Thursday, September 12, 2013

C'mon Physics -- Don't Fail Me Now!

In this week's post, I'd like to introduce you to a new title that's just been released by Queen games: Via Appia.  Via Appia is hot off the press and has been designed by Michael Feldkotter who, according to my fine German friends, was undoubtedly teased mercilessly as a child on account of his last name.  Apparently, Feldkotter is shocking close to the German word for rabbit droppings!  Whatever his childhood suffereings may or may not have been, in Via Appia Mr. Feldkotter has designed a clever and enjoyable game with rather unique dexterity element that I haven't seen anything quite like in a game before.  Want to know more?  Well read on and all shall be revealed.

From a thematic perspective, Via Appia puts you in the shoes of a Roman engineer who has been tasked with building a road that connects Rome with the city of Brundisium.  And, it should be noted from the outset, that Via Appia does a fine job of evoking this theme via both its components and its mechanics.  On your turn, you will have the option of carrying out one of four actions.  As a first choice, you might elect to gather income in the form of either freshly quarried stone or gold.  This is done by selecting from a pool of available income tiles, each of which displays an amount of money on the top half of the card and a quantity of stone on the bottom.  Initially, you will only receive either the stone or the gold, but as fewer and fewer cards remain to be chosen, you'll eventually be awarded both halves of the cards and, when only one card remains, you recieve an additional bonus of a "push" token.

A push token you say?  What do I need a push token for?  Well, here is where Via Appia proves itself to be a very unique game.  You see, the stone that you've collected is only roughly hewn stone fresh from the quarry.  To be suitable for paving it will need to be crushed into more useable sizes.  And that's where things get interesting.  On the main board there sits a rock crusher.  It's really a V-shaped trough that sits on the board (raised up off the board by cardboard supports) and which has been filled with various wooden discs.  These discs come in three sizes and they represent the three sizes of paving stones which can be used to pave the Via Appia.  In order to acquire these paving stones, you be using the rough hewn stones you've acquired from the income tiles to push tiles out of this rock crusher.  You'll begin by placing one of your rough stones on the platform in front of the mouth of the rock crusher and then, using the nifty wooden 'rake' that comes with the game, you'll push your stones into the crusher -- hopefully causing wooden discs to fall out the other end of the crusher.  Any discs which you succeed in ejecting from the crusher can be taken as either paving stones or cash.  Of course, if you choose to acquire paving stones, you'll need to make sure that you have room to store and transport them in you handy-dandy wagon tile.

Once you've acquired paving stones, as one of your actions you'll be able to place those stones onto the main board as part of the Via Appia -- and you'll get points for doing so.  In addition, the road has been divided into three sections and there will be bonuses awarded to players who have laid the most (and second most)  paving stones in a given section.  The final action that you can take is to travel down the Via Appia.  Doing so will cost you money (money that you'll have had to acquire at the expense of forgoing the acquisition of stones) but you will also have the potential to earn VP by being the amongst the quickest players to travel down the Via Appia.

So what are my thoughts on Via Appia?  First of all, this is the first push you luck game in which you can actually, physically push your luck!  An awful lot of your success depends on being able to successfully push stones out of the rock crusher -- and you'd be surprised how challenging that can be.  Overall, the dexterity element of the game is really, really clever and I think it ensures that the game will be a particular hit with families.  While there can be no doubt that the rock crushing is the highlight of Via Appia, the rest of the game's mechanics are solid as well.  There are choices to be made about when to take money or stone, whether or not to get your points from laying paving stones or to run quickly from city to city on the backs of other people's labours.  The game's rules (while not translated all that well in the English rulebook) are clear and the game should prove accessible in the 8+ range without difficulty.  Finally, the components are really of superb quality -- from the beautiful artwork on the board to the solid wooden discs and the nifty paving stones, everything has been extremely well designed and made.  Ultimately, if you are looking for a light, fast, fun game with beautiful components, that's accessible and plays smoothly then Via Appia is well worth checking out.

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