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Subject: My 2 Cents Review: Trajan rss

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Marc-Andre Delalay
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Disclaimer: This is my first review and my first language is not English (it is French)! ;-)

My goal is to give a quick review and an idea of who might like the game.


Components

First thought when I opened the box: Wow! These are the biggest player boards I have ever seen! Nice! We have to salute Ammonit (Stefan Feld’s own edition house) for not skimping on quality: sturdy boards and tiles, nice quality cards, and wooden meeples.

The insert, though, is only separated in two, so when you have to put away the gazillion different tokens, tiles, and so on, you’re out of luck and you will end up with a mess – though a few ziplock bags are provided. I bought a plastic box with compartments: it is so much easier to setup.




Some people have commented on the board being ugly. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. The drawings (of buildings and provinces) are nice but it is the color, all pastel, which tend to give a wash out look to the whole. But to be honest, there are so much tiles to lay out that during my first game, I didn’t end up noticing the board too much: I had so much else to focus on. Yes, it is not the prettiest but it’s not a deal breaker.

Rules

I won’t go in to the rules. Others have done it. No need to rehash. The rule book is also available online. Suffice it to say that the English version is clear enough. My box came with the first version of the rules and there is an updated version online which would be important to read for someone who purchases the game.

Theme

Theme?! What theme?! For all it matters, the game could take place on the moon or at the bottom of the ocean. This is pure Euro. The theme is only a pretext to engage players in using clever interlocking mechanics. You are not playing a Stefan Feld’s game for theme. If you want theme, go buy Dungeon Petz (a great game by the way).

I don’t even know who you are supposed to be in the game. I mean you can’t be Trajan, right, since there is only one emperor. So I guess you must be some kind of leader within the Roman Empire. Whatever. And you’re trying to get the most victory points (wow, never seen that before) through the use of 6 different actions.

Gameplay

Forget about theme, this is where the game shines. Much has been said about the Mancala system that Feld used and it is a LOT of fun. Each action is associated with a tray (seaport, forum, military, Trajan, senate and construction action). At the beginning of the game, each tray contains 2 actions markers (12 markers, 6 different colors). To choose an action, you take all the markers of a tray and in a clockwise direction, assign one marker to each of the following trays. The action associated with the tray where the last marker falls is the action the player will take. The Mancala system of choosing an action has no link whatsoever to the theme but it beats rolling dice any day of the week or saying: “what action is left? Ah ok, I guess I’ll take the captain then…” Puerto Rico anyone? ;-) It is a mini-game in itself and is the most fun I’ve had in choosing an action in any game I’ve played – and I’ve played quite a few).

As I said earlier I won’t explain the rules but let’s just say that each action – just like the Mancala - feels like a mini-game. And what is interesting is that some have impact on others. For example, with the construction action, if you construct a certain type of building and this is your first building of that type, you can take one other action (different depending on which building). I like where there are a lot of different mechanics in a game with many possibilities for scoring. In a way, this reminds me of Taj Mahal where you have many different mechanics: trying to collect certain types of cards, collect certain sets of goods or build connecting palaces.

There are lots to think about and keep track of. I like heavy games and even then, a few times, I felt that my head was gonna split open like an overripe watermelon. We played a 2 player game and it lasted about 2 hours (this was our first game though).


Who Might Like This Game

If you like heavy games, then you’ll be well served. There are a myriad of choices and multiple ways to score points. In fact almost everything you do gives you points. The goal is to optimize your action choice to maximize your points.

If you like other Stefan Feld’s designs then you should love this one. I might be a bit biased. One of my favorite games is Macao.

If you don’t mind multi-player solitaire, then you will like it. There are some interactivity. You can make the round finish earlier by playing a tray with more cylinders and you might take a tile that one of the other players might want, but that’s it.

If you like clever mechanisms then you will be thrilled.

I love this game and these are some of my favorites: Macao, Taj Mahal, Troyes and Tigris and Euphrates. So if you like those, then you might like Trajan.

Who Might Not Like This Game

If you do not like heavy games, forget it! You’ll cry and beg for someone to put an end to your misery!

If you don’t like other Stefan Feld’s game, I don’t see why you would like this one.

If you’re playing group is prone to AP (analysis paralysis), watch out! It would be easy to spend 10 minutes thinking about your move. With the Mancala you could theoretically plan many turns in advance but I decided that I would only think 2 in advance. Otherwise, there’s no end to it.

If theme is of paramount importance to you, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It is not abstract but the theme is pasted on in typical Euro fashion. I love it but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

If you like tons of interaction, again, this is not for you.
If you like short game, forget it. 7 Wonders this isn’t.

What About 2 Player Games?

Since people tend to have their spouse as their main gaming partner - from what I’ve seen on BGG – it is a very important question: how does it play with 2 players? Very well indeed. I have only played 2 players but the rules are unchanged. All it does is shorten the number of spaces on the time track before the end of the round and the number of tiles on the forum. That’s it (from what I can remember).

Conclusion

If you like complex games with clever mechanisms, multiple choices and many ways to make points, you will love this game. I can’t wait to play my next game. My wife beat me 135 to 132 and I have to take my revenge! :D
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Mathieu B.
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Good job pour la review, t'as rien en envier à ceux qui ont plus d'une review sous la cravate! Très bien écrit et clair.

Any news on north america disponibility?
 
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Marc-Andre Delalay
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Thanks!

Well, I found it a www.germangames.com (in Ontario, Canada) but it is sold out for now... Very hard to find in North America since this was not picked up by an American editor. It seems to be import only.
 
