Johanna wanted to play a game while Nooa is taking a nap (he’s a good sleeper, sleeping easily two hours). We had talked about trying Thebes, so that’s what we did. The theme is attractive (always important) and the game is pleasantly easy to teach (despite some problems with the English rules).
The game is about archeology. Players move around in Europe collecting knowledge, both general and special to each of the five locations. Once you think you’re ready, you can hit the excavation sites and go digging. You total your knowledge, choose how many weeks to dig and depending on those two variables, you draw certain number of tiles. Tiles can contain valuable treasures or worthless rubbish.
Artifacts are worth points. Once you got some artifacts, you can put them up for an exhibition to score points, and you can also go around talking in congresses. All these activities both take time and are worth points. Time is of the essence, as there’s just two to three years of time, depending on the number of players.
The turn mechanism is clever. It’s similar to Neuland. Each action takes certain amount of weeks and for each week, you move forward on the time track on the board. Whoever is last on the time track (and has thus used least time so far) gets the next turn. It’s fluid, simple and makes you really think about how to best use your time.
There are other clever things. You can amass general knowledge that works on all excavation sites, but you can only as much general knowledge as you have special knowledge, so that too is very necessary. Special knowledge is also worth bonus points in the end.
In our game, I was the better archeologist: my digs were hugely successful. In the end, I had something like 70 points from my artefacts, while Johanna had about 45 points from hers. She drew much more rubble and 1-point artefacts, which was actually rather frustrating and unpleasant. However, once we counted the exhibitions, she was leading the game by one point and after the special knowledge bonuses, she won by 16 points.
So, lesson learnt: digging the best artefacts is pointless, if you don’t tell the world that you’ve dug up cool stuff. That surprising turn of events made Johanna feel better, but she was still somewhat upset about the game and I agree, it wasn’t fun for me either to draw all these excellent artefacts while she drew rubbish. With my gamer buddies it’s perhaps different and bad draws would probably cause immense taunting and teasing, but with Johanna that sort of game just isn’t fun.
Better watch out, then, especially when playing with folks that have tendency for being frustrated. If that’s a problem, it’s probably best to fix the game a bit. As it is, each excavation bag holds 14 artefacts and 16 bits of rubble (and the empty tiles are always returned to the bag) and it’s easy to change the game by removing some of the empty tiles, for example.
However, if you don’t mind that and can accept the fact that there’s quite a bit of luck in the game, what you’ll get is a rather pleasant and well-executed advanced family game. The rules are simple and easy to teach, the game moves swiftly and the theme definitely works. Balancing between advance preparations and actual digging is fun. So, with some caveats, Thebes is a very good game.