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.

Cool Games that We Played Recently: Maximum Apocalypse, Kami-Sama, and Enchanters: Overlords

Welcome back my intrepid followers! Hopefully all of you have been getting in some fresh rounds of games. Well…we’ve been busy playing games over here too! Today I’ve got three games for you to try and why we think that they are fun and cool!

Maximum Apocalypse

— a mission layout

In Maximum Apocalypse, a team of heroes drives a van (yep, it’s like the A-Team) to a site and attempts to complete a mission. It might be rescue a scientist, check out a ufo, defeat the vampires, etc. Maximum Apocalypse has multiple scenarios where the “enemies” are represented by a unique pack of cards special to a unique set of missions (e.g. there is a zombie deck for missions against zombies). The heroes play cooperatively, taking turns exploring the map.

So each hero roams the map trying to find gear and the objective, while having to defeat the monsters that pop up and keep hunger at bay.

— the Surgeon with some of his cards and a zombie dog attacking him

Each hero has their own deck of cards with special abilities and items. As each player takes actions, they can place their unique items or scavenged items into play, thereby using their cards and abilities to maximum advantage (did you catch that joke?). Once the objective is found, the hero’s must deal with it and collect fuel for the van.

— a fueled up van ready to extract the heroes and the scientist.

Why this game is cool: A game of Maximum Apocalypse feels like a classic horror movie. You have to get in, complete the objective, and get out before you die from the baddies or multiple other problems. The random map allows for multiple replays of each mission. And heroes will die, so complacency, bad luck or poor planning gets punished. If you get the Gothic Horrors, or other expansions, you should have about 2 dozen possible missions, allowing for almost infinite replays.

Kami-Sama

In this new game, each player is a different Kami, or spirit, who controls a particular aspect of nature (you know, stuff like water, death, the earth, etc). Each Kami is unique and have special actions that no other Kami has. The game is played over three years with each year having 4 seasons. Victory points are gained in many ways and determine the winner. in short, players use their actions to place their shrines into regions and remove/move opposing players’ shrines.

— the victory point track. This picture is at the end of the game. The white disc player won with 56 points.

The board is circular and it rotates 90 degrees at the end of each season. Players typically can only place shrines onto the board slice that is in front of them (some actions allow placement elsewhere). Players try to strategically place shrines to gain favor and nature (which are worth victory points), create patterns that score bonuses, and to control regions.

— Kami-Sama main board in the middle. A player board with the top of it shown sits at the bottom

Why this game is cool: Kami-sama combines area control, set collection (you collect villager cards at the end of years), some light drafting (again, the villager cards), strategic placement, and asymmetrical player boards. Oh and did I mention that the Art is fantastic and evocative of the theme of Ancient Japan? I didn’t? Well, now I just did!

— a villager card

Enchanters: Overlords

Enchanters: Overlords is a fairly light game (no, not it’s physical weight, it’s complexity of play) that simulates fantasy adventuring. Each player starts with a Fist of Enchanting which they upgrade by buying items and enchantments. Each new item or enchantment is placed over the top of previous cards.

— this player now has Plate Armor of Light instead of just a worthless fist!

Attack and armor bonuses are on the top and/or bottom of each card. Newly purchased cards cover up bonuses on the top of other cards but bonuses on the bottom remain. Also all special abilities on cards can only be used if they are visible (i.e. on the top card).

To start the game, each player chooses a 25-card deck of villains/monsters (such as Bandits, Dark Elves, Angels, etc) and all of the chosen decks are shuffled together to form the adventure deck. Six cards are dealt into a community area and are available for purchase. As cards are purchase and monsters defeated, the top cards form the deck replace them. The game ends when there are no more cards to purchase.

— You can see the row of cards to be purchased in the middle of the photo. Purchase cost in crystals are listed under each card, from zero to five from left to right.

Each turn a player can either purchase (by using crystals) an item/enchantment, fight a monster, rest (to get crystals) or fight the Overlord. In this manner, the game is simple enough for anyone to play it. Basically the game is like Talisman or other D&D-ish table–top games: build up your character and then slay monsters.

Why this game is cool: Enchanters: Overlords is a fun game that remains light but does have some strategy for the more serious players. And if you look closely enough at each card, you will see that the chrome text and card names have some great witty humor. You need an example? How about the card “Grey Dragon” whose flavor text is “it comes in fifty shades”

3 New and Good Games

There are so many games out there, it is literally impossible to play all, if not most, of them. So which games should you play? Well my faithful reader, I am here to help you out! The following are three new and cool games that I think you should check out!

