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Mare Nostrum Returns!


The "short civilization game" is one of the Holy Grails of board game design, and designer Serge Laget took a pretty good shot at it twelve years ago with Mare Nostrum. His take on taking over the Mediterranean got a fair bit of play in its time, but it's been out of print for years and very hard to find.

Well-regarded game? Long out of print? Old copies being offered for nearly $200 on eBay? This sounds like a job for Kickstarter.

Conquering the Mediterranean with legions and commerce.

Conquering the Mediterranean with legions and commerce.

Yes, a new edition of Mare Nostrum is now as going concern as a Kickstarter project. It launched on May 22, and took off like a rabbit, funding in 45 minutes and blowing through a series of stretch goals. Its funding is now a little short of $300,000 with over three weeks left in the campaign.

It's a surprising level of success. I have the game and remember it fondly, but civilization games are a niche within board gaming. Also, Mare Nostrum is good, but there are flaws that get in the way of its status as a classic.

Smoother Sailing on Mare Nostrum?

It's not quite fair to say that Mare Nostrum as balance issues. The balance has been carefully honed so that five attentive players of equal skill can struggle against each other and have a blast doing it. If everybody knows that they're doing, this game rocks.

The reality of the board gaming hobby, though, is that it's pretty for a single set of players to have equal levels of skill and experience. There's almost always a new player sitting down and learning the game for the first time. That's great for a social hobby, but a complication for a competitive experience.

The first edition did not deal with that complication well. Each culture has to put pressure on its neighbors or risk a quick loss, and some cultures require more subtle play than others. An inexperienced Carthage player can easily let Egypt skate to victory, and Mare Nostrum veterans have learned to level the playing field by seating more experienced players in certain positions.

The new edition seems determined to address these issues, tweaking the rules to make the balance more robust and open up new paths to victory. It turns out the board game design community has learned a lot about making games more accessible over the last 12 years, and Academy Games seems to be putting those lessons to work.

Maybe that's the secret of Mare Nostrum's success: the potential of the game was obvious the first time around, given us potential purchaser types confidence that it will be fully realized this time.

In the meantime, the first edition is still a lot of fun. We'll have a copy at our June 21 library meetup, so come give it a try and see what all the fuss is about!


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Posted by Chris Aylott

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