Monday, October 15, 2007

Thebes: What's in the Box?

I recently acquired a couple new games, one of them being Thebes. I have been looking forward to playing this game for a long time. I debated the purchase for several months and finally decided to give it a try. I have not been disappointed.

So, one thing you might wonder is: "How big is the box?" Take a look below.

The box is big. It's long and thicker (up and down) than a TTR box, but not as wide. Here's what you find inside (minus one time wheel which our 21-month-old son managed to hide very well).

You can see in the picture:
  • Box interior with slots for all the bits to easily fit. Not as form-fitted as some boxes, but good nevertheless.
  • Board depicting parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia
  • Instruction manual
  • Player reference / treasure details sheet
  • 5 cloth bags with colored trim to coordinate with their dig sites
  • Pile of multicolored excavation permission tiles
  • Deck of small cards (Thurn & Taxis or Ticket to Ride size)
  • 4 colored meeples, 4 time track markers and 1 year marker
  • 3 time wheels (the game comes with 4)
One of the features I like most about this game is the art. As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Michael Menzel's artwork. Besides Jambo, this is the only Menzel game I have at this point. Check out some of the tasty artwork on this board:

Here you can see most of the cities where you do research:

Here you can see most of the excavation sites:

The design is very pleasing to the eyes. Everything is laid out tastefully.

Here's a close-up of one of the meeples. Each player has one of these to represent their archaeologist:

Here's how the table looks at the beginning of a 2-player game:

One thing I discovered that I instantly loved about the game was the collecting feature. I can't think of any other game I've played where collecting lots of stuff is such a big part of the play. Here is what a player's area looks like late in the game:

And here's how the table looks at the end of a 2-player game:

Clearly, there are lots of pretty components in this game. One thing you may not notice in these pictures is the box cover art design. The blue which paints the sky is stunning, making this box one of the most attractive I've ever seen. The picture displays some archaeologists uncovering and documenting artifacts in Egypt. I love looking at the box cover. While looking through my game collection, all stacked on shelves, Thebes really stands out with its vivid cover art - "Play me! Play me!!"

The manual at first seemed confusing. The rules seemed much heavier than they are in practice, and I think this is a result of poor manual layout design. The rules make the game sound daunting, but once you play, you realize just how easy the game is. My wife and I felt comfortable with the game very soon into our first play. It flows well, and the theme touches every aspect of the game. You travel around researching. Then, when you feel like you've gathered enough information, you go and dig. Every once in a while, certain cities will put on exhibitions, and if you have the right types of artifacts to show, you can gain points from those exhibitions. But the exhibitions come and go, so you have to time them just right.

Everything in the game is time-based. It's like an action point system. You can do as much stuff as you want, as long as you're last on the time track (which looks like a scoring track around the edge of the board). Everything you do costs time. The game lasts either 2 or 3 "years", depending on the number of players.

You gain points for artifacts you dig up, for knowledge you acquire in your research, for congress meetings, and for exhibitions. So there are a few ways to strategize when storing up your victory points. But I think that you certainly have to dig a lot if you want to win. Artifacts are very important.

Thebes plays quickly with 2 players. My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far. The biggest complaint gamers make about Thebes is that there is too much luck. I agree that there is a lot of luck, but it fits the theme. Sometimes, when you dig, you don't find anything. But pulling from the bag, hoping for the best treasures, is quite fun. It's also fun to watch other players pull from the bag - and at the same time agonizing to watch them draw the artifacts you wanted.

The game is similar to Ticket to Ride in terms of weight. As in TTR, I can see a first-timer winning the game. There is luck, and there is strategy. The overall flow is very comfortable. This should sit well with non-gamers and families.

I am really looking forward to playing more Thebes in the coming weeks.

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