When the buyers came to my inn, I knew right away, that they are pulling my leg. Their cover was blown in just a few minutes. They threw out my brother, saying he did not fit into the store. I decided to give them a lesson. I made them a good pint of beer and hide in the back. In a moment, a little man wrapped in a hood entered the tavern. No one would recognize of one of my cooks in the shadows. With an unsteady walk, he reached the table with the merchants, shaking hands pointed at them and promised them hell fires. Looks on fading faces of all the scammers were really worth it.
But we will not laugh at them. We’re going to be one of those burned-up buyers in Mea Culpa board game. This is our battle, juggling between heaven and hell, designed by authors Rüdinger Kopf and Klaus Zoch. Franz Vohwinkel took care of the illustration and whole game was released in 2016 under hell colors of Zoch Verlag.
Big square box shows four cocky buyers on it, flooded with wealth, but also with other characters. These are the devil minions, looking for greatest sinner suitable for hell flames. Inside, players find a big game board that has heaven in one corner and hell in the opposite direction. On the way between them is the path of sin, somewhere in the center is position numbered zero. As soon as the players choose their color, they will place their own soul piece.
Players then take a screen to hide 25 taler (money). On the contrary, they place one cardboard box in front of themself publicly. It has to be first bulit after opening of the box, creating one carved (but still cardboard) column. It is almost round and on its six sides, it offers different numbers of the mentioned notches. Rivals also receive a set of seven stones of sins and they can choose one of the four bonuses – money, raw materials (jewelry, bread and glass) and letter tile.
On the game board, the setup begins with placement of tokens of sin lairs – one for lust, the other for lamentation and the third for small sins. Four figures belong to the builder’s house and four rooms are revealed from the shuffled deck of pleasures. All other tiles: letters and cathedral figures remain lying beside the plan, while the goods cubes and stones of indulgence are poured into a canvas bag.
Each of the multiple rounds consists of four phases. The first one is preparatory and includes first drawing seven cubes, which players place according to their color on the sales booths. In the center of the square on the map, players will find space for four character tiles to put here including their equipment – a dice for the pope and one builder for the ruler. In the following rounds, they replenish offer of home of treats.
Players will first participate in the joint auction. They will secretly select the number of coins they are willing to sacrifice to bribe the favor of one of the characters. Money will be forfeited to all, who vote. The only exception is a player who, at the same time, selects the highest value on the column with notches. This one can take his bet back. Marks are not used at this moment, but they will affect the course later. In turn, according to their offers, players will gradually pick up characters one each.
Person not only brings a small advantage to the player right from the start (for example, moving the builder to any building of the cathedral), but primarily determines sequence of actions. Players alternate and have a choice of four options. They can buy dice or cubes for their finances, according to the current (auctioned) offer of cubes on the store. The same resource cubes can be sold later at any time with profit or be donated to the chest. There, a player can select any compartment without showing it to others.
Last action is the chance to visit the house of pleasures. The player can choose any of the six positions – four common rooms and two suites. Each card will give its owner some advantages, although he does not know its identity and can turn the card only after choosing. At the same time, however, a payment for this visit in the form of a pillar rotation also has to be made. Rotating it towards more slots. Pleasure cards then enable you to obtain finance, place stones of sin, move on scales of heavens and hell, and more.
But the pope is coming in this house incognito. The secret number on the cube indicates the place you chose. The player closest to hell can try to save himself from the flames and catch the highest man of the church in the act. He will try to guess, what room he has chosen to visit. The correct tip of the pope means, its moved one space towards damnation.
Once everyone has played their action, it is time to compare current slots position, that could have increased throughout the round (even at the start of the round, slots must not be reset!). The player in the role of a merchant, who has slots shifted the most must move his figure a few steps toward hell. The distance is determined by the difference between the highest and lowest number of notches on the column shown on all players markers.
Throughout the course of the game, soul of the players gradually move towards hell almost with no going back. As players sin in an effort to make the most of their property, they want to be as little sinful as possible. Fences of sins get a number of stones for every such dishonorable act from players reserve. As soon as three stones of the pope move to one single sinner, the remaining two are immediately punished. For every stone, which player has near such a sin, he has to move his soul towards hell. Then they will take their stones back.
When choosing the right role, players can also send laborers to work on the cathedral building. First, two workers are required to build the first part. It is already marked with a wooden figure of the building. Then you can send another pair to complete the construction. This will cause the whole match to be interrupted and donations slipped into the common chest during the match is being evaluated. Each player reveals the contents of their number one compartment and evaluates gifts. These are divided into three groups and letters of indulgence are always distributed for the victory in that category.
Game ends, when the second cathedral is finished. Players will then be able to move their souls towards heaven for each letter of indulgence they got. And that’s eight spaces! For every other letter that did not made a couple, player could advance another space and run away from the flames of the hell even more. The one, who has reached paradise or closest to it is the winner.
Mea Culpa will get your attention with its theme right away. Players are here to avoid hell, to mow goodness and advance towards the gates of heaven. But from time to time, you have to cheat a little and give yourself up to the devil’s lust. And it’s not easy at all to balance it. In the beginning, it seems that everyone will fall into hell, because they have to sin too much. But they are also trying to get letters of indulgences to help them escape from the kettle at the end.
There’s a lot of tricky actions, that allow you to harm your opponents. And thanks to pleasure cards, they come in variety of effects. Another level of direct hostility is also an auction, where players always lose their savings. Position by bids will only determine the order, in which characters can be chosen. And so it is possible, that somebody later in turn might even get role he desires. Here’s it all a bit about luck.
Game is simple in terms of progress, but the rules themselves do not quite indicate this. Unfortunately, their length and complexity can discourage a lot of beginners, though they could certainly fight for their place in heaven or hell. It could be written a lot easier and more accessible.
Idea and theme behind whole game is very tempting. The very course of the game is really special although it all depends on the initial auction of the role. At the same time, the game also uses very interesting six-sided pillars to mark the slots. You then calculate their notches and put some of the players into the purgatory. But the theme is not everything and gameplay itself is a bit shallow. Players have only one reasonable way to get points and there are not enough roles to choose from.
In lower numbers, rivals have to cope with some roll changes. By adding these rules for lower numbers, game loses a great deal of clarity and experience, so the only reasonable number for the battle between heaven and earth is four.
Game is definitely fascinating with its colorful processing. It’s obvious, that it does not mean anything seriously. At the same time, the box contains several interesting space takers that make it stan dout – both gift boxes and multi-sided columns.
Mea Culpa is a game that is not interesting enough for experienced, but at the same time it remains too complex for beginners. Tiny rules complicate the explanation and this does not cause much justification for the game time of 45 minutes. Mea Culpa is therefore, in the end, interesting mainly for its theme, but otherwise it is more of an average creation.
Mea Culpa is a fairly simple game, but the rules remain surprisingly complex. This made the game fade away from both target groups and remain somewhere in between. That's why it will be harder for it to find some fans. Players always make use of some of the roles in the game, then they sin, and they also try to make use of the action from the hellish shovels. Unfortunately, the course itself is not interesting enough, and in lesser numbers uses editing rules. Mea Culpa attracted us with the theme, but disappointed with the gameplay.