Neil, Tim, Drew, Tami, George, John
Neil broke open Mare Mediterraneum, a game that appears a first glance to be very similar in concept to Civilization. It includes many of the same themes as Civilization, including trading commodities, conquest, and culture-building. It also has very neat bits and some interesting game mechanics. However, it suffers from woefully unclear rules and a serious lack of player interaction. There really seems to be a good idea hiding in this game, but it will require some work to bring it out.The board is a map of the ancient Mediterranean, divided into both land territories and sea areas. Each territory produces one or more of the fifteen or so commodities in the game. Most of the territories also contain a city. Unfortunately, this caused quite a bit of confusion since certain rules regarding trade and conquest covered only cases involving territories containing cities. We improvised rules covering territories without cities, with only moderate success. At the beginning of the game each city also contains a want marker bearing the symbol of one commodity, which indicates that the city needs to import that particular commodity. Players start with two cities, each of which needs one commodity. The early part of the game is focused on filling the needs of one's own cities by buying commodities from other territories and bringing them to the cities where they are needed. At the same time, your cities produce commodities that you can sell in territories containing the appropriate want markers. To buy and sell commodities you must build ships in your cities and sail them to and from the territories in which you wish to buy or sell commodities. When one of your ships arrives at a territory to buy a commodity, you roll a die to determine the price of the commodity. If you wish to buy at that price, you pay money to the bank and place on your ship a token representing the commodity. Selling commodities occurs in the same way - upon arrival at the territory that needs the commodity your ship is carrying you roll a die. The result is the price offered for your commodity. If you choose to sell at that price, you discard the commodity token on your ship and remove the want marker form the board. The goal of the early part of the game is to achieve empire status, which occurs after you have satisfied the commodity needs of both of your cities and paid ten pieces of money to the bank. You must reach empire status in order to win the game.After reaching empire status, you draw a card that determines your empire's form of government. It also lists victory conditions you must meet. These include a certain minimum number of territories you must control, buildings you must construct, works of art you must collect, and commodities you must store in warehouses. No one else knows what your victory conditions are. The player who reaches his or her victory conditions first wins the game. Reaching empire status also results in your drawing trade cards that introduce random elements and events (harmful ones, mostly) into play. For example, some trade cards force you to change your form of government and thus alter your victory conditions. I thought this was a pretty neat twist to the game, but we didn't make it far enough into the game to see the full effects of it. As I said, there are some interesting ideas here, but they just don't hang together well. For instance, collecting works of art is hugely dependent upon the result of a taxation die roll that occurs only every other turn. There were trade cards that were auctioned which allowed you to buy a work of art for a certain price, but these were rarely bid on because it was difficult to determine what a fair value for them might be.
In any event, the beginning of the game went rather slowly as we struggled to roll good prices for our commodities. This introduced the first real drawback to the game - the fact that the luck of the die roll plays a major role in trading. Too often ships sat in port trying to roll favorable numbers for buying or selling commodities. The players who had the luckiest rolls were able to satisfy their needs and acquire money more quickly, and thus reach empire status faster. Also, some players' cities had want makers that corresponded to commodities produced by their own territories. Since producing your own commodities costs only one piece of money each, those players had a big leg up on the others. After about 40-50 minutes Drew had reached empire status. Then we realized that we had been playing incorrectly (we began the game with only one city instead of the two that we were supposed to have). We decided to start over and play quickly, and after about 30 minutes we had all reached coveted empire status.
Here is where the real disappointment began. I had hoped that at this point we would all start trading with each other and vying for control of territories. However, the game mechanism is controlled too much by die rolls and card draws. Trade should offer the opportunity to interact with your opponents, but once the want markers are gone from the board there is no place to sell the commodities you produce. Trade cards will occasionally come up that cause a want of some commodity in your capital city, but these are far too infrequent to support trade between players. There seem to be plenty of territories on the board to satisfy the expansion needs of theplayers, so there is no scarcity of land to force conflict. After everyone achieved empire status the game became an exercise in multi-player solitaire. Your opponents by and large neither helped nor hindered your cause; in most cases they did not figure in your plans too much at all.After struggling though about four hours, Tim and I had to head back to Dallas, so the game was mercifully terminated long before anyone came close to fulfilling his victory conditions.I do believe this game has potential, but the rules really need to be overhauled to provide a significantly higher level of interaction. Trade needs to be important throughout the game, since it is the most promising area for player interaction. Commodities should play some role in acquiring buildings and maybe art as well. This would provide a further stimulus to trade since players would have to collect commodities not produced by their empire in order to achieve their victory conditions. And lots and lots of holes in the rules need to be filled. For example, we simply made up the rules of trade for territories without cities, since the printed rules were inadequate. I'd love to get hold of this game for a while and tinker with it to see if a workable game can be salvaged from it. I'd even be willing to do a shakedown cruise to test some new rules, but as it now stands, Mare Mediterraneum is all sizzle and very little steak.
<em>John: A potentially great idea ruined by unbelievably inept execution. What a waste of beautiful playing pieces! Gets a 2 for potential only. Rating: 2
Neil: I must fix this game! I'm being kind by giving it a five with the official rules but the bits are just too neat not to work on the game. I also simply like the theme and that'll go a long way for me. [Editor: That last bit is a very telling bit of info…] Rating: 5
Tim: Too long, too dry, no interaction. Rating: 3
Drew: Okay, I have thought about this one. The game is pointless. The want cards don't replace on cities, so trade comes down to nothing more than the desperate attempt to fill wants faster than you can acquire them. The Empire stage looks boring, since the distance between players is large enough you can complete all your province needs without war. Statistically, you will draw an art card 44% of the time on taxation (and 2 of the 11% of the time), so you just wait a few turns. Buildings are simply a matter of taking excess cash and buying something that looks nice. It looks like multi-player solitaire with random elements thrown in for fun, kind of like playing War. The rules need a cleanup. It saves being a 1 because the parts look nice, and maybe somebody will make some new rules for the parts. Rating: 2</em>