Saturday, April 14, 2007

Review: the Downfall of Pompeii

The Downfall of Pompeii is a game by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede for 2-4 players ages 10 and up. Originally published by Amigo, it is distributed in the United States by Mayfair Games. It plays in around 45 minutes.


In 63 AD a strong earthquake heavily damaged the Roman city of Pompeii and scared away many of the inhabitants who feared that the neighboring volcano Vesuvius might be about to erupt. When no eruption was immediately forthcoming, wealthy citizens began moving back to Pompeii, taking advantage of the recent vacancies. For a time, Pompeii enjoyed a bit of a renaissance but the land boom was about to end abruptly with a boom of another sort. On August 24, 79 AD Vesuvius erupted, burying the city in ash and lava and effectively spoiling a fine summer day for a lot of people.

The Downfall of Pompeii is a game played in two parts: the first part simulates the land rush with players trying to put as many citizens as possible into the city; the second part simulates the mad panic of the eruption with players trying to pull as many citizens out of the city and to safety as possible before the city is completely buried.


Inside the large box, you'll find an 8 page color rule booklet, a very attractive game board, a deck of 62 full sized game cards, 140 wooden player tokens, a cloth bag, 45 sturdy tiles, and (best of all) a very cool plastic volcano that fits in a hole in the game board. All of the components are very attractive and functional. The artwork is clear and the iconography is simple to understand. The rule booklet is quite complete with plenty of detailed examples and full color illustrations. Players should have no difficulty learning this game.


This is a pretty simple game that in many ways really feels like two games played back to back.

The first game feels a bit like a card game. Players have a hand of four cards. Each card bears the number of a residence in the city. Players play a card from their hand and then place a citizen in the corresponding residence. Then the player draws another card into his hand and the next player goes. After the first few rounds, a player can earn the right to place more than one citizen at a time in the city by choosing a residence that already has a few citizens in it. Sometimes a player draws an omen card which grants that player the right to appease the volcano gods by picking up another player's citizen token and tossing it into the volcano. I consider this delightful good fun. There's nothing quite like a little human sacrifice to spice up a game, I always say!

Eventually the volcano erupts at which point the first game is over. Players toss out their remaining cards, put any left over citizens back in the box and get ready for the second game.

The second game plays more like a tile laying abstract strategy game. Players take turns drawing a lava tile from the bag. Each tile has a symbol which matches one of the six symbols on the board: helmet, mask, scroll, column, and coin. The tile must be placed adjacent to a matching tile already on the board (or next to the appropriate start space). If it lands on a square that contains citizens then those citizens are unceremoniously chucked into the volcano. (Whee!) After placing a tile the player then tries to move two of his or her citizens closer to one of the city gates. Any citizens that manage to leave the city through one of the city gates count as victory points. He who rescues the most citizens wins!


I really like the Downfall of Pompeii. I like the fact that the game is so very simple to learn. I've been able to teach this game to gamers and non-gamers alike and not once has anyone had any difficulty understanding the game. I also really like the fun of tossing bits into the volcano. Call it sadistic or twisted if you like; I call it good fun. It's not a perfect game. There is definitely a lot of luck. Drawing the right card and getting lucky tile draws counts for quite a bit. Nevertheless there are enough important choices to be made that the better player should win most of the time.

The Downfall of Pompeii plays fast, it's easy to learn, it's attractive, and it's fun. If you're looking for a light family game that you can play with non-gamers and gamers alike you should give it a try.


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