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Subject: Great graphics a great game do not make rss

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Filip W.
Sweden
Linköping
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Euros are better with dice!
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Opening the box my hands started to shake. I felt the way Columbus must have felt discovering America or the way your average IRS agent feels finding an undeclared off-shore account. In other words: WOW!

 
Image courtesy of Leon van Groesen.

Components
Justinian is nothing short of gorgeous. I've liked the heft Railroad Tycoon, the size of 7 Ages and the ingenuity of Duel of Ages but for sheer graphic beauty nothing comes close to Justinian. Looking at the components is like watching a window in a Gothic cathedral: you can hear the angelic choir in the background.

And it doesn't end there. The board has raised edges so the character slips will lie stable and pale colored areas so you'll easily see how many markers each character has on them. And the beveling is flush with the top of the character slips so the markers are easy to slide onto them. Not only that, the plastic box insert is formed so that everything lies flat and nicely segregated – you don't even need zip-lock bags to keep the markers from flying around. Justinian's production value is simply immense.

Image courtesy of Dave Lartigue.

The only drawback is the scoring track which, while good looking, is counterintuitive and the areas set aside for scoring round influence markers are somewhat small but those things are easily mitigated by the pleasure of fiddling with the other components.

Gameplay
Unfortunately Justinian doesn't deliver gameplay wise. On the surface it's a simple resource management game: you've got a number of influence markers and use them to raise or lower the favor of characters which you've randomly invested in. But beware, there are only 22 markers in total in the game and you'll be liable to run out real quick.

In fact, that's how most games have ended for me: some players run out of markers and whoever managed to keep theirs gets a free run at the final, and largest, scoring round. Keeping your markers is key to victory, even if you have to give up on the first scoring rounds. You'll still get some points – usually thirty to fifty compared to fifty to eighty for those optimizing early scoring – and as scores increase in each of the three scoring rounds you can triumph two good scoring rounds for other players by a hundred-or-more point final scoring.

The second problem is that you receive the character's which score for you randomly. If you get bad characters, or a combination that no one else has, you won't have enough markers to get your characters into favor. It is frustrating to see every one else more-or-less cooperating and sending your characters into disfavor as an afterthought – with three other players dropping negative markers on your characters to advance their own (you can move up by either gaining favor or causing others to lose it) you won't stand a chance to catch up.

Image courtesy of Dave Lartigue.

Even so, there's a fair amount of strategy going on in Justinian. The key points are to keep your markers to the last while preventing other players from gaining too much favor for their characters. It's a bit of a guessing game with a fair amount of bluffing as you don't reveal if you're supporting or undermining a character when placing the marker, and there's some choice in which characters to support – low ranked characters score more if they get into favor.

You'll also need to balance influencing the court and spending markers on activating scoring rounds but as each player rarely activates more than one round (as that would remove too much from his ability to favor characters) the balancing act is limited to which scoring round you'd like to influence.

Justinian plays fast; three games in an hour, including setup, is not uncommon. Only the size of the box and the quality of the components keep it from being placed in the Euro-filler category.

The chief drawback is that the learning curve is very steep. It's not so much a matter of rules, which are simple even if they're written in an unnecessarily complicated fashion, as the scarcity of resources. Beginners won't know where to invest and how to save and they're likely to ruin the game for more experienced players.

Image courtesy of Dave Lartigue.

Justinian relies on all players being equally familiar with it. A beginner that does something stupid can very easily hand the game to another player. And if you've burnt all your markers in the first round you're not only slowing the game down for others, you're in a position where you know you've got nothing to do.

That's not to say that Justinian has a king making problem – unless you count king making at random. When you mess up, you never know who you're handling the game to only that chances are very good that there will be such a player. A very lucky character draw can alleviate this problem, but that's nothing anyone can influence.

Conclusions
All in all Justinian is a fair game. It's all right to play when in the right mood, it's light enough to play fast and heavy enough to hold the interest of inbreed gamers. It probably won't make anyone's top ten list, nor a game you'll introduce casual players to, but it might very well be something you pull out when you want something quick.

Who'll like Justinian: Heavy gamers looking for lighter fare. Ameritrashers looking to migrate to Euros.

Who won't like Justinian: New gamers. Families with children. Groups with players of mixed experience.

****************
Personal rating at time of writing: 5 / 10

Pros:
Fantastic components
Great graphics
Quick Gameplay

Cons:
Too random
Hard on beginners
Not enough meat to keep the game replayable

Facts:
2-4 players (scales decently although 3-4 is best)
30 minute playing time, of which one third is setup and cleanup
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Freddy Dekker
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Thanks for that review.

