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TEMPUS

[With this issue, we welcome new contributor Frank Hamrick. Frank says:

My Grandmother taught me Monopoly when I was 7 years old and I became an addict! I played every game I could find from Monopoly to Parcheesi, Sorry, Commandos, and Dig. By the time I was in High School I decided that the world needed a good war game and started designing my own and sending them to Parker Brothers – but they weren’t interested in war games as they weren’t suitable for “parlor” games. A few years later, I discovered a new wargame company and purchased D-Day, then Afrika Korps! This began a 30 year fascination with everything Avalon Hill. However, I eventually began looking for something lighter and shorter. And in 1996 at WBC I discovered Settlers of Catan; in 1998 Euphrat & Tigris; and shortly thereafter the whole Eurogaming world.

I started the Game Knights in the late 90’s, and we eventually reorganized as the Tar River Gaming Club in Rocky Mount, NC, in 2003. We continue to play twice a week. I now have a collection of over 200 games (have sold tons). I prefer multi-player board games to card games and 2-player games. My five favorites – Euphrat & Tigris, Attika, Power Grid, Reef Encounter, and Settlers. Of course, I’m always interested in the latest releases, and am currently fascinated with Tempus, Antike, Canal Mania, Hacienda, Friedrich, and about 50 others! :).]

(Warfrog/Cafe Games, 3-5 players, ages 14 and up, 1-2 hours; $59.95 )

 

It’s by Martin Wallace. It’s a civilization building game. It plays on a map. It’s a game of expansion. It might be “Civ Light!” No wonder I was caught up in the pre-publication hype and had to buy Tempus as soon as it was out!

Tempus, however, was not designed to be a “Civ light” game. Martin Wallace described Tempus as “a light history of a world in about 1½ hours.” Wallace, in fact said the game was designed for the German family games market more than the hard core gamers market. It unfortunately got its hype as “Civ Light” from early play testers. This pre-publication buzz perhaps lifted expectations for Tempus to unrealistic heights – and thus, unwarranted criticism.

Like Civilization, Tempus is a game of expansion and city building that depicts the advancement of mankind from the dawn of civilization to the age of flight. But unlike Civilization, Tempus is played on a generic map which changes with each game (whereas Civilization is played on a map of the ancient world from the Middle East to Eastern Europe). There is no negotiation, no commodity trading, and no civilization development tree.Tempus

Tempus comes in a very sturdy box with a tight-fitting lid and nice art-work. No skimping there! The components, however, have been criticized by some. Made in China, the board may tend to bow a bit, and both the board and the cards have a tacky feeling that some dislike. Martin Wallace admitted there were production problems, but they were issues out of his hands, and in my opinion take nothing from the game or its enjoyment. In addition to the board, the bits consist of 12 large map tiles (similar in size to The Settlers of Catan hex tiles), a deck of 54 Idea Cards and a first player marker.

Each player takes a set of 8 City Tiles, 16 people tokens, 5 action tiles, and 5 era cubes in a distinctive color, as well as a nice player aid sheet. The game included two bonus items: 2 optional city tiles in a 6th color for optional rules the players may make, and a nice drawstring bag which is not needed in the game, but was included, I understand, to help in storing the components. The game packs without the bag, but I really appreciated getting such a quality bag! The game board is well made and contains three sections: an Era Display, the Sea of Tempus, and an Idea Card box.

The Era Display is a grid of columns and rows depicting the 11 Eras through which players will progress. This display also conveniently shows what a player’s limits are in each Era, including movement capability, distances units may travel, population growth limits, stacking limits, ship movement capability, hand size for Idea Cards, and how many actions a player may take in that Era. As players advance through the Eras, they will be able to do more in each of these areas.

The largest section of the playing board depicts the Sea of Tempus (a blue sea overlaid with a hex grid of 13 columns 9-11 hexes high). On this grid 8-12 large land hexes will be placed, depending on the number of players in the game (12 for 5 players, 10 for 4, 8 for 3). Finally, the playing board contains an Idea Card Box where the 54 Idea Cards are placed.

