Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 17 January 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Forum Trajanum

Game: Forum Trajanum

Publisher: HUCH!

Designer: Stefan Feld

Year: 2018

Designer Stefan Feld had a big year in 2018, with two major releases at Essen that hit the 'Top Ten of 2018' list for many fans of euro games. Of the two, Forum Trajanum is the heavier and certainly the more well produced of the two, although that's not too difficult when comparing with Carpe Diem. Having said that it's the heavier game, I'd still only consider it's complexity on a par with The Castles of Burgundy - our favourite Stefan Feld game.

Forum Trajanum is a tile laying game, set in ancient Rome, where you each govern a Colonia and hope to contribute sufficiently to the city to win the favour of the Emperor Trajan. Like many of Stefan Feld's games, the theme is of little consequence, but the mechanisms allow to explore different paths to victory and often lead to a few head scratching moments. Available from Huch! in Europe and soon to be available from Stronghold Games - is Forum Trajanum your next euro game investment?

Forum Trajanum is a game for 2-4 players that takes place over the course of three rounds. In each round you will get four turns, each split into two phases. Each round a pair of cards are drawn and the two symbols on these cards dictate which row and/or column you can taken tokens from this turn. (Thematically these tokens are envoys, but in our house they are 'pieces of toast', which reflects the level of theme integration in the game...) You select two face down tokens, keep one and pass the other on, receiving a second token from another player in a very quick drafting phase. You then select one of these tokens and gain the resource or benefit depicted. In the second phase you can spend these resources to collect tiles to place in the spaces cleared on your player board. For this you need different coloured meeples depending what you choose to build. Coloured meeples get you tiles in the matching colour and you can place your envoys out in the forum. Grey meeples get you features that reward you with other bonuses.

Each round ends with a scoring where you have the opportunity to score your coloured buildings if you've uncovered a crane in the matching colour. You'll also score for your grey buildings and also your contributions to the forum, both the largest connected area and adjacency to the eagle tiles. Finally, in each game you'll select one Trajan bonus card per round which will score - normally rewarding leftover resources and the patterns you've made from tiles on your own player board. This variable element certainly changes every game as you try and solve the puzzle of the best way to build out your Colonia to have the right layout at the right moment over the course of the game. At the end of three rounds, the player with the most points wins.

In Forum Trajanum, you have a lot of decisions and every single on matters! In my first game, I didn't care - I treated it as a learning game and did quite well. But, as we play the game more and more it seems to increase in complexity because we are more invested in the tricky choices and tight resources that the game has to offer. It can be devastating when you realise that you have everything in place to make a big-point move and then you realise you are too short on envoys to place two envoys out into the forum. As you gain more experience, the game does seem to become tighter and it's important to plan ahead and have a sequence of actions that all feed each other, gaining little bonuses that power your next move. I really enjoy trying to make that engine work, even though I'm yet to master it.

Stefan Feld is known for his 'point salad' games and dry euros, and I would say that Forum Trajanum is no exception. As already eluded to, the theme is really not there for us, but that's never really a problem for us when forming an opinion about a game. The art is actually pretty good, and the game is more colourful than I expected - although player colours and in game tile colours are the same, which isn't always the best choice. I was pleased to even find artwork on the reverse of the board and the insert! What it does offer, more-so that some other game from the same designer is  few key areas where other players have a big impact. The draft is a key one of these - although most of the time I find myself making a choice driven by my own needs, there are moment when you can deny someone what they seem to need. The layout of the forum, which scales with player count, also makes you think a lot about other players when you're leaving a coloured area part finished, leaving it open for other players to gain the bonus.

Forum Trajanum feels quite unique in our collection - you're simultaneously working on two or three puzzles and trying to choose an optimal route through them. It feels like you can choose any path - focusing on colours or greys or a mixture of the two and that that path will change in each game depending on which Trajan bonuses are drawn. I'd like to think that the different possibilities in the game will give the game a lot of replayability into the future.

Forum Trajanum is a middle weight game for us, taking just under 60 minutes. With more than 2 players I imagine the time can creep up due to the number of difficult choices, but with one round of the game played simultaneously, this hopefully doesn't lengthen play too much. It definitely offers us something different mechanically and it's a game I hope we find the time to play again. Unfortunately, my one concern is just that it's a very clean and tidy design that doesn't do one thing that really grabs me. With no theme grabbing me either, it might not be a game that jumps off our shelves and onto the table. For now, for the Yellow Meeple, Forum Trajanum is a 7/10.

Forum Trajanum was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £49.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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