1 – Horizons

In Horizons each player explores stellar systems for planets, places energy and metal collectors to mine resources, builds colonies to control systems, and generally tries to amass Knowledge (i.e. victory points). On its face it seems like another 4x space game, but the similarity to those sort of games is not where Horizons shines.

— a game of Horizons from the perspective of a player

Each turn a player can take 1 of five actions (explore, build, etc). However, and this is the key part of strategy in Horizons), if the player has an Ally card that triggers from the chosen action, the Ally card adds an extra free action. Thus, in Horizons each player should try to take two actions each turn: 1 chosen action and 1 free Ally action.

The first difficulty is in recruiting the right Ally cards. The Ally decks are quite small, and the top Ally card of each pile is always face up and sometimes other players nab the Ally that you wanted. The second difficulty is that each Ally can only be tapped twice before the Ally is sent back to the bottom of its corresponding Ally card pile. Knowing when to use the Ally is important, but use that Ally twice and then another player can recruit it, so watch out!

Thus, Horizons becomes an area control game, a resource management game, a victory point accumulation game, and a game about maximizing actions (similar to card management cards with combination card play). Through in the expansion with aggressive Ally cards that mess with opponents and some random suns that effect their stellar system to make the game more strategic and even more fun!

2 — Night Clan

Night Clan is a quick (maybe 15-20 minutes) card game. The premise: a troll is coming to the village to carry off the rich man’s wealth and daughters. As a player you need to hide your daughters and wealth. Beyond carefully hiding these goodies, you can use your night watch to move them around and mistletoe to negate the troll.

Each player has the same set of cards, has only 3 of them in hand each turn, and must play 2 cards. The “board” is a set of locations at which plays place their cards (like Smash Up, Camelot Legends–wait, you’ve never heard of Camelot Legends?!? It’s from 2004 and it was ahead of its time, go get it). The twist is that some cards are played face up (daughters, night watch) but other cards are played face down (treasure, troll, mistletoe).

— the tableau of Night Clan

Once all the cards are played, the player with the most cards at each site wins the victory points at that location UNLESS a troll is present. If any troll (each player has one troll to play) is at a location, all the cards are lost UNLESS there is an equal amount of mistletoe present, which negates the troll!

The combination of equal decks and facedown cards forces players to calculate where the trolls are, where the treasure is, and whether mistletoe has been played on the trolls.

— the winner’s victory point haul at the end of the game at the bottom, another player’s points to the right and another on left. The player at the top had no points (good job troll!)

Night Clan is a fast game that can be played multiple times in one session or as a quick filler in between longer games. It is a bit deeper than it initially looks and is fast and fun. The only downside is that the colors on the cards are too similar and can lead to confusion as players try to figure out if blue or green has the most cards at a location.

3 — Imperius

The third game, and my favorite, is Imperius, a card game set in a Dune-like sci-fi world or competing noble houses. It is another location card placement game. And like Night Clan, each player has the same set of cards (1 commander, 1 noble, etc). But unlike Night Clan, the cards of each noble house are slightly different in their power and abilities. One house has a great assassin, one has the strongest noble, etc. In particular, each House can choose a single elder card from among many choices, and each elder has a very distinct power that is unique.

— the tableau of Imperius. The locations are at the bottom with played cards in each column. And yes, I was seated on the “upside down” side of the table so lay off on the comments about the upside down photo. The board can’t face everyone at the same time!

And here is another twist! All the player’s decks are shuffled together to form s single deck before cards are dealt. But wait there’s more! Not all the cards are dealt each round. Once cards are dealt, there is a drafting and card-passing phase. This way players can get an idea about what cards are available, and also plot a strategy of grabbing their own cards or drafting their opponents’ cards.

The round proceeds as each player plays a single card to a location. But wait there’s even more! Only 5 cards can be played at each location. But wait….there is still another twist! No way!!!! Yes way! Two cards at each location can be played face down! This is important because like Night Clan there are deadly combinations: assassins can kill nobles but not if a guard from the noble’s faction is also at that location.

After all the cards are played, effects are resolved in initiative order at each location. Victory points might be scored at this time by nobles, commanders, ambassadors, and events. once any player gets to 20+ points, the game ends and moves to final scoring.

— victory point track at the end of a 4-player game

In another twist, the played cards are shuffled and put on the bottom of the draw deck. Thus, in the next round, all of the cards that were not dealt in the previous round are dealt in the next round. Thus, clever players know what cards must be in this round even if they don’t see them in the draft. Pretty cool, huh?

But there is still one more twist!!! Wtf!?! Yes, one more! Commanders and some cards place control markers on locations. At the end of the game, the victory points on the locations go to whomever has control of them. Each House has a limited set of control markers that they can place, trying to get control of locations.

