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MUNICIPIUM

Reviewed by Herb Levy

MUNICIPIUM (Valley Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; $54.95)

 

Nearly five years ago at The Gathering of Friends, I sat down to play an as of yet unpublished game. I was intrigued because the designer of this particular prototype was no less than Reiner Knizia. The game involved superheroes and was called The Adventure League. I enjoyed it and was pleased to find out that finished artwork for the game was proceeding and a publication date in the offing. Unfortunately, life often plays havoc with the best plans we make and The Adventure League was shelved, destined to enter the limbo of what might have been. Until now. With a new theme and new artwork, The Adventure League has been resurrected and transformed. The science fiction/futuristic theme of superheroes has been replaced with a new theme – families in ancient Rome competing for prestige and influence – and a new name to go with it: Municipium.municipiumbox

As the Roman Empire expanded, a municipium was a key element. Towns would be given the special status of municipum which involved duties to Rome as well as an extension of rights including Roman citizenship. In game terms, players are heads of prominent families given the challenge of exerting influence throughout the town and its institutions, gathering the support of its citizens, to become the most influential family in town.

Municipium comes with 28 family member tokens (7 each in blue, orange, yellow and pink), matching family discs and “family” Power cards (3 per family), 1 large white token to serve as the Praefect along with 15 rectangular pieces called Praefect favors, 60 citizens (15 each in purple, gray, brown and red) and a cloth bag to hold them, 10 circular “Wreaths of Distinction”, Decurion tokens, “Common” cards, some ziplock bags to hold pieces, a rule book and a mounted board.

The board shows seven important town “institutions” numbered from 0 to VI. These include the Temple and, in clockwise order, the Tavern, Baths, Emporium, Basilica, Forum and Praetorium. The citizens of the town are represented by wooden tokens in purple, gray, brown and red and one of them is placed in each of the institutions as matching its color. Remaining citizens are placed in the cloth bag. In addition, each institution (but not the Temple) has an area for the Praefect, a Praefect favor space and a space for a citizen to occupy. One favor is placed in each favor space while one citizen is randomly drawn and placed on his space as well. The 12 Common cards are shuffled to form a draw deck.

Starting with the first player (randomly chosen), players in turn place one of their 7 family members in any institution until all have been placed. (There is no limit as to how many tokens may occupy an institution.) Once done, the “Initial Temple Ranking” is determined. The player with the most family members at the Temple places his family disc in the top spot there with the player with the second most family members there taking the next spot and so on. Temple position acts as tie-breaker as needed and, in the course of play, can be a critical determination. Now, the player who started placement becomes the first player in the “meaty” portion of the game.

On a turn, a player MAY move his family members between institutions by travelling along connecting paths. A player may move one member TWO steps or two members ONE step each. He then MUST either draw the top card from the common deck OR use one of his face up family’s Power cards.

Common cards come in several varieties and, when drawn, “events” can happen. Should the Praefect advance card be drawn, an event is triggered in the institution he advances to. An event means that the player with the most influence in that institution (as measured by the number of his family members there) will gain the Praefect’s favor tile. The player with the second most influence will take the citizen token present at the institution. (One type of Common card gives you the choice of either advancing the Praefect OR redeploying any or all of your family members on the board.)

Drawn citizen cards allow either the drawing player (or all players) to draw citizens from the bag and place them in their color matching institutions. Should three citizens be placed in the same institution, an event is triggered (and resolved the same way as with the Praefect). If, rather than drawing from the Common deck, a player chooses to play one of his personal Power cards, then some (or all) of the powers of institutions are activated.

Powers of the institutions vary. As mentioned, the Temple determines tie-breakers. The Tavern allows you to move ANY number of family members of ANY color from any ONE institution TO the Tavern. The Baths allows you to move ALL of your family members there to the Temple and, as a reward, one of your members receives a wreath (fitted across the top of the pawn). From then on, that member counts as TWO when calculating influence. The Emporium allows you to draw new Citizens and place them in the appropriate institutions until an event is triggered.

Your goal is to obtain Decurions by exchanging 4 different colored citizens for one. (Praefect favors act as “wild” cards and may take the place of any citizen.) At the Basilica, you get a “discount” and need only exchange 3 citizens to gain 1 Decurion. The Forum allows you to take one citizen from anywhere on the board OR from another player and the Praetoriuim allows you to reposition any or all of your family members on the board. Aiding you along the way are your three Family Power Cards.

Each player begins with an arsenal of three Power Cards. These cards are similar to the Common cards in the game and may be used by the owning player instead of drawing a common card. These cards are ONE USE ONLY and are aptly named. They are, indeed, powerful.

The All Powers card activates ALL of the institutions starting with the Temple and going in numerical order. The One Power card allows EACH player, starting with the active player, to activate ONE institution in which they have the most influence. The Your Powers card activates ALL the institutions (again, in numerical order) in which that player has the most influence.

When any player gets five Decurions, the game ends with that player the winner.

Municipium is a streamlined game of area control. Because it is relatively easy to shift family figures from institution to institution, the game benefits from a fluidity of motion so that dominant positions can change quickly. Still, the game rewards shrewd strategic play. Knowing when to use Power cards can be critical. The All Powers and One Power cards force you to decide if the benefits of the institutions you temporarily control outweigh benefits to be gained by your opponents. And, of course, the best time to play the Your Powers card is when you’ve managed to gain the upper hand in several contested institutions. But these cards are closely intertwined with other factors. The power of the Presidium is very strong as you can reposition all of your pieces in one fell swoop. But the Tavern allows an opposing player to pluck pieces from a position of control and transport them away into the Tavern, a nice counterbalancing act. Probably the most powerful are the Basilica which gives you a “discount” on converting citizens into Decurions, a very significant advantage, while the Forum allows you to pluck a citizen off the board or, better yet, from another player’s holdings. This adds a “screw you” factor that you must guard against if you plan on winning. (Once again, the Tavern is valuable as it can remove the player controlling these institutions from them.) But all institutions offer something of value. Consider the importance of those “wreaths” which effectively double the influence value of a family member. This expands the reach of your family as one such elevated family member can do the work of two thereby freeing up one of your tokens to do other work. And the Praefect’s favor wild cards make converting citizens to Decurions a much easier task. The game benefits from alternate and viable approaches to victory. The downside to the game is that it is a little long for what it is. Reducing the number of Decurions for a victory to 4 shortens the game for a better fit.

Unlike many of his other designs, Knizia relies on relatively simple and direct scoring here- convert citizens into Decurions and the first to five wins. It’s a nice change of pace. The artwork by Mike Doyle works here as he ably captures the look of Roman frescoes, particularly in the box cover presentation. Another plus is that the powers of each institution are clearly noted right by their locations so there’s no flipping to the rulebook or a player aid. However, the choice of orange and pink for two of the family colors is not as successful. In some types of light, the colors blend together to be almost indistinguishable. You might want to use your Sharpie to mark one of these sets of colors with an X for ease of identification.

Half a decade is a long time to wait for a game to be published but, as game designers know quite well, not necessarily unusual. With the wait over, Municipium occupies a solid slot in the Knizia body of work. The game is middle-weight Knizia, falling just a bit on the gamers side of the scale, which is, frankly, a very nice place to be. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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