Travel Blog is a fun little geography quiz from Vlaada Chvátil. It’s not all about map knowledge, but also quick thinking. Six European countries or US states are chosen randomly each round and then one as a starting point. The goal is to choose a country that can be reached from the starting point with as few border crossings as possible — but if you choose a neighbouring country, you get an extra penalty. So, the ideal case would be a country that’s one step away. If you start from France, Austria would be a good choice (France to Germany to Austria).
Later rounds complicate things as you must choose two countries to visit and eventually have two countries specified and two countries to pick between them. Oh, and of course players make their choices simultaneously, with an extra penalty to folks who choose the same country as someone else. Fortunately there’s a -40 space where you can just take 40 penalty points — sometimes this is much better than picking a country.
The game is fun, fast and challenging. I like the way it twists the basic map trivia. Not a bad game, but not something I’d buy myself or that I’d play a lot.
We had four players, which is probably the low limit of what makes sense (the game supports up to six). I was pretty bad at this and lost badly. Other than that, the game was fairly balanced, everybody made some more or less stupid blunders (visiting Armenia was one of my less clever moves) and lost loads of money.
Rattus is about spreading the plague in Europe. What a fun theme! Players try to place their cubes on board, trying to get as many on board and keep them there. There’s a bit of a theme clash right there, as the cubes represent population, as far as I can tell, yet they can only be played where the rats are. If a territory is healthy and free of plague-spreading rats, you can’t add people there. What?
That aside, this is a fun game. Each turn is basically place some cubes, move the plague-bringer. When the plague-bringer comes to an area, he spreads the rats and then triggers the rats on that area. The rat tokens are revealed and they possibly kill some of the cubes on the area.
There’s something else, too: there are six special ability cards that give, well, special abilities: you can play more cubes, move cubes, move rats, look at hidden rats, make the plague-bringer more powerful or move cubes to a safe castle. You can take one of the cards each turn and use all the abilities you have. However, when the rats are triggered, having cards is bad, because each rat token lists symbols and might affect, for example, the knight, the monk, the king twice and the merchant. Whoever has the card, loses cubes.
So, more cards is more power, but less cards is safety from rats. Not complete safety, mind you, as the cards still have “majority” and “everybody” triggers, but safety nonetheless.
In our game, I managed to unload my cubes on the board the best. I also had some pretty good luck with the plague outbreaks. We had a huge amount of people in Italy with five rat tokens (more tokens means more danger, but also more cubes, as the amount of rat tokens in an area is the limit of how many cubes can be played there) and when that plague was triggered, I did well, losing just one cube. I got some beating, but dodged the worst effects.
Rattus looks nice, plays fast (30 minutes or so), has a good level of indirect beatdown… Not much control, no, but hey, it’s still a fun game. The level of confrontation is just fine for something like this. I might even buy this, actually…
We also played another five-player game of Black Friday. The previous round took 90 minutes, this one just 45 minutes. Much better! We botched some rules, again. Ok, I botched. The market was missing 20 briefcases… At one point, we ran out of briefcases on the market. I managed to win by buying a ton of silver just before the price went up. Ville was screwed by timing — the silver track was filled just before he had a chance to buy lots of cheap silver and the price went up something like six-seven steps in the price adjustment. Oops.