Design by: Paolo Mori
Published by: Hurrican
2 – 6 Players, 30 minutes
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
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!
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: I have already wrote about Augustus on the #61 Counter Magazine and also, for Italian gamers, on http://www.goblins.net but I would like to add my two cents also here. I find Augustus a great game that takes a simple and classical mechanic (Bingo) and twists it adding depth making a nice game, easy to learn and easy to play, but with a lot of small and important choices. Nothing special for gamers looking for something more than a simple filler but a great gateway game, something that can show families and casual gamers that there is something good in the game world. Paolo made a great work of tuning and testing because all the little things that make a game flow great have been done, keeping the mechanic as simple as possible. For me it deserve the Spiel des Jahre 2013 award.
Dan Blum: The game isn’t awful, but there’s so much less to it than initially appears that it annoys me. The only times you are guaranteed to have a decision to make are at the start of the game (choosing the initial three cards) and when completing a card (choosing a new card, plus possibly applying the completed card’s power and/or taking a discretionary bonus tile). The rest of the time you only have a decision when you have more than one card you could place a legion on, and those decisions aren’t that interesting anyway.
If games such as Würfel Bingo and Finito didn’t exist, I could certainly see playing this. Würfel Bingo has more interesting decisions than Augustus. Finito’s decisions are at about the same level as those in Augustus, but you have a decision almost every turn, which is an improvement. Both games manage to improve on Augustus’ decision-making with many fewer rules (and much lower price points).
Jonathan Franklin: Augustus is a fine activity, but does nothing to excite me as a game. At the same time, I cheer when a symbol I need is drawn, much like I would in regular bingo. If treated as a Euro-party game, it is fine and I would not turn down a play, but also cannot see myself suggesting it, especially with five or fewer.
Ted C: It may seem odd that I really agree with all of the comments made so far; marginal decisions and Bingo. That said, it is fun. Yes you cheer for your token to be drawn and you race to collect sets for the bonus points, but it may be classified as an activity. This is a nice filler that can be played by everyone! For that, it will stay in the collection.
Patrick Brennan: It goes along fast enough until there are multiple completions done in quick order and people are deliberating over what card to go for next, at which point it drags, but that should speed up with repeat play. There’s some probability analysis to be done, balancing of tiles and build requirements, effect synergies … lots of things to take into consideration … but after that it then simply comes down to the drawing of the tiles. It’s a nice lightweight Euro affair for those who don’t mind a ton of luck in seeing how their selections fare.
Larry Levy: Despite the high luck element, this is actually kind of a fun game. It’s also quite cleverly designed, as Mori smoothly inserts a reasonable number of game elements and makes them palatable to his family audience by surrounding them with Bingo. Patrick summarizes the game’s positive features quite well. For gamers, it would work best as a filler, but I suspect its real strength would be as something to play with fans of lighter games, as it can be enjoyed by both types of gamers. I originally picked it as my co-favorite (along with La Boca) to win the SdJ and I think it would make an excellent choice by the Jury.
Mark Jackson: A better moniker is “Cosmic Bingo”… it’s a Bingo-ish game with Cosmic Encounter-like special powers. There are some interesting decisions (Patrick is right about the game dragging a bit at the selection of new “targets”) and some fun “cheers or sighs” kind of moments. That said, I liked it well enough to play it again… but not enough to hunt down my own copy.
Mary Prasad: I like Augustus; sure it has a lot of luck but it’s rather fun. I think it makes a nice filler game that plays well with even 5 or 6 players. There isn’t much down time since everyone is playing at the same time (the only slow down is when people finish card objectives and have to select something new).
4 (Love it!): Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
3 (Like it): Greg Schloesser, Ted C, Patrick Brennan, Larry, John P, Mark Jackson, Mary P
2 (Neutral): Jonathan Franklin
1 (Not for me): Dan Blum