Review: 1655 – Habemus Papum

Posted by James (admin) on August 28th, 2012

The theme of selecting a new pope may not be as broadly inspiring as that of pirates or city building, but don’t let this put you off as 1655 Habemus Papum is a surprisingly great game.

Essentially, it’s a bidding game as players blind (simultaneous) bid gems to determine in what order the players will take one of the 4 cards on offer each round.  The goal is to be voted pope at the end of the game which you do by collecting votes.  You start with a few gems which have a strict hierarchy: diamonds, rubies, sapphires and amber in descending order.

Each round 4 cards are on offer – one from each of the 3 decks plus the start player card.  Players secretly put 0-3 gems in their hand and simultaneously reveal.  The player with the most gems (any colours) picks a card first, then the player with the next highest total of gems, etc.  If players are tied on quantity of gems then the quality of the gems is compared – players compare their most valuable gem, then the next and so on.  If players have bid identical gems then the person closest to the start player going clockwise wins the tie.

The cards are cardinals (which give votes and sometimes cash), actions (which let you do things like steal cardinals, or your best gem counts twice for one bid), and political cards (which let you get votes from the King depending upon how many King cards you have, or allow you to buy votes more cheaply at the end of the game depending upon how many of those cards you ave, etc.)  The start card is very important too as not only does it mean you win ties but, even more importantly, you get 1 red, 1 blue and 1 yellow gem plus 1 cash – this is the ONLY way you can get more gems during the game.  Note you can never get more diamonds.

Many cards can be combined to deliver more votes like having 2 cardinals that belong to the same faction.  Also, each player starts the game with 2 secret objective cards that will give them more votes if they fulfil the criteria such as having a set of cardinals with the symbols matching the those on the objective.  Around halfway through the game, the black smoke card will appear and this requires players to discard one of their secret objectives.

The game is played over 18 rounds (which are very short) and in the last few rounds the white smoke card will be drawn and the total votes calculated.  Votes come from cardinals (directly and from combinations), political cards, purchasing votes with cash, your secret objective, etc.  Most votes wins.

Overall, 1665 Habemus Papum is an excellent bidding game.  The bidding mechanic is quick and effective, the limited amount of gems you have makes you really consider what to bid based on the cards on offer each round, and the cards on offer all have their benefits.  Also, the maximum number of gems that can be bid each round (and few available gems) ensures the player feels that they’re not bidding in the dark.

I really liked how taking the start player card was the only way to get new gems as it made the card just as important (often more so) than the other cards on offer.  The combinations of different cards required to squeeze a few more precious votes were well designed as it meant you looked for those synergies (as well as denying other players too), plus every player considered the cards on offer each round from slightly different perspectives based on what cards they already owned.  Also, all cards in the game felt important so even when you didn’t get the card you bid for you still felt like you gained something helpful.

There seemed to be different routes you could follow to maximise points, like gathering lots of King cards for growing amounts of extra votes, or gathering cash and cards which would make buying votes cheaper, etc.  Collecting sets of cardinals that gave the extra votes (in addition to their usual ones) was important too.  However, it felt like you had to mix-and-match these different approaches to gain votes (rather than overload on one route) because you couldn’t just buy the cards you wanted – I liked this because it’s more interesting than one player going the cash route, another going the cardinal route, etc. and ensures player interaction as they go after the same cards because their strategies overlap.

The only item that crossed my mind was that it’s only for 3-4 players which is fine.  I do prefer games that can stretch to 5 players (this would require an extra deck of cards, but I thought maybe a 5th player deck could include a mix of the 3 types of cards).  I also like a game that caters for 2 players but that’s always tricky with a bidding game.  So, whilst I prefer a wider range of number of players, I see why Habemus Papum is 3-4 and am okay with that.

In the end, 1655 Habemus Papum is a game that many people may pass by because of the theme, or because it may seem too small to hold much game.  However, Habemus Papum is a great little game that delivers a lot – lots of interaction, lots of choices and manages to pack it into a short game time.  I shall be looking to add this to my collection some time soon.


[Played with 4 players]

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