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Subject: The Battle of Troy, Sans Brad Pitt rss

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Charlie Theel
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Abstract strategy games are a genre I struggle with. I tend to prefer those that manage to espouse a sense of theme such as Neuroshima Hex and Dreamblade. At the other end of the spectrum, area control is one of my favorite core systems. Agamemnon manages to smash together both of these genres to produce an experience that is pretty unique.

Let's hit the theme first. I'm a literature guy (dude? person?) and the Iliad is near and dear to my warm heart. While Agamemnon is not the most evocative of abstracts, I do feel it handles its thematic ties to the battle of Troy well.



The presentation has a nice classic façade with an elegant folding box and time-honored graphic design. The cultural ties are less through setting and more encircling the thematic touchstone of gods controlling warring forces interjecting wrath and power to manipulate the strands of fate. These are powerful notions that are not always present in the foreground at the center of play, but always residing in the background and flirting with greater meaning.

On a surface level the best way to put it is this: Agamemnon is much less a chilling H.P. Lovecraft story and more a collection of footnotes concerning Homer's work. Don’t expect a strong sense of atmosphere or showmanship, but do expect some deeper parallels to conflict and tragedy.

The ebb and flow of this game is one of its most admirable qualities. Reminiscent of Neuroshima Hex, each player takes turns pulling a couple of random tokens and places them on the board. These are comprised of heroes such as Hector, Achilles, and Menelaus, as well as faceless grunts. There's a back and forth that makes for a nice push/pull between opponents. It's fluid as you assess risk and take chances trying to seize momentum.


My next band: three spears, two dudes, and the tri-force.


Many pure abstract fans despise randomness in these types of designs. Thankfully I like to ride the dragon and submit to the whims of fate. A touch of randomness and unpredictability goes a long way in ratcheting up dramatic tension and it's much appreciated here.

The back and forth of deploying troops to the board is all about conquering those areas. Well, strands really. Agamemnon is not exactly area control and is perhaps better classified as string or strand control. In actuality you are vying for command of connecting tokens that link two spaces.

There are three types of strands that are scored in different ways. A series of connected stands of the same type is scored together. This makes for an interesting conundrum in evaluating the board state and deployment options.

The first type of strand is controlled by the player who has the most units in the string. All units are of equal value here whether you have Achilles or a lowly footman. The second type is won by the side with the most strength in the string. Each unit lists a specific strength on the piece denoted by the number of spears. The final type is conquered by the player who has the highest ranked leader in the connection.


An intersection of strands that'd make the most prolific of knitters proud.


The trick here is that a space you deploy to will be linked to multiple types of strands. So when you're deploying Achilles do you focus on a string that will value his crazy high four strength, or do you place him in a leader connection? Ideally you find a space on the board that values both and offers multiple tactical vectors. Each space can only hold a single unit so blocking or rushing a space is legit as well.

The final wrinkles in the puzzle are the weavers. Each player has two types of tokens that trigger a special effect when placed. The first allows you to swap two connected strands, permanently altering a string. The second severs a connection and is great as an aggressive move to cut a player's high scoring link in two. These alter the strategic landscape significantly and provide for much of the dynamism upon repeated play.

Overall there's a definite sense of mounting pressure as you commit troops to spaces and realize you likely won't win a string. That decision point of when to pull back and cut the line is crucial. Judiciously exercising triage is a large part of Agamemnon and you have to shift focus to the proper areas of conflict to eke out victory.

One interesting tidbit is that the strands are pre-seeded on the base map but the reverse side of the board offers the ability to randomize their location to a degree. This is nice as it changes up the feel enough to boost replayability and offer a different abstract landscape to fight over. You'll certainly want to stick with the base map on your first few plays. Long term, however, jump to that reverse side and have at it.

All of these elements come together to produce an abstract game that is interesting and unique. The fact that it plays in 20 minutes adds a great deal of utility to the release and means it will hit your table. It's a breezy play that offers some solid depth and meaty decisions within a relatively confined space.

