DESIGNER: Arve D.Fühler
PUBLISHER: dlp Games
AGES: 12 and up
TIME: 60 – 120 minutes
TIMES PLAYED: 6, with a copy I purchased
The Middle Ages and the monks who lived there seems to be a common theme for board games. Those monks sure were productive; they brewed beer, they printed books and they tended libraries. In the latest game with monks they are artisans making stained glass windows to improve the fame and fortune of their cathedral.
Monasterium is a resource management and area control game for 2 -4 players. It takes place in the cathedrals of the middle ages, where you and your monks are trying to improve the reputation of your churches and build beautiful stained glass windows.
The game board is double sided; the side you use depends on the number of players. There are several monasteries pre-printed on the board, and 8 stained glass window tiles for each monastery as well as various resources.
Each player has their own two-part board that provides action spaces as well as a place to build stained glass windows. Each player puts their novices on their board, and puts their messenger cart on the path in the middle of the main board.
There are fifteen mission cards in the box; six are randomly selected to be included in each game. There are also various tokens representing resources you need to take actions.
A number of neutral dice based on player count are given to each player, who adds one die in their player color. (In later rounds you may have additional dice in your color as you move on the cart track.)
The game takes place over 3 rounds. On your turn, you roll all of the dice you have. You place all of one number on the action space that matches the number you rolled. This continues until all players have placed all of their dice.
Next up is the action phase. On your turn, you take up to three available dice on an action space. The white, neutral dice are available to all players, while the die in a player’s color is only available to them. Each die you take allows you to perform that action once.
What are the actions you can do?
To start with, you can take the action printed on that die space (and also printed at the top of the column on your player board). Eventually you will open other action spaces, but let’s just start with the basics.
A 1 die allows you to send one of your novices out to a monastery. You can choose a monastery that has a path to where your cart is stopped on the road. Once you have a novice in a chapel you can always choose to place more novices there, regardless of where your cart is.
If you placed your novice in one of the buildings you will get victory points and a tile, depending on where you placed. If that building was a community room you get to take a window tile (more on those later). Placing in the chapel or cloister doesn’t get you a bonus now, but will get you victory points and other opportunities later in the game.
A 2 die allows you to take one soup tile per die. Soup tiles help you place your novices in secular buildings in the chapel, and can be upgraded to help you place in workshop or community buildings
A 3 die allows you to take one influence tile per die. Influence tiles are needed to place your novices in chapels and buildings.
A 4 die lets you take one rosary tile per die. Rosary tiles are needed to place your novices into cloisters.
A 5 die lets you move your cart one space along the road for each die. If you pass over or land on a bonus space you immediately get that bonus. When you reach the end of the track you get another die in your player color, which you may use immediately, or five victory points.
A 6 die is wild. You may only take one at a time, but it allows you to do any of the other actions, paying any associated costs.
As you are pulling novices from your board and placing them in chapels and buildings and cloisters you are uncovering additional action spaces on your board. As these are uncovered you open up additional actions you can choose to take when you take that die; so if I take my first novice off the top space of the 1 column I will have the choice to place a novice OR move my cart one space whenever I take the 1 dice.
When you remove the last novice from a row you get a free placement of one novice in any legal space without having to pay the cost.
Play continues until all dice are gone. Dice are redistributed, the hourglass moves one step forward and the game continues for a total of 3 rounds.
So why do you care about all these actions? Well-placed novices are the keys to getting more resources and scoring lots of victory points.
The first thing your novices will help you do is get window tiles. When you place in a community room you get one from that monastery, and if you uncover the action space in the third row you can take one from any chapel where you have a novice. When you pass the bonus space on the road you can take one from any monastery, regardless of whether you are represented there.
Window tiles make your cathedral more beautiful, but they also get you resources and goods along the way. Any window tiles you get are placed in the grid on the right side of your player board. When you place a window tile you get the reward listed either on the left side of the row or the top of the column; you get victory points when you complete a row or column. You must always place on the leftmost space of the row you choose, and you can never have two tiles of the same monastery in the same row or column.
