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Game Overview: Ankh, Gods of Egypt, or Simplicity Made Complex

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Ankh: Gods of Egypt
As I noted in my 2022 new year's resolution post, I'm trying to play, write about, and record videos about a wider spectrum of games than I would normally play. I know what I like, sure, but maybe I could like something else given that I'm not necessarily the same person now as I was a few years ago. (Cue thoughts on Theseus' paradox.)

I had received a review copy of Ankh: Gods of Egypt from CMON, for example, and while I normally avoid mini-on-a-map games that include direct conflict, I realized that aside from Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men (review here), I had played no games by designer Eric M. Lang. I've interviewed Lang many times about new releases, and I love chatting with him at conventions, but his games didn't seem like my type of thing, so I never played his work.

With those thoughts in mind, I thought I'd try a modern Lang design and a mini-on-a-map game in one go. Turns out I was surprised by the core of Ankh, it being a Eurogame at heart with players taking two of four simple actions on a turn:

• Move each of your figures on the board 0-3 spaces to land on an unoccupied space.
• Summon a figure from your reserve adjacent to either a figure of yours on the board or a monument you control.
• Gain followers — the game's money — based on the number of neutral or owned monuments to which you are adjacent.
• Gain an ankh power by paying 1-3 followers.

Simple, right?

From gallery of W Eric Martin

One wrinkle is that your second action must be on a lower level than your first, so if you gain followers, then you must gain an ankh power for your second action, whether you can afford to or not.

Another wrinkle is that each time you take an action, you move a marker on a central track for that action, and when the marker reaches the end of the track, you trigger an event. Most of the events are bonuses that help only one player — you gain control of a monument, or you use a camel caravan to split a region in two — so you want to be the one to trigger an event, but players are collectively moving markers on four tracks related to the four types of actions, which means that you can usually trigger an event only if another player moved the marker to the next-to-last space on the track. You don't want to set up an event bonus for someone else, but you must take two actions on your turn (unless you start by gaining an ankh power), so you're probably going to do so multiple times, just as another player will set you up.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Near game's end

These forced actions provide a timer for the game, yet it's an irregular timer since events will be triggered with a different rhythm from one game to the next. As with all the Reiner Knizia games that I adore, in Ankh: Gods of Egypt you want to take all the actions — especially since you need followers to gain ankh powers, yet to gain followers you need figures in the right places — but you can take only two at a time, and events keep rushing toward you, and before you know it, conflict has begun, conflict being the one event that involves everyone.

To resolve conflict, you look at each region on the game board. If only one player is in a region, they score 1 devotion — the game's scoring metric, players being (as the title says) gods in Egypt — along with 1 devotion for each of the three types of monuments (obelisks, pyramids, temples) for which they have a majority. That preceding phrase sounds both cumbersome and promising; in practice scoring is easy to resolve, yet not necessarily easy to obtain due to that constantly advancing clock. You'll be eyeing all the monuments, but you'll grab only a few, so make them count, especially since most of the level-2 ankh powers key off of monuments you control.

If no one is in a region, ignore it, but I've yet to see that happen in three games. If two or more players are in a region, then battle ensues, with each player choosing and revealing an action card from their hand. Some cards take effect immediately, then players in the region score for monument majorities, then you resolve battle — although it doesn't feel much like battle given that you can have towering gods and swole guardians on the board, yet each figure has a strength of 1, so the strength comparison is often 2-1, 3-2, or something similarly meager. (Some games inflate values by pointlessly having all numbers be tens or hundreds, but Ankh keeps it honest, so I'll give credit for that.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
When you boil it down, it's 2 vs. 2

In a battle, all non-god figures on the losing side are removed from play, which might be one reason why the battles have such low strength totals. Who's going to bring five figures into a region if they think they're going to lose them as you'll then need multiple summon actions to build up forces once again? (That said, two of the battle cards encourage grand efforts like that, with one of them giving you devotion for lost figures. So many sacrifices! You must be an awesome god indeed!)

More generally, it feels like you want to compete in as many regions as possible since you're picking up only a point or two at a time, so you need to squeeze out victories here, there, and everywhere instead of dogpiling one place and letting others score what you ignore. Besides, you have only seven figures (a god and six warriors), with the chance of getting up to three guardians, so you have little opportunity to swarm a region. The game keeps hustling along, and you're like, well, I have one figure in that region, so you're telling me there's a chance!

Aside from the battle cards, you have the aforementioned ankh powers that provide perks, with each guardian and god also having a unique power of their own. All of these extras feel tiny — you gain a few followers or a mummy respawns by your god instead of perishing in battle or a crocodile sits in water and provides its 1 strength to two, count 'em, TWO regions instead of one — so the simple core of the game becomes papered over with a multitude of details that feel almost inconsequential, yet they sometimes turn a battle, which then has knock-on effects in who exists in a region, which carries over into everything else. For the want of a nail and all that.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
New region, who dis?

These tiny, yet significant details are strangely paired with large-scale, yet extraneous figures that can obscure the current game state unless you have a perfect memory of where every piece is or you're standing over the game board to ensure that a crucial monument or figure isn't overlooked — something that has happened in two of my three games. I have little experience playing games with miniatures, so perhaps one becomes accustomed to peering around game pieces to spot other game pieces, but if given a choice, I'd opt for large and small colored cubes to ensure clarity of what's where. That would probably sell a lot fewer copies of Ankh: Gods of Egypt, though.

One cool twist in the design is the midgame reset that shakes up everyone's holdings. After the third conflict, in games with three or more players, the two players with the lowest scores merge, becoming a single god to compete against everyone else as a team. This sounds mighty, like Atlas and Hercules combining to create a mythic figure twice as strong as either one individually, yet in practice the figures and monuments of the lowest scoring god are wiped away, so it's more like Atlercules is as powerful as before, but now he has two driver's licenses, so he can vote twice in the Greek elections. As with so many other things, the advantage for this new figure is tiny, yet a tiny wedge can split an opponent's hold on a region, so it's all about where you can place that wedge relative to what everyone else is doing.

For more thoughts on Ankh: Gods of Egypt, along with details of the ankh powers, god powers, and guardian powers, check out this video overview:

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