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In Augustus, you will vie with your fellow players to complete "objective" cards for special powers and ultimately for victory points. Each card has 2-6 symbols which you must populate with legionnaire meeples in order to complete the card. These symbols are drawn one at a time from a bag, with all player gaining the benefit equally, but interestingly, there are more of some symbols than others.
So the pivotal skill you'll deploy is in making your choice of which three objectives you'll start the game with (you're dealt six) -- balancing potential difficulty of completion against value of the reward -- and then which of five available objectives you'll add to your plate each time you complete one of your three. The game ends when someone completes seven. So there's real strategy but the game is still ruled by luck of the draw.
Beautifully illustrated, about 30 minutes to play, and already a favorite for many families, Augustus is one of the nominees for the 2013 Spiele des Jahres.
NOTE: This review was first published on the Opinionated Gamers website
Augustus from designers Paolo Mori & Vincent Dutrait has quickly gained the moniker "Caesar Bingo," and it does, indeed, fit. But please don't let that deter you from playing, as there is much more here than the traditional game of Bingo. While the game is quite light and just about perfect for what the Spiel des Jahre jury seeks to recognize, it has that "gotta play it again" quality that makes it appealing to both families and gamers.
As one might expect in a game of this nature, the theme is very thin. Players are in the service of the Emperor Augustus and must mobilize their legions to conquer provinces and gain control of senators. The artwork and objectives are all tied to this theme, but there is very little genuine atmosphere generated by the proceedings. Again, don't let that prevent you from giving the game a try, as in spite of the lack of a strong theme, the game is simply fun to play.
Each player begins the game with three objectives to conquer and seven legions. Each objective depicts what is needed to complete it and can include one or more swords, shields, standards, catapults, chariots and/or daggers. The more difficult the objective, the more victory points it potentially yields. Some objectives also grant special powers that can be used immediately (place or acquire more legions, acquire or complete an additional objective, etc.), while others provide ongoing or endgame benefits. Some of the most useful are the ones that give players placement flexibility when tokens are drawn. Several are even nasty, forcing opponents to remove legions or discard a previously completed objective. All completed objectives will earn victory points at game’s end.
Many objectives also depict regions within the empire. Be the first to accumulate these in various combinations and bonus victory points will be earned. For example, the first player to complete three objectives in a particular region—which are color- coded for easy identification—earns the corresponding bonus card, which can award from 2 – 6 victory points, depending upon the region. Being the first to complete three senator objectives earns a two point bonus.
If a player is the first to complete an objective depicting gold or wheat, he takes the appropriate bonus tile, each of which are worth five points. A player can easily lose these tiles if an opponent equals or exceeds the number of objectives depicting these resources that a player possesses. There is artwork on many other objectives that has no bearing on the game, but will perhaps be incorporated in potential expansions.
So how are objectives completed? There are 23 tokens depicting a variety of the items listed above, each with a different quantity: six swords, five shields, four chariots, three catapults, two standards, one dagger and two jokers. The tokens are mixed in a bag and one is randomly drawn. Players may place or move a previously placed legion onto the matching location on one of their objective cards. One-by-one tokens are drawn from the bag and players place or move a legion accordingly. If a joker token is drawn, players may place a legion on any symbol. All tokens are then returned to the bag, restoring the original mix. When a player completely fills all of the locations on an objective card, he calls "Ave Caesar!" The player collects any instant rewards, sets the completed objective aside, and replaces it with one of the five face-up objectives or one from the top of the deck.
Once a player completes his second objective and beyond, he has the option of taking the bonus card that matches the total number of objectives he has completed. This is a one-time decision, as a player may only possess one of these bonus cards. The choice is to take the bonus card, or hope for a higher-valued card. The problem is that an opponent may beat you to the higher value card, leaving you empty-handed.
The game concludes when a player completes his seventh objective. Players tally the value of all the completed objectives and bonus tiles they have acquired. Care must be exercised as many objectives grant victory points based on various factors, including different types of objective completed and various symbols depicted on those cards. It can take awhile calculating these points. Of course, the player with the most points becomes the new Consul and wins the game.
While decidedly light, Augustus is still a game of choices. When selecting objectives and placing legions, it is important to play the odds, taking into account the token mix and those still remaining in the bag. Placing legions is generally dictated by the tokens, but players should concentrate on certain types of objectives so as to earn bonus tiles and accumulate benefits that can be used during the game. Speed is usually desirable, as the faster objectives can be completed, the more opportunities a player will have for earning bonus tiles and ongoing benefits. However, exclusively completing easy-to-complete, low-value objectives is not an assurance of victory, as a player who completes fewer, yet more valuable objectives may actually perform better.
My initial two plays left a bad taste in my mouth regarding the offensive objectives. Losing a previously completed objective—particularly a valuable one—can be devastating. In those two games, these offensive objectives were completed early before players had the opportunity to buffer their completed objectives with cheap, low-value ones. In subsequent games, these damaging objectives did not appear until later, making their effects far less detrimental. Players should plan for their appearance, but be aware that if one of them appears early, there is little they can do to alleviate the pain.
A major strength of Augustus is that it does not overstay its welcome. It is fast; a typical game plays to completion in 20 – 30 minutes. Choices are involved, but they are not terribly taxing. Somehow, the game has an addictive quality that satisfies even gamers who normally desire more serious fare and has most folks longing for another game immediately upon completion. That is the mark of a game that is destined to be popular. This has been recognized the the Spiel des Jahre jury, as the game is one of the three finalists and considered by many to be the odds-on favorite to capture the award. Ave, Augustus!