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At the dawn of time, Stone Age civilizations are scattered across the land, each one struggling for survival. However, the spark of civilization has been ignited and cannot be extinguished. Ideas and inventions are spreading like wildfire across the continent and your people are taking their first steps towards building a modern society. Lead your civilization through conflicts as they strive to master world-altering advancements such as writing, road building, seafaring and more, always working towards the final goal of flight.
In Tempus, every decision is challenging, as your culture clashes with your opponents' while time marches inexorably on. Building cities, expanding population and wars with other empires are ever-present challenges. Each era of history presents you with new innovations, which beg to be mastered.
Success in Tempus is defined by the player who can build the greatest civilization. If your civilization also manages to conquer the skies you will likely dominate the world, and win the game.
There was quite possibly more hype about Tempus (Café Games, 2006 - Martin Wallace) than any other game in the last couple years. Several people told me how tremendous it was, and indeed, with Mr. Wallace as the designer, I had great expectations for it. The word was that Tempus was finally a good "Civ-lite" game, a game which was a civilization game that could be played fairly quickly. Early reports were good, and I was excited to get my hands on a copy.
First of all, let me say that I think Tempus is a superb, well balanced game, being one of the most streamlined games I've seen. It's certainly quick enough, with lots of interesting choices (though less than a typical Wallace game), and I'm certainly happy to play it. Multipurpose cards, a random map, and fast, quick gameplay are all positive factors of the game. However, I think the game might displease some who are looking for a light civilization game, because this one may be too watered down for them. There is one rule that makes me raise my eyebrows, and I'm not sure the theme is really there. Still, this only brings the game down from being "great" to "really good" in my opinion. Despite these concerns, Tempus seems to have been well playtested and is a good way to spend ninety minutes.
Each game, the board is set up as players place eight to twelve map tiles (depending on the number of players) on a sea map to form a land made of adjacent hexes in different types of terrain (mountains, hills, forests, grasslands, farmlands, and water). A stack of idea cards is shuffled and placed next to the board, and each player takes eight city tiles, six action tiles, one player aid sheet, and sixteen people tokens in their color. Players place a cube in the starting era box on the first space in a ten space column that shows the different eras in Tempus. Each player places three tokens on adjacent spaces on the map to show their initial civilization. One player is randomly chosen to go first, and the first era begins.
Each player gets to use a total number of action tiles each turn (3
to 6), depending on which era their civilization is in. On a player's
turn, they place the tile on one of the action boxes on their player
aid sheets and take the corresponding action. Play proceeds clockwise
around the table until all players have used all their actions, at
which point the era ends. The actions that players can choose are:
- Move People: A player may move one to three tokens one to five spaces each. The amount of tokens that can be moved and the amount of spaces are determined by the era the player is currently in. For example, in the first era, a player may only move one token one space. Players must obey the stacking limit of their civilization (two to four tokens, depending on era) and cannot move through opponents' tokens or cities. In the seventh era, players may use the sea to move their pieces, moving them from one hex adjacent to the sea to any other hex adjacent to the sea.
- Have Babies: A player may add one token to any grasslands hex that has one of their tokens, again following stacking limits.
- Have an Idea: The player may draw idea cards (the number is shown in the current era) and must adhere to a hand limit (also denoted in the current era). Idea cards can be used in war, in the progress phase, and also can be played as a special event card on a player's turn.
- Build a City: A player can remove two or more tokens in a single hex and replace them with a city that has a number on it that is equal to or less than the number of tokens removed. Cities may never be built in mountain areas or adjacent to each other.
- Have a Fight: A player may attack a stack of tokens or an enemy city that is adjacent to one of their tokens. A player can never be attacked if they have three or fewer hexes with tokens in them on the board. The attacker then plays as many idea cards as they want to face down, with the defender doing the same. Each player reveals their cards and determines the final outcome. Combat points are totaled for each side, with players receiving one point for each token involved, points equal to the number on a city if involved, one point for each idea card that is played that matches the terrain of the contested space (a city is whatever terrain the defender decides), and one or two points for certain idea cards. If the attacker wins, then the defender must remove all tokens or the city from the board; and the attacker can move in as many tokens as they want from the attacking space. If the defender wins (or there is a tie), then the attacker must lose one token from the attacking space.
At the end of each era, players must see which player(s) will progress
to the next new era in the era column. First, all players who did NOT
progress last turn automatically catch up to the leader. Players
then, in order, play as many cards as they want face down and then
reveal them simultaneously. Players are attempting to get the most
"progress points", which are scored from these things:
- One progress point for each city they own on the board.
- One point for each token in a space that matches the terrain shown on the new era space.
- One point for each card played that matches the terrain shown on the new era space.
- One point for each Education idea card played.
The player with the most progress points moves their token down to the new era for the next round (in case of ties, all tied players move their cube down). This allows a player to have a benefit that the rest of the players will not have for the next era.
