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Subtitled "Architects of the Eternal City". Rivalry in old Rome for the most spectacular buildings and dominance in the Roman prefectures. Whoever uses the 90 blocks and 40 roofs best will win. There are four rounds to a game: Each round has a building phase, an auction phase, a scoring phase and a card drawing phase. In the building phase, players decide on the height of the buildings and build them at the side of the board; if they have the necessary permit, they can build on the board itself. A building is finished when it has a roof; the first roof in a prefecture determines the shape of all other roofs. In the auction phase players can auction for temples, wells and amphitheaters, earning extra points. This is a beautiful production.
Alan Moon is an extremely prolific designer, and has produced many excellent games, such as his recent Ticket to Ride, and the often highly lauded Elfenland. Several of his games have been done in conjunction with Aaron Weissblum, another prolific designer, and those games are often quite good! My favorite of the lot is Capitol (Schmidt Spiele, 2001 - Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum), one of my favorite building games.
There is nothing about the game that I dislike. Most people highly dislike the scoring mechanism, but I found it unique and thematic. The components are extremely top-notch, and the strategy in the game, tempered by a small amount of luck, is so good, and so much fun - that after a game, players are usually ready to play again. The entire theme of the game is slightly irrelevant to the game mechanics, but the theme (building in ancient Rome) is an enjoyable one. The building fun can occasionally overshadow actual strategy - a phenomenon that I also see occasionally in Manhattan. However, the game plays so easily that many casual gamers ask to play it more, yet at the same time it offers a good set of strategies for those who are looking for a deeper game.
A game board is placed in the middle of the table, divided into nine areas. Each area is one of three colors (pink, purple, or light blue), has five to seven small squares (building sights), may have one or two fountain squares, and has one large square for improvements. Each player takes a Stop card in their color, as well as all the roof pieces of their color. Three stacks of cards are shuffled (Roof, Floor, and Permit) and are put next to the board face up. Two Roof cards, two Floor cards, and four Permit cards are dealt to each player. A large stack of wooden blocks (Floors) is placed near the board, and each player receives six of them players use these blocks and some of their roofs to create the following buildings: two one-story buildings (one with round roof, the other with triangular roof) and two two-story buildings (also with both types of roofs.) On the sides of the board, some Fountain, Amphitheater, and Temple tokens are placed, next to four pillars which are used as a scoring mechanism. One player is randomly chosen to go first and receives the First Player Marker - an oval cardboard token with a picture of a Roman senator on it. This player goes first in the first round (there are four rounds), with play proceeding clockwise around the table.
The first phase in each round is the Construction phase. During this phase, on a players turn, they may play one of their cards or pass (which removes them from play for the remainder of this phase). If a player plays a Floor card, they take two floors from the general stash and build buildings with them. They may start new buildings, or add to any existing building in front of them that has no roof. If the player plays a Roof card, they may put either a round or triangular roof on one of their buildings, completing it. If a player plays a Permit card, they may place one of their complete buildings onto the board. The area must match the color on the Permit card, and the building must be put into an empty square. The first building in each of the nine areas can have any type roof, but all subsequent buildings must have the same type of roof. The first building must also only contain one floor, while later buildings must have floors that equal or exceed the highest building in that area. When all players have finished playing their cards (have passed), the phase ends; and play proceeds to the Improvement Phase.
During the improvement phase, two fountains are auctioned off, as well as an Amphitheater or Temple (depends which round it is). All three types of cards have numbers on them, with values of 1 to 8. Each player takes all their remaining cards and arranges them in a face-down pile in front of them. All cards that they have above the Stop card in their deck are the cards that they have bid towards the current auction, while all those below are not used. (A player may put the Stop card at the top of the pile, if they dont want to bid.) Each player turns over their cards until they reach their stop card, and then the sums of the values on the cards are compared. The player with the highest sum wins the auction, discards the cards he used, and takes the item he won - placing it immediately on the board. (Ties are broken by the highest individual card played, then by turn order). Fountains can be placed in any empty square on the board, while amphitheaters and fountains are placed in the large square in each area (there can be only one per area).
