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Subject: Mesopotamia review with thoughts on strategy rss

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John Mellby
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Mesopotamia; 2005
Phalanx/Mayfair
Designer: Klaus Jurgen-Wrede
2-4 Players
90 Minutes playing time


Review by John Mellby; Jan 5, 2006


Mesopotamia is a very nice land exploration/building game by
the designer of Cascassonne. The winner is the first person
to generate their four Offering tokens and sacrifice them at
the temple.


This is a medium-weight game, with a good amount of strategy,
and quite a bit of luck involved in drawing new land hexes,
and action cards.


Summary:
You explore to lay new land hexes. Get resources (wood on forests,
stones on quarries), build on plains (Huts or Holy places).
And move stones or Offerings to the temple to sacrifice them.


Components:
Each player has: Tribes (octagonal cylinders), two mana counters and a
Mana scale, Huts, 'Holy Place' disks, and four Offering tokens.
The board is built from hexagon-like pieces except instead of straight
edges, they fit together with interlocking puzzle-like edges. Very
neat and pretty! There is one central Temple hex, and plains, quarries,
forests, and volcanoes.
There is also a deck of Action cards.


Turn:
Briefly each player:
1. Moves tribes (5 movement points) including carrying resources
2. Takes an "Action"; Build Huts, Holy places, grow tribes, or draw a card
3. Gain mana


Initial Board
There are 7 starting hexes. A central temple hex, with a nice temple
on it. Two volcanoes on the North/south. On one side a quarry (with
stones) and a forest (with wood). The number of resources matches
the number of players. On the other side are two plains. Each has
starting pieces for two players: one Hut and two tribes. (For
less than 4 players, omit the tribes, but there will still be
two Huts on each plains.)


Each player starts their Mana scale with the Mana bar at 3, and the
mana counter at 0.


Moving:
Each player has 5 movement points a turn. You can move one tribe 5 hexes,
or 5 tribes one hex each or combinations.
You can't move through the volcanoes. Tribes can pick up resources
(wood, stone, Offerings) and carry them, placing them on top of
the tribe. Resources can't be carried through the temple,
although Stone and Offerings have to be brought to the temple.


Picking up and dropping off resources costs nothing.
As you get to the temple with a stone you:
Build the Temple:
This means you drop the stone,
This increases your Max mana by one, and adds one mana.


While moving you can:
Sacrifice
The Offerings cost Mana to sacrifice: 2, 4, 6, 7
You have to already have enough mana for the Offering,
move the tribe carrying the Offering into the Temple.
Spend the Mana, Remove the tribe, and place the offering
at the Temple. (Note this tribe can be regrown later.)

Steal Resources:
If sometime during movement you are in a hex with another tribe who
is carrying a wood or stone, and you have more tribes in that hex,
you can take the resource onto one of you tribes.

Actions:
After movement you do on and only one of the four actions: Build Hut(s),
Build Holy Place(s), propagate, draw a card
The first three actions can be done multiple times in one turn - several
Huts, or several Holy Places, or several propagates. But if you chose
the card, you only draw one card.

Building Hut(s):
If you have two tribes and a wood in a plains hex, and there it neither
a holy place, nor two existing huts, you can pay the wood and build a hut.
As you build it you select an Offering, and place it, face down,
under the Hut.
If you select the "Build Hut" action, you can do it multiple time during this
action phase (as long as they are legal).

Building Holy Place(s):
If you have two tribes and a stone in a plains hex, and that hex is clear
(no Huts, no Holy Places, no opposing tribes), you can pay the stone
and build a Holy Place.

Propagate:
If you have two tribes on a hex with one of your Huts, and that hex does
NOT have a face-down offering under a hut (yours or an opponents),
you can grow a new Tribe. If you have four tribes and two Huts,
you grow two new tribes. Or you can propagate on several hexes at once.
The problem with this rule, is that if you just pick up the Offering and
put it on one of your tribes, then you can propagate just fine.
(At least that's what the English rules say - we are waiting for
a FAQ to clarify this.)

Draw a card:
Some cards say to play immediately - like steal a mana from someone else.
If not immediate, you play them any time during a subsequent turn.
The include: gain two mana, 3 extra movement points, double propogation,
teleport, ...

Mana:
Finally for every manned Holy Place you gain a mana.
If its your own Holy Place you need one tribe there.
For an opponent's Holy Place, you have to have two tribes on it to gain mana.


Game play and Strategy

So after the rules, what do you do? You have to:
1. Build 4 Huts/Offerings and deliver them
2. You need 2+4+6+7 = 19 Mana to do the offering
3. Build 2+ Holy Places to generate mana

Look at it this way:
Major tasks:
Build Hut - two tribes
Build Holy Place - two tribes
Deliver Offerings - one tribe

Minor tasks:
Sacrifice stone - one tribe
Carry resources - one tribe

If you remember that Delivering offering is mainly a late-game activity,
then the big things you have to accomplish require two tribes together.
A single tribe alone has to move to do much useful, so generally
your tribes should be in pairs.

Be award that the two volcanoes tend to separate the land into two sides.

Beginning moves:
There are three options in the beginning move:
1. Grow a new tribe (move to the temple, quarry, sacrifice a stone, back to the Hut)
2. Draw a card (move to temple, sacrifice stone, back to forest, explore a hex)
3. Explore on the plains side of the temple, hoping to find a forest, and than plains
to build a hut.

My suggestion is #1.
Turn 1: If you have enough movement sacrifice a stone and then grow tribe.
Turn 2. Send the extra tribe to sacrifice a stone, and then grab a wood. Grow a 4th tribe.
Turn 3. Send the 4th tribe to join the 2nd with the goal of building a hut.
Now you have two pairs of tribe on either side of the temple. You can then take advantage
of resources discovered on either side.

If you try option #2, you have one tribe on the resource side and one on the plains side.
The next step would be to explore on the resource side, have the other tribe join,
and build a hut there. But now, when you want to grow another tribe, you have an Offering
under that hut and propagation isn't allowed. Even worse, its likely, if you found a
good plains, that an opponent will build a hut there with their Offering so you're stuck
with your only two tribes a long ways from the only hut where you can propagate
and it will cost a turn or two to move them back.

Option 3 can be good if you get lucky and find a quarry or forest followed quickly by
a plains. But in one game we found 13 plains in a row and had no wood. In another game,
we found 3 quarries in a row, but no forests and fewer plains. I'd let somone else explore first.

Summary:
This is a good game. I like exploring new lands. The tradeoff between getting new tribes
for exploration and building vs. sacrificing an offering is interesting.
Yes you sometimes get screwed by finding the wrong kinds of hexes. But that's just
the luck of the game.

The game is very pretty with nice art, and a good variety of different kinds
of pieces. For once, the cards are not annoyingly small.

The one irritation is the amount of luck in the cards. All the cards are useful,
but only at the right time. The right card at the right time can tip the game a lot.
A good movement bonus, fertility, or land exploration card at the beggining really
helps.

But in the last three games, the game ended with 2-3 players all trying to finish
at the same time, and the last 3-4 moves were spending accumulating Mana trying to
get enough to finish. At this point there was little building, so the only real
choice was to draw cards hoping to get a card that would let you beat the others.
+2 Mana can let you finish a turn earlier. Steal a Mana can help you, or make
another take one turn longer to finish.

When all three games came down to 2-3 people being able to finish and whoever
drew a card first would win was a little annoying. In two of the games no one
was able to find a winning card and the first person won. So I don't know
if this is a minor annoyance or something that would spoil the ending
in the long term. (Probably minor.)
 
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