Mayfair Games is well known for its games featuring high production value with innovative gameplay mechanics unlike any other. The Downfall of Pompeii stands strong amongst Mayfair’s many selections. It is a game for light strategists and anyone who likes quick logic in the ever-changing face of chance.
Pompeii uses the famous natural disaster of 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius blew and destroyed some of the most important ancient Roman cities in southern Italy. A naysayer might raise an eyebrow out of making a game out of a disaster, but in a medium filled with war-gaming and mock-battles, Pompeii actually holds the goal of saving lives rather than taking them. The winner is the player with the most pieces to have properly escaped the city.
The game comes in two phases. In the first, the board is set up pre-eruption with Pompeii as a vibrant city on the move. Players pick a color for their pieces and draw cards to see where they may place their families (and “relatives” – bonus pieces to be placed in nearby unnumbered buildings). To have the most people escape, the best plan might be to have the most people inside before the devastation begins. Other players might strategize to place tokens in buildings nearer to the city gates or stack their family-members close-by so they can all run out together with the movement bonus from having more tokens in a space.
As the cards are played and drawn, special cards come up. The “Omen” card gives a chance to sacrifice a citizen from another family to the volcano, hoping to stave off an eruption. Eventually, of course, the two Vesuvius cards are drawn, and the game turns to the second phase: Run for it!
The cards are set aside, and the game now becomes one of hoping to escape with as many family members as possible. Tokens may move as many spaces as there are tokens in their original space, meaning that players who piled up their family members can get at least one of them out very quickly. Players need to strategize to figure out the best routes and which pieces to move when, otherwise they may be left with a string of family lined up without a way out of the city.
While the players are attempting to lead their families to safety, they also draw lava tiles that may cut off escape routes. Each player must draw one, which is placed in the city based on its icon, meaning that some lava flows may happen more quickly. Additional strategy comes into play as the players must lay the lava, potentially cutting off an opponent’s escape or even drowning a family member in super-heated gas and ash.
The Downfall of Pompeii is a great game for two to four players ages 10 and up. Younger players may enjoy moving the pieces around, but it is the grown up strategizing that makes the game its best. It takes about 45 minutes to play, a medium-length game with a fast-pace that keeps its players always running to escape the inferno.