Another day, another museum-themed game, hot on the heels of our recent review of The Curators (Worldshapers).
In Houses of Knowledge (Two Red Squares), players will be building exhibits which generate income which allow them to buy more items to exhibit and increase their income and end-game scoring. It costs money to acquire each of the types of room for your museum and to buy items. Once you've bought them from the display, it also costs money to play the cards to your own tableau. All of this makes for a sedate start to a game where you will initially focus all your efforts on gradually building your museum. As your income grows, however, you'll have more cash to spend on less gentlemanly curation: you'll increasingly splash your cash on Action Cards that show personnel but which actually mostly involve a 'take that' action against another player. These 'take that' Action Cards can be played mostly to remove a card from another player's museum but, for an additional payment, they can be used to purloin the item so that it is placed instead in your own museum.
Among the Action Cards are Guards that can help protect your exhibits from being targeted by an opponent. If you have any Guards then an aggressor has to back their card play up with the roll of a non-standard six-sided die (0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3). They have to pay extra for every guard remaining after subtracting the number indicated on the die.
You can only buy one new room per turn but it can be a winning strategy to buy rooms that duplicate those you already have. Apart from giving you the opportunity of exhibiting more of the items that match that room, every duplicated room denies that room to another player (the room deck has just one of each room type per player). With luck or an inattentive opponent, it's even possible to get a monopoly on a room type. Items slide along from left to right so unsold item fall in price as they fill the spaces left by items that are sold. Unusually for games using this market mechanic, however, none of the cards are wiped. This means that if you manage to achieve a monopoly of a room type, you will almost certainly be able to pick up the items for that room dirt cheap because they will be left by other players and will slide inexorably along to the lower values. There's a small scoring penalty for doubling up on room types but that's not enough to compensate for the likely advantage to players who play this aggressive strategy. So much so that we found ourselves experimenting with house rules to increase the purchase cost where a player already had a room of that type.
We were especially impressed with the way this game changes gears as more money begins to flow. In numerous plays tho' we found players were only on the very rarest of occasions willing to fork out 10 or even 7 money on an item or action card at the extreme left of the market; players could almost always find a better buy in the cheaper slots. Designer Thibaut Dévigne makes good use of humour on the cards, and we liked the art by Zoromeya. Our only gripe was the paper money with its odd 'Monicash' designation. Even the UK's Royal Mint has given up on paper money (soon all our bank notes will be plastic) so paper money in games is almost always a let down in comparison even with cardboard coins.
Houses of Knowledge is already on Kickstarter in April. If you click here, it should link you to the game's Kickstarter campaign page.