Published by Cogito ergo Meeple, Philosophia: Dare to be Wise is a beautiful looking game. From its detailed map of Greece (a double-sided board for different player counts) to its classical busts of Greek sages and philosophers, this is a game that cries out to be played. There are a lot of different tokens so, on the face of it, Philosophia looks very complicated. But, as the philosophers will tell you, looks can be deceiving...
In Philosophia: Dare to be Wise 1-6 players take on the role of Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, Homer, Sophocles or Socrates. Each starts with their own balance of resources and each has their own special ability. If you play solitaire, you'll be competing against the Fates (Moirai) automata cards.
On your turn, you must always move - to any location on the map that's not already occupied by another player's philosopher. If there's a bonus token at that location, you either take the benefit shown on its reverse or you collect the token and add it to your player board. If you move to a location where an opponent has previously built a school, you must pay a coin to them.
Once you've moved, you then take any one action from a menu of standard actions that can be taken almost anywhere and special actions that can only be taken at certain locations. Several actions require you to spend coins (for example, hiring a builder so that, in a subsequent turn, you can build a school), so you'll need periodically to earn coins by taking a tutor action. You'll want to collect and place out followers, and you can recruit sophists who can be used to convert opponents' followers into your own. Ultimately, you're trying to collect three Labyrinth tokens, and claiming one of these is one of the standard actions, provided you meet one of the several criteria that qualify you to take this action (for example, having built 4 schools, having all 9 of your followers out on the map or having collected all the bonus tokens of any one colour). Players also have their own randomly assigned Olympic Request (secret objective) card: if they can satisfy all of the requirements of that card then they can claim three Labyrinth tokens as a single action.
The Acropolis is a special location with 4 spots. There you can advance the game timer. You'll want to do this if you've got or are about to get your third Labyrinth token because if you're the only player with three Labyrinth tokens when the timer reaches 146BC then you automatically win. There's an Acropolis action that lets you hold an auction for the special Athena offering that's displayed but perhaps the most interesting Acropolis actions concern debates. One action allows you to draw either one Syllogism or two Sophistry cards. Also in the Acropolis you can use these cards to challenge another player to debate...
Each of the cards represents a philosophical or rhetorical principle. When you challenge another player to debate, you play a card and they have to respond with a card that beats it. In effect, this card play takes the form of a rock/paper/scissors philosophy contest: the cards each show the colour of cards that they beat and the colours of cards that beat them. In the 'debate', players take turns playing cards in this way until a player withdraws (or, typically, runs out of cards with which to respond). The debate is won by the player who has played the most cards. In the event of a tie (which will often happen), the debate is won by the player who initiated it. You collect a token for winning, and three debate tokens will qualify you for one of those precious Labyrinth tokens.
If there are two or more players who have three Labyrinth tokens when the timer reaches 146BC, the game is resolved using a final debate. Here tho' ties are resolved in favour of the players who were earliest collecting their third Labyrinth token.
Philosophia: Dare to be Wise is a very open, almost sandbox game where you have a lot of potential paths available to you to collect the three Labyrinth tokens you'll need to win or at least earn you a place in the final debate. You'll probably want to keep an eye on what other players are doing because you may be able to stop them from meeting the condition needed to claim a Labyrinth token: deploying a sophist to convert their ninth follower, for example, or nabbing one of the bonus tokens to prevent an opponent from completing a set. If you play this as a two player game, it can involve quite a lot of 'take that' sniping; less so with more players because you may be reluctant to sacrifice your actions to sabotage an opponent knowing that this might give even more advantage to the other players. You may be tempted to eschew the 'ordinary' routes for collecting Labyrinth tokens and focus instead on meeting the full set of requirements on your Olympic Request card. This may be harder for opponents to sabotage because they won't be sure what your secret objective is until you reveal it. Of course, if you play this game a lot, you'll probably get to learn what's on the six Olympic Request cards, which will give you a distinct advantage. Some may think that a shortcoming but I'm quite philosophical about it.
You don't have to be a philosopher to play this game but it helps - especially if you play using the optional rules that appear to be designed so that the game can be played by philosophy undergraduates as a revision aid. In debate, instead of just comparing the colours when you play the Syllogism and Sophistry cards, you can instead frame an argument that matches the rhetorical device indicated on the card. With this option, you can certainly take Philosophia: Dare to be Wise to the next level. I've a sneaking suspicion that this was what Madeleine Cole and Joseph Adams originally had in mind when they put together their original design, but it's great that they've nonetheless come up with a game that can be played and enjoyed almost as much by those who think that Ethics is a county in South East England and that Epistemology is a drinking game.
Philosophia: Dare to be Wise was originally launched on Kickstarter last year and is going out to backers now. If you missed the KS, copies may be hard to come by because they've sold out in the UK and European Union. The publishers have a sequel or companion game in the pipeline: Philosophia: Floating World, based on Japanese philosophy. That's due to launch in September and it should be possible to order Philosophia: Dare to be Wise as an add on in that campaign.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)