Thursday, July 3, 2014

Augustus Review

I honestly don't remember how Augustus got my attention.  Partially various nominations.  Partially it's Roman theme.  I am a huge Roman history fan after all.  And then lastly, it just looked like a great game to play with my girlfriend.  Gaming isn't her hobby, it's mine, but she's kind enough to indulge me.  Augustus looked like the sort of game we could get through after she's driven 90 minutes through rush hour traffic back home from a 9 hour work day.

Augustus was released in 2013 by Hurrican Games, and was designed by Paolo Mori.  Disappointingly, I have nothing to say about them.  I've never played a game from that designer or publisher before.  However, Augustus is a good first impression.

Augustus is a sort of "Roman Bingo".  You have objective cards, and various icons will be called out, which will allow you to check off requirements for those objective cards.  This is all themed around conquering Provinces and winning over Senators to please the grand Augustus.

Rule Summary

To set up Augustus, you'll shuffle the Objective Deck and deal each player 6 cards.  They'll pick 3 they would like to keep and discard the rest.  Each player will also receive 7 Legion meeples, and a reference card.  The rest of the Objective cards will form a draw pile, and 5 more will be revealed to form a selection row.  There are also numerous Reward Tiles that are laid out on the table, and a bag full of Mobilization Tokens.

All setup

Every turn, a Mobilization Token is drawn from the bag.  These have icons on them which match requirements listed on the Objective Cards.  Players are allowed to check off these requirements on their Objective Cards by placing a Legion meeple over it.  However, since players only have 7 Legions, eventually they will need to shuffle them around.  In order to check off a requirement on an Objective you are trying to complete, you can always pull a Legion off of something else.

Not all Mobilization Tokens are created equal.  There are different numbers of each in the bag, with crossed swords being the most common, and daggers being the most rare.  The tokens drawn stay out of the bag until the Jack is drawn.  Then all the tiles get dumped back into the bag, which is handed to the next person.

Eventually, someone will have Legions on every requirement of an Objective.  They shout "Ave Caesar!" and put the Objective aside into a score area.  Many objectives give you a bonus of some sort when you finish them.  They can range from allowing you place extra Legions or giving you more Legions, to attacking your opponents or allowing you to convert one type of Legion into another.  Some Objectives also give you powerful score modifiers, like 6 points per Province in North Africa.

Another important thing can happen when you complete an Objective.  You might claim a Reward tile.  There are three different types, Color, Number and Resource.  Color Rewards just come from being the first to have completed 3 Senators, 3 Provinces in Europe, Asia or Africa, or having 1 of each.  You get them automatically.  Resource rewards go to whoever has the most Gold or Wheat in completed Provinces, and you get those automatically too.

The different types of rewards

The Number Rewards are a little tricky however.  You can earn bonus points for having completed 2 through 6 Objectives.  The catch is, you have to take that reward the instant you complete your 2nd through 6th Objective, and that is the only one you'll ever get.  Essentially it's a race, with people bowing out as you go when they realize they'll never beat someone to 6 Objectives.  It is possible to end the game having lost that race, and missing your chance to claim a lower reward.

The game ends when a player has completed their 7th Objective.  Then players just add up their scores, and the highest score has won the grand Augustus' favor.  Which is to say they won.

Timelapse of play.

How accessible is the game to new players?

Augustus has been super accessible.  Everyone I've taught the game to has understood it immediately, and usually come up with the phrase "Roman Bingo" shortly after.  It really hits you over the head with it's similarity to Bingo as a core mechanic.  In fact, the Bingo mechanic is really all you need to learn up front before you get going.

You could explain how the Rewards work if you really want to, and what bonuses the Provinces provide.  But it's really not necessary, and only the most ornery gamer will complain that they would have done things differently if you told them that.  Because honestly, they wouldn't have.  Besides, there is a fantastic reference chart on the back of the manual detailing what all the Province bonuses do, and the game plays fast enough that you can rapidly knock out 2 or 3 games in an hour.  It's a great game for people who can't handle rules explanations and would rather "just play".

What could have been done better?

Well, I'll just quit now then.
The rules say for a first game to just deal out 3 cards each.  But this can potentially hose someone badly.  I once got a starting hand which mostly required the two rarest Mobilization icons.  It would probably be best for one person to deal 6 and discard 3 like the rules say, but do it for everyone who hasn't played before.  If you aren't playing with people you trust to do this for new players, you might want to find better friends.

How does the new player versus experienced player match up go?

