Peter Prinz and the Fast Crusade
First impressions before playing the game
Author provided synopsis: “The players are archaeologists traveling around Europe, acquiring necessary knowledge for the expeditions to dig sites. Valuable equipment and assistants can be acquired. Once equipped, players travel to the dig sites to dig for valuable artifacts, which will earn them fame in the form of victory points. Reputations can be enhanced by taking part in exhibitions and visiting congresses. All of this costs time, which is limited for everyone. The player who manages it best will have the most successful digs and earn the most victory points.”
Crammed into the standard (awkward-)sized Queen box is an array of nice looking and well-produced components: Five bags of cloth in different colors, each one with a print of a geographical landmark representing five archaeological dig sites in the Mediterranean; 155 sturdy cardboard “dig chips” with the various artifacts and dust to be found at the excavation sites; a deck of 85 slippery and small “knowledge” cards (the only components that falls short of the high-quality mark); an appealing board of Central Europe and the Mediterranean, several wooden markers and Indiana Jonesy-meeples (sans whip, to the delight of the more prudish gamers), and to top it off, the production value pièce de résistance: the “chronokle”, a lovely and snazzy gear-shaped cardboard chart. In summary: Almost full marks for aesthetics and production value, the only thing I’m left longing for is the monocle-wearing Nazi archaeologist meeple with a slight limp (illustrated by a slightly shorter left meeple leg).
For me all this could mean “Another abstract European game with a woefully wasted and pasted colonialist theme, great production value and beautiful game pieces, with recycled and conventional euro-game mechanics revolving around balancing resources and gathering victory points.” But every archaeologist knows that a game may contain more value than meets the eye, so grab your feodora and let’s get dusting.
About the designer-Great Expectations
Thebes is designed by Peter Prinz, who, on top of having a perfect name for a German/Austrian game designer (or a character in Whacky Races), has a very short game résumé to his name. Thebes is only his 3rd game or actually his 2.5th game - as Thebes is an updated reprint of Jenseits von Theben. It will be interesting to see if Prinz can follow up on the success of Thebes. Could he be the one to pick up the ball where Wolfgang Kramer lost it?
Gameplay-Biting the dust
Each player assumes the role of an Indiana-Jones-hat-wearing archaeologist traveling around digging artifacts from ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Each uncovered artifact is worth victory points ranging from 1 to 7 points. Players can score bonuses available by collecting sets of artifacts, traveling back to Europe and display the findings at exhibitions around Continental Europe and by attending and giving presentations at congresses about the progress of archeology and the kitchenware in ancient Mesopotamia.
The board features a track of 52 week spaces, the actions the players choose to carry out will require various amount of time, which will be recorded on the track. In his action the player can chose to move from one European city to the next collecting knowledge (cards) available in that city. This action will cost the player time: the time of traveling from one city to the next + the time for requiring (studying) the knowledge in each city.
The knowledge cards that can be picked up in each city are in full view of the players on the game board, once a card is drawn it is replaced by a new card. Among the cards are also a car and a zeppelin, drawing these will make traveling around the map easier. Available are also a number of congress cards, these cards require the players to attend congresses and talk to equal-minded punters on topics such as “Finding Nepherites-Time to throw in the throwel?”, “Does a fedora make the archaeologist?” and "Do exhibitions really need moderators?". Suffering through these will not pay out until the end of the game when the cards are translated to points.
The knowledge cards
Most of the cards are however, knowledge cards. These have specific knowledge points of different nature - illustrated by book symbols of different colors on the cards - that the players need to carry out digs in the Mediterranean. Thus the players acquire knowledge in Europe, and then when they have the necessary amount of knowledge they will travel to the dig sites in the Mediterranean and spend the knowledge on the excavations, hopefully uncovering artifacts that give them victory points.
When the players arrive at the dig site they pick up their “chronokle”.
They then turn the wheels of the chronokle until it indicates how much knowledge the player has for that specific site, the chronokle will then display how many dig chips the player is allowed to draw from the digging sites (bags) and how many time it will cost the player. The longer you stay at the dig the more dig chips you are allowed to draw.
This is where the disappointment might hit in, because the player might, depending on his luck, draw nothing but dust chips. This is a luck element that WILL aggravate many players, but if you can accept this, the frustration and unluck can be quite amusing especially if the crowd is either not so competitive (or hyper-competitive). Actually this is probably something that fits the theme; you’ve all seen footage on the Natural Geographic channel or similar, of archaeologists uncovering huge areas of sand millimeter by millimeter, looks hugely frustrating…
The game board
After having carried out their action the player moves appropriate number of steps on the time track. What makes an interesting element in the gameplay is that the player who has spent the least time (is furthest back on the track) will be the one taking the next turn. This produces interesting tactics where the catching up player can carry out a number of “cheap” moves directly following each other until he catches up the other players. It will also dissuade other players from carrying out expensive actions so as not to run away from the others (thus giving the laggards an advantage of several turns in a row). Another strategical element the players have to consider is that each year (one round around the time track) the player is only allowed to dig at each site once, so when going to the dig sites the players should be confident that they have sufficient knowledge to counter the probability of finding nothing but dust as the dig sites.