There are 12 large Land Tiles (called Map Tiles) which will be randomly placed on the Sea of Tempus hex grid to make up the actual land mass on which the game is played. Each of these map tiles is a large hex further divided into 7 smaller hexes. Each of these smaller hexes depicts one of 5 different terrain types – farm, grassland, mountains, hills, and woods. The terrain features are very important to the game and to the advancement through the 10 Eras of the game. (Yes, there are 11 Eras, but the last Era is not played. Upon reaching the Flight Era, the game ends.)

Also similar to The Settlers of Catan is an initial placement of People Tokens. Each player in turn order places 3 people tokens on the board for their initial setup. The 3 tokens must be adjacent to each other and may be stacked together as long as stacking limits are not violated.TempusCom

A game turn is called an Era and each Era consists of four phases: Take Action Tiles (from 3 to 6 depending on the Era and these determine how many actions you may perform this phase), Spend Action Tiles by performing Actions, Progress and End of the Era.

There are five different actions available to the players during the Perform Actions phase: Move People Tokens, Have Babies (population growth), Fight, Have an idea (draw one or more Idea Cards into your hand) and Build a city.

To move, a player simply moves a People Token from one small hex to an adjoining hex. At the beginning of the game a player may only move one token one hex during a move action. In later Eras players may move from 2-3 tokens up to 5 hexes each action.

Have Babies is simply population growth. To take this action a player places a People Token on top of another People Token currently in a grassland (stacking limits must be observed). Again, as players advance through eras they may produce more babies per action, and may have higher stacking limits.

Fighting (always optional) may occur when a player’s tokens are adjacent to another player’s tokens or city. Conflict resolution is simple. The attacker compares the number of tokens in his stack to the number of tokens in the opponent’s stack (or to the Defense Number printed on the city if attacking a city). To that total each player may add Idea Cards from his hand that have the same terrain feature of the defending tokens. Each card with the matching terrain adds 1 to the attack total. Most points wins the fight. Ties go to the defender.

A player may take from 1 to 2 Idea Cards (depending on the era) and add them to his hand. These cards contain two features: a background color that matches one of the five terrain types, and text. The cards may be played anytime during a player’s turn (using the text), or in combat (using the background color and text). Once used, they are discarded.

Finally, a player may build a city on any terrain except mountains. Cities may not be adjacent to each other. A player removes the People Tokens he has on the desired terrain hex and places a city marker whose number matches the number of People Tokens removed. Thus, if two tokens are removed, a #2 city is placed. If 3 tokens are removed a # 3 city is placed.

Each action is limited by the Era in which a player finds himself. For example, in earlier Eras, a player may only move one token one hex. In later Eras a player may move up to 3 tokens 5 spaces each. In the earlier Eras a player may have only 1 baby in a single hex, but in later Eras he may have 2 babies in each of two different hexes. In earlier Eras he may not move via Sea, in early Eras he may draw only 1 Idea Card, but later may draw 2 Idea Cards, etc.

After each player has taken their first action, a second round begins with players taking a second action, until all players have taken all the actions they are allowed for the Era they are playing.

After the Action Phases are complete, the Progress Phase begins. In this phase players determine who can advance to the next Era.

Era advancement has been reduced to a very simple procedure. First, all players move their tokens forward on the Era Display to the same Era as the leading player(s) (everybody draws even with everyone else!) so no one will ever trail on the Era display by more than one Era. Then, each player checks to see the requirements for entering the Next Era (the one now beyond all players).Tempus

Each Era is marked by a different type of terrain on the Era Display. For example, the first Era beyond the Starting Era is marked by Farming terrain, the second Era by Grassland, the third by Hills, the fourth by Woods, etc. To advance to the “Next Era” a player must have or must tie for the most points in that terrain type. Progress points are scored three ways.

