Avignon: A Clash of Popes [Micro]

Base price: $12.
2 players.
Play time: 10 – 20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy directly!
Logged plays: 6

Full disclosure: A review copy of Avignon: A Clash of Popes was provided by Button Shy.

You know? Sometimes, I’m late to the party. That’s just kind of the nature of board game reviewing, I think; it’s nigh-impossible to play every game that comes out, even if I just limit myself to a small subset of publishers. There are thousands of games, every year, forever, I guess. I mean, you could make a career as a reviewer just covering MONOPOLY variants, and that’s a completely valid way to live your life. Not my scene personally, but the Animal Crossing: New Horizons MONOPOLY has been catching my eye for some time now. But I digress, a bit. As is usual for the first half or so of a year, I have a stack of new (to me) Button Shy titles that I’ve been playing through, and I’ve been looking forward to sharing my thoughts with y’all! I covered Adder, the first of those, a little while ago, so let’s get into another one! This time, we’re covering Avignon: A Clash of Popes, from John du Bois! Nice dude, also made a really fascinating game called Heading Forward recently; worth checking out if you haven’t heard of it.

In Avignon, a Clash of Popes, the year is 1378, and much to your personal chagrin, someone has contested your claim to being Pope! That just won’t do (except for all the times that it did, but we don’t have time to get into Catholic history). You could talk it out, but again, 1378; that’s not how we solve problems right now. Instead, you need to gather influence among Christians the world over (… mostly Europe, but, again, 1378) to essentially achieve a papal mandate and claim St. Peter’s throne for yourself. In Avignon, this is done via an abstract card game in which characters are pulled between Avignon and Rome, with each player occupying a side. You can push them towards your opponent, pull them towards yourself, replace them with other cards, or even use their special abilities, but you’ll need to get at least three into your congregation in order to win! Just be careful, as some characters come with special win (or loss) conditions. Will you be able to install yourself as the closest person to God in all of Catholicism? Or will you just end up leading another failed schism of the church?

Overall: 7.5 / 10

Overall, I enjoyed Avignon: A Clash of Popes! I’ll admit, we didn’t quite “get” the game at first, but it grew on us! One place that we struggled a bit was with some of the iconography. We had an entire game where I thought I won if I took the Noble and the Peasant and my opponent thought they won if I took the Noble and the Peasant (due to, tragically, me misreading the iconography on the card about win conditions; I only saw the “crown” and not the “rival” symbol). This, among other things, led to a few hiccups in our early play. Like most games that use some iconography as shorthand, this is a thing you stop seeing as much after multiple plays. Ideally, the iconography doesn’t lead to hiccups at all, but icons are a bit notorious in that they work really well for some folks and poorly for others. There’s also a bit of a challenge around card orientation; it would be nice if the cards were double-sided in some way that would allow both player sitting on either side of the play area to read them more easily. The rulebook says you’ll kind of not need that, again, once you’ve played a few games, but it makes those first few games more challenging when only one player can read the card without messing with it, especially in a game where the cards’ relative placement can matter a lot. You don’t want a player picking up a card to rotate it and placing it back down in the wrong spot!

That all said, I found many parts of Avignon clever and charming. As a (somewhat lapsed) Catholic, I do have a soft spot for Catholicism-themed games, especially ones that get into the always-dramatic process of choosing a new pope. Antipopes and schisms and that weird period of French popes are always funny to me, so seeing a game about that is great. Love to see it. I also like how modular the game is; one mild complaint that I had was that I wanted a bit more from the game, and I’m pleased to see that there are expansions upon expansions upon reimplementations of both the core game and the core game’s system, so, I’m looking forward to / hoping to try more of those in the future and see how they mix in with the core game. It’s a very clever concept and du Bois and Button Shy did a great job packing a solid amount of strategy into a very small set of cards. Honestly, Avignon feels like pretty classic Button Shy at its finest; a lot going on, a lot more to add, and still a game you can fit in your back pocket. I’m glad that Avignon grew on us as well as it did; I’m always looking for more two-player games for my stash (and wallet games for my now impossible pile of wallet games; maybe one day ShyCon West will happen). If you’re a fan of two-player abstract strategy, you enjoy a bit of influence and control, or you just really want to be pope (either for the hat reasons or the dressing-like-Rihanna-at-the-Met-Gala reasons, no judgment), I’d recommend taking Avignon: A Clash of Popes for a spin! I’ve solidly enjoyed playing it.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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