Monday 17 December 2018


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Minerva is a design from Japan, by Hisashi Hayashi, a prolific designer. His designs include Yokohama, Trains, Rolling Japan and String Railway. I had not played any of his designs, Minerva was my first time. Minerva was first published in 2015. I played the 2017 English edition, and the artwork is completely different, very much Westernised. Initially I didn't even know this was a design from Japan.

You are Roman governors sent out to found and develop new cities. Everyone builds and manages his own city, starting with a humble fountain. You buy building tiles from the centre of the table to add to your city. Some buildings are free, some cost resources. Some buildings will produce resources for you. Some improve your culture level. Some give one time benefits. Some score points at game end.

A game is played over six rounds. At the start of every round, some buildings are added to the pool at the centre. The number of buildings and the types of buildings are random. During your turn, you can construct a building, or you can trigger a production run. If you don't want to do either, or are unable to do either, you pass and exit the round. Once a player passes, remaining players must pay to perform actions. When the passing player's turn comes again, he earns $1. When you pass early, you put pressure on your opponents, and you may also earn some side income.

These at the centre are the buildings you can buy. Those which are not free have the resource costs at the top left of the tiles. At the top right of the photo you can see six rows of red tiles. These are glory tiles. At the end of every round, everybody compares glory tokens earned that round, and claims these glory tiles accordingly. This is one of three main ways of scoring. Those five buildings on the left are temples. They are the second may way of scoring points. They score points at game end based on various criteria. Whenever one is constructed, another is drawn from the deck to replenish the row.

The components are beautiful, especially the coins. The coins are quite small though. That on the far right is a slave. The rules call this an assistant, but I'm pretty sure he's a slave. At the end of every round you may spend money or glory tokens to buy one slave.

These are the slave prices. This table means if you have X number of slaves (regardless of used or unused), you pay Y amount for the next slave you buy. Slaves become more and more expensive, and you can buy at most five. Those icons at the bottom mean (1) any resource can be spent as $1, (2) if you want to build but are short on a particular resource, you may spend $3 in place of that resource.

The production run is a crucial part of the game. You start the game with just one measly grain. Once you spend it, you have no resources left. Your buildings don't automatically produce every turn or round. Instead you need to take the production action. There are two ways to do production. The first one is constructing a residential building. It's free, and everyone starts with 9 such buildings to be used for the whole game. When you construct a residential building, you trigger a production run in the same column or row it is in, starting from the building itself and going in one direction, until you reach an empty space or another residential building. All relevant buildings along this path produce resources.

In the photo above, the rightmost buildings of both rows are residential buildings. Let's look at the second row. The moment I played that residential building, I triggered the other buildings in that row, from right to left. My buildings produced three scrolls, which represent the art of writing. When scrolls are produced, I get to claim an art tile, which is the third main way of scoring.

Once both ends of a row or column have residential buildings, it is no longer possible to add more to trigger production. This brings us to the other production method - using slaves. You can place one slave into a residential building to use it again. Thus by using residential buildings and slaves, you can do production four times for a particular row or column.

The first temple scores 3VP per military building next to it, including diagonally. The fourth temple scores 2VP per stone resource at game end. The fifth temple scores 3VP per other temple in the same column or row.

So the three main ways of scoring are the temples (scored at game end), the glory tiles (glory earned every round), and the art tiles (first come first served awards subject to having enough culture in your city). Leftover resources and money do give some points. So do the player order tiles in the final round. After 6 rounds, highest scorer wins.

The Play

What I remember most about Minerva is how tight resources are. You have limited opportunities to produce, so you want to make the most of them. I tried to construct as many buildings as I could before I triggered production for a particular row or column, so that by the time I produced, I could produce more. It was a cycle of producing, then more or less using up all the resources produced, and then producing again. This defines the underlying tempo of the game. At the same time you are competing with your opponents for the glory tiles and the art tiles.

This game is a lot about timing. Let's look at the glory token competition at the end of every round. Do you do a production run early, which may give you fewer glory tokens? You may end up with too few to compete well, or you may not have enough to spare to buy a slave. Do it late, and someone else may have passed, making your actions more expensive, and possibly even unaffordable. The art tiles are first come first served, so there is always pressure to grab the art buildings early, to grab the art tiles early, even if it means you are being less efficient. The nature of the competition in this game is similar to that in Agricola - grab it before your opponent does.

In the early game I was so focused on my own city that I didn't pay any attention to Allen's or Han's cities. I had missed one important rule, and thought that production runs only went horizontally. I built my city row by row, unlike Allen's city above which had one row and one column. If you look closely at his row of buildings, both ends had residential buildings now, and both residential buildings had a slave each. This means he had done production for this row four times.

This was Han's city. At this point he had one residential building in each of the four directions of the compass.

This was my city. Due to the initial misunderstanding of the production run rule, I had built it in rows only. One thing unusual you will notice is the two adjacent residential buildings at the right end of the first row. The residential building on the left occupied a space which was previously occupied by another building. The residential building on the right was constructed first to trigger a production run. Then I used a special building to relocate one building to another part of the city, thus creating a space. Later, in this space I constructed the second residential building. The second residential building helped me trigger a production run for almost the whole row. It was just one building fewer - the one which was relocated.

My city at game end. I was quite the prolific writer, scoring all the scroll art tiles. I had only ever bought one slave, deployed to the residential building at East End. I used all nine of my residential buildings. You can count them.

Han and Allen optimising their last few moves.

The title bars of the buildings are colour coded for easy recognition. E.g. purple is for military buildings.

This temple gave me many points. 3VP per adjacent green building meant a 21VP bonus!

The Thoughts

Minerva is a game of tight resource management and meticulous production planning. It is a game with careful timing. Even though you'll be doing your own thing at your own cities, you do still compete in many aspects - in grabbing buildings, in racing to claim art tiles, and in the arms race to get glory tiles. The order buildings appear, and the number of buildings coming up each round, are randomised. This can greatly affect each game. E.g. some games are richer in some resources but not others. This creates variability from game to game.


BomberMouse said...

I've had the original JP version for almost 3 years now, haven't been able to play it yet! Will try after reading this review, thanks.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

ha ha... I'm happy to have triggered you to be determined to give it a go.