Downfall of Pompeii is a humorous, strategic board game set in AD 49 in the city of Pompeii in the year before the erurption of Mt. Vesuvius. The goal of the game is to save the highest number of ‘your’ civilians from the erupting volcano, while hindering the escape of your opponents. A highly humorous, slightly complex game, Downfall of Pompeii is an enjoyable family game.
Appearance: Downfall of Pompeii comes with a single main game board, circular wooden pieces to represent your citizens and a small plastic piece to create your own ‘volcano’. In addition, a deck of cards to represent the buildings available for population by your citizens is available and a set of tiles to represent the flow of lava.
The design of the pieces in Downfall of Pompeii is adequate, sticking to the ancient Roman Empire theme. The art work is adequate, with very little to distinguish the cards but the addition of helpful information on the properties of each card is useful. Otherwise, the game art-work and pieces do their job, without nay major complaints or praise required.
Rules / Ease of Learning: Downfall of Pompeii is broke into three parts in the rule book, though it can be described as having two major sections - the population of the city by players and the destruction of the city by Mount Vesuvius.
In the first section of the game, players will play a card from their hand, each card representing a colour coded set of buildings. They then place a citizen into these colour coded buildings, placing them in white, generic buildings if all spaces in the buildings of that colour are filled. After playing a card, the player then draws a card to refill their hands.
The first section of the game is broke into two parts, the first part - delineated by the AD 47 card - where no ‘Omen’ cards are placed. In the first part of Downfall of Pompeii, only a single citizen is placed in each building at a time. In the second section, players can begin to place additional pieces - one for each piece already placed in a building. Thus, if a player plays a purple card and three (3) spaces are already filled with other citizens, a player may play an additional 3 citizens (for a total of 4 pieces). These pieces can be played in a different part of the same building, another building of the same colour or a white generic building. Omen cards drawn now enable the player who drew the Omen card to sacrifice an opposing players citizen to appease Mount Vesuvius.
The first section of the game ends when the second AD 47 card is drawn. The cards are put away and tiles are now drawn to indicate the eruption and flow of lava. Each lava tile has a symbol indicating which starting position the flow begins from, with the player who drew the tile able to decide where the lava flows next after the first starting position is covered. Any citizens caught in the lava flow are thrown into the volcano, with accompanying shrieks and pleas of mercy as necessary. Additionally, citizens who have their exits from the city are blocked should also be thrown into the volcano.
To escape the city, citizens must band together. Each player may move two pieces a turn. Movement rate of pieces is dictated by the number of pieces on the same square at the start of movement - thus forcing players to band their pieces and opponents together to win.
The player who manages to rescue the highest of citizens from the doomed city wins. In the case of a tie, the tied player with the least number of citizens in the volcano is the winner.
Gameplay: Set-up of Downfall of Pompeii is slightly more complicated than most games due to the requirements of counting out cards to delineate each of the three parts of the game. In addition, the game has a number of different pieces to co-ordinate, thus increasing set-up time. While a group of experienced players could set the game up pretty fast, for the first few runs, explanation and set-up will take a number of minutes.
Actual gameplay is quite fun. The set-up of the various pieces and the game is quite thematic and relevant, allowing players to get into the flow of the game fast. The humour from the ability to sacrifice other players pieces is quite amusing, including the little screams of ‘Aieee’ as you thrown your opponents citizens into the volcano. There are a few points that do not make sense that slow the game down - e.g. the small information descriptors on the bottom of the card is too abstract to grasp immediately - but otherwise, the game is very well designed.
It starts becoming extremely interesting as play progresses to the eruption of the volcano and the flow of lava. Here, luck can play a large part of the game, with lava tiles potentially cutting off and killing your piece faster than you would prefer. On the other hand, this is a natural disaster so not everything is going to go as you planned initially. The use of ‘hop-scotch’ citizens can lead to strange alliances and ruthless sacrificing of citizens as you abandon pieces to their fates.
Conclusion: Downfall of Pompeii is a fun family game, requiring a bit of set-up that might cause absolute beginners to hesitate but would be great for families that are used to playing board games together. While the strategy here is tempered by a large dose of luck - both in the draw of the cards and the lava tiles; there are still significant decisions to be made. Downfall of Pompeii is definitely a great game for the family, especially those that enjoy a humorous theme and are not adverse to competition among family members.
The screams WERE music to my ears.