours to match up to your Trajan tiles then you get a bonus. This makes the Mancala puzzle a real head scratcher as you want to fulfill the trajan tiles but also land on the right action and if that isn't enough the number of markers you move also affects the time track of how long is left in the game.

Once you have worked out which action you are performing the next part is usually pretty straight forward.

-Forum: Select a forum tile
-Senate: Gain 1 Senate Vote
-Construction: Get a worker/Construct a building
-Military: Recruit Soldiers/Conquer a province/Move to new province
-Shipping: Gain a new resource card/ Ship our resources
-Trajan: Gain a Trajan tile

Of these the Senate has no decision making to consider but the others have a small but important strategic decision. For instance with construction you get a bonus is you have a lot of fountains however you also get a bonus each time you build something for the first time. Plus you can always look at blocking out our rivals so they can't build things.

Strategy/Luck

This game is mainly strategy but there are luck elements woven into it. For instance with the senate there are bonus tiles you can win by having the most votes in the senate. These tiles are drawn randomly from a bag. However as the Senate winner you can choose one of the two tiles to take. The tiles are also well balanced so whichever you get you can build around it. Still you might end up with the one giving you points for having cows and all the cow cards are at the bottom of the deck and are not available.

Similarly the construction/forum tiles are set up randomly at the start of the game but then you build your strategy in which you choose and there are a lot to choose from.

Theme

A lot of reviews and discussions of this game mention theme. To me the theme is very clear and apparent. It is Imperial Rome. There are legionaires, galleys, senates, gladiators, barbarians, arches, fountains all those sort of Roman things. What I think the game perhaps lacks is excitement in the theme.

For instance you can send your troops to conquer Gaul but all this involves is moving a small wooden token into the region marked Gaul and picking up a green tile which says that you can now feed people bread. It is hardly Risk, Smallworld, Zombicide or other combat games.

Alternatively when constructing things you don't construct a mighty statue or a collection of important civic buildings like in say Dominion or Puerto Rico. You build some stairs, windows, doors, tiles and a fountain.

Then there is also the Mancala itself. As far as I can determine the Romans never played the game so why is it included and what does it mean? Are they suggesting that Roman Consuls decided whether to invade Britannia or ship a herd of cows based on moving some markers? How does Trajan's arch allow me to Construct three sets of stairs at once?
If these sort of questions will keep you up at night then I probably wouldn't suggest Trajan.

Replayability

Trajan is at heart a puzzle solving/engine optimization game. If you enjoy doing Sudoku's over and over and over then you would probably say this is replayable. Other people may play it twice and go okay I have seen it move on. Every game will be different but not really in a significant way. Like last game I shipped oranges and this game I shipped gems. Cool.

Interaction

Interaction in Trajan is very indirect but it can still be there and be quite relevant to the gameplay. For instance I see that my opponent is building up a large deck of shipping resources so I go and ship a single card of wine which then halves his potential points or I see that he is building a lot of stairs so I go and build the last stair before he can get to it. However once you have done something no one can take it away from you. If you want to crush your opponents into dust and drink their tears in a goblet made from their skull definitely do NOT buy this game. If you really don't like offending anyone and are always asking why can't we all just get along then this will work well for you.

Path to Victory

I haven't played enough times to work out if there is just one optimal game strategy but from what I have seen if you any player is left to their own devices in a particular action they can rack up a lot of points. If that action becomes contested the number of points available drops. For instance if I do a lot of military and no one else does I can get a stack of victory points as well as grabbing a handful of victory tiles. If one other player does military they can easily cut me off from reaching some of the provinces and I will be forced to turn to other pursuits.

This is very much a "point salad" game where pretty much anything and everything you do will give you some points. It is all about working out what will give the most points though.

Difficulty/Learning Curve

At first this game can be a little overwhelming. There are a lot of tokens, cards, meeples and tiles. They all have different images on them and there are lots of different things you need to know. However I found after the first couple of turns everyone quickly cottoned on. The board does a really good job of explaining things. For instance the green tiles go in the green boxes. The worker meeples go where the worker meeple image is and so on. Although there is a bit going on there are no needless complications. Rules are really easy to follow.

As a new player it is easy to "do stuff" without feeling like you are making a whole swathe of sub optimal choices which will end up leading to a crushing defeat. I would hazard that the more you play the better you will get.

Upsides

-Challenging puzzle gameplay
-Lots of different ways to play
-Indirect interactions
-Game board is nice and well designed
-Rules are easy to follow

Downsides

-Theme is not very exciting
-Thinking is required to play
-Point salad

You should buy this game if
-You like Mancala
-You like ancient Rome but without all the drugs, sex and rock and roll
-You want to get points for doing pretty much anything
-You like Meeples
-You are looking for a game to workout your brain
-You have a small group of dedicated board gamers, a big table and some time to play
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Feld Fan
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Vladvonbounce wrote:
...Downsides

-Thinking is required to play
-Point salad...

