Recommend
22 
 Thumb up
 Hide
7 Posts

Empires of the Ancient World» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Deckbuilding before there were Deckbuilders rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Guido Gloor
Switzerland
Ostermundigen
Bern
flag msg tools
The statement below is false.
badge
The statement above is correct.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I'm not really sure whether I'm in a position to review this one properly. Arguably, I'm not - I only played the game twice, and the second time is over half a year ago now, too. A result of this is that I'll gloss over some of the more subtle points of the rules, mainly because my understanding of them is not solid enough. I apologize in advance for any rules mistakes I'll make.

But, when I was recently asked to review an older game, and I looked for a good game to review, this was one of the games I thought of. It's one of the games that can easily be seen as a precursor to today's deckbuilding subgenre - nobody knows whether StarCraft: The Board Game and subsequently (?) Dominion would have happened without it. What's beyond doubt is that they certainly do share similarities.

How is that the case?

Deckbuilding

Each player takes the role of an empire. Essentially, there are the northern empires (with slightly more consistency) and the southern ones (who have more troops that incorporate dice rolls into their results). Each player takes a corresponding combat deck and, with that, gets troops to use. Improving your troops is relatively easy - during your turn, one of the things you can do is get a new card into your deck, from a common deck of upgrade cards that comes with the game and is the same in total every time. Which cards are available when, however, will differ from play to play.

Unlike modern deckbuilders, you don't shuffle your deck. Whenever there is a combat, you choose which of your troops you want to use, and in what order. Of course, there is a risk: If you use a troop during a fight, there is a chance that you'll lose it if it wasn't one of your starting troops. There are special rules for attacks at or over sea, limiting how many of what kind of non-ship troops you can use - and special rules for fortified positions at land, where certain troops are stronger and others weaker.

One effect of these, after all, relatively simple rules: For less important fights, you probably want to stick with the basics, while for more important fights, you go all in. Another effect: If the other players don't really pay attention, you can build a specialized surprise force (lots of Siege Towers for attacking fortified positions, or lots of ships for attacking over sea - though the latter is much less probable, everybody keeps track of who has how many ships).

Basic gameplay

In each action round, a player can do any one of the following: Attack, Pressure, Expand, Recruit, Build, or Reinforce. A number of action rounds make up each turn (10 to begin with, one less each turn), and there's a scoring round after turns two, three, and four - and after that fixed length, the game is over.

Attack: Attack an enemy position, you gain control of the area if you win the battle.
Diplomatic Pressure: Weaken enemy control of an area, or overtake the area without a fight if it was neutral.
Expand Trade: Area control is independent of trade control for an area - you can expand the influence of your trade into areas you don't own, and will gain VP for them.
Recruit: Recruit any troop or leader in the public display of available cards, for no additional cost on top of the action. Each player can recruit as much as he'd like as many times as he wants (with some limits for leaders and aforementioned north/south distinction), but some troops have an upkeep cost that he'll have to pay each scoring round, essentially getting less VPs.
Build Fortification: This will make an area easier to defend against attacks.
Reinforce Control: This will make an area harder to take over with diplomatic pressure.

As you can see, there's plenty of things to do - and always more than you have time for. Fronts will open depending on which starting positions were chosen and who expanded in what direction, who has better forces at sea or at land. Alliances will be forged and bluffs will be called.

I haven't really touched other important aspects of the game - leaders that make you more efficient in one direction or another, the resources you'll need for building fortifications, there's more to north and south - but as I said, I'll gloss over those aspects, as I play the game way too irregularly to be any authority on them.

Scoring

What gives you VP in each scoring round is a variety of things: The areas you took military control over (and reinforced diplomatically) according to their strength (which is printed on the map), the trade routes you established in your own and neighboring areas, trade blocks you plundered (yes, you can do that), minus the upkeep for stronger troops (so when you take a strong troop, you better make sure to use it, or it'll actually hurt you).

This leads to some different approaches - more or less trade, less higher-payout or more lower-payout territories, more or less military. Not all of them are viable in every game, but then, why should they? This is a multiplayer game, with table politics. Whoever combines table politics and game mechanisms most successfully will take away the win.

Personal Verdict

Long story short, I give this game a BGG rating of 7.5 - right in the middle between "Very good game. I like to play. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game." and "Good game, usually willing to play." What this means to me is "it's a great game I'll happily play whenever somebody suggests it, but I won't go and seek out a copy, and will rarely bring it up myself when I have free choice."

