Review: The Downfall of Pompeii

Posted by James (admin) on September 11th, 2010

The Downfall of Pompeii is a light and fast game where players place their people in the buildings of Pompeii and then score points for each one that escapes the city after the volcano erupts.  In the first phase of the game, players take turns playing building cards to place their people in the building that matches their card.  Each building has a fixed number of spaces for people and, if a building is full, then the player can place their people in any building with spaces.  When the AD79 card is drawn, the placement gets faster because if a person is placed in a building that already has occupants, the player adds that many extra people elsewhere on the board too.  During this time, a player may draw an Omen card which means they get to throw one of their opponent’s people into the card volcano.

When the AD79 card is drawn for the second time (as it gets added back in near the bottom of the deck after its first drawing), Vesuvius erupts which means the first phase ends.  From now on, no more people get placed and the building cards are no longer used.  The second phase is completely different to the first and is the real action of the game – the goal is to get your people out of the city via the various gates along the city walls.  In this phase, players take turns drawing a lava tile from the bag, placing it and then moving their people.  There are 6 locations where lava can start to flow and each has a different icon.  A lava tile must be placed so that it joins onto lava tiles of the matching icon.  Any people on a space where the lava tile is placed are removed and thrown into the volcano.  For movement, a player gets to move two of their people – each person can be moved a number of spaces equal to the number of people on the space that that person starts from.  Each person that makes it out of the city gates scores 1 point and the player with the most points at the end wins.  A tie is decided in favour of the player with the fewest people in the volcano, so this may influence who you throw into the volcano (by using Omen cards or placing lava tiles).  The game ends when there are no more people that can escape from Pompeii.

Overall, The Downfall of Pompeii is a simple game of two very different halves.  The first half (placement) is really just to get the people onto the board.  It seems like there are can be some tactics to it by looking at the cards you have in hand and what’s on the board; however, there’s not a lot to think about apart from which card gets the most people onto the board and the closer to the gates the better.  The Omen cards feel a bit unbalanced because a player drawing more than other players has the advantage of removing opponents’ pieces, especially as they still playing one of their building own cards to place their own pieces too.  In our game, one player drew almost all of the Omen cards – probably quite rare but still a shame – I would have preferred it that we all had a few Omen cards to use when we wanted so we could use them tactically before playing our card to place our people.

In the second phase, placing lava tiles is fun because you get the chance to kill off your opponents’ pieces and try to block off routes.  Also, you are faced with choices whether to move your people the last steps out of the city, or to move those still in the middle of the city towards the edge or away from the lava before it’s too late.  It’s simple but it’s fun.

It’s a shame that the first phase feels more like an extended set-up but it’s fine.  The second phase though is the best part.  I think the first phase would be better if it was cardless – it could be pre-determined in the rules, i.e. set-up the pieces according to the diagram, or maybe just take turns placing people onto the board with a couple of rules giving restrictions (no more than two of the same player’s pieces in the same building, etc.).  This would speed up the first phase where the gameplay is not very satisfying.

The second phase is fun though.  This is a light and quick game but there are some good choices to make and some tension – will the person you risked not moving last turn will still be alive to move next time?  Should you move a less-critical person whilst there are lots of other people on the same space (so they can move a long way this turn), or move a person at more risk just one space (because no-one else is on their space at the moment)?   There’s a fair amount of luck depending upon which lava tiles are drawn and which player is placing them (as players are less likely to kill your people if it means killing their own at the same time) but this isn’t meant to be a deep thinking game so the element of luck isn’t a problem and doesn’t detract from the game.

The Downfall of Pompeii is an enjoyable light game which plays pretty quickly.  I’d definitely play again as a slightly longer filler game but it’s not one if you’re looking for a more tactical challenge


[Played with 4 players]

Game Photo: Doug Orleans.

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