Mare Nostrum Different Perspectives
South Dublin Gamers are a group of gamers who meet regularly usually once a week and play many and varied games. We have decided on occasion to post what we call "Different Perspectives" on games we have just played. I suppose they are a cross between a review and a session and hopefully they may give Geek Members some varied views on the game (for sure!) which might help them determine if the game is for them. Each “perspective” will we done separately and we may revisit a game from time to time. In addition we hope the posting might help as a recruiting tool to anyone in Dublin interested in giving the Group a try. There are about 10 in the group although we usually max out at 5-6 which is a good number. Ages are from mid twenties and way upwards! We currently have American Canadian French and a couple of Irish in the group! Hope you enjoy and happy gaming
We have to start somewhere and this was a new game to the group. It is always dangerous to rate a game on first go but we will I am sure come back to it again in any event and it will be interesting to see how our views change. We used the original plus the Mythology Expansion which it is suggested corrects imbalances in the original plus adding some additional aspects and room for a sixth player.
The objective of the game is to collect a set number of heroes/wonders or build the pyramids. You pay for these through goods or taxes which you acquire from developing regions you control or acquire -simple as that but don't be fooled the game is extremely deep -but more on that later.
First thing the game is not complicated nor is it overly long. For a first go we made very few rules errors that I recall and the rules themselves are pretty ok -just a couple of them need some focused reading. Four of us played and I think it took about three hours more players would increase that but 4-4 1/2 hours at the very max I think you should budget for.
You start with a region some caravans, cities and influence which produced goods and taxes. I know realise I am explaining the game so I am going to stop that and just give some perspectives as per the promise in the heading.
First perspective it is very subtle and deep everything has its time and place in the game and timing is crucial for example using money to pay for the help of the gods seems such a waste early on yet if you don't time it correctly it could be too late to invoke their help at a later stage. Control of the various phases is critical so that you can determine for example who gets to move first, who controls the markets -the
market is brilliant as you have to trade for different goods to fund your acquisitions but the sting is in the fact that the controller can close the market if they wish and if you have unspent goods at the end of the build phase you lose them! They also determine how many goods will be traded. Another aspect that becomes apparent early on is that the tools to develop your economy are very scarce and disappear rapidly leading inevitability to conflict and use of the Gods. There is enough in the conflict to (I think) to satisfy that itch with some die rolling and certain modifiers. The interesting thing is conflict only lasts one round so you must choose your battles carefully if you don't want to endure a protracted war in a province over a no of rounds.
What impresses me most is that it all works together very well and timing is key plus phase control. There are strategic combinations that work with heroes and wonders if you can get them into play. You also have race specific heroes and Creatures to widen your strategic options. That said Nogser wiped the rest of us off the planet from his base in Rome I will give him all the credit as I think he just played it brilliantly and by the time the rest of us got around to looking outside our own little worlds it was too late- message you cannot afford to turtle you must see the bigger picture almost from the start. I have three games from this era Antike , Conquest of the Empires and Mare Nostrum. Conquest is more of a war game but Antike covers mostly the same ground as Mare Nostrum. Antike has good mechanics but I much prefer Mare Nostrum on first impressions as player interaction is substantially higher in it than Antike.
As you can see I enjoyed my first game of it and look forward to
getting it on the table again soon.
Mare Nostrum has a pretty straightforward mechanic, discussed above. Our usual modus operandi as a group is to have the owner of the game explain it (a duty I ducked out of on TI3 (see our other 'group report') because it scared the hell out of me). Jopm (Jimmy) therefore explained the rules, though Nogser (Niall), as ever, had done his homework and was also able to input. Because we've played similar games in the past, there is a kind of shorthand at this point that has made grasping the principles of these things a lot easier than it used to be. That said there's always a lot of questions with a new game, and, as usual, it takes maybe about an hour before we get through basic rules and one round of play, at which point we're really 'off' (and it's time for the host to make the tea).
There is a certain frustrating quality to this game based on the limitations of resources. There are only so many caravans, cities, markets, and temples to go around, and you run out very fast. It is therefore very hard to expand your economy without attacking someone else's, but in the four player game we had, there didn't seem to be all that much incentive to ask for trouble because it's hard to build an army and easy to lose it to the dice. This makes it very hard to plan very far ahead, and suggests a much faster game than we managed first
time out (that's normal, of course).
I actually like the trading process in this game more than I like it in Settlers of Catan. Because it's really a matter of grabbing what you want rather than horse-trading, you focus on trying to do what you need to do and trying to make the other players' lives more complicated purely by strategic thinking rather than negotiation. I like that, because I'm crap at negotiating. Of all the negotiation games I have or have played (and there are not many), I like Colosseum best because it actually combines both of these to a degree - you can grab
and you can trade.
I messed up a bit on the night because of a misunderstanding about the movement rules. I had Conquest of the Empire in mind and was planning a sudden attack on Northern Italy while protecting against an equally sudden attack on the Grecian border because I thought movement was across infinite space rather than single spaces. I shored up my defenses unnecessarily, costing me cards and turns, because I was anticipating a counter-attack when I did make my move and didn't want to leave my distant borders unprotected, not realising the Romans couldn't, in fact, counter-attack there, nor, in fact, could I attack in the way I had thought I could. This cost me three or four round and meant that I failed to slow down Nogser's accumulation of resources early enough to keep the rest of us (including me) in contention for victory. By the time I made my attack, it was too late and largely gestural.