A. Each People Token occupying that terrain type on the map scores 1 progress point.

B. Players may play as many Idea Cards as they wish to add to the total. Each Idea Card with that terrain type imprinted on it scores another Progress point.

C. Each city a player has built counts as one progress point.

The player with the most Progress Points advances to the next Era and all the rest remain one Era behind.

The Era now comes to an end, with each player removing all of the Action Tiles from their Player Aid Sheet and the 1st player turn marker passed to the next player.

Play continues, Era by Era until one or more players advance to the Era of Flight box. The winner of Tempus is the person with the most victory points after 10 turns or “Eras” (each turn represents a succeeding Era or age of advancement in the history of civilization). After 10 Eras, the players count their victory points. Each player scores 1 VP for each non-mountain land hex he/she controls, and from 2-4 VPs for each city he/she controls. In addition, the player(s) who advanced to the Age of Flight gets 3 bonus points. The player with the most VPs is the winner. Thus, the main objective is to expand your holdings and to build cities.

KEYS TO THE GAME

There are numerous keys to playing Tempus effectively.

1. Initial Placement (Location, Location, Location).

I have only played four games of Tempus, but have already seen the value of a wisely chosen initial placement of your People Tokens. Just as initial placement in The Settlers of Catan is vital, so it is in Tempus. In my first game I found myself placed in the center of the island, surrounded by the other players, with nowhere to expand. In my second game I was able to seal off a little peninsula all to my self and by the time players were able to use Sea Movement (Ships Era 7), I had sealed off all of the coastal hexes on the peninsula. This gave me my only victory so far. The third game was a five-player game and I don’t recall my starting place hurting or helping me. The fourth game was a 2-player and my starting location sealed my fate from the beginning! However, since starting location is your choice, you have no one to blame but yourself. I suggest trying to stay out of everyone’s way but find a spot that is easily defensible, perhaps isolated by mountains or sea coast. The coast line will not be “invadable” for at least six turns (Eras).

2. Terrain Type.

Terrain is very important since advancement into the next Era depends in large part on who has the most people in a particular terrain type. Thus, players are constantly trying to set themselves up to move to different land types each Era. Further, mountains are a nuisance since cities may not be built on mountains, and no Eras give points for occupying mountains. Grassland is very important because population growth (Having Babies Action) may only occur in occupied grassland. A player locked out of grasslands, will not be able to grow and that will greatly hinder one’s chances to win the game. Further, the 12 land tiles in the game contain 32 mountains, 22 grasslands, and 10 each of woods, hills, and farms. Since all 12 land tiles are used in the 5-player game, this works out to an average of only 2 woods, 2 hills, and 2 farms per player. Those who control more of these terrain types will have an advantage. With less than 5 players, these numbers will vary since fewer tiles are used (10 for 4 players; 8 for 3 players; and we used 6 for 2 players).

3. Era Progress.

Some players have had success by ignoring the Era Progress race since they will never be more than one Era behind the leader at any point in the game. Nevertheless, others see Era Progress as very important to success. The person who leads in each Era does gain certain benefits that over time can make a huge difference in who wins the game.

For example, the person who first reaches Era 1 (Writing) will receive 2 free Idea Cards, and will be able to draw 2 Idea Cards rather than one when he chooses the Draw Idea Card action. The person who first reaches Era 2 (Farming) can produce 2 babies per action while all the rest may only produce 1. The person who reaches Era 6 (Ships) will be able to sail the ocean (move tokens off of one coastal hex to any other vacant coastal hex on the board), while all other players will be greatly limited in their movement.

Over time, Era Progress can well determine the winner in a close game.

