Design by Lukasz M. Pogoda
Published by Rebel
2 Players, 45 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Games utilizing a castle-building theme are, as the saying goes, a “dime-a-dozen.” For those not familiar with this American idiom, that means there is an abundance. Castle building is such an intriguing concept with apparent mass appeal, so designers and publishers seem to have little hesitation revisiting that theme.
I wonder why cathedral construction is not widely utilized as a theme? Europe and many cities throughout the world have fabulous and massive cathedrals and basilicas. Many are incredibly ornate, attracting tourists from around the globe. The history behind many of these religious buildings is rich and fascinating. It truly is a wonder why cathedral building has not been adopted as a theme by more game designers and publishers. Indeed, only two notable efforts come to mind: Keythedral by Richard Breese and the somewhat flawed Krieg und Frieden (Charlemagne) by Gerard Mulder.
Polish designer Lukasz Pogoda has not overlooked this theme, offering us Basilica, a 2-player game that casts players as rival architects working on one cathedral, but trying to be the one to most impress the king. Clever placement of vaults, shrewd use of worker talents and the occasional dastardly maneuver are all required if one wants to be richly rewarded for his efforts.
The main components are 58 double-sided cathedral tiles. One side of each tile displays a vault in one of four colors (18 depict two colors), while the other side depicts a special action (called “order” in game parlance). The order side’s color matches the vault on the reverse side, which is useful information during one’s turn. Three orders are placed in a row on the board, with three vaults in a separate row directly underneath these orders. Players each receive five builders–which are placed in attempts to gain control of areas within the cathedral–one coin, and a set of four “promotion” tokens.
A player must perform three actions on his turn, choosing from among the following. An action may be performed multiple times, with the exception of the “Place Builder” action, which may only be performed immediately after placing a vault tile.
Place Vault. The player takes one of the three visible vault tiles and places it into the cathedral. A tile must be adjacent to a previously placed tile, and the width of the cathedral can be no more than five tiles (which is the width of the small board / score track). The idea is generally to expand areas of like-colored vaults and take control of those areas with one’s builders.
When a vault is placed, its empty space on the board is filled by flipping over the order tile above it, then refilling the order tile’s now empty space with a tile from the general stack. Players must realize that by flipping over the order tile, the actual action provided by that tile is no longer available. Plus, since a player will know the color of the vault that is on the reverse of an order tile, he can often choose a vault tile so that the replacement tile will be a color he desires.
Many tiles are marked with a crown symbol. Whenever one is added to the basilica, the king pawn moves one space along the score track. When the pawn reaches the 10, 20 and 30 spaces, a scoring is conducted. Further, the game ends when the pawn reaches the 30 space. More on scoring in a bit.
Place Builder. If a player desires, he may place on of his builders on the just-placed vault tile. As with Carcassonne, that builder will remain in place–unless moved by a special order–until a scoring round is conducted. Since a player only has five builders, careful judgment must be exercised regarding when to place one lest one’s supply depletes too quickly. As mentioned, a major objective is to gain control of areas of like-colored vaults by having the most builders in those areas.
Execute Order. A player may select one of the three visible orders and execute the action it allows. There are seven different types of actions, which gives players considerable flexibility and allows them to be quite creative during their turns. Some allow the player to move a builder or place a builder on any vacant tile, while others allow the placement of a scaffolding tile, which serves to block the expansion of a particular area. This is effective to limit the potential scoring of one’s opponent.
Stained glass tokens add 2 points to the value of an area, while the “disaster” tile allows the player to completely remove an empty tile from basilica, which can be extremely effective to either split an opponent’s controlled area or separate that opponent from an area you are developing.
The “promotion” ability can be quite useful, as the player places one of his four promotion tiles under a builder. These promotion tiles can break ties in favor of that player or allow a builder to count as two builders. The value of an area can also be doubled, but care must be exercised, lest it be your opponent who earns those points. Promotion tiles are double-sided, with different abilities on each side. Choosing which one to use takes careful thought, as it may also make other types unavailable.
Many tiles allow one’s opponent to execute the same or similar action by paying his one coin to the active player. However, once that coin is spent, the player cannot execute this option again until his opponent does so, thereby returning a coin to him. This is a clever mechanism that has some interesting implications.
As mentioned earlier, a scoring is conducted when the king reaches the 10, 20 and 30 spaces on the score track. Each area is examined to determine which player has the most builders present. An area is a grouping of like-colored vaults, with wild tiles (those depicting two colors) being able to potentially count for two areas. The player with the most builders present scores points equal to the number of tiles in that area. For example, if Gail has the most builders in an area that is comprised of seven vault tiles, she will score 7 points. This amount can be increased by the presence of any stained glass tokens or doubling promotion tokens. Obviously, controlling large areas is an important goal, especially if the value of that area is doubled via the placement of the doubling promotion token.
At the conclusion of each scoring, all tokens are removed from the basilica, builders and promotion tokens are returned to their owners, and the top two rows of vault tiles are removed from the basilica. This generally causes areas within the cathedral to once again become available and can cause fierce competition to gain control of the larger ones.
The game continues until either the king reaches space 30 on the score track, or the deck of tiles has been depleted for a second time. A final scoring is conducted and the player with the most points is richly rewarded by the king and wins the game.
I have been pleasantly surprised by Basilica. Released back in 2010, it is a game that has not received widespread attention, in spite of being released by the same publisher that brought us the popular mountain climbing game K2. It is a tile-laying game, a genre that generally has a considerable following. Plus, the theme is not one that has been overused, so this also should have been cause for some attention.
This lack of attention from gamers is at their loss, as this is a game that is easy to learn, yet has a lot of interesting decisions and opportunities for clever moves and actions. With only three actions per turn and only three choices amongst the possible actions, turns flow quickly, even though there are many options to consider, particularly in view of the possible orders that are available. One has to always be mindful of the possibility of his opponent paying a coin to also take the action…provided, of course, the opponent is still in possession of a coin.
If the game has a drawback it is the constant flipping of tiles to replace those taken. This process is constant and never diminishes. I must admit that it does grow wearisome, but I feel the game is worth this bother. Venice is perhaps my most favorite city in the world. One of the joys is getting lost in the dense maze of streets and alleyways, rounding a corner to discover an unexpected square, view or church. Basilica is akin to that: an unexpected yet pleasing discovery that has been lost in a maze of relentless new releases. I have definite plans to remember its location on my gaming shelves and return to its charms often.
4 (Love it):
3 (Like it): Greg J. Schloesser
1 (Not for me):