Those are downsides?
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Jasenko Pasic
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Vladvonbounce wrote:
Downsides
-Thinking is required to play

I am sure you didn't really mean this. Or?
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David Patterson
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This game has been literally been sitting on my shelf for 2 years waiting to be played. I want to...no...I NEED to play this game. Yet I can't ever get the darn thing to the table.

We have a very small gaming group, and at least 1 of our 5 regulars hates anything resembling a heavy game and isn't afraid to let us all know about it, to the point of ruining all of our evenings if we bring one to the table. This 1 person also happens to be the fiancé of another regular, so if we don't acquess and play a party game or gateway game, we have 2 upset regulars.

Or, one of our regulars or semi-regulars brings a non-gaming friend they want to introduce to our wonderful hobby. Great! I love introducing new people to modern board games! Bring out Catan...or Carcassonne...or Bang! The Dice Game...or King of Tokyo... or some Pandamic clone co-op so they won't feel bad if they don't do very well. I swear, if I have to play Catan, Pandemic, or Carcassonne without using farmers (or even with farmers) 1 more time, I'm going to burn the darn things and laugh meniachally as I dance around the flames!

...

...

So...

I'm kind of excited about trying Trajan
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Brendan Slade
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Not a downside for me.

Just some people I invite to play games with are like "ugh, this requires so much thinking I hate thinking."

I really wouldn't describe Trajan as a heavy game. It is pretty straight forward to play in a lot of ways. Quite similar to carcassone, you only have a small number of options and yet how those options mix together forms an enticing strategic labyrinth.
 
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Nick Clinite
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Quote:
For instance you can send your troops to conquer Gaul but all this involves is moving a small wooden token into the region marked Gaul and picking up a green tile which says that you can now feed people bread. It is hardly Risk, Smallworld, Zombicide or other combat games.


Good review, but I simply must point the following out just because literally EVERYONE gets this messed up. So let me be absolutely clear to everyone when I say this, as well as preface that this is only from a minor amount of research on my part:

YOU DO NOT CONQUER IN TRAJAN

Gaul was annexed by Rome over a hundred years before Trajan. The only wars that I see happen during the reign of Trajan are out east; the north is a part of the Roman empire.

It's right there in the preamble for the game: "All borders are secured and people can focus their attention again on the empire's internal matters - ROME."

What you are doing when you take a military action is not warfare. From what I understand, you are merely assigning people--your people--to positions of power in the military (the VP), and probably taking some control over exports (the resource tiles).

Quote:
Alternatively when constructing things you don't construct a mighty statue or a collection of important civic buildings like in say Dominion or Puerto Rico. You build some stairs, windows, doors, tiles and a fountain.


One of the defining features of Trajan's rule is that he was a prolific builder, and many great sites were built during his time. However, in this game you're not playing Trajan or one of his architects, but Senators. Your role is to help provide work and supply of construction, the minor constructions that help transform Rome. You're absolutely right, it's not nearly as exciting, but I would argue that it's more thematic. That's actually what I like about this game: you get to experience the boring bureaucracy part of being a politician, but in a fun way.
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Christy Love
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DaveyBoy_ wrote:
...no...I NEED to play this game. Yet I can't ever get the darn thing to the table.

We have a very small gaming group, and at least 1 of our 5 regulars hates anything resembling a heavy...

I'm kind of excited about trying Trajan


I belong to a very large gaming group through meetup and, as such, when I want to play Trajan and say "Feld, worker placement, weight about 3.6" that some eyes actually light up! The challenge I have is coordinating times with these very interested parties. Actually taught it this past Wednesday to a member who wanted a meatier game. He enjoyed the heaviness of it but didn't care for the 'meet people demand' component. I think he will make a house rule to mitigate that if he decides to purchase it.
 
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Jaime D.
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DaveyBoy_ wrote:
This game has been literally been sitting on my shelf for 2 years waiting to be played. I want to...no...I NEED to play this game. Yet I can't ever get the darn thing to the table.

We have a very small gaming group, and at least 1 of our 5 regulars hates anything resembling a heavy game and isn't afraid to let us all know about it, to the point of ruining all of our evenings if we bring one to the table. This 1 person also happens to be the fiancé of another regular, so if we don't acquess and play a party game or gateway game, we have 2 upset regulars.

Or, one of our regulars or semi-regulars brings a non-gaming friend they want to introduce to our wonderful hobby. Great! I love introducing new people to modern board games! Bring out Catan...or Carcassonne...or Bang! The Dice Game...or King of Tokyo... or some Pandamic clone co-op so they won't feel bad if they don't do very well. I swear, if I have to play Catan, Pandemic, or Carcassonne without using farmers (or even with farmers) 1 more time, I'm going to burn the darn things and laugh meniachally as I dance around the flames!

...

...

So...

I'm kind of excited about trying Trajan


You need to look​ for another game group, of course. I do love gaming and I do accept almost any game (including The Grizzled and the awful Scythe) but if I don't play titles like Nippon, Brass, Terraforming Mars and so forth regularly I get a terrific mood!
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