In a past Gen Con, I picked up Near and Far by Red Raven Games. I previously posted commentary on how much I liked that game (you can find my post here: What Did We Play? Near and Far). So I was very excited to sponsor on Kickstarter the campaign for the second edition of The Ancient World. Readers may also be aware that this game is super hot right now on gaming community websites. Thus, I was jacked to play it.
Like any other Ryan Laukat designed game, the art is stunning and the gameplay simple and intuitive. It’s a worker placement game with some card drafting and set collection elements. If you want a complete description of the rules or some reviews you can obviously head over to The Ancient World on BoardGameGeek.com. In short, the basic way to win is to collect sets of identical tribal banners (e.g. yellow, green, red, etc) up to sets of 6 each. These banners can be gained by building structures, but the quickest way in which they can be obtained in multiples is by defeating Titans (see below).
Without going into a long-winded review, what I want to do here is give you some idea of what it is like to play the game.
A unique element of The Ancient World is the setting. Each player plays a civilization confronted with a world full of Titans.
— the starting Titans. Each player is threatened by one of them
Each player’s civilization is constantly threatened by a titan. If the titan is not defeated by the player (or by another player), it must be placated with Ambrosia or it will wreak havoc on the player’s buildings (i.e. your civilization’s structures and resources).
— a typical player’s board, in other words his/her civilization
— and now that civilization is threatened by a titan!
As a traditional worker placement game, each turn a player uses a set of workers to gather coins, build structures, recruit or improve armies, add sectors to the civilization, or increase their number of workers. This all sounds pretty usual.
BUT…that’s not the fun part! Remember that the Titans loom over each player’s civilization, ready to run amok at the end of each turn. Instead of placing a worker, each player may decide to attack a Titan, any Titan, one on their board, another player’s board, or even one of the non-assigned Titans.
— a view from my side of the table. My civilization is at the bottom, menaced by a dirty, nasty Sand Screamer. The Sand Screamer is a low-level Titan that will give me one yellow banner if I defeat it. It also will provide one arrow in perpetuity (this special reward is under the Titan’s name on the card above). You can also see on my board my coins, some unassigned workers, and two Ambrosia.
Defeating Titans is costly. You have to pay your armies and deal with the damage the Titan does from fighting it. Typically it wrecks your buildings, which you must then repair on subsequent turns. But the rewards include stopping the Titan from menacing you, collecting banners, and getting a special ability from each defeated Titan.
In our four-player game, each person pursued a slightly different strategy to gain banners. Notably, Lee and Bob went with civilization building strategies. Both used their workers to explore and build structures and districts. Lee increased sectors quickly, allowing him to build a lot of structures, thus collecting sets of banners. Lee often placated his Titan with Ambrosia while Bob let his Titan smack his buildings.
I tried a Titan defeating strategy, focusing solely on army building. I built armies quickly, used the legacy function to strengthen them, and attacked any available Titan that had the banner colors I was seeking. Stew tried a hybrid strategy of defeating Titans and some limited civilization building. Stew also concentrated on collecting coins and Ambrosia, giving him some flexibility in taking actions.
How did these multiple strategies play out? Here is the final victory point tally:
— the scoresheet. Six banners are worth 22 points, the max for each color. Stew and I tied at 66 points, but the tiebreak is coins, and Stew had 21 to my 17.
From the top of the scorecard, players lose points for starving workers and wrecked buildings. You can see that Bob and Lee had some issues here. The next four rows are the tribal banners which reward points for sets of similar colors: 2-4-7-11-16-22 for sets from 1 to 6. The last row is for victory points on other cards, such as buildings.
It should be obvious that prioritizing about 2 sets of banners is the way to victory. The two players who went after Titans had an easier time completing (or almost completing) two sets. Fighting Titans seemed the most efficient way to get desired banners because defeated Titans offer up 1, 2, or 3 banners (based on the level and difficulty of the Titan). With 7 possible Titans to target each turn (1 on each of 4 player boards plus 3 unassigned Titans, 1 of each level), there are plenty of options to find desired banners.
The game was fun, quick, and evocative of the theme. The unique part of The Ancient World are the Titans. Fighting the Titans is both a nice game mechanic to punish players who don’t defend their civilization but also fits with the theme of the game (i.e. an Ancient World in which gigantic Titans threaten emerging human civilizations). As such, The Ancient World rises above most other worker placement and set collection games by integrating tried and true game mechanics with thematic gameplay.