Sadistic, but in a good way. Ok, that’s not right; there is no good way to use that word. Downfall of Pompeii will bring out a little sadist in most people but it will be funny and no matter how often you say that you’re sorry; you will still laugh while you’re throwing meeples into a volcano.
Downfall of Pompeii (Pompeii) is published by Mayfair Games and is the brainchild of Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, the man who brought us Carcassonne. Carcassonne won Speil des Jahres in 2001. So Pompeii has a pedigree to live up to. While it did not take home any major awards it still ranks in the top 50 family games on BGG, despite having the players burn people. .
For the TL;DR version click here.
Opening the box
The specs on the box:
- 2 – 4 Players
- ~ 45 minutes (I find that most games hit 30 – 40 min once players find their feet.)
- Ages 10+ (I had no problems playing this game with my 9yr old or even adults.)
The box contains 120 barrel shaped meeples in 4 different colours, 62 game cards, 45 lava ties, a cloth bag to hold those tiles, the game board a small rule book and a plastic volcano.
Included in the current version of the game are 3 extra lava tiles that allow you to play a ‘dual vent’ variant of the game which gives you a few extra options while playing.
All of the components are sturdy and the art work on the cards and the board especially is fantastic. The 3D volcano is a nice touch and makes the board pleasing to look at once it is setup and a game is underway.
The game is set in the city of Pompeii, yes that’s obvious. What is not obvious is the little history lesson in the beginning of the rule book about Pompeii and the time leading up to its destruction.
The game follows some of the actual history leading up to the destruction of Pompeii but it does embellish a bit. That’s not a bad thing. The event itself is very serious with an unknown number of people losing their lives, some added humour goes a way to making the game more light hearted.
I am usually a stickler for details. Everything needs to be correct, but I found myself laughing with everyone else and enjoying the game. For a Eurogame the mechanics and theme are actually fairly close knit.
Setup is fairly easy. The board is laid out, each player takes a set of meeples of the colour of their choice, the lava tiles are all mixed up in their bag and the deck is built. The method of building the deck varies depending on the number of players but it does not take longer than a few minutes. Each player starts with a hand of 4 cards.
The game itself takes place over 2 phases, which tie up to 2 major events that lead to the destruction of Pompeii.
The first phase is after the initial earthquake which caused a lot of damage to the city. A lot of the population fled but some remained and over the years rebuilt and grew the city again.
The city is represented by the board which is divided into city blocks. Within the city are numerous numbered buildings, which represent the main buildings of Pompeii and a few neutral beige buildings.
During the first phase you will play one of the cards from your hand. These cards are numbered and coloured to correspond to a building on the board. When you play a card you will place one of your meeples into the matching building.
These buildings can span 1 or more city blocks. If there are already meeples in that particular block then the new meeple will call some of his relatives to visit Pompeii, equal to the number of meeples in that block before he got there. You can place them in the city within certain restrictions i.e. not into the same building but they can go into the beige neutral building or a different numbered building.
Players want to populate the city with as many of their meepels as they can. So you can plan some strategy as to where to place relatives so that you can trigger more of them when you play your next card in your next turn. Alternately you can try to block other players from doing that.
Then you draw back up to 4 cards.
Eventually someone will draw a Volcano card. This signals that the volcano is active. After that happens there is a chance for players to draw Omen cards. Here is where the game diverts from history. Yes there were minor earthquakes and other portents of the impending doom in real life, but the citizens of the real Pompeii were not as superstitious as the game counter parts.
Whenever an Omen (card) of the pending eruption is drawn the player gets to appease the volcano, with a human sacrifice! Usually this means the player who has the most meepels in Pompeii gets one them chucked into the volcano, but sometimes that player will draw the Omen, then you will need to do some fast talking!
The game does not last very long and there are only 7 of these cards, in most games you will not draw all of them anyway so there’s no need to really worry about the kids fighting over the game or people holding grudges. There is also a chance for revenge in phase 2!
Eventually the 2nd Volcano card is drawn. This time it’s the big one. The volcano erupts! Again a departure from fact. The lava does not erupt from the volcano but rather from fissures in the city.
This is the start of Phase 2. First everyone returns all of their cards and sets aside any unplaced meeples. Then players take turns drawing lava tiles from the bag and placing them on the board.
Each of the tiles has a symbol on them that matches a location on the board. The first tile of any symbol is placed on the symbol. Any new tiles are placed orthogonally adjacent to any existing lava tile with the same symbol. So the lava can spread through the city.
If you place lava on any meeples you get to chuck them into the volcano!
Once there are 6 tiles on the board then next player gets to take his next turn. First he draws and places another lava tile then he can move up to 2 of his meeples out of the city.
Movement is a bit strange in the sense that meeples can move a number of city blocks equal to the number of meeples on the block that they started from. so if you have a lone meeple, he can only run 1 block, but if you have a square with 3 meeples in it and want to move 1 of them then he gets to run 3 squares. It’s almost as if he gets a boost by running over everyone else. The colours of the meeples do not matter. Your meeples can use their own relatives as springboards to jump away from the lava or the relatives of the other players.
Phase 2 continues until :
- Everyone gets out
- All the lava is finished
- The lava burns everyone that’s left in Pompeii
- The lava blocks all of the exits from Pompeii
At this point the person who has the most survivors is the winner. In the case of a tie the person with the fewest meepels in the volcano wins.
The game is very accessible. It is easy to learn and to teach. Play time is relatively quick and never feels like a slog. It’s also funny. I enjoyed it, the kids enjoyed it and adults that I played the game with seemed to enjoy it too. Nobody complained anyway 😉
For a game that appears to be light on strategy I did notice a few furrowed brows while people contemplated the best moves to make. I will still call it a light game but it does provide you with a decent amount of options. Added to that the game flips on its head in Phase 2 presenting you with a totally different game and a whole other set of choices.
If you are looking for something that won’t leave you brain dead, but will get you a few laughs and can turn quickly into a round 2 then this is a game I recommend you try.
Can I play this at a braai?
I would definitely say yes to that question. It really does not take long to setup or pack away and you will be able to play your turn in seconds, unless it’s a particularly heated, no pun intended, game. I would not recommend taking it to a restaurant or pub though, unless you can get a double table as the board is rather long.
Thanks to Boardgames.co.za for the copy of the game so I could write this Downfall of Pompeii review.