I lose this game all the time to new players.  I haven't found there to be much skill involved in the outcome of the games.  There are strategies you can attempt, and you can attempt to combo objectives.  But it all still comes down to luck of the draw, and what few objectives you have access to over the course of the game.  The best laid plans can languish as the Icons you need just never come up on the Mobilization Tokens.

What could have been done better?

Personally, for me Augustus is a bit too luck driven for my taste.  I also find it lacks the agency I want out of games.  But for being a family game with a level playing field for everyone, it succeeds wonderfully in that.  So I consider that a feature rather than a flaw.  Plus there are still some ways to try to mitigate the luck, to varying degrees of success.

What are the feelings the game evokes and why?

Augustus is a great game to play when you want to relax with some friends.  You won't really have to bring your A game to Augustus.  You won't have to worry about getting crushed by your opponents if you aren't paying enough attention.

The theme adds some Roman feel to the game, but it's really not present at all in the mechanics.  But I'm a huge Roman history fan, so it appeals to me regardless.  Games that make you shout "Ave Caesar!" just can't go wrong.

Why is Augustus so enjoyable?

Among the Mobilization Tokens is the Jack.  The Jack is your best friend.  It can be any Mobilization icon you want, and it also makes you dump all the drawn Mobilization Tokens back in the bag to re-randomize the Icons.  It's a fantastic mechanic.  It's your escape valve.  When you absolutely, positively, can't get the symbol you need, there is always the Jack, which must come out eventually.  It gives you hope.

Long term strategy, short term tactics, both or neither?

I haven't found Augustus to contain much strategy or tactics.  You can try to have a good mix of easy to finish Objectives and high scoring difficult Objectives.  But you frequently won't have enough Legions to really cover both, and the random icon draws can go quite haywire.  Daggers especially can appear in a wildly erratic manner.  You might get several in rapid succession interspersed with Jacks, or you might not see a single one in 30 pulls.

You can try to combo a bunch of Objectives together.  There are some really powerful Objectives out there, which synergize well together.  But that could stall out rapidly, especially in a 2 player game, where collectively you are only going to cycle through relatively few of the 88 Objectives before the game ends.

Honestly, it seems completely arbitrary who wins in a game of Augustus.  But I don't get too hung up on it, because that's just the sort of game it is.

Are the dilemmas the player is presented with of sufficient quality?

To me, the dilemmas in Augustus are mostly an illusion.  I don't really feel like the decisions you make have the impact on the outcome of the game you'd wish they would.  You just draw tokens, make the best decisions you can, and then eventually someone wins, possibly because of the decisions they made, possibly not.

What could have improved the dilemmas?

I think the lack of impact of decisions is a feature and not a bug of this game.  The playing field is very level in Augustus.  Almost artificially so?  But if you absolutely need to feel a sense of mastery over your opponents at the end of the game, Augustus is not for you.

But, if I were to suggest something to improve the dilemmas in Augustus, I do have an idea.  It would need some sort of limited, contextually powerful, rule breaking player power.  For example, lets say each player starts the game with 3 Favors.  They can use these Favors to either place a Legion on anything they want, immediately take a new Objective, or wipe the currently available Objectives and reveal 5 new ones.

Suddenly, you now have an extremely limited, but versatile, resource that drastically improves your agency in the game.  You can make absolutely certain you get an Objective you need before someone else takes it.  You can go fishing for Objectives you want.  Or you can just brute force an Objective to be finished.

These tokens are huge
and fantastic

Physical component design and limitations?

Augustus has fantastic components.  Thick, large Mobilization tokens.  Beautiful artwork.  It has square cards, which are a nice novelty I'm seeing in more and more games these days.  It even has score pads I've never needed to use.

What could have been better?

Personally I would have liked a smaller, more compact box.  The box that comes with the game is huge compared to what's in it.  I actually took Augustus to PAX East with me in a small 300 card box.

Yup, I fit the whole game in here.

Another thing that annoys me is the artwork for resources.  Nearly every Objective card has some resources drawn on it.  But only the Wheat and the Gold matter for scoring.  This causes players to tune out all that artwork as flavor, and consistently forget to take their resource Reward tiles when the resources do matter.  Somehow the resources that matter need to be emphasized more.

Long term prospects?

I'm not sure I'd buy Augustus again.  But since I own it anyways, and it's a game my girlfriend really enjoys, I'm happy with it.  After a solid 9 to 10 hour day, and an hour long commute, it's one of the few games she has the energy for.  She also beats me consistently which helps.  So it'll probably keep getting played as long as she's into it.  But as soon as she loses interest, I likely will as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment