Rome wasn’t built in a day, but in Mosaic you can build your own ancient civilization in just a couple of hours.
In “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding project. Mosaic: A Story of Civilization was originally funded on Kickstarter in June 2021, and has been shipping to backers this past month. The retail edition is in stores, but the deluxe edition was only available through the Kickstarter campaign. Forbidden Games has launched a new campaign today for another chance at the deluxe version and the new expansion, Wars & Disasters. This review will cover the gameplay for the base game and a look at the deluxe edition.
What Is Mosaic: A Story of Civilization?
Mosaic: A Story of Civilization is a civilization-building game for 1 to 6 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 90 to 120 minutes to play. The regular edition retails for $69.99 and is in stores now; the current Kickstarter campaign is another opportunity to get the deluxe edition for $179. Although it’s a big game and somewhat lengthy, the gameplay itself did not feel overly complex and I think kids with some gaming experience would be able to handle it, as long as they enjoy playing longer games and the historical setting.
Mosaic: A Story of Civilization was designed by Glenn Drover and published by Forbidden Games, with illustrations by Annie Stegg Gerard, Grzegorz Pedrycz, Jessica Riola, Hendrik Noack, and Erica Rossi.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
Mosaic: A Story of Civilization Components
Forbidden Games provided a copy of the deluxe game—known as the Colossus Edition—but I will note the differences between the two versions. Here’s what comes in the retail edition:
- Game Board
- Starting Player token
- 150 Resource tokens:
- 50 Food (30 1-value, 20 5-value)
- 50 Stone (30 1-value, 20 5-value)
- 50 Ideas (30 1-value, 20 5-value)
- 100 Coins:
- 30 $1 coins
- 30 $5 coins
- 30 $10 coins
- 10 $20 coins
- 6 Player boards
- 105 Technology cards
- 38 Build cards
- 20 Population cards
- 20 Tax & Tariff cards
- 4 Empire Scoring cards
- 9 Leader cards
- 9 Wonder tiles
- 9 Golden Age tiles
- 15 Civilization Achievement tiles
- 6 Government tiles
- 28 Cache tokens
- 68 Trade Good tokens
- 80 “X” Trade Good tokens
- 6 Sets of Player components, each including:
- 12 Cities
- 3 Port Cities
- 6 Farm Towns
- 6 Manufactory Towns
- 10 Infantry
- 10 Cavalry
- 2 Siege Engines
- 17 Small Population tokens
- 5 Large Population tokens
- 10 cubes
In the Colossus Edition, the player boards are dual-layered. It includes all of the above, with the following additions:
- Wooden Start Player token
- Wooden Resource tokens
- Metal coins (Note: there are fewer metal coins than the cardboard coin count)
- Plastic miniatures for the cities and towns, military units, and population
- Score Track board
- Score pad
- Plastic storage trays
- Extra Rulebook
- Extra Player aids
- Herobotus cards (for solo game)
Both boxes are pretty large, but the Colossus Edition really lives up to its name: the box is comparable to Gloomhaven, both wider and longer but not quite as deep. The retail edition isn’t as big because it doesn’t need to accommodate all of the plastic miniatures and extra trays for those.
There is also a “Sphinx” edition on the Kickstarter campaign for $99 that is somewhere between the retail and the Colossus, though I don’t know exactly what the differences are there. It has the same box artwork as the Colossus edition rather than the standard red-bordered box cover that looks more similar to other Forbidden Games titles.
Clear your table, because you’re going to need every inch of it, especially if you have the Colossus Edition with the additional score track board and all those trays. The main board itself includes space for the various card markets, as well as a mosaic map of the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
The cardboard tokens are pretty thick, and in the retail edition you’ve got 12 full sheets to punch out. Four of these included the various tiles and the trade goods that are also used in the deluxe version, but I didn’t punch the rest. I will note that I appreciated the way it was packaged—the cardboard sheets extend beyond the top of the box, so that once you punch everything and discard the sheets, the box lid actually fits on the box properly.
The Colossus Edition replaces all of the player tokens with plastic miniatures, which has advantages and disadvantages. The models of the cities and towns are very fun, and the 3D effect on the board is excellent. However, the solid-color miniatures can be a little harder to distinguish than the illustrated tiles; the city has a large wall around it, but the port city and the two towns can be harder to tell apart at a glance. (The cardboard tokens have text labels on one side, and just the artwork on the other.) The population miniatures are just used as a resource on your player board and look like a worker carrying a sack of grain—digging through your plastic tray for these (among all the military units) can be a bit of a pain, but spreading all your miniatures out on the table for easy sorting takes up a lot of room.
I did like the way that each player color (which represents a particular civilization) has unique military units both for the infantry and the cavalry, both on the illustrated cardboard tokens and in the plastic miniatures. I do prefer the miniatures for the military, because the figures stand out on the map more than a stack of tokens does.
The cards themselves are a mixed bag: the biggest deck is the technology deck, and all of the cards are unique, both in name and illustration, even if some have similar effects. The build cards are where you’ll find cities and towns and projects; the projects are unique, but cities and towns use the same set of illustrations even when they have different effects or names. The population and tax & tariff decks are mostly the same thing throughout with just some variations on the actual numbers. So it’s mostly the technology deck that feels exciting to look at, and the rest of the cards are serviceable but not especially exciting to look at. I know the game is going for that ancient civilization look, but the tan-colored papyrus background starts to be a bit much.
I had a few nitpicks with some of the specific cards, things that primarily affect you when you’re learning the game. Some cards or tiles have “Unrest” values at the bottom—taxing your population causes unrest, but building the Hanging Gardens wonder lowers unrest. However, the negative sign is very hard to see, so until you look at a card up close, you might think that a card causes unrest when it actually mitigates it. (Generally, only tax & tariff cards raise unrest, and everything else that shows unrest lowers it.) Also, there are a few cards that let you claim specific trade goods from the map—however, the card just lists the good by name, and the trade goods themselves are only images with no names. It’s pretty obvious which one is “fish,” but “bronze” is less so. It would have been nice just to have an image of the trade good itself right there on the card.
I mentioned above that each player color is a different civilization. For instance, purple is Greece and yellow is Egypt. While there isn’t any difference in gameplay, I do like that each player board has unique artwork across the top, along with the unique military units. (Where the players will differ is in the Leader cards, but I’ll get to that in the How to Play section.)
The Colossus Edition includes several plastic trays: there are two that hold the resources (so you can set one on each side of the board for easier access for everyone), one that holds most of the cards and tokens, and then one for each player for all of their plastic miniatures. The individual player trays had an amusing mistake: the lid has “How to Play Mosaic” (from the rulebook cover) embossed on it rather than just the game logo—of course this doesn’t affect gameplay or storage, but it’s unfortunate it wasn’t caught before production.
The extra rulebooks and player aid cards in the deluxe edition were a nice touch. When you’re learning a game like this, it’s not uncommon for somebody to want to look up something or double-check a rule, sometimes without alerting other players to their plans. Having two copies of the rulebook just makes it easier to share!
Most of the deluxe edition components are upgrades—things that can make the game fancier but aren’t totally necessary to play the game. However, it does seem odd that only the deluxe edition includes a score track and a scoresheet pad, and the retail edition has neither. I’m not sure how you’re meant to track your score otherwise, because there are three main scoring periods during the game, some end-game scoring, but also a few opportunities to score points during the game from certain technology cards. The other thing that’s only in the deluxe edition is the cards for the solo game—not something that everyone will want, but it means that people would be forced to get the more expensive version if they wanted to play solo.
How to Play Mosaic: A Story of Civilization
You can download a copy of the rulebook here. I haven’t played the solo game myself, but it uses a set of Herobotus cards that simulate a second player, taking actions based on a sort of flowchart on the card and using another set of cards to determine random locations for the actions. I will only be covering the multiplayer game in this section.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by advancing your civilization: controlling regions, building cities and towns and wonders, developing technologies, and various other achievements.
Each player gets a player board and all the corresponding components. Place 5 population on the top of your player board, and use cubes to track the production levels of your three resources, as well as your tax and tariff levels. Shuffle the starting technology cards (marked with an “S”) and deal 5 to each player, and shuffle any remaining starting technology cards into the rest of the deck.
The main board is set up with the four decks of cards: each will use a particular number of cards depending on player count, plus an empire scoring card shuffled into a particular portion of it. These are placed onto the board, and then a number of cards are revealed to form a market for each card type. The government tiles are placed in the section on the board, and the wonders and golden age tiles are set nearby. The civilization achievement tiles are shuffled, and 9 are chosen at random to use, with the others returned to the box.
Note that in a 2- or 3-player game, some regions of the map are not used.
The map is seeded with cache and resource tokens. Each port hex gets a fish token, and each hex that has a compass rose icon gets a cache token at random. The rest of the hexes get random trade good tokens—and then all of the tokens that show an “X” are removed, resulting in a random distribution of goods across the map, with a lot of empty spaces.
Choose a starting player and give them the starting player marker. In reverse turn order, each player chooses a Leader card. Leader cards may affect your starting resources or production levels, as well as providing some special abilities.
Players then draft starting technology cards: pick one to keep, pass the rest; continue doing this until you have picked 5 starting cards. Most starting technology cards do not have prerequisites; you may play any that you’re able to play, setting them face-up in front of you and performing their effects if applicable.
In turn order, each player chooses a starting location for their first city. If you place a city on a cache token, you collect the resources shown and discard the token. If you place the city on a trade good, take the token and place it on your player board.
On your turn, you take one action—all of them are printed in spaces on the board, even if there are no cards associated with them. Cards taken from the market are always refilled immediately, and there are some basic versions of those actions available in some cases when the cards run out. Choose from the following:
- Work: Produce one resource type
- Population: Increase population
- Build: Build a city, town, or project
- Wonder: Construct a wonder
- Technology: Discover a technology
- Tax & Tariff: Gain money from population (tax) or trade goods (tariff)
- Military: Recruit units and/or move them
- Government: Create a government
Working produces food, stone, or ideas, based on your current population plus your production level for that resource.
To increase your population, take a card from the board, pay the amount of food indicated at the bottom, and gain the amount of population shown and place it on your board.
You can always build a city or town without taking a card, but taking a card from the build market provides additional benefits. A city costs 4 stone and 2 population; then add money from the supply to the holding area—$5 for regular cities, and $10 for port cities, which can only be built on port hexes. Towns must be built adjacent to your existing cities, but there is no resource cost. Finally, you can build a project for 5 stone and 5 ideas if a card is available—projects will give you points at the end of the game for a particular pillar of civilization icon.
Wonders are big constructs like the pyramids or the Library of Alexandria, and each has its own effects and point value. Your first wonder costs 20 stone and 5 food, and the costs increase by 5 stone and 5 food for each additional wonder you build. Place the wonder token on the board, and take the corresponding wonder tile and place it by your player board.
Whenever you build a city or town or wonder, you collect the token it’s placed on, if any.
To take a technology card, pay 5 ideas and choose any of the technology cards from the market. Some technology cards have a prerequisite: you must have the matching icons somewhere on your existing cards (technology, cities, towns, project, leader) to play the card. You may play the card right away if you have the prerequisites, or you may save a card to play later (as a free action on your turn). Technology cards do not have an effect or provide their pillar icons until played.
If you run out of resources, it’s time to tax & tariff. Take one of the face-up cards and follow its instructions. Taxing is based on your population and your tax level; tariffs are based on the number of unique trade goods you have and your tariff level. You also gain any money that is currently in the holding area. Tax & Tariff cards also include unrest, which is negative points at the end of the game. Coins can be used for any resource, but are only worth half as much; for example, you could spend $10 as 5 ideas when taking a technology card.
Hiring military units costs $5 per unit, and you may recruit up to 2 per turn, placing them into a single region where you have at least one city. Military units do not take up specific hex spaces—they just occupy a region of the map, so you can set them to the side. You may also pay to move units: each unit costs $1 to move, and may move to one adjacent region.
If you have the required pillars of civilization, why not start a government? (What could go wrong?) You may choose any of the available government tiles and pay the indicated cost in ideas to take a tile. You may only have one government at a time, so if you have one already you return it. Each government tile provides some additional ways to score points during empire scoring, and some also provide additional effects. Also, a government tile may be used once during the game to clear and refill one of the card markets during your turn; flip the tile over to indicate that you’ve used it.
There are two types of awards you can earn on your turn.
Golden Age tiles represent the 9 different pillars of civilization, the icons present on many of the cards. If you’re the first to reach 6 of a particular icon, then you take the corresponding Golden Age tile. Each tile is worth 6 points, but also provides an immediate bonus.
The civilization achievements have varying requirements, from reaching 12 tax production (Well-Governed Civilization) to gaining 15 technology cards (Scientific Civilization). If you’re the first to reach the required benchmark, take the tile, which is worth 6 points.
In each of the decks, there is an empire scoring card. When it is revealed, the active player completes their turn, and then empire scoring takes place.
For each region on the board, calculate each player’s influence:
- 1 influence per military unit
- 2 influence per city or wonder
- 1 influence per town
- Bonus influence from certain technologies
The player with the highest influence in a region scores 3 points, plus an additional point for every city and wonder in that region (regardless of owner). The player with the second highest influence scores 2 points.
If you have a government tile, it will have additional scoring conditions each time empire scoring occurs.
The game end is triggered when either of these conditions is met:
- The third empire scoring takes place
- 2 of the tile stacks—wonders, civilization achievements, Golden Age—have run out
If either occurs, finish the current round, and then play one more full round.
You will then add final scoring:
- 2 points for every city
- 1 point for every town
- Points for wonders according to the tiles
- 6 points for each Golden Age or civilization achievement tile
- Points for Projects based on pillar icons you own
- Points for some technology cards
- 5 points for each manufactory town card if you have acquired the three trade goods shown on the card
- Lose points for any unrest
The highest score wins, with ties going to the player with the most wonders, and then the player with the most money.
Why You Should Play Mosaic: A Story of Civilization
Mosaic: A Story of Civilization is a solid civ-building game that is surprisingly easy to learn. I generally don’t gravitate toward civ-building games, in part because many of them seem overly long and complicated. While Mosaic is not a short game—I haven’t gotten a 4-player game in under 2 hours yet because I’ve still been teaching it to new players—it’s a game that moves quickly and smoothly so I didn’t feel bogged down.