Agamemnon isn't the type of game that's going to hit you in the face with a javelin or run you down in a chariot. It's sleek yet modest cover is understated and belies some of the strategic depth found within. This is a clever game that shocked me quite a bit, coming out of nowhere and bringing me back to the table for many plays.


Charlie Theel writes for Geek & Sundry, Miniature Market's The Review Corner, and Ding & Dent. Most of his reviews don't appear on BGG but can be found in this Geeklist.
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Caleb
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One thing I've discovered about the game in my first three plays is that you can play a piece "defensively", that is, in a space it's not particularly well-suited for, just to deny that space to your opponent. Of course, this is always risky, because you don't know until late in the game just what tokens your opponent is likely to draw! But it's an interesting tactical wrinkle that wasn't super-evident in my first play.

So far I haven't tried the semi-randomized side of the board. I feel like there's a lot of mileage in the fixed side, and I also haven't tried either of the token draw variants. There's a lot of game in this attractive package and it's available for an excellent price. Highly recommended.
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Charlie Theel
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cannoneer wrote:
One thing I've discovered about the game in my first three plays is that you can play a piece "defensively", that is, in a space it's not particularly well-suited for, just to deny that space to your opponent. Of course, this is always risky, because you don't know until late in the game just what tokens your opponent is likely to draw! But it's an interesting tactical wrinkle that wasn't super-evident in my first play.

So far I haven't tried the semi-randomized side of the board. I feel like there's a lot of mileage in the fixed side, and I also haven't tried either of the token draw variants. There's a lot of game in this attractive package and it's available for an excellent price. Highly recommended.


Yes, that's a great point Caleb. I have done that, particularly with less valuable single spear units, blocking spaces that I don't want an enemy leader or Weave to go into.
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Reed Dawley
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I wish I could play more games.
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The strategy seems interesting and your review is making me consider it but it look so dry. The guys at my FLGS have shown it to me a couple of times in box but I keep thinking I'de rather break out Neuroshima Hex or crack open Tash Kalar. I know they are different games but they have a certain thematic overlay on the abstracted game that I really like. I'm on the fence but this review makes me lean towards giving it a go, I think they said they had an open copy in their play library and I will try to get a play in.
 
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Charlie Theel
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IMCarnochan wrote:
The strategy seems interesting and your review is making me consider it but it look so dry. The guys at my FLGS have shown it to me a couple of times in box but I keep thinking I'de rather break out Neuroshima Hex or crack open Tash Kalar. I know they are different games but they have a certain thematic overlay on the abstracted game that I really like. I'm on the fence but this review makes me lean towards giving it a go, I think they said they had an open copy in their play library and I will try to get a play in.


Haven't played Tash Kalar but it is more dry than Neuroshima Hex, but I'm not sure it's drastically so. It's difficult to say as I really appreciate the tone of the game and the package, which conveys a feeling that ties me to the literature. That, of course, is a highly personal thing though.
 
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Reed Dawley
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There are certain reviewers whose opinions are well thought out and put onto the page eloquently, as one of those I respect your opinion and will make sure to at the very least get to the game store to give the game a play or two, maybe three to check it out. Much obliged for the response and the review. Keep up the good work.
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Reed Dawley
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I hate replying to my own post but I hit my FLGS today and they had a copy on the shelf and for 18$ I was willing to give it a go. I play a lot of two player games with my GF (who is way way way better at tactics than I am) and I look forward to getting my butt handed to me once we get our 10X10s done. Thank you again.

[edit - My mom is into two player competitive card games like Lost Cities and Battle Line so I am wondering if this may be a gateway game for her as well, she can still mess with me because the game's lack of flash won't be distracting and everything is straightforward. Possible double good.]
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Charlie Theel
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IMCarnochan wrote:
I hate replying to my own post but I hit my FLGS today and they had a copy on the shelf and for 18$ I was willing to give it a go. I play a lot of two player games with my GF (who is way way way better at tactics than I am) and I look forward to getting my butt handed to me once we get our 10X10s done. Thank you again.


I look forward to you coming back and telling me how wrong I am!

Kidding, definitely hope you enjoy it.
 
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