is a clever game of gift-giving and secret goals by Frederic Moyersoen.
Playing Time: 20-30 minutes
Bacchus' Banquet comes with 110 cards and a few other components.
The Cards: These are the heart of the game. There are 93 action cards, which mostly contain gifts to give to other players, 9 guest cards, which say who you are, and 8 privilege cards, which give you special things that you can do. Overall the cards are medium weight with a slight gloss to them. I don't think they'd stand up to constant use, but given that these cards aren't in your hand very often, that's probably fine.
The guest cards simply show a name and picture, while the gift cards for the most part just show a name, picture, and value. The artwork is all by Chris McLoughlin. It's got some nice detail, is slightly cartoony, and overall looks attractive. These cards are all simple to use, offering good utility.
The privilege cards each list a special power that the player can use once during a game. They have a glut of text, and I find them somewhat confusing, mainly in the timing of each card. The utility of the privilege cards should surely have been improved.
Player Mats: Each player gets a player mat which reminds them of the sequence of play and also shows the precise goals of each character. This is an entirely invaluable play aid that makes the game extremely easy to play.
Each player mat also has a "belt" on it, with numbers running from 0 to 10. This is a cute mechanism that's used to assess how much you've eaten. As you eat, you have to pull your belt wider.
Belt Buckle: To go with that, each player gets a belt buckle, a disc with a hole in the middle which you slide out as your belt size increases.
Overall the components of Bacchus' Banquet are clever and attractive. With the exception of the privilege cards, they're also entirely easy to use. On top of that is the fact that the game has a great, enjoyable theme: overeating at Caligula's banquet. It's carried off well not just through the gameplay, but also through the neat belt-buckle mechanism.
As a result I've given Bacchus' Banquet a full "5" out of "5" for Style.
The object of Bacchus' Banquet is to meet your individual goal, which could be collecting gifts, eating certain things, or killing the emperor.
Setup: Each player is given a secret character card, a player mat, and a belt buckle which is initially set to 0.
Caligula, who is always in the game, reveals his card immediately. All the other player cards will remain secret until someone wins. One privilege card is dealt to each player except Caligula, who gets two. (It's good being emperor.)
Player Goals. The player card will determine each player's goal for the game.
- Caligula. Must eat two plates of food and five value of wine or have three other characters die.
- The Three Conspirators. Must have Caligula die or else get three daggers onto the table.
- Caesonia or Agrippina. Must collect three different non-food gifts.
- Claudius. Must eat three plates of food and three value of wine.
- Messalina. Must eat four plates of food and one value of wine.
- Vespasianus. Must eat five plates of food.
Seven cards are dealt face up from the action deck into the center of the table. These represent the first gifts that can be given in the game.
Giving Out Gifts. Bacchus' Banquet is all about giving gifts to your fellow players. On his turn a player takes three of the face-up cards from the center of the table, then places them all face-down (so that only he knows what went where). One card is discarded, one is taken by the gift-giver, and one is given away.
If you're given a gift, you can reject it, instead passing it on to another player. If everyone rejects a gift, it goes back to the original giver, who ends up with two things.
Revealing the Gifts. First, the gift is revealed and its effects applied. Then the gift-giver reveals what he kept, applying it. Finally the discarded card is revealed as well.
Most cards are food or wine. Food has a value of 1-5 and wine has a value of 1-3. This is the number of spaces that the player must increase his belt size. On the bright side, the player now has plates of food or value of wine which might apply to his victory.
Other cards include non-food gifts (which two characters are trying to collect), daggers (which are used to assassinate the emperor if three come out), various ways to decrease your belt size (such as snoozing or ... using a feather), and special cards (like food taster) which can allow you to reject a card given to you in the future.
If you accept a gift, not only do you get that gift, but you also get to become the next gift-giver.
Demanding a Gift. If you fall too far behind the other characters in gift count, you can demand a gift.
Falling Unconscious. If a character's belt size goes above 10, he immediately "falls unconscious". This could trigger victory conditions for Caligula or the conspirators. Otherwise the player draws a new character, throws out all the cards he's taken to date, and begins play again.
Privilege Cards: The privilege cards that each player has add a little bit of strategic nuance to this largely tactical game. You can play your privilege card once. It'll allow you to reject a gift, bounce a gift, swap face-down cards, or something else, depending on the precise card.
Winning the Game: The game is over as soon as someone meets their victory conditions.
Relationships to Other Games
Bacchus' Banquet is a clever, fairly original game. The basic mechanism feels a bit like blind bidding or simultaneous selection, but its blind gifting (as it were) is somewhat different from the others.
Overall, Bacchus' Banquet probably reminds me the most of Bang! because of the hidden roles and varying victory conditions, but Bacchus' Banquet is a faster and more thoughtful game.
The Game Design
Bacchus' Banquet is a fast-playing and enjoyable game.
The whole blind-gifting mechanism works surprisingly well. Everyone seeing what you take, but not where those cards went allows for some fun bluffing. Did you throw the poison out, hoping to get both gifts yourself, or is it floating around, where you hope it will land on another player?
The fact that everyone has secret goals just adds to the enjoyment of the blind gifting. Players are constantly working to guess what everyone else is going for. Clever and subtle hiding of what you're doing can give you a real advantage in the game.
There is definitely some randomness. If you're a conspirator without daggers, for example, there's not a lot you can do. Similarly, the game can be really different if you have one conspirator or three in the game.
However, the bottom line is that the gameplay is a lot of fun. In two of my three games to date, I successfully assassinated Caligula--once with food and once with daggers--and I got a lot of delight out of that. I'm sure you'd feel similarly if you succeeded with other hidden goals.
Combining the solid gameplay with the pure joy factor leads me to give Bacchus' Banquet a full "5" out of "5" for Substance.
Every year I run into one or two filler games which I play the heck out of, and they get my highest recommendation. Bacchus' Banquet is definitely the first such game of the year: a terrific and original filler that plays quickly, yet leaves you feeling satisfied.