Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Downfall of Pompeii

Another game played at Carcasean on 1 Feb 2009. Downfall of Pompeii is designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, the designer of Carcassonne. In this game, you place your people on various buildings on the board, and then the volcano erupts, and you try to save as many of those people from the city as possible. You win if you save the most people. But the tiebreaker is the least number of people killed. So being able to place many people in the first half of the game may not always be a good thing. More people can mean more people to save, but can also mean more people to have killed.

In the people-populating phase of the game, you play cards to place your people on the board. Many buildings on the board have numbers, and they have different number of spaces that your people can occupy. There is a rule for you to place more than one people on your turn, which we call "bringing your relatives". We tend to make use of this as much as possible to bring more people onto the board, and we will try to deny this from other players. There is also competition for spaces nearer to the city gates. The people there are more likely to be able to leave the city in time.

Then once in a while omen cards will be drawn. This is when you get to throw an opponent's people into the volcano. I think this is meant to be some kind of human sacrifice to appease the gods. This is a fun and nasty thing to do. When I explained the rules Michelle said that's nasty. But when we played the game she seemed to enjoy doing this.

The first half of the game will end when most of the buildings are populated. Mount Vesuvius erupts, and lava spews from 6 tiles in the city. The people need to run for their lives. Every turn you add one lava tile, which can kill people, or block city gates, or trap people. Then you can move your people, and try to save them by having them exit any of the city gates. The number of steps a pawn can take is the number of pawns (yours or your opponents') in the space when it starts its move. That means if you are in a crowd, you run faster. Hmm... not sure whether this makes sense in real life. Anyway, it works in the game. There is an element of trying to make use of your opponents' pawns.

The game ends when no more people can be saved. Either the remaining people in the city have all been killed, or they are all trapped.

The game does sound rather nasty. Pompeii was a big disaster, many people were killed, and we are playing a game about it?! But the game is fun! And exciting too. I'd say it is quite thematic too. I especially love it whenever I get to throw people into the volcano. Call me childish.

The gameboard, with the volcano in a corner. This was still quite early in the first half of the game, when we were placing our people onto the board, the city of Pompeii.

A close-up of the board. Some buildings are numbered, and there are grey buildings which are not numbered. Most buildings have more than one space for people to be placed on.

The cards in the game.

This was early in the second half of the game. Lava had started spewing out from quite a number of places inside the city.

Near the end of the game. The lonely black pawn on the left was about to run out of the city gates. That big group of pawns in the middle were doomed. Most of the city gates had been sealed off by lava. Some pawns were still trying to run towards the city gate in the upper left corner, but in the end they didn't make it.

In our game, Chong Sean was most efficient in placing people into the city. He had played the game before, but he told us he still hadn't quite grasped the strategy, because he had never won. There was one particular building that was quite jinxed. Whenever someone drew an omen card and had to throw a pawn into the volcano, a pawn was always picked up from that building.

The game moved at quite a quick pace. Turns are quick as the decisions within each turn are simple. When it came to the second part of the game, the turns were even quicker. This was when things get interesting. Which pawn to save? Where to place the volcano tile? Do I sacrifice this relative who had been mean to me so that I can trap this whole bunch of relatives of my opponent? (yes of course)

At game end, both Chong Sean and I had 8 pawns saved, and Michelle had 7. Tiebreaker was fewer pawns in the volcano. Chong Sean had more than I, so I won the game. I guess he still hasn't broken the curse of not winning this game.

I think the game is quite fun. Two drawbacks are firstly there are some small rules which are a bit fiddly, e.g. how the omen cards need to be set up, when you can start "bringing relatives", how many lava tiles to play before you can start moving your pawns; and secondly the last few turns of the game may slow down, as players start to count everyone's pawns and start to plan how to maximise each move. I don't think either are severe though. I quite like the game. How many other games do you get to throw people into a volcano?


Aik Yong said...

Hahaha! I never did get the 'strategy' of this game either! But it sure is a fun game!

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Actually, there may not be much strategy at all. The game seems to be mostly tactical. But one strategy is in the metagame. Try to act pitiful and plead for not having your people thrown into the volcano and have someone else's thrown in instead. May not work every time though, ha ha...