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Subject: Thebes: A Couples Review rss

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Richard Johnson
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This is part of our series of reviews written specifically to address games that my wife and I find enjoyable as two-player games. We especially like games that can be played with multiple players but scale down to two well. The rules will be briefly covered but the majority of the review is for game play and interaction. One thing to keep in mind is that we are both avid gamers, so the purpose of the review is not to find ‘gateway’ games to get your significant other to play with you (though many will serve this purpose), but to find interesting games that play well with two.

We are modifying the format somewhat, putting all text by Zoey (username Zontziry) in italics while all plain text is written by Richard (username cuzzle).

Components

The components in Thebes are absolutely top notch. I got really excited opening this up to find the custom made bags, each color-coded for the archeology sites. The numerous tiles were all ‘chunky’ and punched out perfectly with no tearing or knife work needed. The time wheels are a very nice addition , being both attractive and functional, and I’m glad they were selected rather than having tables to look the information up in. The board is perfectly functional and attractive though not something you would want to frame on a wall.

It was really nice to see the custom-made bags, instead of having to make some for drawing the tiles like we’ve done for a few other games. The pieces themselves are very sturdy, and the time wheels spin smoothly. The meeples for this game are fun, Indiana-Jones-looking figures, adding to the exploration theme of the game. And last, but not least, I really like the cards with the points-artifacts charts. It makes it extremely helpful in deciding time spent excavating at a site.

Theme:
I absolutely love the archeology theme to the game. The drawing tiles out of the various bags fits so well with archeology and having all the sand tiles gives a real feeling of anticipation as you draw them out. The excitement of a really good ‘pull’ as you get all artifacts to the disappointment of pulling 9 sand in a row (yes, it happened to me), really gives it a nice feel.

When Rich told me this was an archaeology game, I wasn’t sure what to expect theme-wise. Everything, from how to acquire knowledge, to the amount of time to acquire knowledge or other excavation aids, to the increased return for having more knowledge in an excavation zone was excellently done. Also well-done was the digging aspect – I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy it, but the anticipation of nothing but sand versus nothing but artifacts is addicting!

Game play:

The game play is fairly straightforward. Players, all starting in Warsaw, get to travel to various European cities to acquire cards that will help them with excavation. Cards include specific knowledge (specific to an excavation site), general knowledge (can be applied to any excavation site), and aids that will either decrease the time it takes to travel, increase the number of artifacts players can draw, or increase the amount of knowledge for any excavation site. Players can also travel to the excavation sites to dig. Depending on the level of knowledge they have for that site, they can spend a certain amount of time there to draw artifacts from the site-specific artifact bag. Each artifact bag has a combination of point chips or knowledge chips and sand chips.

The game is very unique in the determination of player order. Around the edge of the board is a time track, split into 52 weeks. Each action a player takes in the game costs a certain number of weeks. After one player has taken their action and moved the required number of weeks on the track, whomever is farthest behind gets to take the next turn. This puts a bit of a spin in the strategy used in the game; players not only need to decide how to balance the acquisition of resources for their digs, they also need to determine the balance of time spent acquiring those resources and time spent digging, to maximize the value of each. There are many instances where one player has spent a number of weeks doing an action, leaving another player time to take two or even three actions before the first player gets another turn.


There is a lot of randomness in Thebes, but there are a lot of mechanics in the game to counter-balance this randomness. Acquiring knowledge lets players draw additional tiles so that they increase their chances of getting good artifacts. While a few ‘unlucky’ tile draws can hurt in the game, they tend to balance out over the course of the game. So far, we have only had “very” close games (less than 5-6 points difference).

One note: there are “rumors” which can be acquired specific to an excavation site. I still get a chuckle when I see that it only takes 1 week to acquire 2 rumors (which count as 2 specific knowledge that are discarded once used in a dig). As one friend put it when we explained the game, “Ah, so it takes you a few weeks in the library to get good knowledge, but just a week in the bar to get lots of rumors.”

Conclusion:

Thebes is a game which can be played with two players in under an hour and is quite enjoyable. You will shout and cheer for your partner as they pull tiles out of the game, and moan and laugh your own good or bad luck as well. There is nothing like pulling five out of five artifacts nor pulling nothing but sand with ten! It gives the game a nice ‘experience’ that isn’t too serious but gives you some hard choices and tactical depth in manipulating player order and choosing which expeditions to go on.

The amount of strategy, luck, and confrontation in the game is just about perfect for this game. The only confrontation is getting to an excavation site before another player so you get the best chances for a good draw! However, the luck plays in when you show up first at an excavation site and draw nothing but sand for all the knowledge you might have. It’s very well-balanced which makes it a ton of fun.


Final Rating:

Richard: 8/10 -- Thebes really is a blast to play, and once you know the rules, you can play a game in around 40 minutes. You will rate much lower if you dislike randomness, though.

Zontziry: 9/10 -- I really enjoy this as a light-hearted, quick game when I don’t want to think too hard about a strategy, but still want some decision-making involved.

Final rating: 8.5/10

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Vinay Chandrasekhar
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Nice review and format. I am also usually on the lookout for games that scale well down to 2 players. Will keep an eye on this series !! Thanks
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Jim Cote
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cuzzle wrote:
The only confrontation is getting to an excavation site before another player so you get the best chances for a good draw!

I would add the following:

- Fulfilling exhibitions before other players.
- Taking multiple small turns in a row to get lots of knowledge.
- Flushing the cards to get rid of cards more helpful to your opponents, and to push exhibitions off the board.
- Competing for most knowledge in the 5 colors.
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Zontziry Johnson
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Jim,

You are definitely right. For some reason, I didn't think of those as I considered confrontation in the game. The confrontation is definitely more prevalent than I make it out to be. In fact, most of the game is confrontational, but our games have been so light-hearted that it doesn't feel that way!
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Lynette
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Richland
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Yep, I am a girl Scientist. Come for the breasts; Stay for the brains!
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Even though I never get to play two player games anymore, cry I have to say you guys are doing a great job on these two player reviews.
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Christopher DeFrisco
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Thanks guys! I've been trying to find a game that has some confrontation, but that the 'other' Chris will like.

Great review!

Edit: I just ordered this game from Boards & Bits.
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Great review, thanks. This has made me decide to get this game. My wife likes the anticipation of luck and randomness. We often play games with another couple so this should fit quite well.
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Richard Johnson
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quentin1 wrote:
Great review, thanks. This has made me decide to get this game. My wife likes the anticipation of luck and randomness. We often play games with another couple so this should fit quite well.


Thanks. Sounds like this is perfect for what you're looking for. We are still enjoying this one a lot.
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