What I really respect in this game is the mechanisms that were very novel back then, and how the game manages to be very confrontational and still very intricate, with lots of decision points for everybody all the time, and little to no downtime because of the short action rounds.

All in all, a great game, and judging by how little talk there is about it, a very underrated one.
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Richard Dewsbery
United Kingdom
Sutton Coldfield
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
It's one of Martin's games that I feel really deserves a new edition, smoothing out some of the rougher edges and polishing the bits that shine. Because I would rate Empires as a 7, and thus it never gets played, but it could easily be an 8 or even a 9 with some work.
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
EXTRA AVOCADO! Sonderegger
United States
Orangevale
CA
flag msg tools
designer
Shall I compare thee to a chevrolet?
badge
...the headlamps of your eyes will make them dream.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
RDewsbery wrote:
It's one of Martin's games that I feel really deserves a new edition, smoothing out some of the rougher edges and polishing the bits that shine. Because I would rate Empires as a 7, and thus it never gets played, but it could easily be an 8 or even a 9 with some work.


What are the rough bits? Colour me interested!
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Richard Young
Canada
Victoria
BC
flag msg tools
Old Ways Are Best!
badge
Check Six!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
After the game had been out a while, there were some rough spots noted. A few examples: The VP value of the provinces vary with the majority residing in the three Mediterranean sea areas and the areas that yielded extra resources, hence the interest and the fighting was over these while the hinterland (a lot of the map) was largely ignored; some of the "leader" cards, particularly the Diplomat, were overpowered as well as rare and the way the cards were distributed meant getting the better ones was more a result of luck than good management; plus, once you had one of these leader cards there was no way to lose them unlike the regular military cards which could come and go (except for your start cards). The system of taking areas via diplomacy came under fire along with the method of economic scoring; and the particulars of the military card interactions were a bit hazy. A lot of the problems were caused by conflicting rules interpretations and no-one was particularly impressed with the rules folder in general.

However, the game system itself was unique and intriguing so despite its flaws I still found the game worthy and felt I had arrived at a number of workable house rules that addressed most of the issues. It seemed that the game was released only partially developed (say 75%), but I've often maintained that even a 75% Martin Wallace game is a lot better than most.

Still, I am among those that would love to see a professional job of finishing the game properly, along with a proper face-lift. 2nd editions of Martin's games have been rare, unless licensed to another outfit, and if the old Warfrog policy is still in place it is very likely not going to happen. You don't often see him revisit his older designs unless put under a great deal of pressure to do so and I don't think there is much in this case despite a number of enthusiasts like myself.
12 
 Thumb up
0.25
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Lewis Goldberg
United States
Bonnots Mill
Missouri
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Boy the way Glenn Miller played // Songs that made the Hit Parade // Guys like us we had it made // Those were the days.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
hanibalicious wrote:
RDewsbery wrote:
It's one of Martin's games that I feel really deserves a new edition, smoothing out some of the rougher edges and polishing the bits that shine. Because I would rate Empires as a 7, and thus it never gets played, but it could easily be an 8 or even a 9 with some work.


What are the rough bits? Colour me interested!


rules wording and combat resolution are my two pain points in this game. therules are so tightly worded, you have to keep your lawyer hat handy at all times. brevity is 'generally' a good thing, but it was used overly much in these rules, which could stand to be twice as long as they are.

I find trying to do combat without the spreadsheet someone made, which is in the files section, impossibly fiddly.



1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Michael Sosa
United States
Newark
Delaware
flag msg tools
badge
I will break him.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I'd like to read up on the particulars of the issues with this game. I have played it several times and love it, rating it a 9. I don't have a problem with the diplomat or any other card being overpowered. Cards that can't be lost are fine... just think carefully if that is the route you want to go with your empire! It is a multiplayer game so slight unbalancing, if there is, can be dealt with by group action. The military card interactions have never created an issue the times I have played, but maybe I have missed a hidden complexity.

I agree that the game could do a revisit, but I'm happy with it as it is. Sometimes new editions do not improve the game: Struggle of Empires was not improved on by that later empire game of Wallace whose name escapes me.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Peter Asimakis
Australia
Sydney
NSW
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Another vote for the game being fine as is.
The rule book however, that's a different story.
It has rules that are missing and much that is unclear and open to conjecture.
It requires a lot of reading and research from various sources to fill in the missing and poorly explained bits.
Absolutely worth the effort though, lots of good cool stuff here.

PLB.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.