The Ancient World – My First Game

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.

Fighting Titans

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!

Gameplay

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.

Various Strategies

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 Verdict

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.

Scythe: The Rise of Fenris – Episode 4: Fenris

After the big ending to Episode 3 where the Saxony player transformed into the Vesna Faction, we were intrigued as to what Episode 4 had in store for us. Inquiring minds what to know! So my intrepid readers, read on and find out!

Setup

Episode 4: Fenris begins with a narrative that the “strange soldiers with glowing eyes” had returned to Europa. And sure enough, the setup instructions say to Open Box B and place one new “Fenris Agent” on each tunnel and two agents on the Factory.

— Box B and the “Fenris Agents”. Note: these are the upgraded meeples available thru Stonemaier Games/Meeplesource

The Special Rules included the way to “combat” these Fenris Agents. In short, a player that encounters these agents must draw a combat card for each agent, total the combat strength on those cards, and then discard any combination of power, coins, and popularity equal to that amount to defeat the agents.

Another special rule was that the game could end normally (i.e. when a player places their sixth star) but it also would end immediately when the 8th and final Fenris Agent was defeated.

Getting Started

For the first time so far, the Wind Gambit was an allowed component of an Episode, so we decided to include the Airships.

— setting up the board with the Airships deployed!

And of course, Neal would now give up playing Saxony and have to play the Vesna Faction. This faction’s special power is to draw 3 random Factory Cards at the start of the game. The Vesna player can use each card once, discarding it after using it. Vesna also has a random draw of unique Mech Mods that can be used to customize the Vesna board every game.

— the Vesna components. Love the color!

The Vesna player ended up deploying a combination of previously purchased Mech Mods and random Mech Mods: Underpass, People’s Army, Comraderie, and Speed.

After passing out factions and random player boards, we had the following turn order:

Bob – Clan Albion

Stew – Rusviet

Lee – Crimean (switched at end of last episode from Togawa Shogunate)

Neal – Vesna

We shuffled and randomly chose the following Airship cards:

Aggressive: Bombard (use resources to reduce opponent’s power)

Passive: Boost (+1 Speed from home base or hex with the Airship)

Gameplay

With Boost, all players sprinted out toward encounters and the Tunnel spaces. It promised to be a mad rush to get to the Fenris Agents. We didn’t know what benefit would be procured by defeating them, but with Boost we were going to find out quickly.

On Turn 3 Vesna completed the first Objective, Machine over Muscle by having 1 Mech, a Factory Card, and less than 3 workers. That was a very lucky card draw indeed since Vesna starts with Factory cards.

But on Turn 4 Rusviet matched it by completing Stockpile for the Winter by having 9+ resources and 1 of each type.

Then we started quickly dropping the Fenris Agents! First Vesna got 1, then Crimea got 1, then Rusviet got 1 too!

Crimea got too close to the Vesna Airship which used Bombard to decimate the Crimean Power which allowed a Vesna Mech to rout a Crimean Mech. Vesna now had 2 stars.

The combination of Boost and the alternate ending caused the game to accelerate rapidly. Rusviet used its ability to move turn after turn to nab its 2nd Fenris Agent. Clan Albion then got 1. Rusviet moved again and got a 3rd. Crimea managed to build its 4th Mech and get a star.

But soon thereafter Rusviet decided to end the game by descending on the Factory and capturing the final 2 Fenris Agents which ended the game immediately.

— the end of the game with Rusviet units at the Factory

Final Scoring

Because the game length was unusually short, no player had more than 2 stars. Clan Albion, Crimea, and Vesna were at the second stage of popularity while Rusviet was at the bottom stage. Crimea occupied the most territory and Clan Albion had a stash of coins and resources. Because Rusviet had moved so many times and fought so many Fenris Agents, it had no coins and few territories. After counting, Crimea won quite handily:

Crimea 38

Clan Albion 29

Vesna 27

Rusviet 19

Episode Rewards

But there was a pay off to Rusviet! After final scoring, each player gained a Setup Bonus for each subdued Fenris Agent rounded up. So while every other faction got 1 bonus, Rusviet got 3!

Also, after Episode 4 the Infrastructure Mods became available to campaigns that in Episode 2 were at war (if your campaign was at peace in Episode 2, you now have access to the Mech Mods).

The Verdict

This was a very fun game! The absolute speed of the Airship Boost ability combined with the special objective of subduing Fenris Agents turned the game into a mad dash! Most games of Scythe can be a bit plodding…but this Episode was completely different. It was a very pleasant break from the usual.

Scythe: The Rise of Fenris — Episode 3: A Plea from Vesna

Coming off of Episode 2A, we were wondering where the campaign was going to go. As we started to set up Episode 3, we quickly found out.