When one player's cube reaches the last column on the era display ("Flight"), the game ends. Each player calculates up their victory points, with one point for each non-mountain space they have a token in, points equal to the numbers on the cities they control, and three bonus points for the person who moved their cube to the final era. The player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: Tempus comes in a really nicely designed, high quality box, with a pile of great components in it. The city tiles look nice, although some of the colors are easy to mix up. The discs, the cubes, and the start player are nicely painted wood, and stand out well on the board. I really enjoy the ocean board and land tiles; while they look a bit abstract, the theme still manages to peek through. What are really impressive are the gameplay cards. They give a good short description of each of the actions, the improvements, and the cards. They, as well as the action and city tiles, are made of thick cardboard and can withstand a good deal of playing. My copy of Tempus was actually a used copy; and you would never know it, as there is little wear and tear. The cards are the best - thick, vinyl finish cards with nice artwork and vibrant colors.
2.) Rules: Tempus boasts one of the best rulebooks that I've ever seen included in a game (and certainly the best one for a Wallace game!) The eight full color pages have wonderful formatting and show through a variety of illustrations and color examples just how the game is to be played. As I stated, the gameplay aid cards are very useful to players, and I was amazed at how quickly new players picked the game up. Even those who sometimes had a harder time grasping new concepts understood the game - the era chart is something that is simple and contains a lot of knowledge in an easy-to-understand fashion on the board. The cards are simple, and there are not a lot of problems figuring out how they effect each other, etc. Tempus is one of the easiest civilization games I've ever taught and played.
3.) Civilization and Time: I love a good civilization and empire building game and think that the pinnacle of this genre is 7 Ages. However, 7 Ages is a game that takes a very long time to play (upwards of seven to twelve hours), and thus doesn't fit into my schedule often, if at all. I'm not the only one, because I'm constantly seeing folk online talk about the search for a short, playable civilization game. Tempus seems to initially fit these criteria; it's certainly a short game, and the theme is definitely that of a growing civilization. But while I can't explain completely, it feels more like a game than like the growth of a civilization. Perhaps it's the lack of a technology tree, or the impersonal feel of some of the mechanics, but it's more likely the fact that the game is streamlined to such a degree that it's hard to be thematic. This doesn’t mean Tempus is a bad game - it's quite the opposite; but if you're looking for a theme-filled civilization game, you may be disappointed.
4.) Cards: I enjoy any game that has multi-purpose cards, and Tempus does it in a nice, simplistic fashion. Each card has one of nine special abilities but also can be used in combat or progress, utilizing the background. A player with a hand full of cards can be a dangerous fellow to attack, but perhaps they are bluffing and have cards that match another era/terrain? Some cards seem better than others, such as religion (convert an adjacent enemy token) and education (+1 progress points), but I've seen none that I considered worthless - every one can be used at different points to help your empire.
5.) Actions: I still think it's hilarious that one of the actions is named "Have Babies", rather than a more austere "Propagate", or something like that. There are only five actions to pick from each turn, and weighing which ones to take is an interesting but usually quick decision. One can build their hand full of cards but do so at the expense of growing their empire. A person can have babies everywhere they can, but when should they build cities? And when, oh when, should you start a fight with your neighbor? As in many games of this type, you'll always feel like you don't have enough actions and are forced to choose between several good ones.
6.) Fighting: In Tempus, it's usually difficult for the attacker to win a battle, especially the well fortified cities. However, the fact that an attacker loses only one token in an attack helps to mitigate this, and the game actually seems to encourage attacking. At first, when the game begins, no one really seems inclined to attack anyone else but rather concentrate on their own civilizations. But as the game progresses, those jerky neighbors will be building cities in the prime spots on the board (there are a LOT of mountains), and fighting is inevitable. There is little luck in fighting, and battles are quickly and easily resolved.
7.) Cities: When should a player build cities? The obvious answer seems to be as soon as possible, because cities are difficult to capture and are worth quite a few points at the end of the game. However, a player removes tokens every time they build a city and must be careful not to limit themselves too much by only having a few tokens left on the board. However, this is also my main complaint with the game. A player who has tokens in three or less spaces cannot be attacked, and this does not include cities. Players will often build cities and have a large, thriving civilization; but because of the three space rule, cannot be assaulted. I find this a bit "gamey"; and while I understand that the rule is in place to prevent a player from being eliminated (a BAD thing), it also seems open for abuse. In aspect of game terms I can understand it, but it seems thematically off.
8.) Eras: It's a nice thing to be the only person to advance to the new era, as you will have a good advantage over everyone else. However, a player must be careful to not put too much effort into this, as the advantages aren't that great, and all the other players will get them the following turn. There are two eras: reading and printing, that award the first person to get there an additional two idea cards, which make them a bit more important; and the person who goes to the final era gets the three victory points, so not all eras are created equal. The Era mechanic, while greatly simplified thematically, is a tight system and really works well, besides being easy to understand.
9.) Fun Factor: Tempus is a fun game - I won't deny wanting to play again, attempting to spread my empire in a different way across the board. The mechanics are simple and easy to understand, and gameplay is almost flawless (except that annoying can't-be-attacked-with-less-than-three-cities rule). We had fun when playing it and enjoyed that the game took less than ninety minutes for a fulfilling, satisfying experience.
Okay, this isn't "Civ-lite"; and you won't be reminiscing for days about the glorious trek of your Empire to world domination. Much of the theme was squeezed out with the simplization of the game mechanics. But it is a good game, possibly one of Wallace's best - because it's accessible to everyone and offers a deep, entertaining game experience. It may be one of the best designs of the year, although I'm not sure if it's slimmed down theme will help its longevity. Wallace has designed yet another great game, and fans of his work should definitely check it out.
"Real men play board games"