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Pergamon

[I’ve written this before but it’s worth repeating: Few people enjoy a better – or more well deserved – reputation than Greg J. Schloesser. Starting and developing a readership as one of the most respected reviewers on the internet, Greg has spread the good word on gaming by being the driving force behind TWO gaming groups (the Westbank Gamers of New Orleans and the East Tennessee Gamers), being the co-founder of the semi-annual game event known as Gulf Games, and founding the prestigious International Gamers Awards. A class act by any definition, Greg made his first appearance in these pages with his review of Mexica in the Spring 2002 issue of GA Report. In this, his 31st review, Greg digs deep in the ruins of Pergamon.]

(Gryphon Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $39.99)

 

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

pergamonI am somewhat of a history buff, so the field of archaeology enthralls me. The uncovering of ancient sites and artifacts that help us learn more about long-vanished civilizations is incredibly fascinating to me. I eagerly read any articles I can find on the latest archaeological discoveries, and can spend hours upon hours visiting museums displaying such artifacts. It is no wonder that I’m drawn to games that use the archaeological theme. Sadly, there aren’t many of them, but the few that I’ve played – particularly Thebes (Fall 2007 Gamers Alliance Report) – are quite good.

Now, there is a new installment in the genre: Pergamon by designers Stefan Dorra and Ralf Zur Linde. While I was naturally enticed by the game due to its theme, the game held an even stronger attraction for me. The game is set in the ancient city of Pergamon, located in modern-day Turkey. My wife and I are planning to vacation in Turkey next year, and one of the ancient sites we will visit is Pergamon! No way I wasn’t going to try this new game!

The game has many similarities with Peter Prinz’s Thebes. Players dig for artifacts, assemble collections, and display them at the local museum, attempting to attract large audiences and amass great fame and wealth. How the game accomplishes these tasks, however, is quite different.

The game is played over the course of twelve turns. Each turn, five new artifacts are revealed, sorted by age, and placed in the excavation site located on the board. One artifact tile is placed in each of the five rows, with the older artifacts being found deeper in the pits. Each tile depicts one-half of two different artifacts. There are four different types of artifacts, each broken into two pieces. The object is to gather these artifacts, reassemble the broken pieces, and assemble a valuable collection to display at the museum. The older the artifacts, the more valuable and attractive the collection will be.

Each turn, players will attempt to gather funding for their archaeological expeditions. The amount of funding changes each round, and players must take risks in guessing the amount that will be available. After revealing the five new artifacts, two funding cards are set aside. The backs of the cards depict the possible range of funds on the card. For example, the card may depict eight coins, with five highlighted. This means there are at least five coins on the card with a possible maximum of eight coins. Some cards will provide a possible eight coins, while others may only provide a single coin. Apparently the financiers can be quite fickle.

In turn order, players will place their pawn on the research funds track. Each space on the track depicts the amount of coins the player hopes to receive, plus the different levels he may excavate. Generally, the earlier on the track a player places his pawn, the less money he will receive. However, those players will be funded first, and will be able to excavate before their opponents. Going later could result in a financial bonanza, but it could also result in paltry or no funding, and coveted artifacts could be claimed by one’s opponents. When placing one’s pawn, one has to consider how much money he desires and which level he hopes to excavate. This is a fun and sometimes angst-producing aspect of the game.

After players place their pawns on the research funding track, the two money cards are revealed and the amount of funding available is calculated. Players receive their money based on their placement on the track, with players nearer the beginning of the track receiving their funds first. Depending upon the amount of funding available, players further back on the track may receive less than they anticipated or possibly no money at all. On the other hand, if the funds are plentiful, the player last on the track receives all funds remaining after the other players have received their money. How lucky are you feeling?

pergamon2Once players receive their funding, the excavation begins. In turn order based on the funding track, players can collect ALL of the artifacts at a chosen level, provided they are allowed to excavate at that level (which, as mentioned, is determined by their placement on the funding track.) The cost ranges from one-to-five, depending upon the level excavated. A player may elect to not excavate, saving his funds for a future turn. This certainly gives a player more flexibility on a future turn, but at the cost of obtaining new artifacts on the current turn.

Once a player collects his artifacts, he may opt to assemble them into a collection. As mentioned, the idea is to form complete artifacts and string them into a valuable set. A set’s value is determined by adding the century value of each complete artifact, which can range from one-to-five apiece. The more complete artifacts a player can assemble – particularly older artifacts – the more valuable his collection will be.

A player must then decide whether or not to display his collection at the museum. If he decides to do so, he has the option of first “polishing” the collection, spending one to three coins to increase its value by one for each coin spent. He then places a collection marker into the museum on the space equal to the value of the collection. This new collection causes the public to lose interest in any previously displayed collection, thereby reducing the value of each lesser-valued collection by one space. A player may opt to not display a collection but he must pay one coin for each artifact tile he maintains beyond three. A player may discard artifact tiles to avoid this maintenance cost. The lesson: dig wisely!

Subsequent turns are conducted in the same fashion, with interruptions for scoring being held following turns 5, 7, 9 and 12. Players will score points based on the position of their collections in the museum. Each player may have a maximum of three collections on display but collections may become obsolete as the game progresses, thereby allowing the player to again display a new collection. Likewise, a player may voluntarily pull a collection from the museum.

At each scoring a two-point bonus is awarded to the player displaying the oldest specified artifact. These points will be awarded for a different artifact in each scoring round. At the end of each scoring round, the fickle public again loses interest in the existing displays, so the value of all collections decreases three to five spaces. At game’s end, the players displaying the three oldest collections receive bonuses ranging from one to three points. The player with the most points receives worldwide acclaim as the foremost archaeologist … and wins the game.

I like Pergamon. No, it isn’t a deep strategy game filled with a myriad of agonizing decisions. However, this doesn’t mean it is devoid of decisions. While not always taxing, these decisions are important, and play a direct role in the success or failure of a player’s plans. It is fun and challenging attempting to guess the amount of funding available and deciding which artifacts to purchase – or completely passing – can be tough. It is also sometimes tough assessing when to display a collection versus holding off, hoping to increase its value with more acquisitions the following turn.

The game does have a few problems. There is a break with reality in the revealing of the artifacts, as in the real world archaeologists never know the exact identity and location of artifacts before they start digging. Wouldn’t that be handy? The artwork is mostly quite good, with the exception of the jug, whose two halves are dramatically different in color. It is an attempt by the artist to depict shading, but it has confused numerous folks with whom I’ve played. The end-game bonus points are a bit problematic as the player with the oldest exhibition is rewarded. This may sound reasonable but that player likely received a big boost in points for displaying that collection in the first place. The bonus simply makes the rich richer.

In spite of these drawbacks, the game is still fun, engaging and challenging to play. It seems ideally suited as a family game or light gamer’s game. The theme – although not consistent with reality – works, evoking the atmosphere of archaeological digs and exhibitions. While it isn’t as evocative as Thebes, it is still a fine game that is being received very well with just about everyone with whom I’ve played. Now I’m even more anxious to visit the actual site of Pergamon!

 


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