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Subject: First Impressions or The Bubonic Plague hits another one out of the park rss

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Lowell Kempf
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Over the years, I’ve made it a point to make Z-Man one of the first stops I make at Gen Con. I always like to see what new things I might be able to find or if Zed is offering any special convention deals.

This year, Rattus caught my eye. I can’t tell you why it did. Heck, I’d never even heard of it before. But, despite knowing nothing about it, I decided to get a copy anyway. I try not to buy contents unseen and it has sometimes come back to bite me.

In this case, despite the hordes of rats and the piles of plague-bloated corpses, I came out ahead. Rattus is a fun way to wipe out the pitiful masses of Europe, even on a working night.

Rattus comes with a bunch of wooden cubes that make my euro-loving heart go 'Squee!', a map of Europe that scales from two to four players, a lot of rat tokens, six class cards, and one black pawn with a hat on that looks like he escaped from a copy of Notre Dame but is really none other than the Black Death himself.

Your goal is to have more of your wooden cubes (which represent your people) on the board than anyone else at the end of the game. You do this in two ways. First, by putting out as many cubes as you can. Second, by using the terrible power of the bubonic plague to turn everyone else’s cubes into rotting piles of putrescent flesh!

One friend said that Rattus is really a war game, just one where everyone is sharing the same weapon.

Each turn consists of three parts. First, take a class card if you want one (and, really, you do) Second, multiply and grow. Third, send the Black Death off to do his deadly work.

There are six class cards: King, Knight, Merchant, Monk, Peasant and Witch. You can only take one a turn and you can take it from either supply or from another player. You can end up with more than one over the course of the game and the only way for you to lose one is for another player to take it.

And the class cards let you do cool stuff. Each one lets you break the rules in a different way. The King can let you take one cube from a plague free region and put him in the castle, where he’s safe for the rest of the game. The Knight lets you move the plague marker farther and can choose to make the plague marker count as two population to make the plague more like to kill people. The Merchant lets you move up to three cubes to adjacent region. The Monk, in true Christian spirit, can shift rat tokens from one to regional to another. The Peasant, ever a fertile class, increases your growth. The Witch can let you look at and swap rat tokens.

Trust me, you want all of those powers. However, every class you represent makes you more vulnerable to the virulence of the plague.

For your reproductive phase, you can put cubes in a region equal to the number of rat tokens in that area. Which, at first, seems kind of strange. I mean, why is fertility connected to the number of disease-bearing vermin in a region? However, one of my players said that it made sense. Rats hang out in urban areas and live on human waste. So, really, the rats just show you way the people are.

Now we get to the good part. The plague. You must move a plague marker to an adjacent region. You then add more rat tokens to the surrounding areas. Then, you check. Are there both cubes and rat tokens in the region where the death-dealing dude in the black hat stands? Then, let the plague start its work.

Rat tokens have a rat side that just let you know there’s rats in them alleys. The flip side, which you are now revealing, has two pieces of information. How many people need to be in the region for the people to start dying and who’s going to be doing that dying.

As long as the number of cubes equals the threshold number, the token goes off. There are eight different symbols that can be on the token and almost all of them have more than one. A means everyone loses one. M means whoever has the most at the start loses one. And the other six symbols? Those are the classes. Those special powers you got to enjoy? You pay for them in dead bodies.

Even if the token doesn’t go off, it still gets taken off the board. When the supply of rat tokens (NOT the tokens on the board) runs out, then you enter end game. Folks get to use their class powers one last time and then EVERY rat token on the board goes off.

Whoever is left with the most cubes on the board when the smoke clears is the winner.

Rattus is a fairly rules light game. Really, other than the powers of the class cards, you can easily explain the game in five minutes with a mouth of full of taffy. It’s got some random elements since you don’t know what those little rats are hiding and who they’re going to kill. However, you get to choose what class card you take and where you’re going to add cubes and where the Black Death is moving to.

So, don’t let the hordes of rats fool you. You do have a lot of control in the game and your decisions do make a difference. You can go into a game with a specific strategy in mind and try to pull it off. The game plays out in under an hour but there’s some real meat to it.

The actual game itself is a lot of fun. The mechanics fit the theme and we’re all morbid and detached enough to enjoy a little bit of Black Death fun. The various class powers are neat and deciding which ones to focus on gives you a variety of different ways to go for the win.

When I first brought it out, it came with a bunch of other games I had picked up at GenCon. Rattus, though, was the one that people wanted to play again and again.

So, Rattus gets two plague-pocked thumbs up from me.
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Booker Hooker
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Got to play one game of this last week. I'm not a big Euro fan but it was a fun little game. My biggest mistake was underestimating the usefullness of the classes. Though they make you vulnerable, they make you powerful at the same time.
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Michael Hines
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Great review. I am awaiting my copy in the mail any time now. I also got this game without having played it first; it looks like it would be a lot of fun.The basis for this sort of reminds me of Plague & Pestilence, which is a morbidly entertaining game. I wish they would reprint it already!
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Harald Korneliussen
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Gnomekin wrote:
Which, at first, seems kind of strange. I mean, why is fertility connected to the number of disease-bearing vermin in a region? However, one of my players said that it made sense. Rats hang out in urban areas and live on human waste. So, really, the rats just show you way the people are.


Reverse causality! It's one of the things I love about this game. I think that if more game designers accepted that in a game, consequences can give causes instead of just the other way around, more otherwise restrictive themes could be opened up for boardgames.

 
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