Dale Yu: Review of Garum


  • Designer: Ricardo Jorge Gomes
  • Publisher: Pythagoras
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Pythagoras

Each year while preparing for SPIEL, I try to seek out two or three games from companies /designers /countries that I haven’t looked at before – this year, Garum was one of the games on that short list.  I’m a sucker for anything about Ancient Rome – heck, I toyed with the idea of majoring in Classics in college – and this one caught my eye.

I have always had a passive interest in going to LeiriaCon – held in Portugal – as I have talked to fellow OG’er Joe Huber and his trip there – so I had at least heard of the company.  Anyways the title of the game is the name of the pungent fish sauce that I have read so much about in my historical fiction novels, and I wanted to give this one a try.

In Garum, each player represents a master in the preparation of a specific type of fish sauce and receives a set of 16 Cetarian Tiles; each one has 4 spaces filled by as many as 4 colors in different proportions, though the color that the player is defending is always the predominant one.  Each player draws a hand of 4 tiles from his supply. The board is a 4×4 grid that shows a cetarium (or brine tank) in which this stinky fish sauce is made.

There are 16 coins, each with a number from 1-16 on it, each one corresponding to a single pit in the cetarium (which itself is broken down into a 2×2 grid).  At the start of the round, one of these tiles is flipped up, and then in turn, each player plays one of their tiles into one of the four segments associated with the numbered pit on the coin.  There are some icons printed on some of the spaces on the board, and if you cover those symbols with matching colors on your tile, you can score bonus points.

After placing the tile, the active player has a chance to play one of his meeples to the board.  There are small spaces around the outside of the board for each small row/column in the brine pit (16 lines in each direction). The player is restricted to playing onto a line that passes through the numbered pit of this turn.  Each player only has 6 meeples to place – 5 small apprentice tokens and one large foreman (who scores double) – so you will not place a meeple in each turn. Once a worker is placed, it can never be moved. Also, you may only place workers if there is still a free empty pit – once you start filling in the fourth pit in any row/column, you can no longer place workers in that row/column.

The goal of the game is to play Cetarian Tiles strategically, in order to get a huge number of his own colour symbols in selected rows or columns – the greater the influence, the higher the reward!  At the end of the 16th round, every space on the board will be filled.  Now it is time to score the placed workers. You look down the entire row or column where your worker is placed and you count the number of fish icons in your color.  You need to have at least 5 in a row/column to score positive points. All players score all of their meeples, and the player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player with fewer apprentices placed on the board.

My thoughts on the game

Garum is a pleasant tile laying/area majority game that (at least for the standard game) hinges a fair bit on luck of the draw – the order of draw on the amphorae determines how the game will go…  Players who get to place their own tiles earlier in turn order in the rows/columns that they are trying to score will do better. Sure, there is more to the game than just that – you still have to get your meeple onto said row/column by beating out the other players to it; though generally, the mere fact that you want to claim a row means that it is unlikely that other players would want it too.

Players should make note of the prohibition of claiming a row/column once the final large square in that row/column is being filled.  In my first two games, at least one player has not been able to place all their meeples as they ran out of places to use them because they had waited too long!  Of course, if you play your meeples too early; you open yourself up to negative play from your opponents. Once it’s known that you’re trying to score a line, generally your opponents will do everything they can not to add your color to it any further.  The pre-printed bonus squares on the board help to mitigate this a bit because oftentimes the 2 point bonus is enough to make people choose to play there first.

Overall, the game plays fairly quickly.  It felt like most players first concentrated on making a play that could help them the most, and then if there wasn’t a great play with their tiles (or the spaces left to them), then it was the play that hit one of their opponents the hardest.   Most turns didn’t take too long though as those players earlier in turn order tended to be able to do something positive for themselves, and the players later in turn order often had their strategy dictated to them by the limitations of choices in where to play.

Garum is a lighter game which can be taught and played all within a 30 minute window.  The scoring is easy to grasp, and nicely summarized on personal player aid tiles. The decision making is fairly easy, as you don’t have that many options to consider each turn.  There is a bit of long term planning involved on where/when to place your meeples, but oftentimes, this is also a self-evident decision. Garum is brightly colored and does look quite beautiful when it’s all filled in.  And while I’ve explained only the base game here – For those looking for a more tactical game, there is a variant where the first player of each round gets to choose the large square where all tiles are to be played that turn; though this does seem to have its own issues with start player advantage.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral.  Dale Y
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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