08th Oct2018

‘Minerva’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

minerva-box

Minerva is a relatively fast paced, straightforward city building game that supports one to four players, each of whom will perform the role of governor for the unnamed city that they represent. For all intents and purposes, Minerva is set during what appears to be a time of peace and prosperity for the Roman Empire, since conflict plays no part in the game. Generating glory points by honouring the might of Rome is just one way to score points in Minerva, however, and the winner will always be the player who has amassed the most victory points following six rounds of play.

Inside the box, players will find an unusual amount of cardboard and very little else – although there’s no actual game board. Instead, Minerva is made up of a number of tiles, each of which includes pleasingly detailed artwork and very clear iconography to indicate the cost and the benefit for each one. A fair bit of setup is required to begin playing Minerva, but once you’ve got a few games under your belt, it does become second nature. Tiles are sorted into a stack of temples, a stack of residences for each player, a number of starting tiles and then some round tiles and a few other bits and bobs. There are then five resources, a load of coins and a number of assistant tokens to place on the sideline somewhere. Oh and then there are education, culture, art and glory tokens to set aside. In order.

With all that done (as well as a few adjustments for playing at less than four players) the remaining city tiles will be separated into six stacks. A round tile is then shuffled into each stack and all six stacks are combined. For the first round of play, a number of starting stacks will be placed on the table, then tiles from the stack will be drawn until the first round card is found. In order to score the much needed victory points that will win the game, players will purchase these tiles and place them into their city in order to gain the benefits printed on them. To actually realise the benefits of their tiles, the player must take a turn to place one of their nine residential buildings, which will activate all tiles in a horizontal or vertical row to the right, left, top or bottom of it.

Play continues with the players taking building tiles and placing them in the most efficient way possible, ideally orientating them in such a way that their residential buildings will hit as many of them as possible when plmnjaced. After the end of the first round, players can invest their denarii into assistants, who each offer a one time ability to reactive a residential tile. Whilst many buildings produce basic resources like wheat, stone, metal or wood, others produce culture (education, art or theatre) points, which must be used immediately to claim a matching tile, if the value of accumulated culture matches the value on the topmost, matching culture tile. Military buildings generate glory points that are scored at the end of the round, with the player scoring most glory taking top prize, second most taking second prize and so on.

After six rounds of building and running their cities, the game will end when the final player chooses to pass. Scoring is achieved as the result of all the culture and glory point tokens that the player has, added to the points scored from building temples. Each temple scores in a different way, from offering a fixed number of victory points to providing multipliers of points scored elsewhere. Temples are expensive to build (two stone and two metal) so choosing when to invest in them is a very crucial decision. In the end, scoring in Minerva tends to be relatively tight as it’s very difficult for players to form runaway strategies – thankfully, all scoring is open so you’ll always have a reasonable view of where you and your opponents stand.

Honestly, there isn’t a lot to Minerva besides the puzzle of drafting the right tiles and placing them for maximum efficiency both immediately and on future turns. Each round lasts as long as the players want it to (or until everyone is forced to pass because there are no possible actions remaining to them.) In either case, the player who passes first will receive the first player token for the next round ( which conveys other benefits, like breaking ties for Glory points) so there is a slight incentive to being the first to move the game on. Of course, doing this with one or two possible actions remaining isn’t a major problem, but if you pass too early, then of course you’ll leave the board open to your opponents.

On that note, I should mention that I found Minerva to be notably better when played with four than at two and I also enjoyed it solo, thanks to how quickly it plays and because it’s a relatively insular experience even when played multiplayer. At four players, the competition for culture and glory points is more fierce, as is the desire to use temples to gain an advantage. Being first in a new round is even more important with more players because it will give that player freedom to choose from a huge raft of new tiles when the next round begins. On the flip side, being last can mean that the three best picks are taken before you even have a look in.

Minerva is an interesting proposition for the solo player because it requires relatively minimal changes to the rules and as I mentioned, it plays very quickly. The player simply sets up as if for a two player game, but then draws tiles two at a time, placing them in pairs. Each time the player chooses to build, she will effectively pick a tile from the pair and discard the other, which represents the actions of a ghost player. There are a few other minor tweaks and changes, but basically it’s the same game but with only your own high score to beat. Forty is apparently a respectable score and since I’m yet to exceed fifty, who am I to disagree?

Because Minerva shines brightest either solo or at four players, it’s difficult to recommend it for everyone. Despite that, I do enjoy it, especially solo, which I’d say I think I prefer even more than at four players which is the other count at which it is most enjoyable. I played Minerva five or six times at two players with the same opponent and whilst we both enjoyed the game more as we got better at it, we didn’t feel that it was as tight or intensely competitive as it is at four players. Sadly I never played Minerva at three players, but I’m fairly confident that I’d enjoy it more than I do at two and less than I do at four. In any case, it’s a well designed and attractive city builder that doesn’t outstay its welcome and presents us with a pleasant historical theme, just stick to the extreme player counts where you can and you won’t be led astray.

***½  3.5/5

Minerva is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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