In the latter part of the game, the players can also choose to arrange exhibitions in Continental Europe where they display the treasures they have found at the dig sites. The players then draw exhibition cards (at a week cost); each card displays a range of artifacts the players must possess before he can hold a extravagant exhibition, nibbling canapés, rubbing shoulders with the European jet-set and trying to get laid by sharing some intriguing facts about the ancient Mesopotamians ("cuneiform script was actually invented by the Mesopotamians").
The games ends after all players have spent three years on the time track. At this point the players total up all their artifacts, adding the bonus points received from completed exhibitions, congresses and for having the most knowledge of a particular kind. Whoever scores the most points is declared a winner.
Comparisons - Kissing cousins
You’ll probably love Thebes: if you like games such as The The Downfall of Pompeii and Alhambra, and if the luck-level in these does not bother you.
If you buy this and enjoy it don’t bother getting: Around the World in 80 Days
If you like the theme but find Thebes a bit light: you might want to try the slightly more abstract, but deeper Mykerinos or Tikal.
How does it make you feel? - If Thebes were…
If it were a beverage: A light but sophisticated white wine such as Lind Gewürztraminer Trocken Spätlese. “A light, gold colored, perfumed and sweet smelling with rose oil and exotic spices, it tastes reasonably dry, however, with a rich oily texture, citrus and dried tropical fruits adding a kick to the powerful finish. Not too perfumed, not too strong, very good with a Moroccan-spiced chicken. Superbly balanced, it combines European elegance with a lingering lightness found in Californian wine. Cultivated in German oaken casks, it can be easily drunk for several years and goes perfectly with big family meals and holiday festivities”.
If it were a movie: The Mummy (1999), dubbed into German. “The best Indiana Jones film you can find without Indiana Jones…There is hardly a thing I can say in its favor, except that I was cheered by nearly every minute of it...like that big, dumb, lovable dog you had as a kid, you can't help liking it”
If it were a car: A modern family SUV such as the Volvo XC90 “This is a wonderful, smooth and sophisticated family car. Primarily used as a pretty people transporter and continental motorway cruiser, the Volvo XC90 works surprisingly well also with sophisticated drivers, even if it lacks some oomph. Design features abound with room for several passengers, it works equally well with 2 to 4 passengers. The seats are suitable for adults for around 45min journeys. Kids and smaller adults will be fine for much longer.”
If it were a date: “The slightly old-fashioned, homely, non-descriptive girl/boy at the office who you never really thought you would date lest not fall for, but who you went out with a favor to your friend, and after a week you realize he/she has a great personality and that you have fallen for her/him, someone who cites Proust’s In Search of Lost Time even though sometimes you get the nagging feeling she has never read it, who has a 60-inch HDTV Plasma at home, someone who you now have no apprehension introducing to your parents but feel slightly embarrassed to bring around to the trendy places and show off to your coolest and serial-dating friends.”
English for Anglophones & Wikipedia History for Generation Playstation
New word you will learn when playing Thebes: “chronocle” or “chronokle” noun. from Gk. khronos "time". A handheld device apparently used by late 19th-century archeologist to determine the interrelation between time and price. Believed to have been designed by Al-Jazari, the most important Arabic astronomer and inventor around 1210 AD.
“Thebes is another seemingly abstract European game with a beautifully integrated theme (with colonialist undertones), great production value and beautiful game pieces, with recycled and conventional euro-game mechanics revolving around balancing resources and gathering victory points. Rises beyond obscurity due to fast play, enjoyable family fun and some clever elements (time track, chronokle), but it is riddled with some luck. A very good lightweight Sunday matinée with good replayability: I give it 7.5 fedoras out of 10"
- Last edited Tue Jan 13, 2009 2:49 pm (Total Number of Edits: 8)
- Posted Sat Jan 26, 2008 10:51 am
This is absolutely the BEST game review I have ever read in this site. You have a great talent in writing and describing exactly what a gamer really wants to know (and not what he may need) in order to decide whether to purchase the game or not. Congratulations! It's thumbs up for u pal!
♫ Eric Herman ♫
I like elephants. I like how they swing through trees.
I think you tried a little too hard to make it seem clever, but it is a very entertaining review, nonetheless. Great job.
So, Nico, maybe I'm a little slow, but did you like the game?
So, Nico, maybe I'm a little slow, but did you like the game?
I had decided to try a new review system without a final statement to sum it up: but upon request I have added a number at the end for those who prefer not to weigh words.