— a player’s house mat with unplaced control tokens. On the bottom is a negative vp track. Each time your noble gets assassinated you move it one space to the right.

Okay, it seems like a lot of mechanics but it really isn’t. Moreover, Imperius FEELS like a battle of noble houses fighting for planets. It does seems Dune-like. And if you have visited my Top 10 Games list you will know how much I love the old Avalon Hill game Dune. I am serious, run, don’t walk, to get a copy of Imperius!

-—

Okay, now get out there and play some games!

Tell them Neal sent you!

New Year’s Day 2019 Lineup

Here is the lineup of games for New Year’s Day 2019 tomorrow:

7 Wonders with Armada expansion

Scythe: Rise of Fenris–Episode 3 plus the new Encounter cards

Maximum Apocalypse with the Gothic Horrors expansion

It’s going to be a good time, I bet you wish you were invited!

Peace out and Happy New Year!

Kickstarter Finds: Shifting Realms and Horizons

I really love to gamble on new games on Kickstarter. Why you ask? Because sometimes the smaller or new game designers come up with something interesting, like when I picked up Helionox. Well, I recently received two more games. And I am telling you they are so good that if you play them it will be raining fun! So grab your umbrella-ella-ella-ella and give these games a try.


Shifting Realms

Shifting Realms is a 2-4 player game that should take about 60 minutes to play. Each player must send their scouts and soldiers across 3 different (but connected) realms trying to earn the most victory points. Each realm has a different set of structures to build and realm-specific cards and events (watch out for that dragon!).

— the 3 randomly chosen boards placed together (each is 4×4) with some structures placed. The cubes are resources (brown=wood; pink=magic; grey=metal), the yellow markers are gold=currency; the cylinders are scouts that gather resources and the Meeples are soldiers that protect your scouts or alternately run off your opponents’ scouts

The game runs on a simple action taking mechanic (ie take 3 actions on your turn) where scout placement/movement leads to resource acquisition and then the building of structures. There is some direct confrontation as a player can use soldiers to run opponents’ scouts off of resource allocations and replace them with their own scouts.

— the score track

Each game 3 Realms are chosen randomly to comprise the board (the game comes with 5 starter realms). Each has a different set of story cards, structures, resource allocation, end game condition and maybe some special rule(s). Once the end game conditions of 2 Realms are met, the game ends. The game play is fairly simple and fast. Players must optimize placing units, moving them around, obtaining story cards, and building structures.


Horizons

Horizons is a 2-5 player game along the standard lines of a 4x space game (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate). Players play either a human faction (in the standard game all players play human factions with similar abilities; in the advantages game the backside of the player boards have alien races with unique abilities).

— the faction board. Actions are listed on the left, the structure (energy collectors, metal collectors, and colonies) on the right, and the world types (with building costs) on the top.

Each player takes two actions per turn in which they try to maximize the return from these actions. Players have to “adapt” to planets before they can build structures on them. But they must first “explore” in order to find desired planets that match each player’s mission cards. The goal is to have the most victory points when the game ends (in the base game this is when any player places the last of their 5 colonies).

— the solar systems and worlds. With some collectors and colonies placed on them.

Victory points are earned by 1) completing missions from a set of randomly shuffled mission cards, 2) collecting knowledge, typically from exploring, and 3) controlling systems at the end of the game. Control is determined by counting structures: 2 per colony, 1 per either collector. Whomever has the most gets 6 VP and whomever is in 2nd gets 3 (ties change these payouts a bit, but no need to go into that here).

Key to the game are the Ally cards. Ally cards are activated when the player takes the action associated with the Ally card. For example, if a player had the Librarian Ally, when that player takes an Explore action, they both do the regular action and ALSO activate the Librarian’s action. Allies can only use their actions twice before they go back into their respective piles. So grabbing the right Ally Cards and pairing them with future actions effectively multiplies a player’s actions on a turn.

— The Librarian, an Ally card. When you take an Explore action (the grayish Star in the blue square), you gain the Librarian action: gain 1 knowledge(= 1 VP) and play a new world.

In our first game, we all played Human factions with similar actions. Lee and Stew seemed to maximize the Ally cards the most effectively. Both ended with 29 VP with Lee winning based on the tie breaker of whomever had the most resources of energy and metal.

— Lee’s winning total. He had many knowledge tokens (the purple triangle wooden tokens) plus he got VP from missions and coming in second in all 4 solar systems (VP collected at the end is represented by the purple cardboard triangles).

Overall, it was a fun and fast game with elements of 4x exploration, action management, and area control that combined nicely into an enjoyable game.