Review – Rattus: Africanus an expansion for Rattus from White Goblin Games
Designer: Ase & Henrik Berg
note – Thanks to my buddy, Tony Bellringer for the following guest review
So, having thoroughly enjoyed the original Rattus, I was very keen to get my mitts on a copy of the latest expansion ’Africanus’, and friends fortunate enough to be visiting Essen this year kindly brought me back a copy.
The base game
For those unfamiliar with Rattus, it is a quick-playing (done in 45 minutes) role-selection and cube-placement game for 2-4 players, set in a theme of the Black Death ravaging Europe. Players take it in turns to: a) add some of their population cubes to a region of the map; b) take a special ‘class’ tile (Knight, Merchant, Peasant, King, etc) either from the starting supply, or from another player; and c) move the ‘Plague Piece’ (representing the spread of the plague) from its current region to a neighbouring region, which the plague then ravages. Steps a) and b) can be taken in any order, but step c) always comes last.
Possession of class tiles allows you to change the rules in your favour, e.g. the King allows you to move one of your cubes from a board region to the safe haven of the palace (a special area of the board that the plague cannot enter), and the Peasant allows you to place more cubes on the board than normal in your turn. However, possession of class tiles also makes it more likely that your population (cubes) in a given region will suffer when the plague ravages that region. This is because the plague ravages by revealing the face-down rat tokens that lie in the region, many of which target the owners of the class tiles. The plague rat (or more accurately the plague-bearing flea living on it!) only ‘bites’ if enough cubes are present in that region (denoted by the number on the token), but if it kicks in, a cube from that region is lost by the owner of any of the class tiles that match the icons shown on the revealed rat token (e.g. Crown for King, Wheatsheaf for Peasant, etc). An ‘A’ on the token means all players present in the region lose a cube there, and an ‘M’ means the owner of the most cubes in the region loses one, but most casualties through the game seem to come from ownership of the class tiles. allows
The aim of the game is to have the most cubes left on the board when the plague burns itself out (as denoted by the supply of rat tokens running out) – or, very rarely, to somehow manage to have every one of your population cubes still on the board at the end of your turn.
What’s in the box?
The sturdy box contains some nicely produced pieces to expand your game in two ways: a) the bits necessary to make the game playable with 5 or 6 players; and/or b) some bits to go with some new rules and variants. The components are of the same high standard as the base game (and earlier expansion ‘Pied Piper’).
So let’s look at those in a little more detail.
Increasing to 5 or 6 players
1) An additional small board, which sits below the base game board, and represents 5 additional regions, being the North African coast and the Saharan desert.
2) Two new colours worth of player cubes (20 in each colour).
3) 10x ‘Move 3 spaces’ pieces. The chivalry class tiles (e.g. Knight from the base game) usually allow the owner to move the Plague Piece two spaces (rather than the normal one), but with the board getting bigger in a 5-6 player game, it seems only fair to allow them to move the plague piece further… 😉 So in a 5 or 6 player game, one of these pieces sits above the relevant symbol on any Chivalry tile in play, to remind people they can move the Plague Piece 3 spaces.
4) A replacement set of 65 rat tokens. These completely replace the set from the base game, since as well as needing more of them for a 5 or 6 player game, there is a whole new class introduced in Africanus for the rats to target (see below).
New rules and variants
1) A set of 4 new class tiles, all belonging to a new ‘Islamic’ class. As well as adding this whole new class to the game, each comes with its own unique special ability. As the other components relate to these abilities, I will reference the relevant class card in relation to the new components below.
2) 15x Purple ‘Diplomat’ discs. The owner of the ‘Sultan’ class card gets to place a purple disc under one of his cubes on the board on each turn he holds the card, denoting the creation of a Diplomat in a region (in each region, there can never be more than one Diplomat per player). Such cubes are the last of that player to be eliminated by the plague in a region, and at the end of the game, the player(s) with the most and second-most Diplomats on the board get bonus victory points.
3) A Camel! The owner of the ‘Caravaner’ class card gets to move the camel piece a distance of two regions. Players with the most cubes currently in the starting region and the region the camel passes through each get to add one more cube to that region.
4) A set of 51 small cards. Each card consists of two parts: class icons on the top half; and region names on the bottom half. During the game, players can play a card they hold to make a class card they own (that matches a class icon on the card played) ‘immune’ from the current plague resolution phase. At the end of the game, for each region in which a player has the most (or equal-most) cubes and also holds at least one card with that region’s name, they receive one extra victory point. Each player starts the game with 3 cards: the only way to get more is with the new ‘Astronomer’ class card, which allows you to draw 3 new cards and keep one. Finally, the ‘Explorer’ class card allows you to reveal the top 3 cards of the draw deck, and place one of your cubes in one of the revealed regions.
Welcome addition, or too much chrome?
I feel very much that Rattus fits into that ‘Carcassonne category’, of a game with very simple rules, that plays nice and quick, but requires a good amount of strategic thinking and play to be successful. One of its key strengths is precisely the streamlined and efficient gameplay mechanics, so – as with Carcassonne – the addition of bells, whistles, and all sorts of weird and wonderful gizmos carries the inherent risk of being counter-productive.
With Africanus, I think we are still at the ‘Inns and Cathedrals’ stage (to extend the Carc comparison), i.e. there is minimal – but interesting – additional ‘chrome’ being bolted onto the base game, and the expansion is as much about letting extra players play as throwing in more rules.
As a member of a gaming group with a core regular weekly attendance of 6, I’m always keen to see more games increase their capacity beyond the usual upper limit of 4 or 5, and for me the amount of new rules introduced here is just right, adding interesting variety without getting to the point of overload or fundamentally changing the basic game. 8 out of 10.
Well, the theme is a bit gruesome! But seriously, the game is abstracted enough, and the artwork doesn’t show anything nasty, in fact being quite ‘cartoon-like’, so I would say it is perfectly suitable for children to play. However, this is definitely a ‘thinking game’ – even if a relatively light one – rather than a ‘party game’. The mechanics of how to play are easy enough, but to properly get a handle on strategy in the game, I would suggest a player would need to be probably at secondary school level (11+ in the UK), so the publisher’s suggested minimum age of 10+ is pretty accurate.
White Goblin Games: http://www.whitegoblingames.com/
Reviewed by Tony Bellringer (‘Tulfa’ on BoardGameGeek)
17 November 2011