Review: Pergamon

Posted by James (admin) on May 19th, 2011

As with several games at the moment, Pergamon caught my interest because of the simple but potentially interesting game mechanics (as I mentioned in my On the Radar post).  During the game, players gather funds so they can excavate artifacts to then display in a museum to score victory points (VPs).

Each round, players first jostle for a share of the limited funding and players only know the rough total that will be available as the backs of the 2 funding cards each show their potential ranges (1-4 or 5-8).  Players place their meeple on the amount they want to receive and that also determines how deep they will be able to dig too.  When all players have set their requests, the funding is revealed and allocated to those who ask for smaller amounts first.  So, it’s possible to end up with nothing, although the last player gets everything that remains so can end up with more than they asked for.

Players now choose whether to excavate all the artifacts from one specific level – the deeper artifacts cost more to extract but are usually older and, therefore, more valuable.  Each artifact tile shows two different artifact halves so players need to gather tiles that match to make a whole, plus the combination determines the exact age of the artifact too.  Players can then choose whether to display collections at the museum – the more whole artifacts that can be made into a continuous row, the more interesting (valuable) the collection will be which means it will score more VPs and remain of interest to the public for longer too. The game ends after 12 rounds and the most VPs wins.

Overall, Pergamon has several thought-provoking game mechanics working together.  The risk of requesting greater funding versus the certainty of less funding is one aspect but the amount requested also determines the order in which players will excavate so earlier (less-funded) players get first choice and a player with more funds may find there’s nothing left that they want to excavate that round when it’s their turn.  Plus, you need to think about how your placement may affect the next player’s choice as their choice could affect you.  Also, some funding requests only let you dig in certain levels, so sometimes the funding and position you want won’t let you dig up the artefacts you really want.

This makes a nice set of issues to balance and never enough time or turns in which to do it all, and it’s this that gives Pergamon a sense of excitement and mental challenge.  In fact, you kind of feel you could do okay at this exhibiting if it wasn’t for the other players getting in the way.

You can’t really plan too far ahead as things change rapidly – for example, other players’ earlier that turn can make a big difference to how you think about your funding requests as their choices can affect how you view the potential amount of funding or remaining artefacts available.  However, you can plan each turn  – just be prepared to alter your plans at short notice and don’t let players get caught up in analysis paralysis.

When a collection is placed in the museum it occupies a place relative to how interesting it is (based on the number and age of the artifacts) and the more interesting items score more VPs during the 5 scoring moments.  However, a clever mechanic – and another to balance – is that public interest in collections wains over time so interest (and potential VPs) falls after each scoring, plus collections’ interest goes down if a new and more interesting collection is added to the museum.  Add to this that you can only display 3 different collections simultaneously, plus there are occasional bonuses for the oldest artefact of a specific type, and you can see there is plenty of meat for decision-making in Pergamon.  (I should point out that it’s not a complicated game just in case it sounds like it.)

A couple of times, players had a lucky break when they scooped up a lot of cash when there was lots available.  I did wonder if this might be slightly too influential as you have a lot more options if you have lots of money and bog collections score big points.  Often the last player gets very little funding so it’s a risk to aim for such a windfall, but I’ll be interested to see in future plays if the players that are lucky in their timing  and receive a large round of funding are the ones that tend to win.

Overall, I really enjoyed Pergamon even though I found it a tricky game to do well at.  There’s a lot of interaction – especially in the form of annoying other players by taking ‘their’ artifact or funding space – and I like that too.


[Played with 4 players]

View Eggertspiele’s Pergamon page and rules.