Set-up

We decided on our Mech mods (purchased at the end of Episode 2A). Saxony added Camaraderie (no popularity loss from running off workers), Togawa took Stealth (move through enemy hexes without stopping) and Rusviet took Armor (enemy attackers lose a combat card and give Rusviet Power). Albion chose not to deploy any mod.

Then the rules told us to find Box A, flip it over and grab the Vesna card taped to the bottom!

— The Vesna card

The rules said to shuffle the Vesna card, plus 4 more Factory cards, into the Factory cards selected for the game. The goal of the Episode became to find Vesna (although victory would still be determined normally).

We each then selected and paid for perks and continued the set-up as normal. Based on random board draw, the turn order would be:

Saxony – Neal

Albion – Bob

Rusviet – Stew

Togawa – Lee

Game Play

Rusviet started lively by quickly deploying a Mech with Speed, jumping his character around to look for good Encounter cards. We had shuffled in the new encounter cards, and they looked to be game-changing in terms of their effects.

Case in point: Saxony found an encounter card that allowed his character to jump straight to the Factory! The Episode had a special Factory rule: 1) take an Influence token each time you enter the Factory, 2) draw Factory cards equal to your Influence tokens, and 3) if you find Vesna you have to take that card or if you don’t you may take a Factory card (or not if you don’t like what you got).

Saxony didn’t like its first draw. Already having Speed, Saxony left and returned…and found Vesna. As Saxony was looking for a good Factory card, they returned a third time. Rusviet took advantage of Saxony’s character being in the Factory alone and successfully attacked and won.

Rusviet completed an Objective and was quickly putting stars on the Triumph Track. Togawa eventually got to the Factory too while Albion spread out, gaining territory.

— the position late in the game with Togawa on the Factory

Rusviet got 5 stars on the Triumph Track and was trying to find a way to get its final star. But then Saxony struck, completing the last upgrade and fulfilling two objectives in one turn to place his last 3 stars to end the game.

— Saxony at the end of the game

Scoring

Scores were tallied and Rusviet beat Saxony 72 to 68! It was the second Episode in a row where Saxony lost despite placing all 6 stars. The difference was that Rusviet was the only faction to reach the top tier on the Popularity Track.

Episode Rewards

Each player could now select a Setup Bonus for each 2 Influence tokens (rounded up). Saxony got 2 bonuses and every other faction got 1.

The rules now stipulated that Saxony would now become the Vesna faction! The Saxony player would keep everything on their Campaign Log but would now play the Vesna faction using pieces from the Rise of Fenris expansion (from a punchboard and Box A).

— Vesna faction

— Box A – Vesna pieces inside

— the Vesna pieces inside Box A

But there was another twist: players could now also change factions! Starting with the faction with the least Wealth, a player could grab any unused faction. Albion decided not to change, Togawa switched to Crimean, and Rusviet chose not to change.

We finished by purchasing more Mech Mods.

The Verdict

Episode 3 was much more fun than Episode 2A. Also, the Mech Mods gave faction’s the ability to break the stalemate that we saw in the last Episode. The new Encounter cards (sold separately from Rise of a Fenris) also helped enliven the game

Raiders of the North Sea: Fields of Fame

— Fields of Fame expansion for Raiders of the North Sea

Fields of Fame

I am sure that you have heard of the worker placement game Raiders of the North Sea. It’s a pretty good game, but it can get stale after many plays. So…how about adding an expansion?

Fields of Fame adds a new board so that there are more places to raid. It also adds Jarls! At the start of the game you mix Jarl tokens into the plunder bag. Each time you sack a settlement and take a Jarl token, your crew has to face a Jarl. You can choose to 1) kill the Jarl, gaining Fame that will produce victory points, 2) subdue the Jarl and add it to your crew, or 3) flee the Jarl. Each Jarl card has fighting 5 or 6, so they are beefcakes–tough to kill or subdue, but great in your crew.

Play through

We got in a game with the new expansion…and it was super fun!

— the board with the new expansion components (the new board is attached on the right). Jarl tokens are light blue.

Facing a Jarl always wounds your crew members, but subduing a Jarl and adding it to your crew is a big bonus. And the VP gained from Jarl Fame adds a new way to get victory points, which adds to the strategic depth of the game.

Our game was quite spirited with Lee subduing Jarls early and often. Stew went for sacking settlements. Bob and I tried a mixed strategy of getting victory points from many different areas of the game (e.g. I was maxed on Armor).

In the end, Stew won by a single VP over me!

— Stew (yellow) with 43 VP, and me (red) with 42

Verdict

Fields of Fame is a must for any serious fans of Raiders of the North Sea. It extends the game by about 15 minutes, adds more strategy, and continues the basic ideas of the main game (do I sacrifice crew to kill/subdue a Jarl? Do I avoid Jarls and give up the VP to other players? etc). Get it…you are going to like it.

