Thanks to Button Shy Games for providing copies of Avingnon: A Clash of Popes and Avignon: Pilgrimage for this review.
Since 2014, Button Shy Games has been pumping out wallet games right and left. These are small games that fit in a custom vinyl wallet. I’ve reviewed several on the blog, and here’s another one:
Avignon: A Clash of Popes is a game designed by John du Bois that was Kickstarted and released by Button Shy games earlier this year. In January, the sequel, which is entitled Avignon: Pilgrimage, will launch on Kickstarter simultaneously with Turbo Drift and Find Your Seats on January 3. Both games are for two players only, and take 10-20 minutes to play. I was sent a published copy of Clash of Popes and a prototype copy of Pilgrimage for this review, and I’ll be reviewing them together as they’re essentially the same game.
Both games come with five map cards and 12 character cards, as well as a reference card and a vinyl wallet. To set up, you’ll put the five map cards in a line in order – Avignon, Nice, Genoa, Florence, and Rome. You’ll then shuffle up the 12 characters you’re using from the game (2 from each faction), and deal five in a line extending below Genoa. Players sit on opposite sides of this line, with one representing Avignon and the other representing Rome. The Rome player will start the game.
On your turn, you will perform two actions (the Rome player will only perform one action on the very first turn of the game). Your actions are chosen from the following four, and you cannot do the same action twice in a turn. Your options are:
- BESEECH: Pull a character card one map space towards you.
- CHASTISE: Push a character card one map space away from you.
- EXCOMMUNICATE: Discard a character card from the board and replace it in the same position with the top card from the deck.
- PETITION: Use the special ability of one of the characters.
You are not allowed to use your entire turn to completely negate the previous player’s actions. You are allowed to negate part of their actions. You are ultimately trying to get three characters past your home city and into your congregation. If you manage this, you win.
Each character has a different special ability. From A Clash of Popes:
- BISHOP: Pull the Bishop towards you, then your opponent may pull any other character towards them.
- CARDINAL: Push the Cardinal away from you, then pull all other characters towards you. This action takes two actions to perform.
- INQUISITOR: Push the Inquisitor away from you, then pull any other character one space towards you, or pull the Cardinal twice.
- KNIGHT: Push two other characters towards your opponent, then pull the Knight two spaces towards yourself.
- NOBLE: You canot petition a Noble. However, if you add a Noble to your congregation while your opponent has a Knight, you win automatically. Conversely, if you have a Noble and a Peasant in your own congregation, you lose automatically.
- PEASANT: Your opponent must push one character of their choice away from them.
Pilgrimage has six new characters, each sharing a faction with one of the base characters. So if a card refers to the Cardinal, for example, you can substitute Nuncio if he’s in your game.
- ASCETIC (Peasant): If the Ascetic ends his turn in Avignon or Rome, he moves back towards Genoa (the center of the map). To petition, your opponent pushes any character towards you, as well as any others that share a faction with it.
- CANONIST (Inquisitor): Switch the position of any two other Characters. Then, push one away and pull one towards you.
- COURTESAN (Knight): Pull a character that is closer to your opponent than the Courtesan.
- NUNCIO (Cardinal): Push Nuncio away, then pull all Characters in the same location as Nuncio.
- SCRIBE (Noble): Push the Scribe away, then push or pull any characters in a path adjacent to the Scribe. If, at the start of your turn, the Scribe is in Genoa, you win if you have two characters in your congregation.
- VICAR (Bishop): Push any Bishop twice. Then you excommunicate any other character, and pull the new character.
COMPONENTS: The cards in Avignon are illustrated with a portrait of the character, a colored banner relating to their faction, and another full body shot that shows them as a game piece. The text is fairly clear, with some symbols used to help you know generally what each card does at a glance, though each card has specifics that are not represented by symbols. The map cards are a little drab, but that’s appropriate for ancient maps. The other side of each map card just has the name of the location, so you can use that if you don’t want to bother with lining up the maps. The wallet is a nice way portable way to carry the game around, and those are always good quality.
