Reviewed by Dave Farquhar
Asterix is a 2 to 5 player card game, produced by Spears. It has much in common with Ravensburger's Hols der Geier, but is different enough to be worth reviewing.
It comes in a small box, with an additional inch of cardboard on top for a display hanger, which makes it a little awkward to store. Once opened, the box discloses two packs of cards: The Gauls and the Romans. The cards themselves are fairly flimsy, but appear to stand up to repeated playing. The artwork however is outstanding. Each full colour card portrays a cartoon character against a white background, giving a clean, crisp appearance. There are 55 Roman cards, of which 44 are positive scoring Roman soldiers, 6 are negative scoring pirates and 5 are 'score reminders'. The Gallic deck consists of 10 cards for each of 5 characters, plus 5 'Dogmatix' cards.
The object of the game is to capture Romans, while avoiding the pirates. The highest point scorer at the end of the game is the winner. Each player represents one Gaul; Asterix, Obelix, Cacofonix, Vitalstatistix and Getafix. Each takes the relevant character cards numbered from one to ten, and one Dogmatix card. In addition they receive a score reminder card. As well as a number, each character card depicts a number of magic potion bottles, ranging from one to four. These act as a tie breaker.
The Roman deck is shuffled and placed face down in the centre of the table. Each turn the top card is turned over, with players competing to capture it. Each player selects a card, and places it face down in front of them. The cards are then simultaneously revealed, with the highest 'capturing' the Roman. Hols der Geier plus a dog I hear you cry. However, there are significant differences. The capturing player discards the card, but the others are returned to the players' hands, except in the case of pirates, where only the winning card is retained. The highest card captures regardless of whether the captive is a Roman or a Pirate.
Dogmatix is something of a joker. If only one is played in a turn, his owner takes the top face down card, looks at it, and chooses whether to keep it, or give it to another player. If a Roman is kept, Dogmatix is discarded; if given away, Dogmatix runs back to the hand. Pirates work in the opposite way.
When a player runs out of Gauls he drops out of play. When all other players have run out of cards, the last player discards the remainder of his hand, taking one card from the top of the Roman deck for each. The Romans are all positive, ranging from the Cook worth 1 point, to 15 point Caesar. There are four of each of the Romans which score 1 - 10. These may be collected to acquire bonae (impressive huh?). Two score +20, three +30, while a full set of four scores 100 bonus points. The pirates help the Roman prisoners to escape. Each specifies a type of card which, if held by the player at the end of the hand, is lost. eg. General escapes.
The game is quick, and fun. I have played it about ten times in the month I have owned it, which in itself is an indication of its quality. I have not yet, however, mastered the tactics required to win. The tactical content of this review will therefore be minimal.
It is tempting to go for the high value Romans, but the lower valued 'set' cards can bring in a much more valuable bonus. Of course, other players will strive to stop you collecting that fourth card. It may on occasions be worth using a high value card to capture a pirate, if it releases a Roman you do not have, on the basis that it allows you to retain the card which performed the capture. This may however restrict your future action. For instance, if you have already 'won' a 'General Escapes' pirate, it is not too exciting when a general later appears.
In addition, it is very frustrating when as Obelix you play your 10 to attempt to win a pirate, thus forcing your opponents to discard, only to be beaten by Asterix in the tie break, thereby losing your own 10 for nothing (you may here detect the voice of bitter experience). Another source of frustration may occur when you have saved your 10 card until last, only to find that the card revealed is a Pirate who helps Centurions, of which you have the full set, to escape. You have no choice but to play your 10, and sit back and endure the delight of your opponents as your ex-prisoner sets sail into the sunset.
The play of Dogmatix can be interesting, deciding whether to retain the chosen card and lose the little canine, or give points to an opponent and retain the mutt. The addition of potion bottles gives each character a distinct flavour - witness the groan when Vitalstatistix, with his 4 bottle 1 value card is randomly selected. The 4 potion 10 card of Asterix is unbeatable.
I do not feel this is as clean a game as 'Hols', but players who have experienced both have agreed that there is more to Asterix (sounds like a soap-powder advert). Although the mechanics are similar, the play is considerably different. A hand takes about 25 minutes to play. I have played it both at home and at work on Christmas Eve, where the Roman 'Crismus Bonus' caused some consternation, as ours had been cancelled. Overall the game is simple enough to play with anyone, but has some quite sophisticated tactics, if only I could figure them out. At £5.95 or less I highly recommend this, although since buying the only two copies in Esdevium Games, I have been unable to find any more and the game has now been confirmed as out of print, though it may re-surface in Germany from FX Schmid. I'd search it out quickly if I were you.
On to the review of The Tour or back to the review of MAI 68.
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