I'm not sure I'd agree with Jopm on this one regarding Antike. I kind of liked Antike, and though there's probably a greater range of elements to Mare Nostrum, I think there's a nicer, ‘clean line’ through Antike that is very appealing to me. I took to Conquest of the Empire through playing it with Jopm and Nogser, and subsequently bought it. I've also been tempted to buy Antike. I wouldn’t buy Mare Nostrum, I think. Again, as Jopm says, it was a first play, and it's hard to know if you like something or to be very cogent in 'reviewing' it, but the purpose of this little writing experiment is to see how a group responds and, in a way, explain how it operates. I'm not sure though that the faster game would be any more fun than either Antike or Conquest of the Empire either, one of which is more purely 'euro' in feel and the other more 'Ameritrash' with all the pleasures of little plastic men, 'coins' and the chrome
that makes it a 'toy box' experience. That said, it's a good game, it was a fun session, and I'd play it again. Care to join us?
Ah, the joy of a wish list game landing in the group without having to pay or store it. Mare Nostrum has been on my radar as a meaty game that could be played in a weekday evening. Nice bits, economics, conflict with purpose, clear concise rules, lots of ticked boxes for me. Did I fancy a game of Mare Nostrum with expansion, hell yes! Did it live up to its billing? Well mostly.
First impressions are vital in this hobby, as with many other things. If a games falls flat it, no matter what you won't get to play it again. I would say that Mare Nostrum is neither a hit nor a miss just yet with us. We followed the advice gleaned from posts here and there, setting up as for 6 players but with only the 4 central one used for players. In retrospect I think leaving off the expansion map would have given us the game I thought we would be playing, more balanced, requiring more conflict. Thinking back on the game I can see a deeper layer to the use of gods, heroes/wonders and particularly
the choice of goods to offer and take in trade. If I had one advice to players starting out is that the sooner you can get those set of 6's, either tax of goods, the more likely you are to win (I can't say more as my opponents are reading this). Will I play again? Yes, but with 5 or 6, preferably 6 with those I believe that we can match the experience of Conquest of Empire. Similarly I believe it is better than Antike where you can watch someone on the far side of the board win the game and have no real impact on them.
The initial phase of resource grabbing is fairly straightforward, but only lasts 3 or 4 rounds. After that, what I see as the second phase options are to build up your internal commodities with markets, temples and cities or expand into your rivals' territory. The neutral territories that were on the board due to us using the expansion with just 4 players were mostly ignored in this game, as the players would still have needed to wage war on established lands to secure more caravans. Some of the more advanced game elements - use of gods, heroes/wonders and monsters, and the (eventually
crucial) choice of order for the trade, religion, political and movement turns - revealed their worth in the third phase. If you don't have the potential to acquire 9-card elements during the second phase, I think you've probably had it. Being the amiable peaceniks we are the combat we eventually engaged in the final rounds was mostly futile.
If Antike is the game I think I remember (we've had the chance to play a bunch of Mediterranean-based empire-building games in our group by now so I may be confusing it with another one), it had more diverse paths to victory than Mare Nostrum, but I think the rules in this game are simpler to pick up and the objectives are clear. A rematch would definitely benefit from the insight we have gathered in this first attempt, and the players would be more focused on their goals next time. I would certainly be up for playing this one again.
At a practical level, I found the act of distributing resources, then immediately buying things with those resources and returning them to the piles to be a little comical. Maybe there is a more efficient way to account for your resources in each turn?
The sizes and placements of the territories are even enough to allow any player to be a danger to any other if needed, so watch out for anyone who launches a trireme!
I would like to see the possibility of holding onto 2 of the card based commodities instead of the tax cards between rounds, or maybe for balance, choose either 1 commodity in your hand or 2 tax cards to keep...
A full complement of players will probably lead to some earlier military maneuvering and possibly extend the games duration as commodity holders shift around, though I thought the game lasted an adequate amount of time.
As it was, the combat opportunities - which are certainly not the central method for victory - were only really considered in the third phase of the game, but that was too late for most as nogser’s strategy became evident and clearly he had the better of us.
Wrap up (Jopm)
As convener for the game it falls for me to wrap it all up. The piece is rather long but it is our first attempt so we will see what (if any!) feedback we get. The most obvious issue is its comparison with Antike and readers will have their own views on that I am sure.
I think the consensus is for to play it again but with at least five. When we do we will post an updated perspective (much shorter than this one!). Finally if anyone out there is interested in coming along to one of our nights please contact any of us on the Geek.
Super thorough discussion of this game - it's definitely not as good as I'd hoped (it's one of my few negative reviews on BGG) but the expansion does tweak things a tiny bit.
Old Ways Are Best!
A fair assessment of the game from a "first play." There is calculated tension built in to the game by the number of pieces of infrastructure provided as a function of the number of players. Quite right to observe that even with the full board available, the limited number of caravans etc. throw you into each other's paths despite the lack of apparent crowding.
If the players have been watching each other carefully, someone who has established a set of sixes or, more particularly nines, will find that the others will react accordingly (or at least they should). It is possible to miss that sort of thing in the early learning stages and be "surprised" to learn that one of your opponents has put himself in position to win when you thought you were just getting started. If Egypt, for example, is allowed to bag the majority of the city markers and the temples, and no-one reacts to shut these things down, you're in for trouble. It also falls to the Director of Commerce to carefully choose the number of cards being traded - this can be another way to shut down a player who has built up a big hand of taxes (or a diverse set of commodities). The more cards being traded makes it more difficult to protect a big set.
Timing the point at which the DOC executes the killing stroke by shutting down trade altogether, and arranging for you to be that person - is a key aspect of the game. Still, it won't be easy as the Military Director will be using his power to knock a hole in your strategy. However, if you've been clever, it won't matter in what order things get built so the third Directorship is of lesser importance. As has been pointed out here, the Gods come into play at the middle and end game stage as very important tools to maintain control of key Directorships, so the Religious Director takes on added significance.
The various layers of this game take a few playings to fully appreciate and I like it a lot for scratching that empire building itch; particularly since the expansion polished off the rough edges of the original...