A lot of that is due to the fact that you only get a single action on your turn. Some turns will take longer than others, of course, especially if you’re also gaining an achievement or trying to decide exactly where to build that wonder, but for the most part turns are brief, and in many instances you can announce your action, start resolving it, and the next player can go. Adding population, gaining money from tax & tariff, working to produce resources, selecting a government tile are all actions that generally don’t affect the next player immediately (unless they’re doing the same thing and need to wait for the government tiles, for instance). I can definitely see the game speeding up once players are more familiar with it, though I imagine a 6-player game could drag a little more.
For the most part, the setup isn’t too difficult, either, especially if you have the resource trays and can just set them out on the table. The most tedious part is the trade goods: flipping nearly 150 tokens face-down so you can mix them up, then placing them all over the map, then flipping them face-up, and then removing more than half of them … I understand why it’s done, because it means both the resource type and exact locations are randomized each time you play, but it’s the most fiddly part of this game and I wish there were a way to zip past it.
Even if you’re playing with the retail edition and you don’t have the extra score track board, you need a lot of table space for Mosaic. Aside from the main board, player boards, and player components, each player will also have a growing tableau of build cards and technology cards. Since it’s important to see which pillars icons you’ve collected, you can’t just stack your cards in one pile, either—they need to be splayed out with at least the icons showing. The majority of technology cards have either immediate one-time use effects when played, or have end-game scoring, but some (like the military tech) have ongoing effects, so in those cases you need to have the text showing as well. I’ve played 4-player games on my fairly large game table and it was pushing the limits; with a full 6 players we may have needed to set the player trays off the table and grab them when needed.
The game allows for different approaches for scoring, initially driven by your starting hand of technology and your leader. The rulebook even includes some suggested strategy for each of the leaders, listing what types of government work well, which wonders to pursue, and what types of technology to develop. You’re not locked into these by any means, but they help you to see the types of combos to look for while you play. The particular set of civilization achievements can also push strategy one way or another.
It’s fun to figure out how to build up your engine. Do you make a lot of food so you can increase your population so you can just tax them and use money in place of stone and ideas? Do you ramp up idea production so you can develop a lot of new technology and try to get your resources through that instead of taking the work action?
But don’t forget—it’s not just about building an engine, but actually scoring points. You can get end-game points by building cities and wonders, building projects and collecting the right pillars of civilization, and getting those Golden Age awards. Empire scoring, on the other hand, is less predictable because it happens when the cards turn up—you have a rough estimate but there’s no exact timing. What’s interesting is that the more players take the same card action, the sooner empire scoring will happen. If everyone is building a lot of towns and cities, you’ll run out the build deck and hit that card. The technology deck is huge, but if several players are all pursuing tech, you may yet reach that scoring card. So far in the games I’ve played, people have been a little shy about tax & tariff so we haven’t hit that empire scoring yet, but I can see how that could change given different circumstances. After all, if everyone is taxing their people and earning unrest, it doesn’t feel like such a big penalty.
For empire scoring, you want to dominate regions, and there’s an arms race that happens. Everything you put into a region contributes to your influence—but because those cities and wonders and towns increase the point value for the winner, you have to be careful. If you build a lot but not quite enough, then you’ve actually helped your opponent by giving them more points for the region!
Some leaders and technology combinations will lend themselves to expansion—you want to spread out in as many areas as possible. Others may reward turtling. A friend of mine managed to score really well by focusing on one region: the Hanging Gardens score points for each adjacent city, and the Colossus of Rhodes scores points for each city in the region. Building a ring of cities around the garden not only made both wonders incredibly valuable, but it discouraged anyone else from even attempting to build in the region because it would just be more free points for that player.
Dominating regions isn’t the only way to score points, either. Government tiles provide another way to earn points during empire scoring. Also, since government tiles let you wipe a card market and refill, you can try to dig for an empire scoring card to accelerate the game.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with Mosaic and look forward to playing it more. I don’t know if I would call it innovative—I don’t feel like there were mechanics that took me by surprise—but it just feels really well-constructed, with things clicking into place and allowing you to think about tactics instead of a big set of rules instead. I think in particular it may be a good intro to civ-building games for those who, like me, have felt a bit intimidated by them before. Now I just need to find a place on my shelf to put the enormous box…
One final note: the upcoming expansion, Wars & Disasters, adds a bit of everything: new wonders, new technology, new build options for towns. Some of the biggest changes seem to be the addition of naval units to the military, and special abilities tied to each nation that will add some more asymmetry to your starting setup. There are also the new disaster cards that will wreak havoc on your civilization if you aren’t prepared.
For more information about the deluxe edition or the new expansion, visit the Mosaic Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.