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In 1347, The Black Death ravages Europe. The ruler of your land has just succumbed to the plague, and now you, the princes of the land, compete against one another in a struggle to replace him. To do this you travel around the land to gather loyal supporters from among the various classes of the middle ages. Each day you visit a different town, each containing different kinds of buildings and each providing different kinds of benefits. When entering a building belonging to a given class, you recruit followers from that class. Once in a while, you also take a chance on recruiting some of the strangers lurking in the streets. There are a few rats in those streets, too, but a rat or two won't kill you, right?
Rattus Cartus, a card game based on the Rattus board game, includes twelve different buildings with players using all or only some of them each game to provide a wide variety of play. Are you going to play it safe, or will you run the risk of perishing from the effects of the plague?
Design by: Ase & Henrik Berg
Published by: White Goblin Games
2 – 5 Players, 45 minutes - 1 hour
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
NOTE: This review was first published on the Opinionated Gamers website
In the mid-14th century a devastating plaque swept through Europe. It is estimated that more than one-half of the population of Europe perished, creating a numbing fear and dread of the scourge's possible return that has persisted into modern times. Such a serious subject was given a very light-hearted and cursory treatment in Rattus, a significant hit for Ase and Henrik Berg, designers of numerous other games, including the popular title Oregon.
Rattus spawned numerous expansions and spin-offs, the latest being Rattus Cartus, a card game that uses the same theme, but bears little resemblance to the original board game. Instead, it is a sequel of sorts. The plaque is ravaging Europe, granting no respect to title or status. The king has succumbed to the Black Death, so the surviving princes are jostling for control. To rise to the throne, they must gain the favor of various classes. By paying visits to towns and buildings controlled by these classes, players gain valuable support. Care must be exercised, however, as some of the characters can prove to be, well, unsavory. Further, there is the persistent threat of succumbing to the dreaded plague.
Each turn players will play population cards to enter one of three buildings currently open. Population cards represent six different classes, including clergy, royalty, bourgeoisie, peasants, knights and magicians. The cards also depict zero- to-four pawns, which are only used to determine the plaque level at the end of the game. Building cards depict various buildings, each related to one of the six classes. Building cards grant certain privileges for all players, with additional rewards going to the players who garner the greatest strength there.
Each turn three building cards are revealed. Each player may execute the supply action of one of the cards. These actions generally grant the player more cards, allow them to discard a rat, and/or peek at one of the cards in the "Nun" row. The five cards in the nun row will determine the plague level at the end of the game. This is important to know, as any player whose number of rats exceeds this level perishes and cannot win the game.
Players then enter buildings by placing their token onto the building of their choice, then playing a number of cards face-down before them. Players may select any of the three buildings to enter, including one that other players have also entered. There are two goals: one is to play multiple cards that match the building, so you can increase the number of supporters from the corresponding class. The other is to present the most strength in the building you enter so you can receive the indicated reward(s).
Players should ideally play population cards that match the class of the building, as this will allow them to increase their support from that class. However, players may also play cards that do not match the class of the building in order to increase their strength in the competition for that building's premier reward. The drawback of playing non-matching cards, however, is that a rat token must be taken. Too many rats and a player may well perish in the plague.
Once all players have entered the buildings and played cards, the buildings are resolved in order. Players who entered a particular building reveal their cards. For each card played that matches the class of the building, the player moves his marker one step along the corresponding influence track. For example, Jim enters the Farm, which is aligned with the peasantry, and plays four cards. When revealed, three of these are peasant cards and one is a royalty card, which was played to increase his overall strength, but has no effect on the influence track. Since the three peasant cards match the class of the building, Jim moves his marker three spaces on the peasant influence track. Ian also entered the Farm, but only played two cards, both peasants. He moves his marker two spaces on the peasant influence track.
Since Jim presented the greatest strength at the Farm – four cards to Ian's two – Jim also receives the premier bonus offered at the Farm, which is four more population cards drawn from the deck. Any other player who visited the Farm – in this case only Ian – receives two population cards. All played cards are discarded.
All three buildings are resolved in this manner. Some buildings grant the players special cards – swords, gold, flutes, jokers or "pass" – which can be used on future turns to alter play, steal cards from opponents or discard rats. While playing these cards is tempting, victory points are awarded to the player possessing the most cards in each category at game's end. The choice to play or conserve these cards can be difficult.
After all three buildings are resolved, the population and building cards are discarded, three new building cards are revealed, and the process is repeated for a total of ten turns. What players are ultimately attempting to accomplish is to rise to the top of the influence chart in as many classes as possible. Ultimately, the top three players in each class earn victory points. The influence chart is the source of the most victory points, so competition in the buildings is usually fierce.
After the tenth turn influence points are tallied. As mentioned, each class is evaluated, with the top three players earning ten, five and two points respectively. There is a significant disparity in points between the three positions, so garnering the top spot is desirable. Two points are awarded for having the most in each of swords, flutes, jokers and pass cards. Possessing the most gold cards will reward the player with six points, while the second-richest player receives three points.
The player with the most influence points is not necessarily the victor. He may succumb to the plague. The five nun cards are revealed and the number of pawn icons on the cards tallied. Any player who has collected more rat tokens than this total perishes and cannot win the game. There are building powers that allow players to peek at one or more nun cards during the course of the game, so players can gain some information as to the possible strength of the plague. The ultimate winner and new ruler of the land is the surviving player who has the greatest number of influence points.
Rattus Cartus is quite fun, challenging players to pick their fights, properly manage their cards, and compete for dominance in multiple classes. It is very important to receive a steady supply of population cards, as this allows the player to compete in a variety of classes. Possessing multiple cards in a class is extremely important, and the only way to accumulate these is by frequently drawing a steady supply of cards. Many buildings grant this as their special power, but taking those often means you are passing over other opportunities.
The special cards granted by having the most strength in a building can be quite valuable. For example, swords are very powerful. If a sword is played when entering a building, the player playing the fewest swords at that building must give half of his cards to the player playing the most swords. Ouch! That is very, very powerful … and devastating. In a ten turn game, it can take several turns to recuperate from losing that many cards. Grab a sword when you can, and avoid buildings that are entered by opponents who possess swords. Of course, if you must enter a building and play cards BEFORE those players, then you will be at a distinct disadvantage. That is why the "pass" cards are of value; they allow a player to wait until all other players have played cards before playing their cards.
As with many games wherein you are competing for victory points in numerous categories, it is very difficult to compete in all of them. It seems best to concentrate on three or four of the six classes, saving your cards and resources for when those buildings appear. Of course, it is highly likely one or more of your opponents will be focusing on those same classes, so there is nearly always competition. Don’t be afraid to play a few non-matching cards when competing at a building, as a few rats likely will not cause your demise. Further, there are ways to discard rats by using certain buildings' powers. Still, players must be fairly conservative when collecting rats, and should carefully observe the rat-collecting status of any opponents who have been peeking at the nun cards. If they are not collecting many rats, then this might suggest that the plague level on the nun cards is low. Conversely, if they do not seem concerned with their collection of rats, then the plague level may be high. Of course, they could be bluffing!
Rattus Cartus certainly borrows from its progenitor's theme, artwork and atmosphere. However, game play is entirely different, so there is no feel of a simple rehashing of their previous design. It is a unique creation that stands on its own. It is easy to learn, teach and play, yet has lots of decisions to maintain the interest of both gamers and families. I am not sure if this sequel will garner as much attention as its ancestor, but it should.