The next phase of each round is the scoring phase. Each of the nine areas on the board is scored. The player who has the most floors total in each area scores 2 points plus one point for each fountain. The player with the second most floors scores 1 point for each fountain only. All ties are broken by the player who has the tallest building in that area. Temples double all points scored in an area. The scoring markers are moved accordingly, and the game proceeds to the end phase. During this phase, starting with the First player, each player draws six cards - from any pile(s) they wish. The player who has the most floors in any area that contains an Amphitheater gets two additional cards, with the second-most player getting one card. After all players have drawn cards, the Start marker passes to the player on the left, and the next round occurs. After the fourth round, the player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: When one opens the box, the absolutely stellar components just bring about a rush of good feelings. The wooden blocks for the buildings are a good size, and stack well, and look pretty nice with the brightly painted roofs on them. They do not fall easily, which is good, because a lot of them are placed on the board. The board is very colorful, and has a lot of eye candy, representing a gods-eye view of ancient Rome. The three colors for each area are distinctly different, and match the color on the cards well (havent played this game with a color-blind person, but I suspect that they may have some problems). The cards are of a small size, but since they are extremely simple in their use, dont need a lot on them - basically a picture and a number. Everything about the game is very thematic, from the pictures on the cards, rulebook, and box - to the colorful board, to the cardboard insert in the box, which is designed to look like a small city. Everything stores well in the box, and the name and decoration of the box cause this game to be often requested from my crowded game shelf.
2.) Scoring pillars: There is a lot of antagonism from folk about the scoring mechanism in Capitol. However, I really like how it works - even though I know that Im in a very small minority about it. Basically, there are four pillars, one of each color, that slide underneath a cardboard strip - each pillar slid so that the number of the players current score is showing. Peoples complaints generally center around the idea that the pillars slide. I cut out another strip of cardboard and glued it to the back, causing the pillars to slide between the two strips of cardboard. This keeps them sliding fairly smoothly in our games - and we havent had any problems. Still, I can see (barely but grudgingly) how this could cause some problems for some folk.
3.) Rules: The rulebook, sadly, is in German - but suitable translations are available on the internet. The rules are very uncomplicated, and I doubt much reference to the rulebook would be made after the first game. The game is extremely simplistic to teach and learn - and while the strategy may elude many first time players, the game itself plays out smoothly.
4.) Strategy: I mentioned in the beginning that this game suffers from a minute problem that Manhattan also has. New players sometimes get so caught up in building huge buildings - warring for a certain area - that they ignore the overall picture, and lose the game in the process. There are a lot of opportunities for players each turn. The face-up decks, in particular, are pretty interesting. At first, this concept really threw me for a loop - very few other games keep decks face up. But then I realized that this added to the whole strategy for the game. If I really dont need a Floor card but the top Floor card is an 8 value, should I take it anyway? These decisions, once made, usually seem to be wrong, and cause players to want to play the game again.
5.) Auctions: Im a huge fan of this auction method. Its basically blind bidding but done in a very ingenious way - using the Stop cards. It works really well, and players enjoy it - it keeps tensions high. You must win some of the auctions to strategically place the tiles where you need them, but you cannot win them all. So its part of the strategy to win certain auctions. The Amphitheaters in particular, while seeming to be weaker than the theaters, give a player a huge advantage in future auctions - two cards makes a huge difference in the game.
6.) Theme and Fun Factor: The theme is nailed onto some good mechanics, and it works really well - one of the better thematic German games Ive played. The game is not quite as fun as Manhattan, but is probably a better-designed game, with more opportunities for strategy. I have yet to play this game with anybody who didnt enjoy it and ask to play it again. Even some of my friends who are jaded against more intellectual games liked this gem quite a bit, and asked for a repeat. This, of course, always pleases me.