Scythe—The Rise of Fenris: Episode 2A War

At the end of Episode 1, we voted for War and not Peace. We had no idea how that was going to change the next game, but by the start of set up we found out.

— Spoiler Alert: I am not even going to try to hide anything revealed by the rules for this episode. If you haven’t played Episode 2A yet, I advise you to stop now…unless you like knowing the twists and turns ahead of time, so if you do, read on!

Episode 2A War

Set Up

Basically the nations of Europa have readied for war. Each player starts with 3 upgrades, 1 additional worker in play, 1 structure in play, +4 Popularity, and can purchase a perk for $15. Thus, each side can effectively upgrade their randomized player mat to make production easier. Like maybe a good idea might be to make Deploying a Mech require only 1 resource.

Also, each player could place up to 4 of their stars on other players’ starting points to declare them a “rival”. If you defeat a rival in combat you remove the star and place it on the achievement track and get a bonus of $5.

But the biggest change was yet to come! Packaged in the RoF box was a new double-sided achievement board that you overlay atop the regular achievement list on the map board. The “war” side changes the available achievements to emphasize winning battles and collecting 8+ combat cards.

— The War Achievement Board overlay. Note how some achievements are missing, replaced by more spots for winning battles.

Game Playthrough

Stew drew the number 1 player mat and had to go first. The turn order would be:

Stew-Rusviet Union

Lee-Togawa Shogunate

Neal-Saxony

Bob-Clan Albion

— The start of the game. You can see that my (I am Saxony) two neighbors have put rival stars on my start point.

Rusviet got off to a great start. He built a mech on the first turn and increased his speed. Using his faction power to select the same action on successive turns, he quickly moved his character toward the Factory…but then veered away to reveal his Divide and Conquer objective.

— Rusviet completing an Objective by the third turn

But Stew wasn’t the only player to quickly finish an objective. Lee skillfully manipulated his units to complete his objective a couple of turns thereafter.

— Togawa Shogunate finish their objective early

As each side quickly deployed all their mechs, both the Rusviet and Saxony were able to find a quick victory in combat against a rival. Exploiting their speed, the Rusviet isolated a single Clan Albion mech guarding workers and defeated it. Saxony jumped across the board via a tunnel to defeat a Saxony mech.

–The board after the Rusviet and Saxony victories against rivals

From there the game turned into a real boring affair. Each player had generated 8+ combat cards (one of the new “war” achievements) and had deployed all 4 mechs. Saxony had the most Power, but each faction quickly Bolstered until they too were above 7 Power.

This led to each player concentrating at least 2 mechs and their character (The most units that could move together on a single action) onto a single hex with some human shields, ie workers. Nobody could get their sixth achievement without winning a combat…but nobody could attack without running into 3 units, at least an equal number of cards, and a hex full of workers that would ruin the attacker’s popularity if the attacker won.

— all 4 factions turtled up! The poor Togawa and Clan Albion couldn’t find any way to attack, and the other factions were afraid of ruining their popularity by attacking or losing the attack and giving the game away. Saxony had the best chance to attack, but would have to vacate the 3-hex Factory to do it.

The calculus was simple: if I attack but the defender’s cards are better, I not only lose the game, but I just threw the victory to the player that I attacked. This kind of “kingmaker” situation is ubiquitous in multi-player games and can portend a bad ending: the eventual reckless attack by a player that gets bored.

The Sad Ending

After a few turns of staring at each other with nobody willing to gamble on an attack, we decided to just quit rather than continue. I am pretty sure this ending is not what the game designers envisioned, but it seemed preferable to us rather than just “grinding” more turns of a senseless buildup of resources, Popularity, Power, etc. as nobody wanted to launch a reckless attack that in essence was a coin flip to determine the winner.

We all thought the problem was the rival stars. If each player had been able to take back at least one rival star still uselessly sitting on an opponent’s starting point, the game would’ve ended quickly. Instead those rival stars were “stuck” on the map board preventing a resolution. Another problem was the ability to use those first 3 upgrades to deploy mechs early meant that each side had all their mechs deployed pretty much before anybody could attack anybody else. This was particularly true for Togawa and Clan Albion. Neither has Speed so they couldn’t actually attack because their opponents could see easily avoid unfavorable confrontations.

After calculating ending coin totals, Rusviet won the episode, with Saxony in second. So, the two factions that won a combat did indeed finish higher, but there wasn’t any decisive victory.

Also poor was that the War Achievement board effectively negated the Saxony faction power. Because every faction could get 4 combat achievements, Saxony didn’t have any true advantage from its power to get any number of combat achievements.

The Verdict

In the end, this episode was quite disappointing. The set-up changes didn’t encourage combat, they instead made combat impossible. We all hope that the next episode would be better.