Although there are “natural constraints” to board gaming – namely the usually amazing weather outside that tends to make indoor activities somewhat unpalatable – eventually the Portuguese society has grown to embrace more and more this kind of hobby. The board game scene is alive and well. Presently you can find active board game groups in most major cities, about half-a-dozen yearly gaming conventions spread throughout the country – as well as the first few board game-dedicated cafes. In parallel with this growing scene, there are already a few renowned publishers and game designers that are based or originally from Portugal.
One of the success stories is Multiuniversum by Manuel Correia. Multiuniversum was launched initially on UK Games Expo 2016 and its expansion Project: Cthulhu was successfully funded on Kickstarter later that year. This is a game for 1 to 5 players and each game should last 20-40 minutes (Grey Fox Games).
The theme is quite amazing – you are a scientist working at the CERN facilities in Switzerland. You are part of a team tasked with building a time-machine. The machine, an impressive technological behemoth comprising 5 transformers was built and it is time to test it for the first time – what a momentous event for humankind! But then the unexpected happened – you were counting on breaking the space-time continuum but not like this! Suddenly several portals appeared out of nowhere! On the other side you can see alien landscapes and structures!
This would be super exciting if it wasn’t for the swarms of alien creatures advancing towards the portals – there are massive-looking amoebas, something akin to undead hordes, disembodied animated hands with eyes and are those giant animated gummi bears carrying oversized pocket-knives?!
Something must be done, and humanity relies on you – it is time to close the portals and prevent worldwide collapse (starting with Switzerland first – think of all the chocolate!)
The game starts with several piles of portals deployed next to each of the 5 transformers. During the course of the game, you will have the chance to close them – and get all the glory and knowledge by doing so. In order to do that, you will have to overload the transformer next to them, by expending the right tools required by each portal.
The goal of the game is to collect Discovery Points and there are two ways of getting these: one straightforward and one not so much.
As soon as you close a portal, you will get the points printed on the upper left corner – just by closing a portal to an alien far-away dimension. You can also play the long game and be more mindful of what type of portals you are closing – as you will be awarded extra points at the end of the game if you close sets of portal-types. During the game you’ll have to move your meeple between transformers and gather tools so that you can be the best portal-closing scientist around.
Mechanistically, Multiuniversum is a game of hand-management, where each card can be used in a multitude of ways.
What makes it quite clever is the fact that each card can either be stored as a tool – to be used to close portals later – or to be used as an action. The actions you can perform with each card will vary greatly, depending on which transformer you are currently visiting. On the left side of each card you will find 5 coloured boxes each with an action icon printed. So, the actions available to you depend on the colour of the transformer you are currently standing in.
On the right side, you will find the type of tool that the cards can provide you. You can always store a card as tools beneath your player board. These symbols will match the ones on the portals, and you will need to have these cards deployed as tools to get to close them.
So the game forces you to think carefully on which cards to spend as actions and which cards to store as tools.
During your turn you get to perform 3 actions – so you need to make them count. At the end of the turn your hand will be replenished from the main deck. The portals you get to close are stored underneath your player board, for scoring at the end of the game.
The game becomes an interesting puzzle, where you need to define objectives and to figure out the best course to achieve them. Should you focus on just closing whatever portal is near you? Should you collect different kinds of portals? Should you waste your turn deploying cards as tools or should you use them as actions?
Also remember that as soon as you move from one transformer to the next, with a distinct colour, the cards in your hand will suddenly change which actions they allow you to perform. Also learn that each transformer also has a special action that you can only take if you are standing on it, with the appropriate card in hand.
Worth mentioning is the artwork – you can see this game was a labour of love – as each portal oozes equal parts of charm and dread, that will make you feel the urgency of closing said portal. There are nasty-looking aliens everywhere!
There is also a Solo Mode where you get to pit your brain against a cool AI Scientist that is unnervingly overpowered, but victory is still achievable and sooo tasty when it happens (which is quite rare). This solo mode is fairly straightforward to setup and requires almost no upkeep between turns, so it is definitely a recommended solo experience.
If all of this sounds fun – well, you’ll be glad to know there is also the obligatory Cthulhu expansion! Project: Cthulhu, funded by Kickstarter, changed the setting slightly and suddenly your fancy sciency machine was actually opening portals to R’lyeh, where Lovecraftian Old Gods lie asleep – or maybe not so much.
This expansion will have players fighting to remain sane while still trying to close the portals – but each time you do so, you get closer to Madness. You will be forced to draw insanity cards facedown from a new deck each time a portal is closed. As soon as the insanity deck is empty, players will have to check for insanity – and whoever is the most insane will forget one of portals he has closed beforehand.
The game is really fun and a great brain-teaser. You would never expect something so deep considering its small box and modest price-tag. Multiuniversum follows the trend of several larger games such as Lisboa, Imperial Settlers or A Study in Emerald – where each card can be used in a multitude of ways during the game, which turns a relatively simple looking game into something considerably more complex.
There are plenty of times where you will feel like the cleverest person in the room, by being able to chain actions while jumping between transformers, which in turn changes what each of the cards in your hand actually do. Occasionally, you will be stuck just recycling your hand for new cards that could allow you to do what you want, where you want it.
But those are the highs and lows of life as a scientist…
I strongly advise you to check this game out. The game is still relatively easy to find – either online or on your LFGS or straight from Board & Dice – the publisher’s webstore.