Capitol is indeed a great game. It has a decent amount of luck in it - with initial card draws, but really emphasizes tactics over luck. It plays excellently with three players (its okay with two), but a four-player game really shines, as players constantly must try to outmaneuver each other. As long as players dont get caught up in a blood feud (Ive seen buildings that were ten stories high - ridiculous for this game), the results of games are fairly close. People are intrigued by any game that lets them build things, and Capitol capitalizes on this attraction nicely. If you have an opportunity to pick this game up, dont let the fact that its in another language deter you. Its one of the best building games you can get, and even more so - its a lot of fun!
Capitol is a terrific decision-making game. It has the feel of momentum as every successive move you make has impact that builds throughout the game. And despite this, early mistakes can still be compensated for in later rounds because the later rounds are more consequential (due in part to the temples).
What I think is unique about the theme is that the laws (i.e. regarding permits to build, only allowing one type of roof in an area, preventing shorter buildings than the last one built, etc) make the game feel more like a simulation add they add a lot of flavour to the game. While the rules themselves may not be all that accurate, I would suspect the city planners in Rome did lay decree about what would be allowed to be built in certain areas. A nice touch by the designers.
As highly as I regard this game, I will outright say I don't like the prescribed auction rules. I have adopted, what I call, 'The Taj Mahal' auction system and it works so much more strategically and with more satisfying game play:
The start player makes his bid with any number of cards, let's say he plays one card with a value of '8'. The next player must make a bid that surpasses 8 using any number of cards. So Player 2 puts down two cards: a '6' and a '7'. Player 3 must now bid higher than 13, so he puts down all four of his cards that total 16. The bid goes back to Player 1 and if he wants to stay in he must beat 16. The auction continues until last man standing.
There is less guesswork this way since you are allowed to respond to what each player bids rather than setting your one bid before the auction has started.
I want to add that, as a 3-player game, Capitol may just be the best game out there that supports 3 players. Maybe even better than Taj Mahal because it is more accessible to non-gamers and, at four rounds, a quicker game overall.
Which is my favorite game of all time? This or El Grande? Depends on the day.
This game is simple to play, elegant, and begs me to keep coming back for one more play.
The board is fugly, with pukey colors. Now that it's out of print, buy it before it's off the shelves forever.
This game is pure Moon genious.
Zoning regulations can actually be fun. Hands are drawn from faceup stacks of numbered Floor, Roof, and Permit cards, in any combination. Discard Floors and Roofs to complete buildings off the board. Discarded permits show the color of a district where completed buildings can be placed, starting with a height of one story and subsequently rising no more than one floor higher than the previous building. A district's first edifice dictates the type of Roof for all its others. At round's end, those with most Floors in a district score. At auctions, the highest value of cards offered wins monuments that increase a district's score, or allow its leaders extra cards. What's best--using cards for construction, or saving them for auctions? I'm floored!
Once again, the early adopters on the newsgroups showed this as one to consider from the Nuremburg haul and as the rules were posted onto the net, it enabled me to understand the game before I bought it. (Not that this made any difference as the designers have now a sufficiently good track record for me to buy unseen.) The Moon/Weissblum combination is really motoring now, with more titles in recent months than any other combination and I believe their quality is rising. Capitol confirms this increase in game class. It is a game about placing buildings on a board and scoring points for them. The higher the buildings, the more valuable are those buildings.
The board is split into three coloured zones (pink, purple and light blue -- not my choice but it makes the board colourful); each zone has three areas, containing from 5 to 7 squares. On these squares players will place buildings which are constructed from wooden blocks, representing the storeys, and completed with roofs. In order for a building to be placed on a square, certain conditions must be met: the building must be complete (have a roof on) and must be at least as high as any existing building in that area; the roof type must match the roofs of existing buildings (there are two type of roof); and a permit card must be played that matches the colour of the zone.
