W. Eric Martin
Reiner Knizia's Amun-Re holds a special place in my gaming heart as (I believe) it was the first game I played at Guy Stuff Gamers in Attleboro, Massachusetts in 2003. I had played a random assortment of modern games for years — Lost Cities being the biggest hit amongst those — but I wasn't following new game releases; I just ran across games in random locations and bought whatever looked interesting. But then someone saw me playing Lost Cities with a friend during a break between rounds at a Magic: The Gathering prerelease, put me in contact with GSG's Mark Edwards, and *boom* I was suddenly part of a great group of gamers, with the then brand new Amun-Re introducing me to a much wider range of games — well, that and Mark's jam-packed game library.
For many people, Amun-Re was the last great Knizia title. The following year he released Ingenious, a runaway hit that was likely denied the Spiel des Jahres only due to Ticket to Ride also hitting the market in 2004, and that game seemed to signal a turning point in Knizia's design career, with him moving away from "games for gamers" and towards designs aimed at a mainstream audience.
The mid-2000s also saw Knizia start to focus more on branding, with him releasing numerous titles that were spun off of existing designs. The Euphrates & Tigris card game was released in 2005, followed by Medici vs Strozzi and Blue Moon City in 2006 and multiple Einfach Genial (a.k.a. Ingenious) titles in 2007 and 2008. The biggest remakes of them all — Lost Cities: The Board Game and Keltis — appeared in 2008; that latter title won the 2008 Spiel des Jahres, which spurred multiple Keltis spin-offs, including Keltis: Das Kartenspiel, which led to people accusing Knizia of eating his own tail. A card game based on a board game that was derived from a card game? What nonsense!
The secret, of course, is that game design is not a Platonic activity. The kernel of an idea is merely that — the kernel, the essence of something that can be cultivated in many different ways — and while that kernel might itself qualify as something pure and unchanging, you can't bring that to the table and get someone to play it. Instead you take that central idea — being forced to play something, but only following a certain direction — and interpret it in many ways.
Amun-Re: The Card Game, which is scheduled to debut at SPIEL '17 in French and English from Super Meeple, is the latest example of Knizia reframing an earlier release. What's the essence of Amun-Re, the core that drives action in the game? The auction at the start of each round. Yes, you want to build pyramids and have fertile fields and fulfill the goals of powers cards, but all of those desires are funneled through the auctions. The provinces up for auction provide guidance on what people might want to do in the round — lots of caravans? everything on one side of the river? only one province with a decent number of power cards? — then the auction plays out and you carry on from there.
In more detail, Amun-Re features a multiunit auction. A number of provinces equal to the number of players is revealed, then players take turns bidding on these provinces; the bidding track for each province uses triangular numbers (0,1,3,6,10,15,21,...), and if you're outbid on a province, on your next turn you must make a legal bid on a different province. Eventually everyone will be a separate province card, at which point people pay for their bids, then start doing other things. After three rounds, you score points, then time passes, removing all the farmers from the fields and leaving only the pyramids behind. You then have three more rounds of auctions, with every province now being valued differently thanks to the pyramids and bricks that already lie in those spaces.
Amun-Re: The Card Game keeps that type of auction at its core, with those results driving everything else. The game lasts three rounds, with three auctions in each round, followed by other actions, then a scoring. Each player starts the game with money cards valued 0-8, and at the start of the game, everyone chooses money cards that sum to 14 (with the 0 being included) and lays those cards face up on the table. Province cards equal to the number of players are revealed, and players take turns bidding on provinces by placing exactly one money card next to one province, outbidding an opponent if someone else has already bid there; if you're outbid, you take back your money card, then bid again on your next turn. Eventually everyone will have bid on separate provinces, after which you discard the non-0 bids, then lay out new province cards and run through two more rounds of bidding.
Sample gold and province cards
Province cards show different numbers of pyramids, ankhs, and fields, with a caravan possibly being visible as well. Whoever has the most ankhs visible is Pharaoh, going first in each action with ties broken from the Pharaoh going clockwise.
After three rounds of auctions, players will have some amount of money (possibly only the 0) still in hand. Everyone simultaneously makes an offering of gold, and the sum of the offerings determines how much the Nile floods, which determines how much money players will earn from fields. If the sum is 10 or less, players with caravans receive 10 gold per caravan. Whoever offers the most gold receives three pyramids to place on their province cards, with others receiving two and one pyramids.
In player order, players determine their income level, then spend gold to build pyramids on their cards (distributing them as equally as possible), then they take money cards into their hand to account for any income not spent. They then score points for sets of pyramids, for having nine or more fields, and for having the most ankhs.
The second and third rounds of the game play out similarly, except that when you claim cards following the auction, you place these province cards on top of your previous province cards so that only the imprinted and acquired pyramids are visible. Everything else is buried in the sands. You score again at the end of each of these rounds, then the player with the most points wins.
Anyone who has played Amun-Re will recognize much of what's described above. The auctions lead off a round, and the result of those auctions — who gets which provinces? in a game with fewer than five players (and Amun-Re: The Card Game accommodates 2-5 players), which provinces are in play? how much money do people have in hand afterwards? — drives everything else. How this game plays out and differs from the original will become clear only once the game is released in October 2017...
Offering track and income track on the box bottom