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.

What Did We Play? Near and Far

This week we all got together to try out Near and Far from Red Raven Games. I picked up the game at Gen Con (actually, I got the next to last copy from the Red Raven Booth) this year. It is a sequel to Above and Below, a game that I have never played but have heard good things about. Fortunately, you do not need to own Above and Below to play Near and Far.

Near and Far advertises itself as a storytelling game, an atlas game, and a campaign game! That sounds like a lot…and it had me intrigued when I saw the game at the Red Raven booth. Then I noticed the artwork! I was hooked!

— Clockwise from top left: Storybook, Atlas, Town Board (dusk side shown)

The Basics

The overall goal of Near and Far is to accumulate Journey Points. You do this by preparing your character in the town and then adventuring on one of the maps contained in the Atlas.

The game is essentially an action-taking game where each turn a player places their character standee on a town location and performs the action(s) listed there. Generally, you are trying to load up on food, coins, friendly adventures, etc so that you are ready to travel out of the town on the map.

On the map, you move around looking for quests and establish camps. The camps allow you to collect coins or gems, and also allow for less exhaustive movement across the map (ie it costs fewer “hearts” to move).

— The map for the first game, as contained in the Atlas.

The game ends once one player has placed all 14 of their camps (on the map, in the mines, and/or on Threat Cards). Journey points are awarded for camps played, trade routes covered, artifacts found, threats defeated, coins, gems, faction tokens, Chiefs obtained, Reputation, and any other card/board bonuses.

Gameplay

Everyone in my group expressed that the basic standee placement and action-taking mechanism closely resembled games like Raiders of the North Sea. Turns are completely fairly quickly and each player has a chance to get something accomplished on their turn.

Exploring on the map takes a bit longer. Once a player travels to the map, they move in a point-to-point system more similar to strategic war games than typical abstract board games. If a player stops on a quest, another player reads the corresponding lettered quest from the Storybook. Each quest has two alternative acts available for the player to choose from among (e.g. help the old lady or ignore her plight) similar to games like Scythe. Usually a skill or combat roll resolves the chosen action.

Players alternate their time from loading up in town and exploring on the map, much like a pen and pencil RPG. This adds a storytelling/role playing element that adds to the fun (it also allows even players falling behind in Journey points to have a good time questing).

— my player board early in the game. I had placed two camps, recruited two adventurers to my party (next to my faithful cat companion), and added a pack bird.

In the game that we played, it seemed like each player tried a different strategy. I was trying to collect as many artifacts as possible, Lee was placing camps on the map for resources, Stew was going after quests, and Bob was mining a lot.

— The game a few more turns after the last photo but still in the early part. Note that camps have started appearing on the map as we began exploring outside the town.

The game lasted about two hours. It was our first play and it took a while to figure out what the best options were each turn. Eventually my artifact grabbing rewarded me with a very narrow victory over Lee.

— My board close to the end of the game. I was well-prepared to explore and my loot of faction tokens and gems would allow me to buy plenty of artifacts from the Mystic.

The Verdict

From one play of the game, all of us agreed that Near and Far was quite fun. Everyone felt that they were “in” the game and that no one got left behind early. Also, the exploration on the map added a nice touch that broke up the monotony of standee placement in the town.

In short, we are looking forward to trying the Campaign game and adventuring on new maps. The gameplay is solid and fun, the rules clear, and the art gorgeous. If you haven’t tried Near and Far, I recommended that you give it a shot.

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.