Now I usually avoid buying Phalanx games as in my experience though being fantastic where conponents are concerned they tend to provide lousy game play.

I have the same experience with Knizia games, the games look great, but it is as if more thought has been put into looks than gameplay which really is a pitty.

So why did I buy this game?
Well, having allready been impressed by photos of the game, I reckoned at less than 3 euros (I think that's less than 4 dollars) I might take a risk.
Seriously now, the components alone are worth that money and if the game doesn't work we could always try and make our own.

I am especially greatfull for your review, cause it made it clear to me I am not as stupid as I allready feared I must be, for not getting this.

I did buy the German version, I think in the Netherlands it still sells at 30 euros, which shouldn't be a problem as I speak it very well.
But reading the rules it seemed to me like they were using a lot of words to actually say nothing.

I understand the idea of the game, i.e. political influence.
I understand the scoring and the moving of characters.
So that's a good start.

What as yet I do not really understand is this scoreboard.
Will try and find the, probably just as confusing, Dutch rules.

What surprised me about the game is that you actually have to draw cards which tell you which people to support.

I sort of had expected you could simply support whom ever you liked.
Indeed I aggree with you that this may take the fun out of the game.

So you can actually run out of markers? As said must read again and try to pick from this flood of words, those that actually tell me something about how things work.

Reading the rules I can not help but feel like someone, who starts watching a movie while it's allready been on for an hour, and someone is trying to explain it to you.

As you've pointed out the problems of this game, I wonder if you've tried tweaking them, so they actually might work.
I mean the components are great, it's just that how we are told to use them that seems to be faulty.





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Tyler Hafen
Germany
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I must have gotten the same deal as you, Freddy. My wife and I figured that for 3 Euros we may as well give it a shot. I read through both the German and English rules to get a clear understanding of how the game works. It's actually really simple once you give it a try, and we both liked the idea of the mechanics and the beauty of the board. But as the review states, there are some problems, and these are especially prevalent when you play with 2.

We decided that the main problem was the limited number of influence tiles and the number of points needed to trigger scoring. I don't really see how the third scoring round could be triggered by anything other than all the players running out of influence tiles. What we found is that in order to trigger scoring and actually be able to choose the color that will be scored, you had to sacrifice moving the characters. We had a few rounds in which only one character was moved, which makes the game feel static. With more than two players, this might be less of a problem, as more players are placing tiles.

I realize that the sparse number of tiles contributes to the strategy of the game, but the game seems to tie the players' hands so much that even the most austere strategy is too extravagant, and you are forced to rely too much on the actions of others falling in your favor.

In another post here someone suggested lowering the number of points needed to trigger scoring to 3, 5, and 7, which I think might help solve this problem by freeing up more tiles to be used to influence the characters. I hope to try this out soon and see how it works.

If I'd spent 30 Euros on this game, I'd be kicking myself right now, but for 3, I don't regret it at all. I do think there's the possibility of an interesting game in here, but it definitely needs some tweaking.
 
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Neil Bloomfield
Australia
Perth
Western Australia
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filwi wrote:
But beware, there are only 22 markers in total in the game and you'll be liable to run out real quick.


I don't understand why every detractor of this game makes such a song and dance about there "only" being 22 influence markers. That's the number there are - do chess players complain they have only 8 pawns, or Settlers of Catan players that there are only 19 land hexes?

Everyone has the same number of influence markers - the only difference is that you start off randomly with a selection of 10. So at any one time there are slight variations. But the influence markers are a resource. It is up to you to manage them correctly. Mess up their management, and you'll lose the game (just like you will most likely lose a game of chess if you exchange your queen for a pawn).

So don't "beware", but "be aware"!
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Brent Pollock
Canada
Saskatoon
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notAbean wrote:
So don't "beware", but "be aware"!


Amen. I just got it the other week from a 50% discount table and I am glad I gambled on it. Introduced it to three other experienced gamers this week. I warned them about the tile limits and the variability of the number of scoring rounds, described the importance of LAST PASS and who picks the scored colour. We managed to play it twice at about 45' per match, and the consensus was "good game".

Oh, and it is definitely not "like watching a window in a Gothic cathedral" but very much like looking at the tiled wall of an Orthodox cathedral. Justinian's crowd would not have been found dead in a Gothic one.
 
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