Posted by: gschloesser | August 9, 2011

Pompeji

Designed by:  Frank Brandt
Published by:  Adlung Spiele
Players:  2 – 4, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

After hearing some positive reaction to this new Adlung Spiele card game from folks whose opinions tend to mirror my own, I purchased a copy and gave it an inaugural playing with two fellow gaming buddies.  We enjoyed it so much, we eagerly taught the game to our wives later that evening.  The game was popular in both environments.  I’ve since played it several more times and it continues to be popular. 

The designer of the game is Frank Brandt, a newcomer to the game design field as far as I can tell.  Adlung Spiele has been doing a good job in providing a venue for new game designers.

The rules of the game are quite simple, but can be a tad bit confusing at first. Players are constructing the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, prior to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that would eventually spell its doom.  Each card depicts a section of the town, with a central square and three roads bisecting the square (horizontally, vertically and diagonally).  The square itself has a particular background color and there is a monument located in the center.  There are a variety of background colors and monuments on the cards and players must carefully discern the difference on the cards.  Finally, each card bears a value from 1 – 7.  When cards are laid adjacent, the streets line-up so as to form longer streets. This is important in terms of placement and scoring.


Each player begins the game with three cards and, on his turn, plays a card to the table and refills his hand to three cards. Simple so far. However, in spite of their simplicity, the placement rules do require a bit of care to be exercised.

1) A card must be played adjacent to a previously laid card, either horizontally or vertically. Ultimately, the city can be no larger than 7×7.

2) A card cannot be played adjacent to a previously laid card if the monuments or square colors are identical.

As the city develops, a card placement may ultimately be adjacent to up to four cards. Thus, players must make sure these adjacent cards do not have matching monuments or colors. It is amazing how often a player attempts to play a card, only to discover that this rule has been violated.

When a card is played, it will usually generate an immediate scoring for that player. The player must examine each of the three streets that emanate from the played card, searching for matching monuments and colors. Since these streets run horizontally, vertically and diagonally, players must examine both sides of these streets, meaning there are up to eight possible lanes to study.  Scoring is as follows:

1) Players score the point value listed on every card along these three streets that depict a monument that matches the monument on the just-played card.

2) Along each street, if more than one card has a square color that matches the square color of the just-played card, the player scores points equal to the highest value on one of these matching cards.

Again, the rules are simple, but they can, in practicality, be somewhat confusing. Extreme care must be taken to make sure scores are tallied properly and no points are overlooked.  It is best to have more than one player tallying the points to minimize possible errors.  Further, one must exercise extreme care in recording these scores, which are kept with pencil and paper as opposed to a score track.

To add a bit more spice to the game, each player possesses a statue card, which serves as a wild card. In lieu of playing a regular card, a player may opt to place his statue card into the city, announcing either the type of monument it represents or the color of the square. Scores are tallied for this placement as normal, after which the statue card reverts to a generic card, no longer possessing a specific monument or color.

The other special card each player possesses is a “2x” card, which allows the player to take a second turn. Interestingly, this card can be used to take a second turn immediately after completing a turn, or to interrupt the turn order and take a turn after an opponent completes his turn. This card presents a host of opportunities and forces players to
carefully observe each player’s actions and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Quite clever.

The game has a timing mechanism to determine the end of the game. Two volcano cards are shuffled into the bottom of the deck, one each into a lot of eight cards. These 18 cards are placed on the bottom of the deck. When the first one appears, it signals the impending end of the game. After its appearance, each player must then decide on whether they wish to replenish their hand to 3 cards after playing a card to the city. Once the game ultimately ends with the appearance of the second volcano card, any cards remaining in the players hands are deducted from their overall score before determining the victor. This forces the players to make a tough choice after each play and does provide for some clever tactics as the game draws to a close. Do you draw cards and hope to rush an end to the game, yet be forced to suffer the penalties incurred if you fail to draw the volcano? Or, do you not draw cards, hoping to minimize your deductions, yet be forced to play with a decreasing hand size, thereby limiting your placement options and scoring opportunities? Again, quite clever.

The game has an overall puzzle-solving feel to it, with players attempting to discover the optimum placement option on each turn. Yes, this can cause the game to bog down a bit as players study their options, but for the most part the game flows relatively quickly and plays to completion in 30 – 45 minutes. Some have complained that the cards are a bit too busy and the various colors are difficult to discern, but neither me nor my fellow players didn’t seem to have this difficulty.

I find the game quite challenging and engaging. No, it really doesn’t evoke the feel of building Pompeii and it could have just as easily been issued as an abstract. However, the theme does lure folks in, which is what proper marketing is all about!

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Responses

  1. This is an abstract played with cards. You must be able to see spacial relationships to do well. I enjoyed playing it but won’t play it every year. 6/10


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