This sounds pretty onerous, but in fact is intuitive from very early on in the game. Cards are dealt out at the beginning from three separate face-up packs -- roofs, permits and floors. A player's turn consists of playing one of these from his hand of cards. The floor card allows two more floors to be taken from the central store and the player then has to decide what to do with them -- either start a new building, or add them to buildings already in front of you, thereby creating taller buildings. Once you have decided, you cannot undo this move later on, so you often create new buildings, as this is a relatively safe move.
The roof tile cards finish a building and prepare it for future placement on the board. The choice of when to cap the building and with what type of roof is really hard, as there are only 5 rounded roofs and 5 pointed roofs for each player and four of these are used in the set-up at the start.
Finally, the permit cards allow you to place a building with a roof into an area. As each permit covers three areas, there is considerable choice about where these can be used.
A round is completed when all players pass and there is then an auction phase. The first two auctioned items in each round are fountains, which occupy one space in any area. Auctions are quick -- each player plays any of his cards (roofs, permits and floors) face down in a pile. All the cards have a number in the range 1 to 8, which is only used in auctions. A stop card is inserted where the player wants and all players turn over their cards one at a time until the stop card is reached for all players. Simple and effective. The winner discards their cards and the next auction takes place. The final auction in a round is always a more valuable building. In the first two rounds, it is an amphitheatre and in the last two a temple.
When the auctions are complete, a round concludes by taking the scores. The winner of an area is the person who has the most floors in an area. Often this is the person who has the highest building, which is used as tiebreaker when the floors do not produce a winner. The winner of each area scores two points, plus one for each fountain in that area. Some areas have fountains already printed on the map and further fountains can be added to any area as a result of the auctions. The next placed player scores only the number of fountains. Scores are doubled if an area has a temple. Finally, the players get 6 more cards to their current holding of cards, with a bonus of 2 if a player wins an area that has an amphitheatre.
So having outlined the rules, what is the game like? In a word: excellent. I have played the game 5 or 6 times now and each game has had different problems to solve. However, the common issue to each game is timing. Since you can only carry out one action per turn, you have to be constantly watching what the other players are doing. If one player exhausts their roofs of one type, then they are in a weak position to counter you in some areas. In another case, if a player is building a tall building (say 4 floors already), then there are usually only 1 or 2 places to place that building, which can be useful to you, as it limits what they can do in other areas. As the game is sequential, someone has to build and this allows you to place a building of one more floor into that same area and (re)capture that area. In order to overcome this problem of placing buildings, I have seen some players not compete much in the first round, because by the beginning of the second round they will have a large hand of cards and more options as a result. The other tactic that is good to use in order to avoid taking a decision is the floors card, as you can always use the floors to start a new building or add to a half-constructed one and thereby defer either completing a building or placing one on the board..
The fountains are incredibly useful for completing an area, as you cannot build on a square where a fountain has been built. So an area that has only two squares left could be completed with the placement of two fountains or buildings.
The limitation on options is clever -- you need to have the right blend of cards, as well as the right mix of coloured permits. It is no use having a building ready to play in a keenly contested area if you do not have the correct permit to play. As in many areas of the game, the balance is good, as when you receive more cards at the end of a round, you draw them from the face-up decks one at a time and may not get the coloured permits until you have used several card picks. This makes the areas with amphitheatres well worth winning, as they enable you to draw extra cards. I have found the most valuable auction to win is the first temple as it doubles the scores in one area for two rounds, but knowing this, players can prepare for it and know to bid high.
All the games I have played have been close, which suggests that the game is well balanced and that there are several ways to win. No-one has found a perfect solution, as much depends on the way the buildings are constructed and even small areas can be useful and score a vital 2 points towards your score. The only poor aspect to the game is the scoring markers, which don't work well and are completely superfluous. Pencil and paper are perfectly OK for this. But this is just quibbling of course and I highly recommend the game as one of the gaming delights of 2001.