Nomadic people, like the Langobards and the Huns, are migrating through early Europe. They search for new areas to settle in and they develop technologies, so their settlements can grow into cities. Res Publica is a 25-year-old trading game from Dr. Reiner Knizia, so it’s about time for a review don’t you think?
What do you get for your money?
You get 65 People cards, 65 Civilization cards, 10 Settlements cards, 10 City cards, 2 Church cards, 2 Library cards and the rules.
How do you play the game?
Res Publica is a trading game from Dr. Reiner Knizia, first published in 1991 by Hexagames and later by Queen Games, most recently in 2011. I will explain to you the rules from the third edition. There are some additional cards and rules, but it’s basically the same as earlier editions.
Res Publica has two basic elements: trading and set collection. There are two types of cards that you can collect, namely People cards (12 Anglo-Saxons, Huns, Vikings, Goths, Langobards and 5 Monk cards) and Civilizations cards (12 Alchemy, Architecture,Trade, Metalworking, Shipbuilding and 5 Book cards).
Every players starts with four random People cards and in their turn players can do two things. Firstly, they can offer offer or ask for up to two types of cards. ‘I want a Hun or a Viking’ or ‘I want one Goth and two Shipbuilding cards’. Then in clockwise order players, depending on if cards are offered or asked, tell the active player what they want from the player in return or what they have to offer in return. So maybe someone has one Goth card and two Shipbuilding cards, then that player can say: ‘I want three Vikings in return’. Then the active player decides if he or she wants to accept that offer. Players can’t negotiate. It’s one offer and one offer only.
The second thing players can do is display a group of five identical cards, five Huns for instance. When you display five People cards, Monks cannot be used for this, you can buy a Settlement. This gives you three points. When you display five identical Civilization cards, Books cannot be used for this, you can buy and build a city. Cities have a descending point value, which means the player who builds the first city gets more points than the next city builder.
You can also display two Monks to build one of the two available Churches, which gives you seven points. Or you can display two Book cards to build one of the two available Libraries. They allow the placement of only four instead of five Civilisation cards when you build a city.
At the end of your turn you draw one People card from the draw deck and, for every settlement you have in front of you, you draw one Civilization card. You can never draw more than three cards at the end of your turn.
The last round is initiated when the Civilization deck is empty. Each player has one more turn, plus, just before scoring, they have another opportunity to build settlements, cities or other buildings.
In the end, players get points for their settlements, for their cities and for every pair of identical cards they still have in their hand. The player with the most points is the winner.
Res Publica is a trading game. That’s it, nothing more, nothing less. It totally depend on the ability and willingness of the players to trade if the works or not. If there are not many trades, there’s no game.
And if the trading does work, there’s barely a game there either, because you have to make very few real decisions. The only thing you really need to do is pay attention what other players are offering or asking, so you can make a good offer or ask the right, available, cards in your own turn.
And, when your trade did not work, you can still draw up to three cards, so maybe you draw some good cards and manage to collect sets in that way.
So, mechanically, Res Publica isn’t very interesting. It’s a game with a high luck factor and not much strategy. Offer or ask the right cards at the right time is the only thing you have to think about, but if that doesn’t work it’s not the end of the world.
A big plus is that this game is teachable in a couple of minutes. A major flaw is that,with its playing time of forty-five minutes to an hour, the game takes to long for what it is.
Is having only one mechanism fun?
Well it’s not that I had a terrible time playing this game, but it wasn’t the best time of my life either. The basic elements of this game just feel incredibly insignificant, especially today. It feels a bit outdated.
Yes, we’ve all played trading games or games where trading was important. And that’s just it, this trading mechanism should be part of a bigger game. Not a standalone game.It doesn’t have enough meat on its bones. I don’t want to play it over and over again.
And, if you want to make just a trading game, don’t make it last an hour.
I had an OK time, trading cards with my friends, but the longer I think about the more I’m sure; I do not recommend Res Publica to everybody, only to player who really, really love trading.