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G. Gambill
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Well written and thoughtful review! I also love this game. The theme is purely ornamental, of course, but the game play is beautiful. I feel that the thing that makes this game so much fun is that there are many, many paths to victory. This makes for a myriad of possible strategies which means the game has had tremendous replay value. This one is a keeper!

Your English, by the way, is excellent! Keep the reviews coming!
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Andy Andersen
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Certainly doesn't read like a first review.

Bravo.
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Carter Maxwell
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Nice review! I was thinking all day about writing one. I hope you don't mind if I instead just piggy-back on you with some additional remarks.

Components: I would agree that the map isn't particularly attractive because of the washed-out look. During a game, though, it is so loaded with tiles and figures that a map with more vibrant colors might have been unplayable. Here are my only quibbles with the graphic design and components:
1. The Extra Action tiles do not stand out at all when they are on your player mat, because they look almost identical to the pre-printed background. I'm tempted to mark them with a cube or something so people don't forget they have them.
2. This is more a wish list item than a complaint, because I never see any games do this with their player mats, but I really, really wish the trays of the action circle were punched so they could be popped out. This would create a recessed area for the action markers. Bumps, cats, and baggy sleeves are the board gamers bane, but everyone usually has a pretty good sense of where everything was ("No, I was 2 points ahead of green", "Yes, you have unlocked the second level of Liber Sophiae"). A tiny mishap with the Trajan action circle, though, and you might as well pack everything up.

Rules: I think they were well presented and understandable. Also, I like the scoring revision that was recently made (unaccomplished Trajan tile is worth a point at game end).

Gameplay: Yeah, the action circle is a ton of fun. When you make everything come together perfectly, say by triggering a Trajan tile that allows you take 2 commodity cards, then using the Shipping action you also triggered, together with an Extra Action +2, to grab a discard and then ship twice for 35 points -- that is a thrill!

Who might like or dislike this game: I mostly agree with your comments here. It is a somewhat bigger concern for me than for you that Trajan could be a bit of a solitaire-type exercise, which is usually a bit of a turn-off for me. For people who don't mind that, I think they will find the game a lot of fun. What I would add, though, is that people who need a bit more direct competition/conflict in their games might still find it in a full, 4-player game. My own experience is that with just 2 players, and somewhat with just 3, there are enough point pathways that people are largely able to take the path of least resistance, but with 4 players I feel the board becomes sufficiently crowded that it is very hard to get away with doing whatever the heck you want. "Trying to get that 3rd construction tile for 10 points? You're going to have to slog your way across the district, then, because I just grabbed the close one." "Oh, I'm sorry, did you have 4-of-a-kind you were about to ship for 20 points? Seriously, I didn't even suspect that when I shipped my lowly pair for 6 points (snicker)"

Based on some early reviews, I get the impression that some gamers might avoid Trajan because of a perceived lack of conflict, but I advise them to at least try the 4-player game a couple of times (the first time everyone has their noses stuck firmly in their own action circles) before dismissing it. It certainly lacks the degree of direct conflict of many of my favorite euros, like T&E and Hansa Teutonica, but the fun puzzle-like element of the action circle goes a long way toward making up for that.
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Marc-Andre Delalay
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No, I don't mind at all! Thanks for the additional insights!



 
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Adam O'Brien
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Nice review!

Another thing I'll add, there is actually quite a bit of interaction beyond the control of the time track.

1) competition on the senate track, to claim the end-game scoring tiles. This might be less pronounced in a 2-player game, but in a 4p it can be furious.

2) The building tile tableau. In a 4p you can cut people off from certain building tiles, or possibly from building something at all. Some poor bastard got cornered early in our last game and basically had to abandon building for the rest of the game.

3) Shipping - if two or more players are trying heavy trade actions, being the first to flip a ship is very important, and there is a "press your luck" aspect where maybe you want to flip one early, for less points, but preventing an opponent from getting a maximum score.

4) Claiming tiles from the market can be critical if more than one person needs the end-of-year tiles (bread, gladiators, torches) but only one shows up in the market. Claiming one that you need and your opponent lacks can be an 8 point swing in your favor. The senate votes tiles can also be very valuable.

Overall, I rather liked the game, although I am just not smart enough to plan the mancala rondel very far in advance, which made me feel that I didn't have as much control over my action choices as I'd like.
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Steve Duff
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3dicebombers wrote:
2) The building tile tableau. In a 4p you can cut people off from certain building tiles, or possibly from building something at all. Some poor bastard got cornered early in our last game and basically had to abandon building for the rest of the game.


Oh god, it's going to be Power Grid all over again. shake (sorry, major pet peeve of mine).

There's not really blocking here. Every play can build on every spot, so anyone who's "blocked in" can cut through any "wall" by simply building on in the same spots as the other players in order to regain access to the tiles.

Yes, they don't get a tile while breaking out, but they're not blocked in for the rest of the game unless they choose to be.
 
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Adam O'Brien
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:


Yes, they don't get a tile while breaking out, but they're not blocked in for the rest of the game unless they choose to be.


Technically yes. But if they are boxed in by two other players, then they will have to spend a lot of actions gaining nothing until they break out, and even then only if the other players aren't actively building as well. If you are cornered by two people, and all three of you build at roughly the same frequency, you may never break out. And you will have wasted all those actions unless you get the senate tile that gives points for builders.
 
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Jack Francisco
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This was a blind buy for me and I am put at ease considering two of the games you mentioned in your review are my top 2 games - Macao and Troyes. I have a feeling that Trajan will be joining those as well.
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Marc-Andre Delalay
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senorcoo wrote:
This was a blind buy for me and I am put at ease considering two of the games you mentioned in your review are my top 2 games - Macao and Troyes. I have a feeling that Trajan will be joining those as well.


Yes, I am pretty sure it will! Please, let us know how it goes!
 
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