Wednesday, February 1, 2017

My past life with Palatinus

While it's not the end-all, be-all of my measure of a game, interesting decisions and how many you get to make is something I often consider and I think it is a big part of how engaged I am with a game and how much I am truly participating. 

Palatinus, which I consider to be a hidden gem, is a game that used to be one of my yard sticks for this sort of thing. It practically fits the model of a filler. I think we had games that lasted fifteen minutes. Very tight board, lots of interaction and conflict, bluffing and mind games. A lot going on in a small space and in a short time.

The theme, which is undeniably wafer thin, is about the founding of Rome. Basically, you are fighting over the seven hills of Rome. I guess whoever wins gets to control the future of Rome and the Roman empire.

The seven hills are made up of seven modular tiles, forming a hexagon board with one tile in the center. Each tile is a ring of six hexes around a center hex, with the ring being the spaces for tile placement. This creates a ton a of variety for set up.

Players take placing tokens on the board. Farmers score based on blue spring spaces and empty spaces. Merchants score based on the player tokens around them. Soldiers will either capture the farmers or the merchants around them, whichever group is bigger for points. But if they are the same size, the soldiers run away.

But there are a whole bunch of twists.

Some tokens have a wolf on one side, meaning what you're really placing a secret until scoring. And you only score after every token is placed, which means the whole game builds up to one big explosion at the end.

And you resolve each hill one at a time but tokens' areas of influence can overlap. A soldier might capture someone before their hill is scored. And a merchant might score a soldier and get captured by him later. The hills are marked A through G and you score them in that order.

Oh, just to make things more complex, each hill has a scoring token of three to six. The points that the players' tokens don't count towards their final score, just towards getting those tokens.

Palatinus is a very interesting game, albeit one with some issues. Not flaws or problems, just plenty of things that make folks not enjoy it.

It's a very dry game and not super intuitive. Check that. It is almost brutally non-intuitive. It doesn't help that all the conflict only gets resolved at the end with the game being very unforgiving of poor choices. If you like to learn as you go along, Palatinis will frustrate you. It's definitely not for everyone. 

But it impressed me, back in the day, for how many tough and downright nasty decisions it crammed in. It is a head cracker of a game, a puzzle and a slugfest all at the same time. And in a time frame that's shorter than a lot of lighter games.

These days, in the post-Love Letter world, that isn't quite so amazing. But it was a big deal for me and some of my friends. Sometime, I will have to revisit Palatinus. With the right group of coarse and in the right mood. Some games don't stand the test of time. It will be interesting to find out if Palatinus is one of them.

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