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SPIEL '18 Preview: Forum Trajanum, or Romanum Punctum Acetaria

W. Eric Martin
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I am now going to attempt the improbable: Present a coherent overview of Stefan Feld's upcoming game Forum Trajanum based solely upon a reading of the rules.

Forum Trajanum will debut at SPIEL '18 from German publisher HUCH!, with Stronghold Games also having the title available for purchase in Essen ahead of its November 2018 release date in the U.S. One or both of those publishers might release the rules for public consumption ahead of the show, but until they do, this preview will give you some idea of what's coming — although as fans of Feld designs know, it's hard to grasp how every lever and gear interacts with the machine until you experience it for yourself.

•••


Let's start with the 30,000 foot view: Each player has their own colonia, a settlement built within the Roman Empire (but away Rome), that they need to build up and populate with citizens. You must pay these citizens if you want them to provide benefits for you (which you do, of course). The buildings that you construct in your colonia also provide benefits. Trajan, the current emperor, is building a forum in Rome, and you need to send envoys to Rome to talk about what an awesome job you're doing. (This advice still holds true for employees in today's businesses: Don't assume that your boss knows what you're doing. You must keep the boss informed to show how valuable you are to the company — or to the empire, as the case might be.)

All of this activity takes place over twelve rounds, with a scoring phase after every four rounds. In each round, you collect the resources provided by one colonia tile (with you clearing out these tiles so that you can build in the empty spaces), then you may build one building on cleared spaces. One tile, one building — this might sound like you're not doing a lot over the twelve rounds, especially since your colonia has 32 tiles on it, but if you've played a Feld game, you know that you can usually grab bonus actions here and there to turn your twelve actions into twenty.

•••


The shared central game board represents the Forum Trajanum, as Trajan's construction will become known down the line, and the central area is created at random from 3-5 mosaic tiles, giving you different colorful grounds to occupy with your envoys from one game to the next.

The areas above, below, and to the left of the mosaic show tracks for bonuses that you receive when you build a gray building of the type depicted. The building tiles themselves are shown at the top and bottom of the game board, with buildings coming in five colors (green, yellow, blue, red, and gray, with the gray in four types) and in 1x1 and 1x2 sizes.




On the left side of the game board are street cards — eight each in three stacks — with a trajan bonus card to the left of each stack.

To start a round, you reveal two street cards, and for each card, each player looks at the row or column in their colonia that matches the icon on the card, and they pick up one colonia tile from this row or column. After looking at these tiles, each player passes one of these tiles to the player on their right. (If you can't pick up two tiles, you pay to pick up tiles from other rows or columns — and if you can't pass one to your neighbor, they can freely pick from all the ones that you gave them on previous rounds. Moral: Don't stiff your neighbor at the white elephant exchange, or they'll rummage through your garage to take what they want.)

In player order, each player reveals one of this round's colonia tiles (or both if they pay to do so), then takes the resources or action shown on the tile or tiles. You might get gray builders that allow you to build gray buildings, workers in four colors that allow you to construct a building of the same color, assistants that paint workers so that they can work on a different building than they might otherwise, tribunes that let you break rules, coins that you can pay to citizens, citizens that give bonus actions and boost one type of scoring, or an upgrade that boosts other types of scoring. (This Feld design has four types of scoring. Four — aside from the points you can pick up at various other times.)

After taking your resources, you build at most one building by paying the appropriate combination of builders, workers, and assistants, then place that building in your colonia. If you build a gray triumphal column, you score points; if you built a basilica, market, or library, all of which are gray, you advance on the appropriate track on the central game board and take any one bonus up to where you stand; if you build a colored building, you place an envoy on a mosaic tile of the same color, ideally orthogonally adjacent to other envoys of your color or to an eagle space or to both. If you envoy the last space in that particular block of color, then you receive a bonus of one of the aforementioned resources or a couple of points. If you place a 1x2 building tile, then you do the appropriate things twice.


Sample colonia board five turns into the game


The bonus actions from citizens — with the citizens coming in three types — mostly come into play during the building aspect of your turn, but that shouldn't be a surprise since you're only taking tiles and building. Maybe you'll upgrade assistants to workers or builders, or swap an assistant for a coin, or take two bonuses for completing a colored area.

•••


After four rounds, you need to pay your citizens before the scoring phase begins. Your citizens are placed in six rows that line up with the six rows in your colonia, and if you pay a coin to a row, then the one or two citizens in that row will continue giving you their bonus activity in the next four rounds and they'll double or triple the points you score for their row. To score each row, you follow this formula: (# of citizens + 1) ⋅ (# of different gray buildings). Sum the points from those six rows, and you've completed your colonia scoring. Simple!

If during those four rounds, you picked up a colonia tile that revealed one of the colored construction cranes that occupy the four corners of your colonia board, then you score points for each building the same color as that crane — 3, 2, or 1 points for scoring in the first, second, or third scoring cycle — then you flip that crane face down. (You can see the cranes covered by tiles in the image above. Two cranes start with citizen tiles face up on them, while the other two have random face-up colonia tiles.) You can still construct more buildings of that color in your colonia, but you won't score crane points for them.

That said, you might score envoy points as a result of those buildings because in the forum scoring, you collect 2 points for each eagle your envoys occupy and 1 point for each envoy space that's adjacent to an eagle. If you have the right citizen working for you, you'll even score 1 point for each envoy diagonally adjacent to an eagle. (Normally Trajan frowns on those an arm's length away, but some citizens know how to sweet talk him.) Additionally you'll score 2-12 points depending on the size of your largest group of orthogonally-adjacent envoys (no sweet-talking here!) and the position of your "slider bar" at the top of your colonia. (The slider bar is the thing that you upgrade with colonia tiles and one type of citizen, flipping it over or moving it to the right so that you score more points with the same size group.)

Finally, you see how well you pleased Trajan based on the bonus card revealed for this scoring cycle; each such card has a building challenge on the top of it and a collecting challenge on the bottom. Did you place one gray building directly above another one, or create a block of four buildings, or hold on to an assistant and two coins, or have a paid citizen of each of the three types, or complete any number of other odd compulsory goals? If so, they you score 3, 5 or 7 points for each such completed task depending on the location of your slider bar, which seems like it should have a far more Roman name.

If you've completed a task multiple times, such as having two assistants and four coins, then you score the bonus multiple times as well since Trajan is not a one-and-done type of guy. You fulfilled his bizarre request to have a gray building sandwiched vertically between two colored buildings more than once? Fine, he'll give you points more than once. Points are like compliments, after all; you don't have to do anything other than talk to give them to people.

Carry out this scoring procedure three times over the course of twelve rounds, then see who stands out best in Trajan's eyes. Are you both obsequious to his needs, yet overly ambitious in your building efforts? Can you be generous enough to your citizens that they won't turn against you and refuse to quit promoting assistants to builders? Can you shovel not-so-useful tiles to your right-hand neighbor so that they won't take the best envoy positions for themselves and you can assemble the grandest envoy/flash mob that Rome has ever seen?

I haven't covered every detail in this write-up — I failed to mention, for example, that you get envoys only by choosing the non-citizen colonia tiles of your own color and not the tiles handed to you — but this should be thorough enough to give you an idea of how this Rube Feldbergian device operates until come October 2018 you can lay out the tiles, take your starting resources, then start flipping over the street cards to see how it works first-hand...
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