- Designer: Michael Feldkötter
- Publisher: Queen Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 45 minutes
- Times played: 3 (with review copy provided by Queen USA)
Via Appia is a new 2013 release from Queen Games – it was announced at Nurnberg, but I did not get a chance to see it or play it until Origins last month. In the game, players are working to build the Via Appia to connect some Roman cities, and it uses a novel mechanic to distribute the building pieces to the players.
The board is fairly simple – it depicts a road (which needs to be built) in three distinct segments. Each segment is bounded by two cities. The road is constructed out of three different shaped rock pieces. The other main feature of the board is the Quarry. This is an elevated ramp made out of a bunch of cardboard. Despite the fact that the game comes with a nice graphic help sheet on how to put the ramp together, I’ll admit that the first time my group tried to play the game, it took three of us about four tries to get the thing together… Clearly we’re not engineers! On this raised sloping platform of the Quarry, you’ll find wooden discs of three different sizes (which correspond to the three different sizes of tiles needed to build the Via Appia). Alongside the board are a row of income cards. There are two parts to the income cards, one which shows wooden disc(s) and one which shows coins.
On your turn, you can choose any of 4 different options.
1) Income – If you choose to take income, you select any face-up income card and choose to take EITHER the wooden discs shown on the card OR the coins shown. At the start of the game, there are 7 face up cards. When the final card is selected and all the cards are flipped over, a new set of 7 cards are revealed. If there are 3 or fewer cards face-up, you get income from both sides of the card. Also, if you choose the very last face-up card, you get income from both sides as well as a “+1 push” token which you can use in a later turn.
2) Quarry – In this action, you can choose to push one or two of your collected wooden discs into the quarry. There is a little wooden pushing broom that you use to accomplish this. You push your discs in at the “top”, and you are trying to make wooden discs fall off the quarry at the “bottom”. For each wooden disc that falls off the quarry, you either take the matching size rock tile or you take a coin from the supply. There is even a consolation prize here… If you push two stones into the quarry and nothing falls out, you still get a small rock tile or a coin. You have a cart (player mat) which somewhat limits the numbers of each different size of rock that you can collect. You are not allowed to collect a tile if it does not fit in your cart. If you had a “+1 push” token, you could use it here to push one more disc into the quarry.
3) Build Roads – Here is where you use your collected rock tiles to build the road. There are a few rules to follow here. Any build must be connected to the starting city or to a previously placed rock in the road. Also, you can only build out of cities that you’ve already visited – so, you cannot build the second road segment until you’ve walked from Rome to the next city. You may build up to two pieces of the road, but if you do, they must both be in the same road segment. Also, in order to build two pieces, all portions of previous road segments must be built. For each rock that you place in the road, you get a token from that segment (A, B or C). You score points when you build the road: 1 point for a small tile, 3 points for a medium sized tile and 5 points for a large tile. Additionally, if you build two tiles on your turn, you also get a bonus coin from the bank.
4) Movement – all players start in Rome, the first city on the road. As rocks are built into the road, players can move onto any built space. There are little pathways that connect the rocks up, and you have to follow those paths. Movement costs are: 1 coin to move 1 space, 3 coins to move 2 spaces, 6 coins to move 3 spaces. Your movement must stop if you reach the next city on the line. When you do reach the next city, you also add a marker to that city to activate the catch up mechanism. For each marker on a city, movement behind it is reduced by one coin per marker. So… if 2 players have already reached a city, the costs for anyone not yet there are: 0 coins for 1 space, 1 coin for 2 spaces or 4 coins for 3 spaces. While it’s cheaper to move if you fall behind, there are bonus tokens to reward faster travel. 6 points to the player to reach the city first, 3 points for second place, and 1 point for third place.
The game continues until an endgame condition is met – either every rock in the Via Appia is built OR at least one player has moved into the final city. At the end of the round when either of these criteria is met, the game ends.
