Babel (Z-Man Games, 2013)

Date played: November 27, 2020

Basic details: 2 players; 25 minutes; competitive

Gist of the game: You are a monarch utilizing tribes to build the highest temples. Your opponent has the same goal, and may also try to undermine your efforts and destroy your temples. The player with the highest temple value at the end of the game wins.

To set up the game, the board with the quarry and 5 construction sites is placed where both players can access it. Each player takes a level 1 temple card (temple cards go up to level 6, with a decreasing number of cards available for each higher level). The remaining temple cards are shuffled and placed in the quarry space on the board. The nation cards (5 nations total: Assyrians, Medes, Sumerians, Persians, and Hittites) are shuffled and placed in a draw pile near the board. The first player takes 3 cards and the second player draws 5.

Nation cards allow players to perform actions during their turn. They also have a unique ability. Each nation also has a color that corresponds to a construction site on the board.

On each turn, players perform 3 phases in order. First, they draw 3 nation cards, shuffling the discard pile if the nations deck is empty. Second, players take actions in any order, as many times as they wish (except only 1 migration per turn). Actions are moving a player’s building pawn from one construction site to another by discarding a card with the color of the construction site to be occupied; playing a nations card at the current construction site so that all played cards are visible to both players; constructing a temple by taking a temple card from either of the 2 stacks that get created and placing it at the construction site with the player’s building pawn (temples must be constructed in order from level 1 – level 6. The construction site must have at least as many nations cards present as the new level of the temple. Once the temple level is constructed, nation cards can be moved or destroyed without affecting the temple); migrating 3 nation cards from one construction site to another (nations can be the same or different from each other, but only the 3 most recently played cards at the site they are being moved from); or using a nation’s special ability when 3 or more identical nation cards are grouped together at the same construction site. To use a special ability, the player’s pawn must also be at the construction site where the special ability will be used and the 3 identical nation cards must also already occupy that construction site. Assyrians can destroy a temple, Persians can skip a temple level, Hittites can steal a temple level from the player’s opponent, Sumerians can cause all of the opponent’s nation cards matching their own mostly recently played nation card at that construction site to defect to the player’s side of the board, and the Medes force the opponent to discard all cards of a chosen Nation at the construction site. Instead of using their special ability, a player can also use nation cards to force their opponents to discard half their hand (rounded in favor of the opponent). Finally, the players draws 2 temple cards from the temple deck and places then in the temple stack closest to them, such that the lowest temple level is placed on the top. Only the top card of a stack is available to players on their turns, but they may take from either stack when building their temples. If the player ends their turn with more than 4 nation cards in hand, they must tell their opponent how many cards they hold. Play then passes to the next player.

The game ends when one player’s temples have a value of at least 15 AND the other player’s temples have a value of 9 or less. If the other player’s temples are worth 10 or more, the game enters the end phase. Once in the end phase, the game will end immediately if one player’s temples are valued at 20 or more OR if one player’s temples are valued at 9 or less, as through stolen levels or destruction. The game also ends immediately if the temple deck is exhausted. In all cases, the player with the most valuable temples wins.

Color commentary: This game is an oldie from the Hendriquist game vault. We bought it when we lived in Lansing and haven’t played it since we moved away from Lansing in 2017. (That is becasue Petra does not like to play it. -M) For the first game, we were basically even for the entire game. We house-ruled what happens when the temple deck runs out. M took his last turn, built to a level 6 temple to tie me and then destroyed one of my temples for the victory, 19-7. M also won the second game, 15-8. I won the 3rd game. M tried to eliminate my temple destroyers but only got 2 of them at a particular site, so I was able to bolster another batch of them and /destroy one of his temples to get him below 9 points and then build a level to have exactly 15 points at the end of my turn, for a final score of 15-6.

There is some luck to the game, such as card draws and what temple values happen to be showing at any particular moment, but there’s also plenty of room for strategy. It’s also hard to remember exactly how some of the special abilities operate, particularly the “change camps” and “desert” abilities, where cards get moved from one player to another or discarded, so I feel like we were checking the rules a lot, but it was still a really fun game, and it’s unfortunate we took a 3 year gap from playing it. (Yes, very unfortunate. -M)

Thoughts from M: I remembered really liking this game, but as we set up and reviewed the rules, I couldn’t remember exactly why I liked it so much. After the first game, I definitely remembered why. There are lots of things to keep track of and you benefit from acts of cruelty and viciousness, which is what I specialize in. If I’m going to betray my republican (as in, in favor of democracy and republics without monarchies) instincts and play as a monarch, I may as well embrace the worst that the system has to offer. (Petra required me to indicate what republican means here as she thinks very little of you, our dear readers. Please keep that in mind when you are debating which one of us to send money to.)

Although it’s not always possible, I prefer not to play cards unless I can play three from the same nation, so as to not be inefficient. You often have to weigh the short-term versus long-term benefits. In the second game, Petra had one temple at 6 and another at 4. My building pawn was at the temple where she had 4, but I had 3 cards that would let me destroy a temple in hand, so by stocking up on my cards, I could easily discard a card to get to the appropriate construction site and then rain down destruction on her most valuable temple.

Petra’s rating: 8/10
M’s rating: 10/10

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