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Augustus

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Hurrican, 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up; about 30 minutes; $39.99)

augustus_imageWith the death of Julius Caesar, Octavius, his adopted son, rose to power. In 27 BC, Octavius was awarded the title of Augustus and soon became the first Roman Emperor: Augustus Caesar. Players, in the role of representatives of the Emperor, compete to gather Senators to their side, control provinces and amass wealth, all to win the coveted title of Consul in the new game designed by Paolo Mori: Augustus. Augustus

In Augustus, Senators and Provinces are represented by two different types of cards collectively called “objectives”. The deck of 88 objectives is shuffled and five dealt out to the center of the table. Also on the table are bonus VP tiles (more on those later). Now six objectives are dealt to each player who chooses three of them (as starting objectives) and discards the rest. These will be the initial objectives that each player will try to control and controlling objectives is what Augustus is all about!

Everyone begins with 7 legions (meeples). There are 23 round “mobilization” tokens. These tokens depict items related to Rome such as swords, shields, daggers etc. There are also 2 tokens that depict ALL of the icons. These tokens are “wild” and may be used in the place of any icon. All of these are placed in a bag and one player, acting as “town crier”, draws tokens, one at a time, and announces them.

Senators and Provinces share similar characteristics: they require certain numbers of legions to “mobilize” and, when controlled, are worth Victory Points often offering bonuses and/or benefits as well. While Senators all fall into the same category, provinces come in three varieties: green, purple and orange. All objectives display icons on them which match some of the mobilization tokens. When a token is drawn, a player may move one of his legions from his supply (or from another tile) onto the tile’s icon space, one space per drawn token. Or a player may do nothing. The town crier continues to draw tiles until a “wild” token is drawn. After players place their legions then, ALL drawn tiles are replaced into the bag and the bag shifts clockwise to the next player who becomes the next “town crier” and play continues. But whenever a player manages to cover ALL the icons on a tile, things happen!

First of all, when an objective is completed (and becomes a “controlled” objective), players are supposed to shout “Ave Caesar”! (This, fortunately, is optional.) Otherwise, players completing a tile return used legions to their supply (to be reused) and collect any bonus/benefit that tile bestows. Bonuses/benefits vary and range from good to great. For example, some benefits allow you to immediately place additional legions on your unfinished tiles or possibly permit you to rearrange ALL the legions on your tiles. Some completed objectives will expand your legion holdings by giving you one or two more legions to place. Others will allow you to convert a drawn icon into another (an ability that can be invaluable in completing an objective). There is even a bonus that allows you to complete ANOTHER objective immediately! Other benefits award Victory Points at game’s end. Finally, there are “bonuses” (easily spotted with their red background) that cause damage to the OTHER players, either forcing them to remove legions from their objectives or even LOSE an already completed objective!

augustus2Once a player has “cashed in” his completed tile, that tile goes into his personal holdings and another objective from the five exposed in the center of the table is chosen to replace it. (Another tile is now added to the array so there are always five in play.)

Along the way, players can claim bonus tiles. These tiles grant Victory Points for their holder. Some tiles can be claimed by the first player to control three Senators or three of a certain color of Province or 1 color of each (and a Senator). Two Victory Point tiles (worth 5 VPs each) are available to the player who currently has the most Gold and/or Wheat (as depicted on controlled objectives). Ownership of these particular Victory Point tiles can shift as, to keep them, you need to have MORE of a resource than any other player. Another player tying you TAKES the tile away from you! (Ties are NOT friendly here.) Lastly, there are Bonus tiles for the number of controlled objectives you have but these bonuses are handled a bit differently.

Bonus tiles are available for controlling 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 objectives, granting VPs on a sliding scale of from 2 to 10. Upon completing the specified number, a player may claim the appropriate bonus but… a player may only claim ONE of these tiles! If you claim the bonus for two controlled objectives, for example, you CANNOT claim any of the higher valued ones! This offers an interesting choice: grab a lesser valued bonus now or hope to complete more objectives BEFORE any of your opponents to get more VPs later! A tantalizing decision which lets you see how far you wish to push your luck!

When any player has completed his seventh objective, the round is finished (in case, more than one player has reached that goal) and the game ends. Victory Points, from completed objectives, from bonuses reaped from completed objectives and from any Bonus tiles claimed, are added. The player with the highest total is proclaimed Consul and wins! (Tie? Then the player with the most controlled Senators is victorious!)

Augustus is a game of high production values. The artwork is really excellent and the colors are easily distinguishable. (Gold and Wheat, the two commodities worth bonus VPs, appear big on the cards but, ironically, can sometimes be lost along with the other illustrations! Be aware!) The legions (meeples) in the game are all one color which is a nice touch for a family game (no arguing over who will be “blue” or “yellow” this time around). Play aid tiles, noting the distribution of the mobilization tiles, are provided. These are double-sided with the same information (for no apparent reason) but it’s curious that for a game that handles six, there are only four of these. And it’s clear that the game’s producers are fighting the fight for shelf space – the box is way bigger than it needs to be.

The game generally takes on a semi-solitaire aspect as interaction is subtle and limited in several ways. In choosing your initial objectives, you need to consider which three of your starting six place you in better position to claim bonus tiles (assuming, of course, that the draws go your way). When two or more players manage to complete a tile in the same round, order is determined by the number printed on the objective (from 1 to 88). Low number goes first. This can be important in claiming new objectives (from the array of five) or in claiming one of those bonus VP tiles. Less subtle are the effects of those red background bonuses which can (and often do) wreak havoc on your opponents but there are relatively few of these in the game.

When it comes to Augustus, it all boils down to players vying to make the most out of the same draws presented in a nicely crafted mix of luck and finesse with enough decisions to keep you involved. All of which makes Augustus a “friendly” and fun gaming experience, perfect for light gaming and families.

 


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