Part of Trajan is a pretty cool “points salad”. You pick some bit of the board and take tiles or move pieces. Your Roman legions are conquering the Germanic barbarians or your workers are building a Roman something-or-other or you’re vying with other players in the Roman Senate or collecting gladiators for the Roman bread and circuses. Each of these things gets you points. It’s very stately and boardgamey and Roman. You feel like you’re wearing a toga.
But there’s a price to pay in Trajan, a classic — I would say “infamous” — boardgame by Stefan Feld. Before you sample from the points salad, you have to scooch some colored doo-dads around a series of bowls. It’s called a mancala. Mancalas are an ancient African tribal thing that uses dried beans and gourds. It’s not very Roman. Why is this the price of entry for taking my turn as a Roman dude doing Roman stuff? Why did Stefan Feld put this between me and the rest of Trajan?
The mancala all but consumes Trajan. It’s not my turn yet, but like everyone else playing the game, I have my head down studying the bowls. Let’s see, if I move the pink bean two bowls over, then next turn I can move four beans three bowls over which will let me, no, no, that’s not quite right because then I’ll jump the bowl with the two beans I need to later on do the thing I need to do. I mean, really, fuck these beans. Sorry for saying that. But it has to be said. Fuck these beans.
Elysium, which is twice the game Trajan will ever be, is much less complicated but every bit as bad.
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