A plague of rats has never been so fun!
So, what’s the deal with Rattus?
The rulebook introduces the game: “Europe, 1347. A disaster is about to strike.” That disaster, of course, is the Black Death, and players struggle to keep their population alive while the plague runs its course.
What makes Rattus special?
Rattus brings about one of my favorite feelings in a game – that of struggle against seemingly overwhelming odds. When a plague strikes, you just hope against all odds that one or two of your people in the ravaged region will survive.
The main mechanism driving the gameplay is a clever risk/reward system in which the choices that would otherwise be most advantageous also come with increased susceptibility to the plague.
Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?
The game takes place on a map of medieval Europe, with the map size scaling based on number of players. Each region starts the game with one rat token, though the rats spread quickly, and along with the rats, so does the Black Death.
I love how streamlined the gameplay is. On your turn, three things happen:
First, you may choose to take one of six class cards – the King, Knight, Merchant, Monk, Peasant, and Witch all provide special abilities to the player who currently controls them. Players can hold multiple class cards, but each increases the risk of having your pieces struck by the plague.
Next, you must place new cubes, representing your population, on the board. Choose a region and add one cube to that region for each rat token in that region.
Finally, you must move the forboding Plague Piece. The region to which the Plague Piece is moved is then ravaged by the plague. First, the rats multiply, and then the rats are turned over one by one, killing people in the region until either there are no rats or no people remaining.
The back side of a rat token shows two things. At the top is the limit for this rat – if the population of the plagued region is equal to or higher than this limit, then some population is going to be lost. The rest of the token shows who is lost – each class has a symbol, and if this symbol appears on the back of a rat token, then the player controlling this class must remove one cube from the afflicted region. Furthermore, for each M on the back of the token, the player with the most cubes in the region must remove one, and for each A on the back of the token, all players must remove one cube from the region.
The game ends either when all rats are gone, or when a player has all of his or her cubes on the board at the end of the turn – though the rulebook notes that the latter condition is quite rare!
I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?
This is a great game for anyone who enjoys the tension of trying to balance maintaining a strong advantage while trying to mitigate the risks associated with this growth – not the least of which is becoming a target for your fellow players. It plays quickly and there is a lot to consider when deciding where and how to expand, and whether or not the benefit of taking a class card is worth the additional population loss during the plague (not to mention relieving an opponent of this drawback!).
Unfortunately, the theme only feels halfway there. When the rats spread and population dies, the theme is very strong and it feels like a game of survival through the plague. However, the fact that players add new population cubes to the board every turn also feels like growth – and considering that the population of Europe was halved during the Black Death, that feels at odds with the game’s theme. For players who enjoy investing heavily in a theme, this may be a barrier.
The game has a lot of strategy in a small package and while it is easily to explain the rules in such a way that anyone can play, it is a bit more opaque in terms of strategy; that is, it’s a little tough to see how to manipulate all the parts of the game into a successful strategy. As such, it may be a little frustrating as an introduction to hobby board gaming, but is a rewarding choice for players familiar with games that ask you to explore in order to find strategies.
Players: 2-4 (recommended for 3-4)
Time: 45 minutes
Game Elements: Risk Management, Survival