There is some endgame bonus scoring based on the tiles that you collected as you built the roads. For each of the three road segments, bonuses are given for the players who built the most road pieces (8 points) and the second most pieces (4 points). The player with the most points wins.
My thoughts on the game
Overall, this is a very enjoyable game for the family. It has gone over quite well with the boys – for a number of reasons. The rules are well laid out and easy to read/teach/learn. Other than the snafu with the quarry building, we were through the rules and playing the game in under 10 minutes.
There is a dexterity element in the quarry action which presents a fair bit of challenge. Your results depend a lot on where you place your disc and how you push it into the quarry. If you are good at it, you might be able to get an extra tile or two out of your push. Players should take care to not be over-exuberant about the pushing though as you could get an unfair advantage if you really jam the stone into the quarry. The quarry mechanic is a great way to distribute the tiles amongst the players, and I would definitely not call it a “randomizer”. The results can definitely vary based on player skill and timing.
There is also a timing element to the road building due to the order in which road pieces have to be built. There is certainly an efficiency in building two road pieces on a turn as you don’t burn an action (and you get an extra coin). But, in order to do this, the road pieces which are available to be built have to match up to what you’ve got. Near the end of the game, timing becomes a bit more critical as there are a few extra tiles of each size which can be collected. As you don’t score any points for rock tiles which aren’t built into the road, you really want to make sure that you get to place your tiles!
There is a nice balance between building the small pieces and the large ones. Large rocks score more points up front (5 points), but there are only a few opportunities in each road segment, so timing is more important. There are plenty of small tiles that can be placed, and while they only score 1 point up front, they definitely help you work towards the end game bonus of 8 points for building the most parts of each road section.
The actions are well balanced – and it usually works out that you want to do more than one thing on a turn and you’re forced to choose which is best for you. As happened to me often in the game, the time when the road was set up for my tiles was always also exactly the time that there were 2 or 3 wooden discs already hanging halfway off the bottom edge of the quarry. So then I had to decide what I needed to do more! It was also important to keep your meeple moving forwards as the race for the 6-point bonus for cities can be a big part of your final score.
Overall, the game is fairly light in complexity and easy to pick up. There was one issue that came up in our game – all players had made it to the second to last city, and there was one piece of Segment B which hadn’t been built. The end result of this was that all players were limited to building one road piece at a time in the final segment. To further complicate things, three players had large rock tiles in their carts, but there were only two large spaces left to be built. We had a significant slowdown in the game at that point because no one wanted to make a play that set the next person up for a big point payday. I’m honestly not sure if this is a huge issue, as this particular 4p game was still well under 40 minutes in length, but it was a frustrating bottleneck at the end of the game.
Despite that one hiccup in the most recent game, I do enjoy Via Appia, and I am glad that my boys like it as well – as I can see us playing this all through the summer. The quarry, which I initially thought was just a gimmick, is a well designed and integral part of the design. The addition of the small dexterity component helps this game stand out a bit .
Thoughts for other Opinionated Gamers
TedC: The pushing the discs part of the game got some great laughs when someone failed miserably and a bunch of “boos” when someone hit the jackpot. There is a bit of a game of chicken when you realize there is not many good items ready to fall off the chute. As Dale says, it is a nice light game.
Jennifer Geske: I have played several times with 3 players. The game plays very quickly once everyone realizes that there’s no good way to avoid setting others up for a good turn sometimes. There are a number of strategies to try for each of the VP paths (building & traveling). I like that there’s a nice balance of resource engine building and racing to the end of the road (which is one of the game-end trigger). I really enjoy plotting when to race ahead (to block someone) and when to stay back (to wait for things to become cheaper and to be able to build 2 segments both in the next city instead of having to build one in the previous city, especially when you already know how the majority bonus race will shape out in the previous city). I can definitely see playing this game quite a bit in the near future.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it!
I like it. Dale Yu, TedC, Jennifer Geske
Not for me…