My biggest problem with the components is really with the orientation of the cards and their relation to the push and pull symbols. Push is represented by a red arrow pointing to the top of the card, while pull is represented by a green arrow pointing to the bottom of the card. If you’re looking at the card right side up, this is fine – the arrows point in the direction the card would be going. However, if you’re looking at it upside down, it can be confusing. The rules do say you can turn the cards around on your turn, but that’s a hassle to do. I don’t know exactly how you would fix it – the best I can figure is to just come up with different symbols for push and pull.
That being said, the components are all very functional for such a small and portable game. I can see this game being intended as a larger abstract game with pawns to move on a 5×5 grid – the full body shots and cover all show the characters as game pieces, which supports that thought. A grid would probably help with keeping the characters in line as they move around the play space, but I also understand the necessity of keeping things minimal in this wallet game.
THEME: In the game, you are candidates for the papacy in the 14th century, and are trying to maneuver enough influence into your congregation to get the job. It’s not super important to gameplay, but it is a fairly unique theme. The luminaries you’re trying to attract are thematic, and while the game is essentially abstract, the clash of popes is a good framing device. It also has some good basis in history, as the medieval period was a time when the Catholic Church was really starting to exert its power, and there was a lot of manipulation involved in getting to the office of Pope.
MECHANICS: Avignon is really a game of tug-of-war. You’re trying to pull people over to your side in order to get them into your congregation while your opponent is doing the same thing. A rule is in place that you cannot completely negate your opponent’s turn, which is important because otherwise you could do exactly what the other player did and never get anywhere. The rule that you cannot do the same action twice in a turn is also an important one because it prevents you from just pulling someone twice. The petition abilities often give you that second pull, but usually at a cost of allowing your opponent to do something or making you push someone else away.
Pilgrimage does not change any of the base mechanics from A Clash of Popes. What it does is add rules for combining the sets. The important thing when combining is making sure there are exactly six different factions represented. So you can use both cards of one character per faction, or randomly select two of the four cards from each faction, or have players each select which character from each faction they want to use and combine.
Avignon has simple rules, with only four possible actions you can take on a turn and the ability to only do two of them. Everything works fairly smoothly, and the petition abilities all seem to be fairly well balanced.
STRATEGY LEVEL: There is some luck in the distribution of characters on the map, but after that, this game is all strategy. You have to think a few moves in advance and make sure that you’re not putting your opponent into a good position as you set your own traps. This aspect is a lot like chess (although not nearly as complex). A friend of mine also compared the game to Guildhall in that there are only six cards in play, and each with its own ability that has a usefulness that may not be immediately apparent. Discovering how to use each card is a very fun aspect of the game. With only four action types available, there are a surprising amount of decisions that need to be made, and it can make your brain do some gymnastics trying to work out what you need to do.
ACCESSIBILITY: While Avignon is not complex in terms of mechanics, it still is not the easiest game to play. There is some depth there, and it’s different enough that people who don’t play many hobby games might have some difficulty picking up the nuances. At the same time, I think everyone CAN get it, it just may take some people longer than others.
REPLAYABILITY: On its own, I think Avignon would get a little stale after a while. I think there’s some good replayability as the cards will come out in different configurations and as you search for the best way to maneuver them. However, there are just six cards there. Adding Pilgrimage increases the replayability of the system by a lot because now there are 12 cards, and you can mix and match.
SCALABILITY: It’s only a two-player game, and I can’t imagine it doing well with other numbers. Someone proposed a three-player variant on BGG, but I haven’t tried it out. It works fine with two.
INTERACTION: The interaction in Avignon comes from trying to manipulate the cards to make sure the right ones get in your congregation. This means that you’ll need to try to predict your opponent’s moves and lay traps in order to get what you want. The interaction is not direct, but you are definitely influencing your opponent as you move.
FOOTPRINT: Avignon doesn’t take up a whole lot of space on the table, but you will need an area that could fit a 5×6 grid of cards. A smallish table should be fine, though it’s too big for an airplane tray.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I do like Avignon and would recommend it to anyone looking for a light abstract-ish game that can be carried in your pocket. And I’d go so far as to say go ahead and get both sets, A Clash of Popes and Pilgrimage. Having 12 different characters increases the variability and the chance to discover different combos. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Kickstarter, coming this January.
Thanks again to Button Shy for providing review copies of Popes and Pilgrimage, and thanks to you for reading!