There are 6 mission cards in play in every game, chosen at random from the 15 that come in the box. Each card is assigned to a group – A, B or C. Cards from A and B will get you points during the game for having specific combinations of novices in chapels, buildings and cloisters; the earlier in the game you achieve these the more points you will score. For example, the card on the bottom left above will get you 10 points if, in the first round, you have a novice in the chapel and 2 buildings in the matching monastery, while the card on the bottom right gets you 10 points for a novice in the chapel and 2 in cloisters in the matching monastery.
Cards from group C just need to be completed before the end of the game; if you meet the criteria you score the points listed. Above you would score points for having 3 novices in community rooms and 6 novices in cloisters.
After the 3rd round the game is over and final scoring begins.
First up is monastery scoring. Each monastery is scored individually. The player who sent the most novices in total to that monastery scores 5 points. Ties are friendly.
Next up is chapel scoring. You score points based on the number of monasteries where you have at least one novice in the chapel area – 1 point for 1, 3 points for 2 and so on.
After that is cloister scoring. For each monastery add the number of your novices in the cloisters (the center areas), multiply it by the number of your novices in that chapel and then double it.
Finally, you score points for your remaining resources. The player with the most points wins the game. There is no tie-breaker.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
(NOTE – I have only played this game 2-player, so please see Dan’s note below for an opinion on more than 2 players)
I like the game. It’s got both area control and resource elements, and I enjoy the puzzle of trying to maximize your placements in the monastery while also selecting the best novices to give you more options. It sounds almost too simple when you are reading the rules, but it is definitely not. There is a lot of strategy that isn’t immediately apparent. As soon as we finished our first game I immediately wanted to play again, to try to make improvements on my play. Having now played it six times it is clear that there are many different paths to victory, despite everyone sharing similar goals. Since the missions are different every time you are forced to adapt from earlier plays, and every time I find it interesting to develop my plan.
If you find the dice rolling element in Macao to be too random that may bother you here as well. However, you do have more choice, since you have the chance to reroll once each round and you can benefit from other players’ rolls. While there were certainly times I wished for a different result, I was almost always able to use the dice that were there to my benefit. The 6s being wild helps with that, since you are unlikely to be shut out of a particular action, and being strategic about which novice you take off your board gives you more choices with a particular number anyway. Also, only you can use the die or dice in your color, so you always know what action or actions you’ll be guaranteed.
Does the game do something really inventive or have a fancy new mechanic? Well, no. It doesn’t. But is it a solid, enjoyable, middle-weight strategy game with high replay value? Yes, it most definitely is.
The rules are well-written and reasonably clear on all fronts. There are good examples and pictures that help clarify as well.
The box is attractive and fairly sturdy. The components are of good quality and the iconography is mostly clear. I struggled to tell the difference between some of the icons for cloister vs. building at first, but I figured it out pretty quickly. A couple of the window tiles might be hard to distinguish from each other for someone with color vision issues, but they all have symbols, so it shouldn’t pose much of a problem. There is a rather overproduced start player marker and round marker, but they do add to the feel of the game, and overall the game when set up is quite attractive.
Comments from other Opinionated Gamers
Dan Blum (1 play):Since Tery played a physical copy, I assume she played all two-player games. (Note from Tery: I did.) I am glad to hear it works well that way, because it really didn’t with four: fewer neutral dice and more players means that getting neutral dice in the actions you want to take is really a crapshoot, and the players who luck into more of them have a huge advantage. All the players in my game agreed we wouldn’t play it again with four, and we weren’t particularly inclined to play it again at all since while it worked, we didn’t feel it did anything especially interesting.
Doug G (1 play as a 2-player, though we will give it another couple of tries before making a final decision…) At this point Monasterium will be going on the Sale/Trade pile. Shelley and I were very underwhelmed by this one. It may be a case of “bad dice” for our one play, which is why I’m reserving final judgement, but our first play just plodded along and felt tedious rather than enjoyable. As Tery says, there are some interesting decisions to be made regarding which novices to send out to the monasteries, but if the dice don’t go your way, I can see Dan’s concern coming to fruition too often.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Tery Noseworthy, Chris Wray
- Neutral. Doug G.
- Not for me… Dan Blum