4. Idea Cards.

Players will quickly find the importance of the Idea Cards. You have to have them to have a chance! This makes Era 1 (Writing) and Era 7 (Ships) very important. The first person to get to Era 1 will be able to draw 2 cards at a time, in addition to gaining 2 bonus cards for advancing first to Era 1. Era 7 also gives the player 2 bonus cards, as well as increases his hand limit to 7 cards which can be especially important when scrambling for the land grab that occurs on the last turn. In addition, Idea Cards are useful, not only for their text, but also for Conflicts and for Era Progress in which the background of the card is used.

5. City Building.

Building cities is important for numerous reasons. First, it is a great way to block opponents from entering your little “kingdom.” Opponents may not travel into or through your cities (though they may attack and destroy them!). Thus, a well placed city can serve as a barrier to the interior of your area. Second, each City built gives you a Progress point when determining who advances to each New Era. Third, at games end, each City scores as many points as the number printed on it.

Building a city is one of the five actions a player may take on his turn. To build a city a player removes from 2-4 People tokens from any one hex and places a City in that hex with the same number on it as the people removed. Thus, if a player removes 3 People tokens from a hex, he may place a “3” City in their place. (Cities may not be built on a mountain, and they may never be adjacent to any other city.) At games end, the numbers on each City are added to the final score.

Good city placement is a key tactic in winning Tempus.

6. Planning Ahead.

Planning is very important and is one of the great attractions of the game for me. While the pressure to reach each immediate goal (advancing to the next Era) is important, future planning is just as vital. Sometimes it is best to look two or three Eras ahead – giving up your chances for immediate goals. Further, players generally start playing for the last Era several Eras early. The End game presents two opportunities for points – one is achieved by concentrating your forces in hills, and the other is achieved by spreading your forces out over many hexes. Which is best?

The person with the most points in Hills will score 3 bonus points by advancing to the Era of Flight. But contrary to that the game will then end and final points are earned by each player scoring points for each different hex the player’s pieces occupy – thus, if they group too many tokens on hills, they will lose points for spreading out.

Careful planning and balance is needed at this critical juncture of the game.

Some consider the game a bit dry, criticizing it for lack of player interaction. They contend that the board is too big (even when reduced for fewer players) and that players simply stay in their own place and build their kingdoms. One reviewer remarked that the game didn’t get interesting until sea travel was possible and by then the game was two-thirds over.

I have not found these observations to be true. I will admit that in my experience the threat of conflict far exceeded actual combat (I would rate conflict at about 5% of the “actions” in games I’ve played), but that threat was enough to keep the game interesting and provided just enough tension. Perhaps Tempus is more like a “Cold War” with occasional battles flaring up.

One of the principle criticisms of the conflict system is a rule that you cannot attack a player who has his people clustered in no more than three hexes. While this does limit conflict, and while some deliberately keep their forces small, the end game rewards those who physically occupy the most hexes – thus balancing the rule and forces players to spread their troops beyond three hexes by games end.

In our two-player game, we had several battles, but we both started in the same area and the only way to escape each other was to fight. Had we started at opposite ends of the island it is highly possible that there wouldn’t have been any conflict at all. The five-player game had a few more fights, but even then I was able to avoid most flights by hiding away in my sealed off peninsula.

In its own right, Tempus is an excellent gamers’ game – though it may not have been designed as such! The designer or publisher thought there was enough depth in this game to give it an age rating of 14-up. I know of few other games that have such a high suggested minimum age. Overall, I’m fascinated with Tempus. Having played it with 2, 3, 4, and 5 players, I found the game equally playable at all levels (Tempus is rated for 3-5 players). But, it’s still new to me – so I reserve final judgment until the newness wears off. My tastes, however, may not match yours. I enjoy territorial expansion games; games played on a map; games with at least the threat of combat; and games with agonizing decisions, planning, and high tension so it should be no surprise that my current favorites include Euphrat & Tigris, Attika, Power Grid and Reef Encounter among others. Whether or not Tempus will reach that plateau remains to be seen, but for now it has my attention. – – – – – – – – – – – Frank Hamrick


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


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