The Ancient World

Instead of roleplay, we had a game night with Stan and Kristina to try out their new Spiel games. First up:

The Ancient World

The Ancient World is a game about building up your ancient civilization enough to do battle with the wandering titans and so gaining favor with the nomadic desert tribes. The first thing that hits you is how beautiful this game is. The artwork is just stunning and very evocative. The entire game has a very distinct style that really sells the theme. It’s like the computer game Journey got a board game brother.

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The artwork did trip me up once, when I failed to distinguish between two different types of tribe banners that were both kind of similar in color in shape: more artsy than distinct, if you know what I mean. Still, I’d be happy to give an extra warning to new players if it means putting a mirage of a game in front of them.

Anyhow, game play! The Ancient World is a worker placement game with a lot of card drafting where your end goal is to collect sets of favors for the different tribes. The worker placement has a small twist: multiple people can visit the same field, but you can block it for others or heighten the price with clever placement of your workers, who are numbered from 1 to 5. Some fields can only be visited by workers with the same number, and some only by workers with a higher number. So it’s a clever puzzle to see how you can get the most of out it, and disadvantage your opponents the most. Still, it’s only a minor part of the game and it still safely stays in the “euro zone” of player interaction.

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Mostly you are building up your military so you can go out and conquer Titans. This is a bit of an arms race, but there are usually enough Titans for everyone to go around. Though someone might beat the Titan that would have gotten you the most favor with your mountain tribe of choice.

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I quite like it. It’s fairly straightforward to explain, it’s fun to play and fairly quick even with four. You do end up recounting your military power over and over again, but that can’t be helped, I think. I wonder how it plays with two. Either way, I think this is a winner!

 

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MIL

We played MIL at Peter and Jen’s. It’s mostly a euro/strategy game with some player interaction in the form of land grabbing and vassalship. It suffers from an unfortunate name (MIL is supposed to stand for 1049 in pig latin) and had us chuckling and groaning at the unintentional but very present objectification of women. The gameplay was fun, but not amazing.

In MIL (1049), you can harvest your lands for resources, recruit soldiers, and have descendants. But that’s just the first generation! If you have a male heir, he can be married to another player’s daughter—the one with the biggest dowry, of course! A strategical key point, though: keep in mind that during the game your knights will die or retire and their sons will have to take their place.

Knowing the ins-and-outs of the court will help you gain influence and vassals, while in the market you will be able to trade resources and recruit the necessary workforce to build a castle. How about going to battle to get some new lands or helping the curia to build the Cathedral? The abbess of the monastery can bless you with influence, while the echoes of the Crusades resound in a faraway land with songs of glory and honor. There isn’t one single way that leads to victory—so which one will you choose?

Mechanics are the standard euro-worker placement jobbies with a few auctions thrown in. The twist is that your guys can die (much like in The Village) and that you probably want to have a male heir in place before that time. Unlike most euro’s, there’s quite a bit of interaction. The troops you amass can not only be used to grab lands from the center pile, but also from other players! Additionally, you can make other player’s guys into your vassals, which will give you points and some resources, but will also tie you together in a kind of peace contract. It starts off much like a euro, but especially the latter turns have those twists and reversals of fortune of light strategic games.

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As usual when I play a euro for the first time, I picked a strategy that looked good and went for it. You don’t know what half of the game does, so you might as well try something out. Right?  This tends to turn out either really badly or really well. While the others focused on breeding new guys for more actions, I got some soldiers and went land-grabbing. My lands weren’t great so I mostly used them to grab gold and score big in the Cathedral auctions. In the late game I was able to use my soldiers to grab some land and enforce some vassalage, and I ended up five points ahead of a tight finish.

I liked building up my familes and lands, and getting a bit of a resource engine going. The attacking and vassal part of the game is nice and doesn’t devolve in all out war. By the time you have enough soldiers, the other guys usually do too. I wonder if that often leads to beating up the guy who’s already down. All in all the game was slow and didn’t really grab me.

What did grab me (the wrong way) was the strange female objectification in the game. This is, of course, a general problem with resource management games. When those resources are a certain group (women, colonists or slaves, indigenous people) the objectification is a bit problematic and uncomfortable.

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In this game, the action are taken by the knights. They are represented by this nice bit of Sean Beany artwork up here, that you can flip to show an older version of themselves with their male heir. The female heirs, however, are red blocks that you put on the board. They are at best a resource that you can use to gain a bit of influence (by pushing them into convents as abbesses) and at worst a burden: you get penalty posts for the daughters you have left at the end of the game. A big mechanic in the game is an auction where everyone bids resources to have their daughter married off to a newly bred heir.

The weirdest part is the gender die. When you try to produce an heir, you have to roll a die to see if a male or female symbol comes up. You are aiming for a son, so the female symbols are essentially delay mechanisms. When it comes up you either have to take the female red resource block, or take a ‘time token’ that ages your knight (I’m not quite sure what happens to the daughter you were going to have in this option).

As I said, this kind of objectification kind of comes with the Euro territory, but gets kind of creepy when it comes to groups that have a history of objectification. I’m sure the designers were only interested in making a good game and having an interesting historical theme. But making women into resources is a bit of a lazy solution, and historical accuracy is a bit of a lazy argument.

In this post-#gamergate and post-Sarkeesian era we are all a little more sensitive to these themes, and they become a bigger deal than they once were (and rightly so). We were playing the game with an 8-year old girl in the room and though we swear and generally don’t censor ourselves around her, I felt uncomfortable playing this game while she was there!

Bruxelles 1893

We put Bruxelles on the table, a locally made eurogames about fin-de-siècle architects in Brussel.

Bruxelles 1893 is a worker placement game with elements of bidding and majority control. Each player is an architect of the late 19th century and is trying to achieve through various actions, an architectural work in the Art Nouveau style. The most successful building yield the most points. Each player can also create works of art to increase his score.”

Cue dEUS:

It was a bit of a dry Euro and it seems to hold together fairly well. Usually the first playthrough of a Euro is enough to get a sense of what you should be (or should have been) doing, but at the end of this game I still didn’t have a clear idea. I wasn’t super excited about it, but would like to try it again to grok it!

Caverna: The Cave Farmers

pic1868376In addition to playing LOTR, we got to play Caverna with Garion and friends. They’d all played before but since we knew Agricola we didn’t feel very handicapped. Garion mentioned that the game consisted of farming and adventuring, and that if one of the players managed to dominate one domain unchallenged, that player would usually win.

Not sure it that’s true, but Conlaen was our early game adventurer, with the other players adventuring more mid-game, except for Frosty who stayed home and worked on her farm, and ended up a good 20 points ahead of everyone else.

It’s a nice game. It’s lighter than Agricola – your food troubles are not so terribly depressing and you get to use the engine you create for a longer and more fruitful period of time. In a lot of engine games, it’s often frustrating that the game ends just as you’ve cranked your massive machine into motion and used it to frantically grab points left and right (I’m looking at you, Race for the Galaxy).

I thought I’d like the game a bit easier, but I didn’t, really. After my food problems were off the table and my engine was working, half of the game was still left! Which was a bit boring, it turned the second half of the game in a “This will get me five points, this will get me six points, so I’ll do that six-point thing” slog. That’s fun for the frantic last round, but not for mid-game.