Thursday, March 8, 2012

I'm Not Dead Yet: A Rattus Review

  • Designed by Henrik and Åse Berg
  • Published by Z-Man Games
  • Plays 2-4 players
  • Game time is 45 minutes on the box, which actually holds true in real life.

Not to be confused with Ratatouille, the beloved Pixar film, this game features rats in the black plague timeframe.   Now, if you're skeptical of the theme, don't worry too much, the game doesn't really involve rats, just some rat tokens.  The goal of Rattus is to have the most cubes on the board at the end of the game, but this is easier said than done.   There are special power cards which help you do different things, but they are also another way to have cubes removed from the board.  Players must carefully weigh the pros and cons of holding a power, because once taken, the power is yours until someone takes it from you.

The Components in Rattus are good quality.  Each player has a supply of 20 cubes in each of 4 colors - Red, Green, Yellow, Blue.  Green and Blue look rather similar in bad light, so be careful with those, but the cubes do their job.  They're small enough to fit on the board, yet big enough to move around for someone with large hands like myself.  My board suffered some warping, and still doesn't exactly lay flat, but it's not severe enough to be a problem.  The character cards are sturdy cardboard and move around easily.  The rat tokens are prone to accidental flipping, but they are sturdy disks.  There's nothing striking about the components, but they're all fully functional, easily identifiable, and aren't going to break anytime soon. A very sturdy 9/10 on the components.

Here's the game. Get a power if you want one. Put cubes on the board. Move the plague piece. Add new rat tokens to adjacent regions. Conduct the plague in the plague region. Next player's turn.  There's a lot that goes into each step, and there are many strategic choices, but these mechanics are not innovative.  The board set-up works well with the mechanics, and everything goes along smoothly like a well-oiled machine, but it can feel a bit like you're going through the motions.  There isn't that one time where you can do something unexpected and take a huge lead because everyone else can pretty much do the same thing.  There is some luck with what icons show up on the rat tokens, but other than that, the game is almost entirely strategic.  I give these mechanics a solid but bland 6/10.

The interaction in Rattus is fairly direct.  You can steal a power card from any player you want, and you know who has cubes in a region when you move the plague there, so you can target a specific player or players if you really want.  You're not guaranteed to actually hurt them, but you do have the opportunity.  Interaction exists, but it's not a huge factor in the game to me, so a 5/10.

If you hadn't put the dots together to see that Rattus takes place in the middle ages, then here you go.  It's the time of the Bubonic Plague. Disease is everywhere and everyone is doing what they can to avoid it.  Kings hide in their castles, Knights divert the plague the best they can, even Witches use their "powers" to avoid the plague in their own areas.  The theme of Rattus isn't crucial to the gameplay.  It would work as something else, though I'm not sure what. As is, the theme does blend into the gameplay nicely.  The board has an old look to it, the rats are dispersed throughout the game, and things work well.  It's not an amazing theme, but it is different than many other games, so it gets a 7.5/10 for me.

Learning Curve
I give Rattus a Medium Learning Curve.  It isn't an overly complicated game, but it does take a game to see how everything works together.  You have to see the end to understand why the beginning works, and the entire game for that matter.  It also takes time to know what powers to take and which ones not to based on the state of the board.

Why I like Rattus
The theme is different, the gameplay is solid, and most games are fairly close in the final scoring.  To me, those are all things I like to see in any game.

Why I don't Like Rattus
In the base game, there aren't enough power cards to play it often.  This is fixed with the Pied Piper Expansion, but the base game of Rattus is incomplete without that expansion.

Rattus has enough to offer for several game plays even without the expansion.  The dynamics change based on the number of players.  Adding even one new player to the mix will change the way people approach powers, and that gives it some legs.  Still, the options are limited, and the same 6 powers will be in every game.  The expansion changes this and gives 2 additional powers of each type, so you far more variety, which leads to better replayability.

Rattus is a good game.  It made my top 10, but I fear that it's losing it's shine.  I recently acquired the Africanus expansion, so that may get it to the table again, but it seems like the novelty wears off after a bit.  I still like playing the game, but it takes a group who's willing to have some fun with the theme and doesn't mind attacking each other, both directly and indirectly.  It's a solid game, but it's an 8/10 overall for me.

Amusing story
There was one game where one player decided to never take a power card.  She ended up winning the game, which strikes me as a potential flaw to the game.  Perhaps it was just the mix of powers, or that the rest of us attacked each other a bit too much, but it was a little odd to me.  It was a valid strategy that game, but she tried it again and didn't do nearly as well.

Final Thought
Sometimes a game with an odd or unique theme can turn out to be a winner, but not always.  Take your time to examine the mechanics of a game, and make sure that the theme alone isn't a turn-off for you or your game group.  

Want to buy Rattus or an expansion and support BoBG?


  1. I've only played Rattus once, but I loved it! I'm surprised you didn't compare it to Small World, because to me, it's like a shorter version of that game. Maybe I'm just morbid, but the theme was one of the big draws for me :)

  2. Wow, Tahlia... I never made that jump either, but the more I think about it the more it rings true.

    I really enjoyed the theme as well! I think it is a short fun little game that is a stepping stone for players who are over Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. It makes it out for certain groups.